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David Holloway on: Stalin's Motivation of Soviet Nuclear Scientists
David Holloway Q: Soviet leader Joseph Stalin also suggests to the scientific director of the Soviet nuclear program Igor Kurchatov that there may be rewards attached to this work.

DH: [Stalin] says, you know, our scientists are rather modest people, and they don't understand that in fact, they don't live very well. But we are a big state, and in spite of what we suffered in the war, we can reward several thousand people well...And what he means by that is, "Look, if you can give us the bomb, we'll give you medals, we'll give you orders, we'll give you dachas, we'll give you money, we'll give you cars, we'll give you the conditions for a comfortable life in return for your service for the state."

And I think what is revealing about it is that [Stalin's] view is that the scientists are there to serve the state. And of course, the way in which they will be encouraged to do that is by the promise of material rewards for their work.

Q: The scientists obviously are willing to create this hugely powerful new weapon for somebody like Stalin. What is their motivation?

DH: I think one of the most interesting questions in this history was what was the attitude of the scientists to what they were doing. Did they have doubts about it and the answer seems to be an unequivocal no, that they built the bombs with great enthusiasm. They thought that this was very important thing to do.

And I think that what they thought they were doing, the psychology of it, was actually very largely determined by the psychology of the war with Germany. No matter what they might have thought of Stalin, or [Lavrentii] Beria...what they saw was the Soviet Union threatened once again. It had been threatened by Nazi Germany and now it was threatened by the American nuclear monopoly. And if it was right to fight against Germany in the World War II, so it was right to provide the Soviet Union with the means of its own defense, by building nuclear weapons which would restore some kind of balance of power.

But of course that was reinforced by the kind of challenge, the sense that here we are in the race with the west. It fitted in very much with the old kind of Stalinist slogan of the need to catch up and overtake the west. And it fitted in very much I think with the psychology of the Soviet scientific community which is to say, look, we've got to prove ourselves. How do we prove ourselves? We prove ourselves in competition with our western colleagues. So it is a kind of a race to show that Soviet scientists can do it and can do it quickly. And I think that those two kind of rationales meshed together very neatly.

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