INT: What were your feelings...
INT: Did you know Oppenheimer well?
HY: I didn't know him well, but I had been a student of his immediately after the War in some courses that he gave at Berkeley and I occasionally saw him at big lectures. I knew his brother very well and thought very well of him and still do, his younger brother, Frank, the one who had been actually a member of the Communist Party earlier.
INT: And what were your feelings about the AEC investigation?
HY: Well, the Oppenheimer hearings for me were very much of a problem and I'm still not really quite satisfied with my own role in all of that. First off I took no positive role whatsoever, I mean, I never said a word in public, I wasn't involved in these hearings. But my immediate boss, Lawrence was, he was one of those who wanted Oppenheimer out of there. I was very close to Teller. I was the director at Livermore and he was a very senior and important figure and I was also a friend of Alvarez and others from Berkeley who were determined to get rid of Oppenheimer. I actually was sympathetic to Oppenheimer, but softly so. And I felt that my obligation at that time, my obligation now, in 1953, 1954 is to get the Livermore Laboratory going, to make sure that it's doing its job and that it's healthy and will continue to blossom in the future. And it was quite obvious to me that if I was to take a position, even in private, but with Teller and Lawrence, that was sympathetic to Oppenheimer, that it would be harmful to the development of the Livermore Laboratory. I've never really been quite satisfied how I handled it and what I did. I talked with them a lot about it as it developed and I remember their views and how their views evolved a little bit about that time. They knew that I did not fully agree with them, that Oppenheimer had to go, but it never came to the point of any kind of an argument between me and any of the other principals.
INT: Was there a feeling at that time of paranoia or fear do you think that's what helped... against Communism, helped lead it to this point?
HY: Yes, that was during a period when there was a great deal of paranoia. But as Kissinger said, even paranoids have real enemies. The Soviets were building up their forces, they were beginning to build long-range missiles, they tried to make us think they had more bombers and more missiles than in fact they had. They were making progress with their nuclear weapons and there was a lot to be concerned about. The Sino-Soviet Bloc had been formed. The public statements by Mao and Stalin after the big conference they had in Moscow were definitely threatening and hostile. Mao said the tide of history has changed, you know, the Imperialists will soon get what they deserve, so it was a bad time. And there was a lot to be concerned about and to be afraid of. The future really did look glum and that, of course, there already was a spirit of anti-Communism, I mean, the American people by and large were very definitely anti-sociali, anti-Communist and putting all of this together, the Cold War as well as the general feelings about Communism, the idea of Communist sympathisers somehow infiltrating high placeand infiltrating the decision-making apparatus was very wide-spread. So that, you know, the hearings, in the case of J. Robert Oppenheimer as they're called were very disturbing to the public and I think that by and large the American people thought that they came out right. I mean, the American people supported Strauss, Senator (unintelligible) and the others who thought that the American government would be better off without Oppenheimer's advice.
INT: Good answer. You said just now that the Russians were very keen to make us believe they certainly more bombers at one point. In fact it became known as the Bomber Gap, could you explain what was meant by that?
HY: Well, in the middle fifties, I'm not quite sure I remember the date, the Russians began to show us that they had long-range bombers and they flew them over the Kremlin area during the Red Square... during the annual military parades they had there and at one time, we now know, they took the same airplanes and flew them around more than once and even on some occasions, they would stop and change the numbers, so that, you know, all the evidence pointed to the fact there were many more airplanes than they had. We took it seriously and the idea that there was going to be a Bomber Gap, that somehow we were coming to a period of time when the Russians would have even more bombers than we did, at least more inter-continental bombers, that idea grew. Now it was really absurd, even at the time, because we had approximately fifteen hundred bombers, about five hundred of them which had truly inter-continental range, either actually in place or being built, the B52s and the B36s and we had more than a thousand bombers that could easily reach Russia, either from bases in Europe and Africa or with refuelling, the B47s and so the idea that there would really be a bomber gap, really, you know. Looking back on it, I don't know how people could have really taken it seriously. But then later, same thing happened with missiles and there again, I remember distinctly when I was in the Pentagon, I think I was in the Pentagon at the time, Khrushchev said, we're turning them out like sausages and I immediately formed this mental image of this enormous steel tube, you know ten feet in diameter piece of steel tubing and just, you know, very, very long, coming down some kind of an assembly belt and they would pinch it off periodically and put you know a warhead on one end and put rocket motors on the other end and these were these missiles being turned out like sausages. They did manage to persuade us for whatever reason, bad judgement on their part or maybe some kind of good judgement, that they had many more missiles than in fact they did have. That was the Missile Gap.
INT: Good. What brought the Bomber Gap to an end? When did they suddenly realise that we'd got it wrong, the West had got it wrong?
HY: I don't remember how the Bomber Gap came to an end. I think we simply, through various intelligence means began to learn more and more about the facts about production capability, about the actual numbers of bombers and so on, to be able to set aside the problem of the Bomber Gap. The Missile Gap was a more difficult situation.
INT: So, were things like then the U-2 flights, that started in '56, '57, how important did that become to the US?
HY: The U-2 flights started precisely because we were uncertain about what was going on and we wanted to know more about it, in particular President Eisenhower felt that he didn't know enough about it and that he needed to do more to carry out his responsibilities for maintaining the security of the United States. So everyone knew that the U-2 was a deliberate violation of international norms and everyone knew that eventually the U-2 would come a cropper, that it would be shot down, but nevertheless the need for better information than we had, the perception of that need was so great that we went ahead with it anyway. And it did play an important and positive role in enabling Eisenhower to put to some sort of cap on the development of missiles in the United States, particularly a cap on the numbers. We ultimately ended up with about a thousand inter-continental missiles and the air force was pressing for numbers that varied from four thousand on up to ten thousand, so that it was the U-2 and the information from the U-2 that assured all of us that there was no bomber gap, that made it possible to put even these rather high limits that we finally did put on the development of missiles.
INT: So, in that period, then in 1957, the Soviets then went and launched Sputnik. What was both your reaction and the scientific community's reaction to Sputnik?
HY: My personal reaction to Sputnik was coloured entirely by the fact I was the director of the Livermore Laboratory at the time and as is the normal behaviour of laboratory directors, I felt that we could use more money than we were getting, we had more ideas than were properly funded. So when Sputnik went up I was very excited about it, I thought it was a remarkable accomplishment. I knew that we were following closely behind, so I developed no fears connected with Sputnik, but I did have to admit, exploit the idea with my superiors in Washington in an attempt to get an increase in our budget. The scientific community generally, or the whole American body politic, was stunned by Sputnik, very few people knew that we did have our own programme coming along and doing very well and with every expectation for those of us who did understand it, every expectation that even though the Russians did this first, we would catch up and surpass them. But most people were not privy to that kind of information, partly because most of it was unusually secret. The American plans for building reconnaissance satellites, which were already well under way, were what are what's nowadays called black. I mean, they were classified programmes that were unusually secret and compartmentalised. And so even people who otherwise would be in the know in the Pentagon and the Congress were not really aware of them. So when the Russians put up the first Sputnik, it was such a surprise that a country that was considered to be basically backward could do this before we did, that the reaction was extreme and took many different forms. In the press and in the Congress there were demands that Eisenhower and the Pentagon essentially re-organise, rebuild all their programmes, put everything on a crash basis, all kinds of programmes for new missiles, new space vehicles and so on, to pursue them on a crash basis. Industrial groups, arms builders everywhere who had any plausible connection whatsoever to rockets and missiles and satellites were coming to Washington with all kinds of ideas, all of which were intended to save the republic from imminent disaster, with the expectation that everyone would recognise how bad the situation was and fund them, so there was a lot of turmoil, both in the press, in the Congress and in among the whole military industrial complex, all designed to somehow or other greatly expand America's efforts in these areas. Now, Eisenhower, with his general understanding of military questions and his general understanding of how the Pentagon approached the world and his understanding of the Russians and so forth, and his conservative approach to spending, putting all that together, he was determined that we would not over-react to Sputnik. So, he made a number of statements over the next few months, which satisfied the concerns of some people, but in fact inflamed the fears of probably more. So it was a bad time in Washington, the Fall of 1957, while we were getting, you know, coming to grips with and understanding what in fact was going on.