Companion to the article:

Gennady Gorelik, “The Paternity of the H-Bombs: Soviet-American Perspectives,”
 Physics in Perspective, Vol 11, N 2 / June, 2009, p. 169-197.


To the memory of Vitaly Ginzburg,
the only co-father of the H-bomb
 who won the Nobel Prize for Physics

В Л Гинзбург



Article Contents

[Intro] Teller, Sakharov, Secrecy, and Parallel Histories


Main characters in pictures and quotations

The Paternity of the H-Bomb

The US scientists on the H-bomb

Bethe, 1952, May (letter to Gordon Dean and “Memorandum on the History of the Thermonuclear Program”):

Teller, 1952, August (re Bethe’s Memorandum):

Bethe, 1954 (at the Oppenheimer hearing):

Teller, 1954 (on his invention of 1951):

Fermi, 1954;

Ulam, 1954 ((from his letter to H. A. Bethe, Oct. 29,  1954)):

Bethe, 1968 (and 1997):

Ulam, 1983:

Bethe, 1988:

Carson Mark, 1994:

Sakharov on the Soviet H-bomb (0th, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd ideas)


The Realities of Illusory Worlds

Sakharov, explaining his mourning Stalin’s death in 1953:

Sakharov on the beginning of thermonuclear arms race:

Oppenheimer on the sin, 1947:

Oppenheimer on morality, 1951:

K. D. Nichols (General Manager, USAEC) to Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, 1953:

Oppenheimer on "technically sweet," 1954:

Ulam on himself, von Neumann, and Oppenheimer

Freeman Dyson on Teller's Memoirs, 2004

Freeman Dyson on Teller, 2007

Kip S. Thorne on Teller-Oppenheimer controversy, 1994

Bethe on Fuchs, 1950

Bethe on Teller,  2001

Teller on Fuchs, 1950, in a letter to Maria Goeppert-Mayer:

Teller on Communism, 1996, 1998:

Laszlo Tisza on Teller, Landau, and Communism

When (and how) “GULAG” became an English word?

Lev Landau, prosocialist prisoner of the Soviet state in 1938  and anti-Soviet Hero of Socialist labor twenty years later

Vitaly Ginzburg on Stalin, American guys, and Communism:

Sakharov on "the Oppenheimer complex", 1988:


History of the project (talks and articles)

The US-Soviet Chronology of H-bomb





Article Contents

[Intro] Teller, Sakharov, Secrecy, and Parallel Histories

The Paternity of the H-Bomb

Espionage and the Parallel Secret World

The 3rd  idea

On Scientific Secrets

Edward Teller and the Realities of Illusory Worlds

Beyond Science and Military Technology

The Anti-Communist and his Two Socialist Friends

Creating an Illusory World to Justify Oneself

Parallels and Perpendiculars




[Intro] Teller, Sakharov, Secrecy, and Parallel Histories


The theoretical physicists Edward Teller (1908–2003) and Andrei Sakharov (1921–1989), the fathers of the American and Soviet H-bombs, had contrasting social and political roles during the Cold War. The American physicist invariably advocated a policy from the position of strength, which largely agreed with that of the American government. The Russian physicist, after a dramatic change of view in 1967–1968, dis­sented from the Soviet government and advocated a policy of Soviet-American coop­eration and rapprochement by means of intellectual freedom and other human rights.

No less contrasting were the prevailing public images of the two physicists. Teller was perceived as Dr. Strangelove, a heartless theorist ready to do anything for the sake of new and ever more powerful weapons, and for his personal aggrandizement, while Sakharov allegedly repented for having designed those terrible bombs and, by way of redemption, transformed himself into an altruistic pacifist, as was acknowledged by the Nobel Peace Prize for 1975.

Sakharov’s posthumously published autobiography, together with documents that were declassified after the demise of the Soviet regime, made clear that his popular image was flawed: Sakharov never repented for his military inventions, was no pacifist, and his humanitarian conversion was brought about by his professional knowledge of strategic weaponry and by his awareness of the machinery of the Soviet system. Nonetheless, this did not alter the position he had adopted in 1968: “Peace, progress, human rights – these three goals are insolubly linked to one another: it is impossible to achieve one of these goals if the other two are ignored.” This is how he formulated his views in his Nobel Lecture, which, of course, the Soviet authorities prevented him from delivering in person.

Teller neither changed his political views nor was he deprived of his right to express them (except for classification restrictions). Two major accusations damaged Teller’s public image as related to the H-bomb. He was blamed for belittling Stanislaw Ulam’s 1951 contribution to the invention of the H-bomb, and he was held responsible for the ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer, “the father of the Atomic bomb,” owing to his testi­mony at the infamous 1954 hearing before the Atomic Energy Commission’s Gray Board. Oppenheimer’s opposition to the development of the H-bomb in 1949 became a key justification for not reinstating his security clearance.

Sakharov strongly disagreed with Teller’s persistent advocacy of atmos­pheric nuclear testing and strategic antiballistic missile defense. Still, Sakharov believed that many American physicists had been unfair in their attitude toward Teller. Sakharov saw the conflict of Oppenheimer and Teller on the H-bomb issue as a “trag­ic confrontation of two outstanding persons,” each of whom deserved respect, since “each of them was certain he had right on his side and was morally obligated to go to the end in the name of that truth.” 

It is easy to question Sakharov’s ability to comprehend the confrontation of the two American physicists because he lived too far away from the American scene to probe the Strangelove-like mind of Teller, and to judge whether Oppenheimer was like Prometheus, Proteus, or Faust – three characterizations of him that have been employed in the American discourse. The Oppenheimer-Teller controversy, of course, involved much more than physics; it involved political figures up to and including the President of the United States.

The issue of who invented the H-bomb appears to be simpler to understand, since it evidently involved only physics and the ethics of coauthorship. Sakharov never addressed the Teller–Ulam controversy, and probably was unaware of the tensions it generated among American scientists. In any case, he probably would not have spoken out on it because of classification restrictions. As he put it in his Memoirs, which he wrote during his years of internal exile:

"I write with certain omissions about my life and work between 1948 and 1968, required by a commitment to maintain secrecy. I consider myself bound for life by this commitment to keep state and military secrets, which I undertook voluntarily in 1948, no matter what life may bring."

Top Secret restrictions unquestionably hinder our understanding of the invention of the H-bomb – on both sides of the Iron Curtain. In the United States, the focus of our problem is Teller’s and Ulam’s controversial coinvention of the H-bomb design in 1951, which was tested in 1952. In the Soviet Union, the focus is on the controversial inde­pendence of Sakharov’s and Yakov Zeldovich’s conception of the Third-Idea for the design in 1954, which was tested in 1955.

Secrecy, however, is not only a problem but also an opportunity for the historian of science, because these developments constitute two isolated – or parallel – realizations of the same story, which in the Soviet case was opened up for research after the collapse of the Soviet regime when important archives were declassified and veterans of the Soviet thermonuclear program could be inter­viewed. As a result, the Soviet and American stories of the development of the H-bomb shed light on each other. Further, from a philosophical point of view, the two stories shed light on what was accidental and contingent in these stories, and what conditions were necessary for enabling these scientific and technological developments to suc­ceed.



I am grateful to Priscilla McMillan for helping me understand the American side of my story by presenting an opposing view in a most informative and friendly way, to Sam Schweber for critical remarks on my paper, and to the Colloquium on the History of Science and Technology at the University of Minnesota and the Boston Colloquium for Philosophy of Science for opportunities to present my findings and speculations and to engage in stimulating discussions. Finally, I thank Roger H. Stuewer for his careful and thoughtful editorial work on my paper.


Main characters in pictures and quotations

The Paternity of the H-Bomb


George Gamow: “somewhat exaggerated faces of my good friends Edward Teller and Stanislaw Ulam, who are known as the mother and father of the H-bomb”  [Cartoon sketches from George Gamow’s book: My World Line: An Informal Autobiography (New York: Viking, 1970), p. 153.]

Hans Bethe, a father of thermonuclear physics; Klaus Fuchs, a grandfather of all H-bombs (courtesy of Klaus Fuchs-Kittowski), and a sketch of a design for the H-bomb in Fuchs’s 1948 intelligence report (as presented at the International Symposium "History of the Soviet Atomic Project," Dubna, Russia, 1996).


Teller, 1952 “The main principle of radiation implosion was developed in connection with the thermonuclear program and was stated at a con­ference on the thermonuclear bomb, in the spring of 1946. Dr. Bethe did not attend this conference, but Dr. Fuchs did.”


The first page of espionage report on  H-bomb passed by Klaus Fuchs to the Soviets intelligence in March, 1948 (highlighted in 2009).


The only piece of  information extracted from this report and  presented as "preliminary experimantal data" to Sakharov on May 7, 1949, though the data had been declassified and  published a few weeks earlier [ “Low Energy Cross Section of the D-T Reaction and Angular Distribution of the Alpha-Particles Emitted,”  by E. Bretscher and A. P. French,  Physical Review 75, 1154 - 1160 (1949)]




The US scientists on the H-bomb


Bethe, 1952, May (letter to Gordon Dean and “Memorandum on the History of the Ther­monuclear Program”):

 “In 1951, Teller discovered an entirely new approach to thermonuclear reactions. <> the discovery was largely accidental.”

Teller, 1952, August (re Bethe’s Memorandum):

“The main principle of radiation implosion was developed in connection with the thermonuclear program and was stated at a con­ference on the thermonuclear bomb, in the spring of 1946. Dr. Bethe did not attend this conference, but Dr. Fuchs did.”
“It is difficult to argue to what extent an invention is accidental: most difficult for someone who did not make the invention himself. It appears to me that the idea <> was a relatively slight modification of ideas generally known in 1946. Essentially only two elements had to be added: to implode a bigger volume, and, to achieve greater compression by keeping the imploded material cool as long as possible.”



A fragment of a sanitized document “Pol­icy and Progress in the H-Bomb Program: A Chronology of Leading Events” (prepared by the U.S. Congress Joint Committee on Atomic Energy and dated January 1, 1953) mentions a Fuchs-von Neumann patent (record) of May 28, 1946, its short description is deleted. Fuchs’s espionage report of 1948 studied by G. Goncharov contained quite a bit of detailed information including the tenfold com­pression owing to radiation implosion.


Bethe, 1954 (at the Oppenheimer hearing):

“ When President Truman decided to go ahead with the hydrogen bomb in January 1950, there was really no clear technical program that could be followed. This became even more evident later on when new calculations were made at Los Alamos, and when these new calculations showed that the basis for technical optimism which had existed in the fall of 1949 was very shaky, indeed. The plan which then existed for the making of a hydrogen bomb turned out to be less and less promising as time went on. <> I am speaking of the interval of from January 1950 to early 1951. <>
Finally there was a very brilliant discovery made by Dr. Teller. *** It was one of the discoveries for which you cannot plan, one of the discoveries like the discovery of the relativity theory, although I don't want to compare the two in importance. But something which is a stroke of genius, which does not occur in the normal development of ideas. But somebody has to suddenly have an inspiration. It was such an inspiration which Dr. Teller had *** which put the program on a sound basis. <>
[until the spring of 1951] I was hoping that it might be possible to prove that thermonuclear reactions were not feasible at all. I would have thought that the greatest security for the United States would have lain in the conclusive proof of the impossibility of a thermonuclear bomb. I must confess that this was the main motive which made me start work on thermonuclear reactions in the summer of 1950.
With the new *** (idea) [In transcript, footnote reads: “supplied for clarity.”] I think the situation changed because it was then clear, or almost clear - at least very likely - that thermonuclear weapons were indeed possible.
<> Dr. Teller has a mind very different from mine. I think one needs both kinds of minds to make a successful project. I think Dr. Teller’s mind runs particularly to making brilliant inventions, but what he needs is some control, some other person who is more able to find out just what is the scientific fact about the matter. Some other person who weeds the bad from good ideas.  *** as soon as I heard of  Dr. Teller’s new invention, I was immediately convinced that this as the way to do it, and so was Dr. Oppenheimer. I should mention a meeting which took place in 1951, in June, at which Dr. Oppenheimer was host. At this meeting Dr. Oppenheimer entirely and wholeheartedly supported the program.<>
It is true certainly that a stroke of genius does not come entirely unprepared and that you get ideas only on the subjects that you are working on. If you are working on other subjects, let us say fission weapons, you probably won’t have any inspiration about thermonuclear weapons. It is true on the other hand that two quite important suggestions or discoveries were made on thermonuclear problems during the time when Los Alamos was not actively working on these. I cannot name them in an unclassified session. <> I think it is quite obvious that only when there is a concerted effort can there be the atmosphere in which you can have big ideas.”
(Quoted from In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer: The Security Clearance Hearing. Ed. Richard Polenberg (Cornell University Press, 2001), p. 133-137.)

Teller, 1954 (on his invention of 1951):

"I think it was neither a great achievement nor a brilliant one. It just had to be done. I must say it was not completely easy.… But I do believe that if … the laboratory with such excellent people like Fermi and Bethe and others, would have gone after the problem, probably some of these people would have had either the same bril­liant idea or another one much sooner…. [It] was just necessary that somebody should be looking and looking, with some intensity and some conviction that there is also something there."

Fermi, 1954;

"It is true, of course, that Edward Teller is the hero of the H-development. But it is equally true that a single man cannot alone carry a job of that kind. A genius needs the support of many other  men and organosation.”



Ulam, 1954 ((from his letter to H. A. Bethe, Oct. 29,  1954)):

“Carson [Mark] has shown me your article on the history of the H-bomb and I would like to make some comments. Let me say at first that I think that it is an excellent idea and I consider it as a splendid exposition of much of the truth. Perhaps, due to the unfortunate or even tragic, in a sense, publicity of the last weeks, one good thing that is happening is that the truth is coining out, slowly but surely.
Your article is excellent — if anything it contains a few under­statements of the case. (The well-known feature of the "big lie" is that it imperceptibly forces everybody to adopt some of the framework or termi­nology intended by the "enemies" and forces an impression of "defense" on the situation which should be really reversed.)”
“All the objects that now exist are variations on the same theme and while they make things cheaper and bigger, there is no question of any revolution in military application, but indeed the whole group is more of the same thing stemming very directly from the fission bomb development. An entirely different impression is being forced on the public.”

“It seems to me that, with tremendous modesty, you play down the very essential role of the actual scientific work of developing the so-called ideas, the enormous number of calculations, all the studies of the general physics of the processes, the engineering planning, all combined with the necessity of predicting and avoiding "side effects," anyone of which could ruin the success of the device. This work which Carson and you have planned, di­rected and executed is indeed much more important than the mere sketches of the thing which, as we now know, are subject to terrific instabilities in design. (An attempt is made by Edward to describe the Los Alamos part as providing "hardware.") One proof for the vital importance of such care is the success of the Livermore experiments [here Ulam implied the failure of the first H-bomb designed at the Livermore]. Wouldn't it be a good idea to give an inkling of the immensity of the project? The fantastic rapidity with which it was brought to a successful conclusion by indicating the vital importance of the work which Carson has done in this connection? After all, the effort was essentially a cooperative one and its planning is one of the most impres­sive examples of speed and success that I know of in all the history of technology.
By the way, it seems to me it would be hard to exaggerate the impor­tance of the contribution made by Fermi in the decisive switch from the origi­nal, hopeless approach towards opening one's mind for the necessity of really different ideas.”
“Sometimes I wonder whether most of the story could not be summarized as follows: Until early in 1951 there was nothing that looked, after a more thorough analysis, at all promising. There was a great deal of solid exploration going on -- and all the political noises or machinations did not change a whit in this. Then, after some promising, but different, directions were discovered, the thing was accomplished with unbelievable rapidity. Whether all the propa­ganda and all the misrepresentations, all the frantic noises accelerated or delayed the discovery of the working method will not be argued here.”

Bethe, 1968 (and 1997):

“the crucial invention was made in 1951, by Teller”

Ulam, 1983:

"It was not new physics. It's not to my mind any such very great intellectual feat. It was partly chance. It could have come a year earlier or two years earlier."
[Quoted from: Richard Rhodes, "Dark Sun. The making of the hydrogen bomb", New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995, p. 468.]

Bethe, 1988:

“Everybody recognizes that Teller contributed more ideas at every stage of the H-bomb program than anyone else, and this fact should never be obscured.”


Carson Mark, 1994:

“Ulam felt that he invented the new approach to the hydrogen bomb. Teller didn’t wish to recognize that. He couldn’t bring himself to recognize it. He's taken occasion, almost every occasion he could, not every one, to deny that Ulam contributed anything. I think I know exactly what happened in the interaction of those two. Edward would violently disagree with what I would say. It would be much closer to Ulam's view of how it happened.”


 Sakharov on the Soviet H-bomb (0th, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd ideas):

ADS_3port_.jpg“The task of Tamm's special group was to analyze the calculations of Zeldovich’s team for a certain specific design of a thermonuclear weapon, if necessary to correct and refine those calculations, and to independently assess the whole project. I spent two months diligently studying Zeldovich's reports and improving my meager knowledge of gas dynamics and astrophysics (the physics of stars and the physics of a nuclear explosion have much in common).”
“Two months later, I radically changed the direction of my research by proposing an alternative design for a thermonuclear charge that radically differed from the one pursued by Zeldovich's team in both the physical processes and the main source of the energy released. I will call this proposal the "1st Idea." Vitaly Ginzburg soon suggested an important addition to my proposal, the "2nd Idea".
The main feature of our design, as compared to the Zeldovich team's, was that it was evidently feasible; there were also some essential engineering and technological differences. Our design was further improved by the "3rd Idea," of which I was one of the main authors. The "3rd Idea” was finally shaped after the first  thermonuclear test of 1953.
Back to 1948, Tamm supported my proposal from the very beginning; he'd been always skeptical about the earlier approach. At his suggestion, I visitted the Institute of Chemical Physics to meet with Zeldovich's deputy, Alexander Kompaneyets. Kompaneyets did not accept my ideas immediately, he mistrusted my calculations. A week later I spoke directly with Zeldovich, who at once appreciated my proposal. It was our second encounter; we'd first met at a seminar where the discovery of a whole new family of elementary particles had been announced.”


“Now I think that the main idea of the H-bomb design developed by the Zeldovich group was based on intelligence information. However, I can’t to prove this conjecture. It occurred to me quite recently, but at the time I just gave it no thought. (Note added July 1987. David Holloway writes in "Soviet Thermonuclear Development," International Security 4:3 (1979/80), p. 193: "The Soviet Union had been informed by Klaus Fuchs of the studies of thermonuclear weapons at Los Alamos up to 1946. … His information would have been misleading rather than helpful, because the early ideas were later shown not to work.” Therfore my conjecture is confirmed!)”


“Apparently, several people in our theoretical departments came up with the “3rd  idea” simultaneously. I was one of them. I think that I understood the main physical and mathematical aspects of the “3rd idea” at a very early stage. As a result, and also due to the respect I had earned by then, my role in the acceptance and implementation of the “3rd  idea” was perhaps a decisive one. But the role of Zeldovich, Trutnev, and several others was undoubtedly very great and perhaps they understood and foresaw the prospects and difficulties of the “3rd  idea” as well as I”.


  Sakharov-Zeldovich's joint memo dated Jan14, 1954 (16 pp., handwritten in the red-brick building at the Installation, aka Los Arzamas, aka Sarov) on “atomic compression of the super-device” was a turn in the H-bomb research, but the key idea of radiation implosion was not still in sight. By that time Sakharov and Zeldovich realized that the Sloyka  design had no potential for significant improvement, and that Truba (i.e. Classical Super) was a dead end.



Yakov Zeldovich (1914-1987), for whom super-bomb physics was as interesting as cosmology and particle physics, greatly appreciated Sakharov’s talent: “I can understand and take the measure of other physicists, but Sakharov – he’s something else, something special. ”





Vitaly Ginzburg  (1916-2009)  was not fascinated with bomb physics, never dealt with the 3rd idea, and did not think much of Sakharov’s and his 1st and 2nd idea, but nevertheless he believed that Sakharov “was made of the material of which really great physicists are made”. Ginzburg knew too well that Sakharov spent his most productive – for a theoretician – twenty years at the Installation, and returned to pure physics only in his forties




The Realities of Illusory Worlds


Sakharov, explaining his mourning Stalin’s death in 1953:

“I already knew a great deal about the horrible crimes – the arrests of innocent people, the torture, starvation and violence. I couldn’t help but think of the guilty with indignation and disgust. Of course, there was a lot I didn’t know and I didn’t put it all together in one picture. Somewhere at the back of my mind was the idea induced by propaganda that brutalities are inevitable during major historic upheavals. As the saying goes, “When you cut wood, chips fly”. . . . On the whole, I see that I was more impressionable than I would like to be.
But what was primary to me was my feeling of commitment to the same goal I assumed was Stalin’s – building up the nation’s strength to ensure peace after a devastating war. Precisely because I had already given so much to this cause and accomplished so much, I was unwittingly – probably like any one else would in the situation – creating an illusory world to justify myself.”
 “I very quickly banished Stalin from that world.… But state, country, and Communist ideals remained. It took years for me to understand and feel how much substitution, speculation, deceit, and lack of correspondence with reality there was in those con­cepts. At first I thought, despite everything that I saw with my own eyes, that the Soviet state was a breakthrough into the future, a kind of prototype (albeit a still imperfect one) for all countries (such is the power of mass ideology). Then I came to view our state on equal terms with the rest: that is to say, they all have flaws – bureaucracy, social inequality, secret police, … espionage and counterespionage, and a distrust of the actions and intentions of other states. That could be called the the­ory of symmetry: all governments and regimes to a first approximation are bad, all peoples are oppressed, and all are threatened by common dangers…. But then, in my dissident years I came to the conclusion that we cannot speak about symmetry between a cancer cell and a normal one. Yet our [Soviet] state is similar to a cancer cell – with its messianism and expansionism, its totalitarian suppression of dissent, the authoritarian structure of power, with a total absence of public control in the most important decisions in domestic and foreign policy, a closed society that does not inform its citizens of anything substantial, closed to the outside world, without freedom of travel or the exchange of information.”

JRO_ADS_ET.jpgSakharov on the beginning of thermonuclear arms race:

“At about the same time that we Soviet scientists were beginning our calculations, Robert Oppenheimer, then chairman of the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission, was trying to apply the brakes to the American H-bomb program in the expectation that the USSR would then refrain from developing thermonuclear superweapons of its own.
Oppenheimer's judgment was challenged by Edward Teller. He insisted that only American military strength could restrain the socialist camp from an expansion that would threaten civilization and democracy and might trigger a third world war. That is why Teller believed it necessary to speed development of an American H-bomb and continue nuclear testing despite the genetic damage and other nonthreshold biological effects that implied. (Later on, I was to object to his position on testing.) And that is why he testified at the Oppenheimer hearing. Teller has been ostracized ever since by many American scientists, who consider his testimony and his overall position to have violated ethical norms binding on the scientific community, as Freeman Dyson, for one, makes clear in his memoirs.
What are we to make of the tragic conflict between these two outstanding individuals, now that we can view it through the prism of time? In my view, both men equally deserve respect. Each was sure that truth was on his side and that he was morally obligated to go his way to the end—Oppenheimer by behaving in a way that was later construed as a breach of his official duties, and Teller by disregarding the tradition of "good form" in the scientific community. As far as I know, issues of principle were complicated by technical and policy questions. Oppenheimer apparently believed (and had impressive evidence to back his view) that the designs that had been concocted for a hydrogen bomb were not promising. Teller believed that a reasonable scientific and engineering  solution would be found sooner or later; he may already have had some idea of the eventual design; and he was, of course, right in this respect.
The debate over their opposing stands continues to this day, but the facts that have come to light about the state of affairs in the late 1940s strongly support Teller's point of view. The Soviet government (or, more properly, those in power: Stalin, Beria, and company) already knew the potential of the new weapon, and nothing could have dissuaded them from going forward with its development. Any U. S. move toward abandoning or suspending work on a thermonuclear weapon would have been perceived either as a cunning, deceitful maneuver or as evidence of stupidity or weakness. In any case, the Soviet reaction would have been the same: to avoid a possible trap, and to exploit the adversary's folly at the earliest opportunity.
Still, Oppenheimer's position was not meaningless. His assumption was that it would be exceedingly difficult to build a hydrogen bomb, and he hoped an American moratorium would lead the USSR to abandon further research on the grounds that: "The Americans have failed, so let's not waste our time. Even if we succeed, they'll catch up and pass us before we know it, and we'll end up losers again." Oppenheimer surely realized that for his plan to work, several conditions had to be met: consensus within the American administration; skillful American diplomacy; Soviet H-bomb research had to be at a point where the USSR would be ready to call it quits (and this was probably not the case); and the United States had to be willing to accept some risk. All this must be judged in the context of the times: it was the period of maximum mutual distrust—the Cold War, the Berlin blockade, soon the Korean War—and Moscow enjoyed superiority in conventional arms, just as it does now [in the 1980s].
Oppenheimer felt he had little hope of convincing his opponents that he was right, and so he acted in a roundabout manner. He must have realized that more conventional, seemingly safer policies were likely to prevail; and in that case he was prepared to quit the game. He had every moral right to do so, and this is indeed what happened.
I cannot help but feel deeply for and empathize with Oppenheimer, whose personal tragedy has become a universal one. Some striking parallels between his fate and mine arose in the 1960s, and later I was to go even further than Oppenheimer had. But in the 1940s and 1950s my position was much closer to Teller's, practically a mirror image (one had only to substitute "USSR" for "USA," "peace and national security" for "defense against the communist menace," etc.)—so that in defending his actions, I am also defending what I and my colleagues did at the time. Unlike Teller, I did not have to go against the current in those years, nor was I threatened with ostracism by my colleagues. I had to overcome some resistance on technical questions, but I was not without support; the struggle for the "3rd  idea" arose for different reasons and was conducted in different circumstances than in Teller's case.
How did these directions find expression in my life? This book is my answer to that question.
If I am right in believing that the thermonuclear weapon model on which Zeldovich, Kompaneyets, and their team were working in the 1940s and early 1950s was the fruit of espionage, then Oppenheimer's case is strengthened, at least in theory. It would then be plausible that if the Americans had not initiated the whole chain of events, the USSR would have pursued the development of a thermonuclear bomb only at a much later date, if at all. A similar scenario has been repeated with other weapons systems, including nuclear- powered submarines and MIRVs. Now [1980s] isn't it once again time to stop and think before it's too late? I have in mind SDI, the Strategic Defense Initiative.
However, it is clear now that the situation was already out of control by the time the Teller-Oppenheimer dispute erupted, and neither the USSR nor the United States could then have pulled back. We have been building thermonuclear weapons ever since; but so far, at least, we have avoided the abyss of a third world war.
Now, I would like to note that American  colleagues of Teller seem quite unfair (and even dishonorable ) in their condemnation: Teller was, after all, taking a stand based on principle. The very fact that he was willing to maintain a minority stance on an issue of such critical importance should be viewed as evidence in his favor.”


Oppenheimer on the sin, 1947:

“In some sort of crude sense which no vulgarity, no humor, no overstatement can quite extinguish, the physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose”

“Even Isidor Rabi, a close friend, thought the words ill chosen: "That sort of crap, we never talked about it that way. He felt sin, well, he didn't know who he was." The incident inspired Rabi to say of his friend that "he was full of too many humanities." Rabi knew Oppie too well to be angry with him, and he knew that one of his friend's weaknesses was "a tendency to make things sound mystical." ”
(Quoted from Bird, Kai and Martin J. Sherwin, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), p. 388).

Oppenheimer on morality, 1951:

 “It is not in our judgment of ourselves or our own actions that I would reject moralism: it is rather in our attitude toward the behavior of other peoples. What I question is our ability to put ourselves, as a nation, in the place of these other peoples and decide what is right or wrong in the light of their standards and traditions, as they see them, or even in the eyes of the Almighty. I regard the behavior of other societies as something the morality of which I would prefer not to have to determine. I think it is our business to study that behavior attentively, to measure the intensity of the emotional forces behind it, and to take careful account of the potency of its influence on international affairs; but I feel we would do better not to attempt to classify it as right or wrong, praiseworthy or reprehensible. We Americans have enough, it seems to me, with our consciences and with the necessity, now upon us, to reconcile an individualistic tradition with the centralizing pressures of advanced technology.
It is for this that we are accountable as a body politic, not for the decisions and solutions arrived by others.
Let us conduct our policies in such a way that they are in keeping with our own character and tradition. This means, of course, that the moral element, as we feel it, must be present”
(Quoted from Schweber, Silvan S., “J. Robert Oppenheimer: Proteus Unbound,” Science in Context 16 (2003), 219–242, p. 239).


K. D. Nichols (General Manager, USAEC) to Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, 1953:

“It was further reported that in the autumn of 1949 and subsequently, you strongly opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb; (1) on moral grounds, (2) by claiming that it was not feasible, (3) by claiming that there were insufficient facilities and scientific personnel to carry on the development and (4) that it was not politically desirable.”

Oppenheimer on "technically sweet," 1954:

“… when you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb. I do not think anybody opposed the making it; there were some debates about what to do after it was made. I cannot very well imagine if we had known in late 1949 what we got to know by early 1951 that the tone of our report would have been the same.”
(Quoted from In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer: The Security Clearance Hearing. Ed. Richard Polenberg (Cornell University Press, 2001), p. 46-47.)

Ulam.jpgUlam on himself, von Neumann, and Oppenheimer

"I began as a pure mathematician. In Los Alamos I met physicists and other "natural" scientists, and consorted mainly, if not exclusively, with theoreticians. It is still an unending source of surprise for me to see how a few scribbles on a blackboard or on a sheet of paper could change the course of human affairs."

"Johnny [von Neumann] used to say that after the age of twenty-six a mathematician begins to go downhill. When I met him he was just past that age. As time went on he extended the limit, but kept it always a little below his age. (For example, when near forty, he raised it to thirty-five.) This was characteristic of his rather self-effacing manner. He did not want to give the appearance of considering himself "in." He knew that self-praise sounds ridiculous to others, and he would lean over backwards to appear modest. I, on the contrary, always took pleasure in boasting, especially about some of my own trivial accomplishments like athletics or winning at games. Children boast quite naturally. In the literature of antiquity, notably in Homer, heroes brag openly about their athletic prowess. Scientists sometimes boast by implication when they criticize or minimize the achievements of others."

“The Oppenheimer Affair, which grew out of the violent hydrogen-bomb debate - even though the animosity between Strauss and Oppenheimer had personal and perhaps petty origins - greatly affected the psychological and emotional role of scientists.
Oppenheimer's opposition to the development of the H-bomb were not exclusively on moral, philosophical, or humanitarian grounds. I might say cynically that he struck me as someone who, having been instrumental in starting a revolution (and the advent of nuclear energy does merit this appellation), does not contemplate with pleasure still bigger revolutions to come.
Anatole France tells somewhere that one day in a park in Paris he saw an old man sitting on a bench reading a news-marching in parade formation and shouting revolutionary slogans. The old man became very agitated, shaking his cane and shouting: "Order! Police! Police! Slop!" France recognized the old man; in the past he had been a famous revolutionary.
Oppenheimer had many unusually strong, interesting qualities, but in some way he was a very sad man. The theoretical discussion which he proposed of the so-called neutron star is one of his greatest contributions to theoretical physics, but its verification with the discoveries of pulsar stars, which are fast-rotating neutron stars, came years after his death.
It seems to me this was the tragedy of Oppenheimer. He was more intelligent, receptive, and brilliantly critical than deeply original. Also he was caught in his own web, a web not of politics but of phrasing. Perhaps he exaggerated his role when he saw himself as "Prince of Darkness, the destroyer of Universes." Johnny [von Neumann] used to say, "Some people profess guilt to claim credit for the sin."
Many accounts of these events have been written. Some are exaggerated or distorted; others, like the official history of the AEC, are rather objective. But none can be complete yet, and of course the events as seen by the participants appear in different lights.


Freeman Dyson on Teller's Memoirs, 2004

“There is sadness in his account but no bitterness. The greatest sadness is the personal sadness, when three of his close friends and allies, Enrico Fermi, John von Neumann, and Ernest Lawrence, die untimely deaths before their work is done. Throughout his struggles he maintains his talent for friendship. Leo Szilard, who disagreed violently with Teller about almost everything, remained one of his closest friends.
The worst period of Teller’s life began in 1954 when he testified against Oppenheimer in the hearing conducted by the Atomic Energy Commission to decide whether Oppenheimer was a security risk. The full transcript of Teller’s testimony is included in the book. One result of Teller’s testimony was that a large number of his friends ceased to be friends. The community of physicists that Teller loved was split apart. The hearing had been instigated by Oppenheimer’s enemies in order to demonize him and destroy his political influence. After the hearing, it was Teller’s turn to be demonized. Oppenheimer and Teller both suffered grievously from the quarrel, but the damage to Teller was greater. The reviewer remembers meeting Bethe in Washington while the hearing was in progress, shortly before Teller testified. Bethe was looking grimmer than I had ever seen him. He said, “I have just now had the most unpleasant conversation of my whole life. With Edward Teller.” Bethe had tried to persuade Teller not to testify and had failed. That was the end of a 20-year friendship. Bethe and Teller are now the last survivors of the golden age. I was happy to read in Physics Today a review of this book by Bethe, a generous review, emphasizing the warmth of Teller’s character and letting old quarrels sleep.”

Freeman Dyson on Teller, 2007

"Soon after Teller moved to Livermore he was invited to testify at the Oppenheimer security hearings in Washington. At the hearings he was asked whether he considered Oppenheimer to be a security risk, and answered, “Yes.” For this the majority of physicists, including many of his friends, never forgave him. The estrangement caused Teller tremendous grief. The community of physicists was split in two, and Teller became a symbol of the division. At the time when this happened I was puzzled and shocked by the violence of the reaction against Teller. To me it seemed that the main question was whether the security rules should be applied impartially to famous people and unknown people alike. It was a question of fairness. If any unknown person had behaved as Oppenheimer behaved, telling a lie to a security officer about an incident that involved possible spying, he would certainly have been denied clearance. The question was whether Oppenheimer, because he was famous, should be treated differently. Should there be different rules for peasants and princes? This was a question concerning which reasonable people could disagree. I tended to agree with Teller that the rules ought to be impartial. And I saw no reason why people who disagreed with him should condemn him for speaking his mind. Teller’s estrangement from the community of physicists became worse when three of his closest friends, Enrico Fermi, John von Neumann, and Ernest Lawrence, happened to die prematurely within a few years after the Oppenheimer hearings. Each of them died in his fifties and should have remained vigorously active for at least another 20 years. The loss of all three made Teller even more isolated as he started his new life at Livermore."

Kip S. Thorne on Teller-Oppenheimer controversy, 1994

"On 2 July 1953, Lewis Strauss, a member of the Atomic Energy Commission who had fought bitterly with Oppenheimer over the crash program for the super, became the Commission's chairman. As one of his first acts in power, he ordered removal of all classified material from Oppenheimer's Princeton office. Strauss and many others in Washington were deeply suspicious of Oppenheimer's loyalty. How could a man loyal to America oppose the super effort, as he had before Wheeler's team demonstrated that the Teller-Ulam invention would work? William Borden, who had been chief counsel of Congress's Joint Committee on Atomic Energy during the super debate, sent a letter to Edgar Hoover saying, in part: "The purpose of this letter is to state my own exhaustively considered opinion, based upon years of study of the available classified evidence, that more probably than not J. Robert Oppenheimer is an agent of the Soviet Union." Oppenheimer's security clearance was canceled, and in April and May of 1954, simultaneous with the first American tests of deliverable hydrogen bombs, the Atomic Energy Commission conducted hearings to determine whether or not Oppenheimer was really a security risk.
Wheeler was in Washington on other business at the time of the hearings. He was not involved in any way However, Teller, a close personal friend, went to Wheeler's hotel room the night before he was to testify, and paced the floor for hours. If Teller said what he really thought, it would severely damage Oppenheimer. But how could he not say it? Wheeler had no doubts; in his view, Teller's integrity would force him to testify fully.
Wheeler was right. The next day Teller, espousing a viewpoint that Wheeler understood, said: "In a great number of cases I have seen Dr. Oppenheimer act ... in a way which for me was exceedingly hard to understand. I thoroughly disagreed with him in numerous issues and his actions frankly appeared to me confused and complicated. To this extent I feel that I would like to see the vital interests of the country in hands which 1 understand better, and therefore trust more. ... I believe, and that is merely a question of belief and there is no expertness, no real information behind it, that Dr. Oppenheimer's character is such that he would not knowingly and willingly do anything that is designed to endanger the safety of this country. To the extent, therefore, that your question is directed toward intent, I would say I do not see any reason to deny clearance. If it is a question of wisdom and judgment, as demonstrated by actions since 1945, then I would say one would be wiser not to grant clearance. [I must say that I am myself a little bit confused on this issue, particularly as it refers to a person of Oppenheimer’s prestige and influence.]"
Almost all the other physicists who testified were unequivocal in their support of Oppenheimer—and were aghast at Teller's testimony. Despite this, and despite the absence of credible evidence that Oppenheimer was "an agent of the Soviet Union," the climate of the times prevailed: Oppenheimer was declared a security risk and was denied restoration of his security clearance.
To most American physicists, Oppenheimer became an instant martyr and Teller an instant villain. Teller would be ostracized by the physics community for the rest of his life. But to Wheeler, it was Teller who was the martyr: Teller had "had the courage to express his honest judgment, putting his country's security ahead of solidarity of the community of physicists," Wheeler believed. Such testimony, in Wheeler's view, "deserved consideration," not ostracism. Andrei Sakharov, thirty-five years later, came to agree.
Just for the record, I strongly disagree with Wheeler (though he is one of my closest friends and my mentor) and with Sakharov. "


Bethe on Fuchs, 1950

“Dr. BETHE advised he never had any reason to suspect the subject of espionage, and further that subject never seemed to be pro-Russian. To his knowledge, FUCHS never attempted to elicit any confidential information from him. He described him as extremely brilliant and as one of the top men in the world on atomic energy. ”

Bethe on Teller,  2001

“The first Soviet test, in 1949, convinced Teller that the time had come to develop the "super," the hydrogen bomb. An acrimonious battle over whether to do this raged in Washington and in scientific circles. Teller, Ernest Lawrence, and the Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy favored the super bomb. The civilian General Advisory Committee--which included Robert Oppenheimer, the wartime director of the Los Alamos Laboratory, James Conant, who had been the overall scientific leader of the Manhattan Project, Fermi, and I. I. Rabi, a long time adviser to the government and Los Alamos, firmly opposed it. With the revelation in late 1949 of Klaus Fuchs's espionage, President Harry S Truman gave the go-ahead in January 1950.
Looking back 50 years later, it seems to me that neither side had a strong argument. The policy of both the Soviets and the US was not to fight a nuclear war but to deter one; hundreds, and later thousands, of atomic bombs would have been sufficient; it seems to me that the H-bomb was unnecessary. The strength of the bombs was not critical.
Indeed, deterrence was successful; the existence of the two arsenals prevented the escalation of the cold war into a large-scale hot war. Truman had no choice in the political atmosphere of the time. Had Russia developed the H-bomb and the US not, he and the scientific community that opposed it would have been considered traitors.
In 1954, the Atomic Energy Commission cancelled Oppenheimer's security clearance. A hearing was held in April-May. At that hearing, many scientists testified in favor of restoring clearance. Teller and a few other scientists testified against it. When the decision came down against Oppenheimer, not a surprise in the McCarthy era, the majority of the scientific community blamed the witnesses they knew best, particularly Edward Teller.
Teller felt exiled for the third time: He had been forced to leave Hungary, then Germany; now a large portion of the scientific community ostracized him. In addition, he soon lost three of his close scientific friends: Fermi died in 1954, John von Neumann, a fellow Hungarian, died in 1957, and Ernest Lawrence, his patron at Berkeley, died in 1958.”

Teller on Fuchs, 1950, in a letter to Maria Goeppert-Mayer:

“You remember Klaus Fuchs? I never liked him very particularly, but [my wife] Mici did. He was too reserved for my taste although he was always very nice. He must have been living under an incredible stress. Quite a few people here [at Los Alam­os] are furious at Fuchs. They feel personally insulted. I do not feel that way. We should have learned what kind of a system the communist party is and what kind of demands it makes on its members. Fuchs probably decided when he was 20 years old (and when he saw Nazism coming in Germany) that the communists are the only hope. He decided that before he ever became a scientist. From that time on his whole life was built around that idea.
People always do this: They underestimated the Nazis and they underestimate now the communists. Then the disaster comes, and then the same people who would not believe that trouble is ahead get very angry at individual communists or indi­vidual Nazis.”

A half-century later, Teller described Fuchs as a very nice person, a highly intelligent person,” and told an interviewer that: I could not disagree with his actions more than I do, yet he behaved as a friend, and somehow I cannot think about it in very different terms.”

Teller on Communism, 1996, 1998:

“the events in the Soviet Union got an emotional emphasis when my good friend, the excellent physicist, Lev Landau, was jailed by Stalin. I had known him in Leipzig and Copenhagen as an ardent Communist. I was pushed to the conclusion that Stalin’s Communism was not much better than the Nazi dictatorship of Hitler.”

" My second published paper in physics was a joint undertaking with my good Hungarian friend, Laszlo Tisza. Shortly after our collaboration in Leipzig he was arrested as a communist by the Hungarian fascist government. He had lost his chance of obtaining an academic position and I referred him, with my strong recommendation, to my friend Lev Landau in Kharkov, Ukraine. A few years later Tisza visited me in the United States. He no longer had any sympathy with Communism. Lev Landau had been arrested in the Soviet Union as a capitalist spy! The implication of this event was for me even more defining than the Hitler-Stalin Pact. By 1940, I had every reason to dislike and distrust the Soviets.”



Laszlo Tisza (1907-2009) and the list of those first who passed the Teorminimum examinations in Lev Landau’s handwriting. Tisza’s name is number 5 on the list.

Laszlo Tisza on Teller, Landau, and Communism 

(“Adventures of a Theoretical Physicist,” Physics in Perspective, 2009):
“Two months after I defended my thesis I was arrested, and although I was not a Party member I was sentenced to 14 months in jail. In Hungary the Communist Party was illegal at that time, and any Communist activity was heavily apprehended. After that it was out of the question for me to obtain an academic position in Hungary. My scientific career seemed at an end before having started. Yet Teller remained the faithful friend. Although he had no sympathy with my political views, he helped me to find a way out. <> Edward had the idea that I ought to join Landau’s group at the Ukrainian Physical-Technical Institute (UFTI) in Kharkov. Lev Davidovich Landau had a marvelous reputation both for his research and for his method of training <> I expressed to Landau my desire to join his group, and he accepted me with a complete absence of formality. <> I joined the UFTI in January 1935."
"In the first weeks of 1937 the circus was reopened at staff meetings at the UFTI, where Landau was openly attacked as counterrevolutionary. Landau was fed up with these increasingly virulent attacks. He went to Moscow and asked for Kapitza’s help, who indeed invited him to join his newly founded Institute of Physical Problems. <> However, Landau was arrested in the spring of 1938 and was freed only a year later thanks to the direct intervention of Kapitza.
Meanwhile in Kharkov there was a rash of arrests at the UFTI, among others Alexander Weissberg, Fritz Houtermans, and Lev Schubnikow. <> With Landau leaving, I had no reason to stay on; nor was I welcome to stay. <> End of June 1937 I arrived in Budapest. "
" Just about three years had passed since my introductory meeting in May 1934 at the UFTI. What a change from my innocent optimism to the witnessing of total political corruption! Whereas I had no hesitation to abandon all confidence in the regime, there was a long search ahead, in the course of which I asked myself: what went wrong? I was unwilling to confine all the blame to Stalin, and was intent to find the flaw in the theory. It would take me years to deal with this puzzle."
"Back from Kharkov in Budapest at the end of June 1937, I got in touch with my old friend Teller, who asked Leo Szilard to write to Fritz London on my behalf. <> we left France in early February 1941 <>. Mid-March we sailed on a Portuguese ship to New York <>. In April I got an invitation from the Tellers to be their guest in Arlington, Virginia, where they just bought a picturesque house in the woods. <> I stayed with the Tellers until the middle of June, when they moved to Columbia University in New York, and then to Chicago.”



When (and how) “GULAG” became an English word?

The Oxford English Dictionary


[a. Russ. GULAG, acronym f. the initial letters of Glavnoe Upravlenie ispravitel'no-trudovykh LAGerey -Chief Administration for Corrective Labour Camps.]

  1. a. In the former Soviet Union, the name of a department of the Soviet secret police (see N.K.V.D. s.v. N II. 1) responsible between 1934 and 1955 for the administration of corrective labour camps and prisons.

1946 V. KRAVCHENKO I chose Freedom xxiv. 405 The Central Administration of forced labour camps, known as GULAG, was headed by the N.K.V.D. General Nedosekin... I recall vividly an interview which I arranged on Utkin's orders with one of the top administrators of GULAG.
1968  T. P. Whitney tr. Solzhenitsyn's First Circle p. x, All the zeks at the Mavrino sharashka belonged, though they were not at the time in hard-labor camps, to the realm of GULAG.

  b. These camps and prisons collectively, both under the N.K.V.D. and subsequently; a prison camp, esp. one for political prisoners; hence transf., any place or political system in which the oppression and punishment of dissidents is institutionalized. Also in more general fig. use.

1975  T. P. Whitney  tr. Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipel. II. III. xviii. 468 It was an accepted saying that everything is possible in Gulag. 1975 Business Week 26 May 12/1 (heading) An American in the Gulag. 


The word “GULAG” in NYTimes


1948. C.L. Sulzberger. Soviet Forced Labor Held Economic Asset in Study. New York Times; June 30, p. 6

The direct con­trol of the labor camps, and the workers' pool contained in them, rests in the hands of a subsidiary body called GULAG, or Chief Administration for Concentration Camps.


1948. Display Ad 31 -- No Title. New York Times; Sep 8, p. 33

PLAIN TALK'S journalistic scoops include ex­posure of Russian kidnappings in the Berlin Zone as far back as January, 1947; exposes of forced labor camps in the USSR, postwar purge of Russian writers and composers and many other "first" news stories.

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1950. Harry Schwartz . Soviet Data Show Slave Labor Role. New York Times ; Dec 17, p. 20

The N.K.V. D. construction tar­get was divided among three or­ganizations.. The chief administra­tion for labor camps, Gulag, was responsible for 2,615,000,000 rubles worth of building.


1953. Geza B. Grosschmid. Russia's Slave Labor. New York Times; Jul 5, p. E6

When in July, 1934, the G. P. U. was changed into the N. K. V. D., a new organ, the Chief Administration of Corrective La­bor Camps (GULAG) was organized.


Lev Landau, prosocialist prisoner of the Soviet state in 1938
and anti-Soviet Hero of Socialist labor twenty years later


Landau, courtesy of the KGB wiretapping in 1956-7:

"The Hungarian revolution [October 1956] means that virtually the entire Hungarian population rose up against their oppressors, that is, against a small Hungarian clique, but mainly against ours. … Ours stands in blood literally up to their waists. I consider what the Hungarians did the greatest achievement."

"Our regime, as I know it from 1937 on, is definitely a fascist regime, and it could not change by itself in any simple way . . . Our leaders are fascists from head to toe. They can be more liberal or less liberal, but their ideas are fascist."



A close friend of Lev Landau, Matvei Bronstein, was born 1906, arrested August 6, 1937, pronounced dead by Stalin’s initials February 3, 1938, and executed February 18, 1938.

This 30-years-old theoretical physicist, a pioneer of quantum gravity and cosmology, and author of wonderful books on science for children, was one of the some forty thousands who happened to be included in the so called “Stalin’s execution lists”. Stalin signed the execution list with Bronstein’s name on February 3, 1938. Two weeks later, there was a “trial” which lasted half an hour (according to the KGB file) and was followed by the execution that same day. It is clear that the Great Leader had no idea who Matvei Bronstein was.



 Vitaly Ginzburg on Stalin, American guys, and Communism:

ET_VLG_92.jpgEdward Teller and Vitaly Ginzburg, 1992

“While I visited the US [in the early 1990s] I saw a film on J. R. Oppenheimer and felt bitterness. All the good guys, like Oppenheimer’s brother and others, were lefties, and all of them believed that the U.S. should not make an atomic weapon, that Russians were good guys and so on. At the same time the bad guys, including security officers, understood the situation. Now we know this. How Stalin might be given superiority?! This scoundrel – I am convinced – would not hesitate to strike the West.”

“Quite a few well known and respectable writers and scientists in the West supported the USSR, condoned, up to the second half of the 1940s, and some even longer, everything that its rulers, with Stalin at the helm, were doing to the population. Suffice it to mention Romain Rolland and Frederic Joliot-Curie in France.”
“My father was an engineer of the old generation, never a party member. We had no one among our relatives or close friends who would go for political activity or at least would be capable of comprehending the real situation in the country. I was not personally acquainted with a single person who suffered from Stalin's repression. I was surrounded by communist banners, by prayers sung to the 'Great Stalin' and by the information on the truly appalling feats and gambles of the fascist side. We should not forget that the Soviet power had unquestionable achievements as well. Suffice it to mention here the elimination of illiteracy and unemployment, the absence - in the prewar decades - of racial discrimination (and specifically of state-supported anti-Semitism), the possibility to get education. Consequently, I am not going to repent, even today, that in 1937, at 21 years of age, I enrolled in the young communist league (komsomol). There was not a shadow of career-making in it: non-party-members were allowed into post-graduate courses of the physics department, and that was as far as my plans stretched. Neither am I ashamed of joining (or rather becoming a candidate to) the communist party in 1942. It happened in Kazan on the Volga to which the predominant part of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR was evacuated; that was the period when the German armies were closing in on the Volga. I never tried to avoid mobilization, tried to volunteer twice, and had no 'shield' from being drawn. However, there must have existed some sort of obscure instruction: do not accept into the army, without special reason, young scientists without previous military training. Frankly speaking, this was a wise decision, proved very beneficial after the war, when the destroyed industry was being reconstructed and new technologies were emerging. An aside: I had never occupied any party positions of any distinction whatsoever.”
“I should only remark that until the famous Khrushchev's revelation of 1956 I, like so many others, remained ignorant of the true role played by Stalin in unleashing the now exposed outrageous atrocities. I am very ashamed of this blindness of mine. The falling-off of scales was so painful that I became very careless and soon attracted KGB's attention. Some of our acquaintances began to avoid my and my wife's company; we found out later that they were invited 'where one does not dare to refuse invitation' and demanded to inform about me. The menacing hand with the sward has weakened, however, and people, at least of my station in life, were not thrown into jails or lunatic asylums for mere loose talk among fellow Soviet citizens. The only field in which the damage was done was the travel to scientific conferences abroad. Using secrecy rules as a pretext, I was not allowed abroad and lost a great deal from missing conferences to which I was regularly invited. That the secrecy was a pretext was beyond doubt since people who knew incomparably more about classified matters had much greater freedom of travel”



Sakharov on "the Oppenheimer complex", 1988:

ADS_ET_88.jpg(from a dialogue with a writer Ales Adamovich, two years after Chernobyl catastrophe)

Andrei Sakharov and Edward Teller, 1988

Adamovich: The curse of lies hangs over atomic energy. I suddenly remembered that you are the father of our hydrogen bomb. How do you deal with that?

Sakharov: I’m not the only father, of course. It was collective work, but no less terrible for that. Back then we were convinced that the creation of first the atomic bomb (I did not participate in that) and then the thermonuclear was necessary for world balance so that our country could develop in peace and quiet without being under the pressure of overwhelming superiority of the other side. To this day, I cannot rule that out. We—I include the Americans in this—created a weapon that gave humanity a peaceful breather. It is still continuing. But I am convinced that this break is not indefinite. If the nuclear confrontation continues on the monstrous level it has reached, no “word of honor” will help.

Adamovich: We nonscientists have the illusion that physicists must suffer from the Oppenheimer complex, the guilt syndrome. Is that so or not?

Sakharov: That is an illusion. We console ourselves with the fact that we are reducing the possibility of war.





Andrei Sakharov. “Peace, Progress, and Human Rights,” Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1975 .

Andrei SAKHAROV: Soviet Physics, Nuclear Weapons, and Human Rights. Web exhibit at the American Institute of Physics.

Andrei Sakharov, Vospominaniya (New York: Izd-vo im. Chehova, 1990), the 2nd edition (Moscow: Prava cheloveka, 1996); Andrei Sakharov, Memoirs, transl. by R. Lourie (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990).

Applebaum, Anne, Gulag: A History (New York: Doubleday, 2003).

Beck, F., and W. Godin [pseudonyms of F.G. Houtermans and K.F. Schteppa], Russian Purge and the Extraction of Confession, translated by Eric Mosbacher and David Porter (New York: The Viking Press, 1951)

Bethe, Hans A. and Frederick Seitz, “How Close is the Danger?” in One World or None, ed. D. Masters and K. Way (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1946; London: Latimer House, 1947), p. 92-101.

Bethe, Hans A., Letter to Gordon Dean, May 28, 1952 and “Memorandum on the History of the Ther­monuclear Program,” May 28, 1952.

Bethe, Hans A., “Comments on The History of the H-Bomb,” Los Alamos Science 3, No. 3 (Fall 1982), 43-53

Bethe, Hans A., “J. Robert Oppenheimer 1904-1967,” Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 14 (1968), 391-416; idem, “J. Robert Oppenheimer April 22, 1904-February 18, 1967,” National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America Biographical Memoirs 71 (1997), 175-218.

Bethe, Hans A., “Observations on the Development of the H-Bomb,” in Herbert F. York, The Advisors: Oppenheimer, Teller, and the Superbomb With a historical essay by Hans A. Bethe (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989), Appendix II, pp. 163-181.

Bethe, Hans A., “Edward Teller: A Long Look Back,” Phys. Today 54 (November 2001), 55-56.

Bird, Kai and Martin J. Sherwin, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005)

Bradbury, Norris, "The Los Alamos Laboratory." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 10, no. 9 (November 1954), 358-359.

Brown, Harold, and Michael May, “Edward Teller in the Public Arena,” Phys. Today 57 (August 2004), 51-53.

Dyson, Freeman. Disturbing the Universe (Harper & Row, 1979)

Dyson, Freeman. “Memoirs: A Twentieth-Century Journey in Science and Politics,”  Radiations Magazine, Spring 2004.

Dyson, Freeman. "Edward Teller (1908-2003)," National Academy of Sciences. Biographical Memoirs, 2007

Feoktistov, Lev, interview by G. Gorelik, February 24, 1995.

Feoktistov, Lev, "Vodorodnaya bomba: Kto zhe vydal ee sekret? [The H-bomb: Who Gave Away the Secret?],” in E. P. Velikhov, ed. Nauka i obschestvo: Istoriya sovetskogo atomnogo proekta, Mezhdunarodnyy simpozium (ISAP-96), Dubna, Russia, 1996. T.1 [E. P. Velikhov, ed.. International Symposium. Science and Society: History of the Soviet Atomic Project (HISAP'96), Dubna, Russia, 1996. V.1] (Moscow: IZDAT, 1997) , p. 230.

Fuchs, Klaus, [Report on  H-bomb passed the Soviets intelligence, March, 1948], in G.A.Goncharov, P.P.Maksimenko, L.D.Ryabev, eds.  Atomnyi proekt SSSR : dokumenty i materialy : T. 3. Vodorodnaya bomba, 1945-1956, kn. 1 ( M.: Fizmatlit, 2008), p.93-112  pdf 4Mb

Gershtein, Semen, “On the path towards universal weak interaction,” in R. A. Sunyaev, ed. Zeldovich: Reminiscences (Boca Raton, FL: CRC, 2004), pp. 141 – 165.

Ginzburg, Vitaly, interview by G. Gorelik, March 28, 1992.

Ginzburg, Vitaly, “The continued menace of communism in Russia,”  Physics World, Vol 10,  April 1997, p. 17–20.

Ginzburg, Vitaly, O Fizike i Astrofizike [On Physics and Astrophysics] (Moscow: Byuro Kvantum, 1995); The English translation: "The Physics of a Lifetime" (Springer-Verlag, 2001).

Ginzburg, Vitaly, O Nauke, o Sebe i o Drugikh (Moscow: Fizmatlit, 2003); The English translation About Science, Myself and Others. (Institute of Physics/Taylor & Francis: 2004).

Goncharov, German, “Thermonuclear Milestones: (1) The American Effort,” Physics Today 49 (November 1996), 44-48; idem, “(2) Beginnings of the Soviet H-Bomb Program,” ibid., 50-54.

Goncharov, German, “The extraordinarily beautiful physical principle of thermonuclear charge design (on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the test of RDS-37 — the first Soviet two-stage thermonuclear charge),” Physics-Uspekhi 48 (2005), 1187-1196.

Goncharov, German, P.P.Maksimenko, L.D.Ryabev, eds.  Atomnyi proekt SSSR : dokumenty i materialy : T. 3. Vodorodnaya bomba, 1945-1956, kn. 1 ( M.: Fizmatlit, 2008)

Goncharov, German, “Istoriya otechestvennoi dvuhstupenchatoi vodorodnoi bomby i nauchnaya etika [History of the Soviet two-stage H-bomb and scientific ethics],” Priroda, 2009, №4, p.36-45; №5, p.48-55.

Gorelik, Gennady, “Andrei Sakharov and Edward Teller,” The Oxford Companion to the History of Modern Science. Ed. J. L. Heilbron. Oxford University Press, 2003.

Gorelik, Gennady, “Andrei Sakharov,” New dictionary of scientific biography / Noretta Koertge, ed. Detroit : Charles Scribner's Sons/Thomson Gale, 2008.

Gorelik, Gennady, “Lev Landau, prosocialist prisoner of the Soviet state,” Physics Today, 1995, May, p. 11-15.

Gorelik, Gennady, “The Top Secret life of Lev Landau,” Scientific American, 1997, August, p.72-77.

Gorelik, Gennady, “The Metamorphosis of Andrei Sakharov,” Scientific American, 1999, March, p.98-101.

Gorelik, Gennady, Andrei Saharov: Nauka i svoboda [Andrei Sakharov: Science and Freedom] (3rd, revised edition; Moscow: Molodaya Gvardiya, 2009); The World of Andrei Sakharov: A Russian Physicist's Path to Freedom (Oxford University Press, 2005, with A. W. Bouis)

Gorelik, Gennady, “Matvei Bronstein and quantum gravity: 70th anniversary of the unsolved problem,” Physics-Uspekhi 48, No. 10 (2005), pp. 1039-1053.

Hansen, Chuck, US Nuclear Weapons: The Secret History (Arlington, Texas: Aerofax and New York: Orion Books, 1988)

Herken, Gregg, Brotherhood of the Bomb: The Tangled Lives and Loyalties of Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence, and Edward Teller (New York, Henry Holt, 2002), p. 374, n. 92.

Holloway, David, Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 1939-1956, Yale University Press, 1994.

Holloway, David, “V poiskah Kharitona [In search for Khariton],” in Goldansky V., Ed., Yuliy Borisovich Khariton, put' dlinoyu v vek [Yuly Borisovich Khariton, the century-long way] (Moscow: Nauka, 2005), pp. 499-505

Ioffe, Boris, “Bez retushi. Portrety fizikov na fone epohi [Without the retouching. Portraits of the physicists against the background of epoch],” (Мoscow: Fazis, 2004)

Lennick, Michael. “We Knew That If We Succeeded, We Could At One Blow Destroy A City” (A final interview with the most controversial father of the atomic age, Edward Teller), American Heritage of Invention and Technology, June/July 2005, Volume 56,  Issue 3

Lobikov, Evgeni, interviews by G. Gorelik, April 6, October 25, 2007. Evgeni Lobikov. I.K. Kikoin - nauchnyy rukovoditel' problemy obnaruzheniya yadernyh vzryvov na bol'shih rasstoyaniyah ot epitsentra [I.K. Kikoin, the scientific head of the program of remote long-distance registration of nuclear explosions]. MS. 2007. Lobikov E. A. I. K. Kikoin - nauchnyi rukovoditel' problemy obnarujeniya yadernyh vzryvov. In: I.K. Kikoin - Fizika i sud'ba. Moskva: Nauka, 2008

McGowan, Alan and Rochelle, “A Conversation with Andrei Sakharov and Elena Bonner,” SIPIscope 15, No. 2 (June-July 1987), pp.1-11.

McMillan, Priscilla J., The Ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Birth of the Modern Arms Race (New York: Viking, 2005)

Polenberg,  Richard, Ed.  In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer: The Security Clearance Hearing.  (Cornell University Press, 2001),

Reed, Thomas C. and  Danny B. Stillman, The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and Its Proliferation (Zenith Press, 2009)

Rhodes, Richard, Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995)

Schweber, Silvan S., “J. Robert Oppenheimer: Proteus Unbound,” Science in Context 16 (2003), 219–242

Schweber, Silvan S., Einstein and Oppenheimer: The Meaning of Genius, (Harvard University Press, 2008)

Teller, Edward, “Comments on Bethe’s History of the Thermonuclear Program,” August 15, 1952.

Teller, Edward, "The work of many people," Science 121 (25 February 1955), pp. 267-275

Teller, Edward, “The History of the American Hydrogen Bomb,” in in E. P. Velikhov, ed. Nauka i obschestvo: Istoriya sovetskogo atomnogo proekta, Mezhdunarodnyy simpozium (ISAP-96), Dubna, Russia, 1996. T.1 [E. P. Velikhov, ed.. International Symposium. Science and Society: History of the Soviet Atomic Project (HISAP'96), Dubna, Russia, 1996. V.1] (Moscow: IZDAT, 1997), pp.256-263.

Teller, Edward, “Science and Morality,” Science 280 (May 22, 1998), 1200-1201.

Teller, Edward with Judith L. Shoolery, Memoirs: A Twentieth-Century Journey in Science and Politics (Cambridge, Mass: Perseus Publishing, 2001)

Teller, Edward. [Interview of 2002] Lennick, Michael, “A Final Interview with the Most Controversial Father of the Atomic Age, Edward Teller,” American Heritate of Invention & Technology21, No. 1 (Summer 2005) .

Thorne, Kip S., Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy (New York and London: W.W. Norton, 1994).

Tisza, Laszlo, interview by G. Gorelik, February 28, 1998; May 28, 1999.

Tisza, Laszlo, “Adventures of a Theoretical Physicist, Part I: Europe”. Physics in Perspective, Volume 11, Number 1 / March, 2009; “Adventures of a Theoretical Physicist, Part II: America”. Physics in Perspective, Volume 11, Number 2 / June, 2009.

Ulam, Stanislaw, Letter to Bethe, Oct. 29, 1954.

Ulam, Stanislaw,  "Thermonuclear Devices," Perspectives in Modern Physics: Essays in Honor of Hans A. Bethe, ed. by R.E. Marshak (John Wiley & Sons, 1966).

Ulam, Stanislaw, Adventures of a Mathematician (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991).

Ulam, Francoise, From Paris to Santa Fe: highlights of a personal odyssey across the twentieth century. (MS, 1995, 230 pp.). American Institute of Physics. Center for History of Physics. Niels Bohr Library & Archives.

Weissberg, Alexander, The Accused, translated by Edward Fitzgerald (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1951).



History of the project (talks and articles)


Left: Edward Teller (sitting), Arnold Kramish (2nd from the left) and Soviet H-bomb veterans at a semi-closed conference on the history of H-bomb at Livermore Lab, 1997. Two Heroes of Socialist labor German Goncharov and Lev Feoktistov, and a nonheroic historian of science G.Gorelik are the 4th, 2nd, and 1st from the right. (Courtesy of Thomas C. Reed)


[Parallels Among Three Perpendiculars: Andrei Sakharov, Edward Teller, and Robert Oppenheimer], Institute for History of Science and Technology, Moscow, May 31, 2001; P.L.Kapitsa Institute of Physical Problems, Moscow, October 25, 2001

Paralleli mezhdu perpendikulyarami: Andrei Sakharov, Edward Teller i Robert Oppenheimer // Znanie - Sila, 2001, №9; VIET, 2002, №2, p.300-312

“A Russian Perspective on the Father of the American H-Bomb,” Colloquium on the History of Science and Technology at the University of Minnesota, April 19, 2002

“Circulating Top-Secret Knowledge for the history of H-bomb,” 5th British-North American Joint Meeting of the BSHS, CSHPS, and HSS, Halifax, Nova Scotia, August 7, 2004

Ottsy vodorodnoy bomby // Priroda, 2006, №5, p.3-14.

Sekretnaya fizika i nauchnaya etika v istorii vodorodnoi bomby  // Priroda, 2007, № 7

“A Russian-American Perspective on the Fathers of the H-Bombs,” Boston Colloquium for Philosophy of Science, April 24, 2006

“Edward Teller and realities of illusory worlds,” Boston Colloquium for Philosophy of Science, March 19, 2007




The US-Soviet Chronology of H-bomb

FAQ:     How much did the American road to the H-bomb differ from the Soviet one?   Could Klaus Fuchs be named a grandfather of all H-bombs?   Is it true that Sakharov, the most prominent Soviet expert in H-bomb affairs, never saw the most valuable Soviet intelligence on  H-bomb - Fuchs’s espionage report of 1948?  What are the reasons to believe it, and how could it be?  Are there alternative views on the history of the 3rd-Idea H-bomb?