June 24, 2023

1952. Bill Downs and Edward R. Murrow on the Hydrogen Bomb

Operation Ivy

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November 2, 1952
EDWARD R. MURROW: Good evening. The Atomic Energy Commission has just announced the completion of successful experiments in what it calls "contributing to the development of thermonuclear weapons." This probably means one of the most important developments of our time: the hydrogen bomb. For the latest details, we take you to Washington and Bill Downs.

BILL DOWNS: Well, Ed, this seems to me to be more a day for a searching of the human soul, perhaps, than for any kind of scientific celebration. Because from the announcement by the Atomic Energy Commission, it is pretty evident that we have discovered the secret of the hydrogen bomb. That's what really a "thermonuclear explosion," as they call it, is. And from best evidence—unofficial—it seems clear that the first H-bomb ever exploded in the world was exploded on November the First, 7:15 AM Enewetak Time.

We've now designed mankind's most devastating weapon; a weapon that will make Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the Bikini tests, and the rest of them look puny by comparison. The experts tell us that the difference between an atomic bomb and a hydrogen bomb is the difference between a 12-gauge shotgun and a 16-inch cannon.

The hydrogen bomb is capable of devastating not fifteen or so miles as at Hiroshima, but hundreds of miles perhaps. Thus a single blast could wipe out everything between New York and Trenton, New Jersey. Everything between Los Angeles and San Diego. A single blast of a hydrogen bomb could cover a good part of the English Channel. A single blast of a hydrogen bomb could wipe out Moscow and devastate everything between there and Tula. One blast could wipe out everything between Beiping and Tientsin in Red China. One blast could cover an area between Pyongyang and the Yalu in North Korea.

We have not made this bomb as yet, we have just discovered how to make it. Perhaps the Atomic Energy Commission would have been wise if they had made the announcement before today's church services.

Now back to Ed Murrow in New York.

MURROW: It would perhaps be unwise to assume that because we have made the hydrogen bomb, the Russians are unable to make it. If this is indeed the beginning of the Hydrogen Age, it might be useful to quote from something that Albert Einstein said. I'm going to read a bit of this, because if this is the beginning of the Hydrogen Age, I should like to get it all quite accurate.

He said, "The hydrogen bomb appears on the public horizon as a probably attainable goal. Its accelerated development has been solemnly proclaimed by the president. If successful, radioactive poisoning of the atmosphere, and hence annihilation of any life on earth, has been brought within the range of technical possibility." That was a statement made, I think, in 1950.