INT: How important the, sir, was it's role in the Cold War?
ET: I believe that when one deals with such very big explosions, the size of the explosion is no longer very important, the flexibility of the explosion was important, the cost was important and here there was an enormous difference in the role that the cost played in regard to atomic explosions. In the United States, the money spent on nuclear explosives remained at all times well below one per cent of the gross national product. In other words, in economic terms it had no effect. In the Soviet Union, with much less economic resources and with less expertise in the work on the atomic bomb, I have no doubt that their expenditure on atomic explosives was at least ten per cent of their gross national product and might have been very substantially more. I think that was a contributing factor. Do not underestimate, however, the simple psychological advantage. The United States that never wanted war, had an advantage passed into hands of people who wanted expansion, wanted world wide domination more than they wanted peace. There, the substantial cost of this technical preparedness was more important.
INT: When we spoke earlier, sir, you described to me the fact that the hydrogen bomb had in fact won the Cold War without a life being lost. I wonder if you explain that to me.
ET: It's not true, I exaggerated. I did not exaggerate much. We already talked about the one Japanese killed by a nuclear explosion. On the whole, the loss of life was reduced below the usual level that comes from accidents whenever you are very active in any direction. In actual fighting (unintelligible) there was none, no lives could have been lost and here is the enormous difference between the first and second half of this century - this is almost over. The first half has seen two world wars, in the first more than ten million people got killed. In the second, perhaps as many as fifty million. Conflicts on a comparably big scale in the second half did not occur. On the general historical record, the second half of the twentieth century will go down as a peaceful period and it was peaceful, because the power in the hands of those who wanted peace. There is today a superstition I'm afraid that has penetrated the White House, it's a superstition, the less weapons, the less danger. I claim and starkly that at least the more knowledge of weapons in the hands of those who want peace and international co-operation, the less danger. I believe that in order to have peace, we have solved the problems, and now have to solve more problems, in connection with weapons. The problems that we now have to solve is the problem of co-operation between people. And the leadership, such as the leadership of the Western democracies and their co-operation could be decisive in making war an event of the past. I believe the superstition that the less knowledge of weapons, the more security, that this superstition is a very great danger, great danger due to superficial, not enough thinking. I believe from every point of view the more knowledge, the better, but very particularly, not wanting to do harm is for international relations the most important thing and if the wish for peace and the knowledge of weapons are joined, then I think we might make faster progress than most people believe.
INT: Good answer, sir. Could I ask you if you feel that the Cold War was a necessary event of twentieth century history?
ET: The development of East and West was very different. Prior to whatever the date, 1916, no 1917, Russia was a horribly imperialistic state. It is a remarkable fact, but a fact that is not so different to understand... not so difficult to understand, that this horrible imperialism from the right was followed by a horrible imperialism of the left. What was meant by peace, by security, by the rights of man, by moral principles, that was so incredibly different in the leadership of the East and of the West, that a confrontation there was inevitable. I don't know whether the Cold War was necessary. I'm almost tempted to say that there never was a Cold War, there was no war. There was a confrontation and that this confrontation did not lead to actual violence, that this confrontation could be resolved in favor, generally in favor of the ideas of democracy, that was something perhaps without parallel in human history. If there was a Cold War, it was necessary. I'm not sure that there ever was one.
INT: (Unintelligible) reply. We spoke again earlier and you said to me that in the fifties that the... some scientists opposed the production of the hydrogen bomb. Why did they feel strongly that bombs of this nature should not be developed?
ET: That is what many scientists believed and believed to this time. The majority. They did not like and I basically don't like the military. That the military can behave in the right way is something new in history and one is hesitant to say or even to understand to what extent it is real. The scientists are opposed for two very different reasons. They have overestimate and excessive fear of the military and their underestimate of the rest of the world. We American scientists can do everything, nobody else can do anything. That, I think, is very clear, is not my opinion. It is perhaps not opinion in the stupidly exaggerated fashion of anyone. But there was a taste, a tendency of our overestimating what we have done and an underestimation of the need, really completely to explore what could be done. I think that one of the basic needs of humanity is knowledge and more knowledge. I think we scientists have the job to make knowledge available in greater and greater and unlimited amounts. It not our responsibility to determine what to do with this knowledge. That, in a democracy, in which I believe, is the job of the people, a job that in many respects can be and has tbe delegated, but not to the scientists, to the people chosen and I should say somehow, with God's help, rightly chosen. The dangers of the world in my mind is not knowledge. The dangers of the world are mostly summarized in one word - stupidity. If we can find the political leaders, perhaps leaders where I can think of no better example than Winston Churchill, people who recognize the danger and who could see the future, at least in the cases where the future was evident, even though the majority of the people was as yet blind to the future, we will be forever in need of the leaders - I will now perhaps on purpose stay away from exaggeration as much as I can - leaders who had an unequally small share of the general human stupidity, who are a little better in judging the future and finding the best for everybody and therefore also for themselves. That is the general need and our special need is knowledge, knowledge and more knowledge which we can place into the hands, together with the attaining power, into the hands of people who are perhaps a little less stupid than the rest of us.
INT: A final... I should have asked you this question in the first grouping, sir, I wonder if you wouldn't mind if just introduced it, it is leaping back a bit in history. Um, the question again of scientists, in 1953-54, when Robert Oppenheimer was investigated by the AEC, what was your opinion of that?
ET: I think and I thought so at the time that it was a mistake. I think Oppenheimer had a big part of the political leadership among the scientists. I believe that his advice was wrong and was proved wrong by history. You know, when I first heard about the Russian explosion, I called Oppenheimer. You know what his advice was? Very short. Keep your shirt on. I had disagreed and continue to disagree with Oppenheimer, but I think our President then made a mistake. Eisenhower had all the authorization, all the power, not to consult a person in whom he had less confidence on account of bad advice. That this should not be simply announced or executed on the basis I am of the opinion that this is not the person to have an important influence could have been done. To tie that up with security, to tie it up with real mistakes that Oppenheimer made was not a good idea. Oppenheimer did remarkable things. He accused of communications with the Russians, certainly at least one of his very good friends and in that connection got into a lot of contradictions. But with all these things, it would have been incomparably better to disregard any mistakes, except to stop asking for his advice. In our democracy, it should be, it must be, an absolute necessity to carry out discussions, even though we may know that our opponent is wrong, is stupid, even more stupid than yourself, he must be helped. He need not be put in the position of leadership, but to make that a question of security, espionage, really criminal activities...
INT: So, could I just to end that last question, Dr Teller, do you feel that Robert Oppenheimer was treated unfairly by the AEC?
ET: I feel strongly that Robert Oppenheimer was treated unwisely. In our democracy we need to encourage discussion, even when we know the opponent is wrong, even when we know that he may be dangerously wrong. I think he has to have his say and to tie that up with anything implying criminal activity is wrong. But let me remind you, Oppenheimer was denied clearance, was denied the kind of power he wanted that could have been denied by simple presidential edict. He was not denied the leadership of one of the country's most magnificent laboratories in Princeton and to that extent, from the point of view of damage done to him, it is perhaps an exaggeration to say that he was treated unfairly.
INT: Final two questions then, sir. In 1949, when the Soviets detonated the bomb, did Truman understand what was going to be required and did the scientists what would be done?
ET: I think the scientists had over-confidence in believing that our superior technical knowledge would prevail no matter what. And I believe that Truman was cautious in formulating the need for the hydrogen bomb. He said, continue every effort, including the hydrogen bomb. I think on purpose. He decided to be adviser, to disregard the point that we had discontinued it and that, as a result, we were not yet close to an answer, not just a few more screws to be tightened, we needed work and with some difficulty, some political difficulty, we did the work and as you well know, succeeded remarkably quickly.
INT: Final question then, sir. What won the Cold War?
ET: Not one, not a single fact. Our determination to stay with it, but if you look for a single fact, I think Reagan's decision to give strong encouragement to defense against missiles, Reykjavik, he was asked insistently about the Soviets to agree to stop that effort. He said he would stop nothing, that we'll help to ensure the safety of the American people. The Soviet leaders knew darned well that in the intricate technical problem of defense we were ahead of them and we would stay ahead of them. If there is one fact that helped, it was it, and maybe a second. When Bush, a compromiser, stood up and would not allow the Iraqis to overrun their neighbors, when he succeeded to apply the needed force and to the surprise of most people, surprise of me, destroyed all the Russian originated tanks in little more than a week, that happened I believe in February, March 1991, by August the Soviet government was gone. The Russian people have recognized that imperialistic policies of a Communist government was to nobody's advantage and not to their own. And the Soviet government lost a confidence in their own strength. I think American technical ability, emphasis on that technical ability and eventual willingness to use it, in a limited way, yet to use it as we need it, if there is serious reason to use it, I think that won the Cold War.
INT: Dr Teller, thank you very much indeed. Thank you sir.
(End of tape)