Wednesday, January 31, 2007

January 31, 1950:

Truman Goes Hydrogen

In some ways, the power of the modern presidency is mind-boggling. The authority to use nuclear weapons, though it hasn't happened in more than 60 years now, has always been the president's (President Eisenhower began the practice of "predelegation" of that authority to certain field commanders in extreme circumstances, but that's another story).

A milestone in the development of nuclear weapons came 57 years ago today, when President Truman made public that the United States was going to pursue the hydrogen bomb. He said:

"It is part of my responsibility as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces to see to it that our country is able to defend itself against any possible aggressor. Accordingly, I have directed the Atomic Energy Commission to continue its work on all forms of atomic weapons, including the so-called hydrogen or superbomb. Like all other work in the field of atomic weapons, it is being and will be carried forward on a basis consistent with the overall objectives of our program for peace and security.

"This we shall continue to do until a satisfactory plan for international control of atomic energy is achieved. We shall also continue to examine all those factors that affect our program for peace and this country's security."

The first such bomb was tested successfully on November 1, 1952 in the Enewetak atoll (pictured); the Soviet Union had its own program, and tested its first H-bomb in 1953.

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