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The Film and More
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The American Experience
The Film & More
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David McCullough:
I'm David McCullough. Welcome to The American Experience.

The debate had been intense for months. But then on Tuesday, January 31, 1950, after hearing the recommendation of his Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Harry S. Truman made one of the most far reaching decisions of his or any presidency.

As the world learned that same day, the United States was to proceed with "work on all forms of atomic weapons, including the so-called hydrogen or superbomb."

The announcement was one of a chain of startling events, an onrush of bad news, all in less than a year, that left Americans reeling.

The previous summer, China was overwhelmed by the Communist forces of Mao Tse-tung. That September came the stunning news that the Russians, too, had an atomic bomb; and after this, the revelation that one of the physicists on the Manhattan Project was in fact a spy for the Russians.

And now the arms race of the Cold War was to move to a level of cost and horror dwarfing anything in past experience, even the atomic bomb.

Our film is a chilling drama covering ten years and made especially riveting by the presence of several of the scientists who played key roles. It is not often in a documentary film that one senses such a range of intellectual virtuosity and moral struggle, of genius, fallibility, and sheer terror.

Nor should we let ourselves imagine that the peril at the heart of it all is only a thing of the past.

Race for The Superbomb.

continue to Act One