Interim Committee

George L. Harrison]
James B. Conant] The Interim Committee was a secret high-level group created in May 1945 by United States Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson with the approval of President Harry S. Truman to examine the problems that could result from the creation of the atomic bomb.Stimson himself was chairman. The other members were: James F. Byrnes, former US Senator soon to be Secretary of State, as President Truman's personal representative; Ralph A. Bard, Under Secretary of the Navy; William L. Clayton, Assistant Secretary of State; Vannevar Bush, Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development and president of the Carnegie Institution;
Karl T. Compton, Chief of the Office of Field Service in the Office of Scientific Research and Development and president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology; James B. Conant, Chairman of the National Defense Research Committee and president of Harvard University; and George L. Harrison, an assistant to Stimson and president of New York Life Insurance Company. Harrison chaired the committee when Stimson was absent, but Byrnes, as the President's personal representative, was probably its most influential member.

The most immediate of the committee's tasks, one that has been the focus of much subsequent controversy, was to make recommendations concerning the use of the atomic bomb against Japan. The committee's consensus, arrived at in a meeting held June 1, 1945, is described as follows in the meeting's log:

"Mr. Byrnes recommended, and the Committee agreed, that the Secretary of War should be advised that, while recognizing that the final selection of the target was essentially a military decision, the present view of the Committee was that the bomb should be used against Japan as soon as possible; that it be used on a war plant surrounded by workers’ homes; and that it be used without prior warning." [ [ Log of the Interim Committee Meeting, June 1, 1945, pp. 8-9] ]

One member, Bard, later dissented from this decision and in a memorandum to Stimson laid out a case for a warning to Japan before using the bomb. [ [ Memorandum on the use of the S-1 bomb] ]

In arriving at its conclusion, the committee was advised by a Scientific Panel of four physicists from the Manhattan Project: Enrico Fermi and Arthur H. Compton of the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago; Ernest O. Lawrence of the Radiation Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley; and J. Robert Oppenheimer, who directed the bomb assembly program at Los Alamos. Reinforcing the decision arrived at on June 1, the scientists wrote in a formal report on June 16:

"The opinions of our scientific colleagues on the initial use of these weapons are not unanimous: they range from the proposal of a purely technical demonstration to that of the military application best designed to induce surrender. Those who advocate a purely technical demonstration would wish to outlaw the use of atomic weapons, and have feared that if we use the weapons now our position in future negotiations will be prejudiced. Others emphasize the opportunity of saving American lives by immediate military use, and believe that such use will improve the international prospects, in that they are more concerned with the prevention of war than with the elimination of this specific weapon. We find ourselves closer to these latter views; we can propose no technical demonstration likely to bring an end to the war; we see no acceptable alternative to direct military use." [ [ Recommendations on the Immediate Use of Nuclear Weapons] ]

Although the committee's recommendation was addressed to Stimson, Byrnes went directly from the June 1 meeting to brief Truman, who reportedly concurred with the committee's opinion. [Peter Wyden, "Day One: Before Hiroshima and After", New York:Simon and Schuster, 1984, p. 163. ISBN 0-671-46142-7 ] Reviewing the Scientific Panel's report on June 21, the committee reaffirmed its position

"...that the weapon be used against Japan at the earliest opportunity, that it be used without warning, and that it be used on a dual target, namely, a military installation or war plant surrounded by or adjacent to homes or other buildings most susceptible to damage." [ [ Log of the Interim Committee Meeting, June 21, 1945, pp. 6-7] ]

On July 16, a successful test of a plutonium bomb, code-named "Trinity", took place near Alamogordo, New Mexico. On August 6, a uranium bomb, code-named "Little Boy," was dropped without warning on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. On August 8, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. On August 9, a plutonium bomb code-named "Fat Man," was used on the city of Nagasaki. On August 14, Japan surrendered.


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