JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 194
Interested in responding to the poll yourself? Answer the Metallurgical Lab (July 1945) Poll here--we'll post the results next month.
In late June 1945, the Interim Committee (a secret, blue chip group established by Secretary of War Stimson with the approval of President Harry S. Truman to examine the problems that could result from the creation of the atomic bomb). decided what exactly to do with the weapons. The group (also including James F. Byrnes, former US Senator soon to be Secretary of State, as President Truman's personal representative; Ralph A. Bard, Under Secretary of the Navy; William L. Clayton, Assistant Secretary of State; Vannevar Bush, Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development and president of the Carnegie Institution; Karl T. Compton, Chief of the Office of Field Service in the Office of Scientific Research and Development and president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology; James B. Conant, Chairman of the National Defense Research Committee and president of Harvard University; and George L. Harrison, an assistant to Stimson and president of New York Life Insurance Company) found the following:
The opinions of our scientific colleagues on the initial use of these weapons are not unanimous: they range from the proposal of a purely technical demonstration to that of the military application best designed to induce surrender. Those who advocate a purely technical demonstration would wish to outlaw the use of atomic weapons, and have feared that if we use the weapons now our position in future negotiations will be prejudiced. Others emphasize the opportunity of saving American lives by immediate military use, and believe that such use will improve the international prospects, in that they are more concerned with the prevention of war than with the elimination of this specific weapon. We find ourselves closer to these latter views; we can propose no technical demonstration likely to bring an end to the war; we see no acceptable alternative to direct military use.
...that the weapon be used against Japan at the earliest opportunity, that it be used without warning, and that it be used on a dual target, namely, a military installation or war plant surrounded by or adjacent to homes or other buildings most susceptible to damage.
Slightly later, in July 1945 (but before Trinity), Arthur H. Compton asked Farrington Daniels (Director of the Metallurgical Lab section (at Chicago) of the Manhattan Project) to poll the 250 or so scientists at work under Farrington on the coming immediate use of the atomic bombs. (The results of the poll, answered by 150 of the 250 people, were originally published as “A Poll of Scientists at Chicago, July 1945,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, February 1948, 44, page 63. and again published in Compton’s own book, Atomic Quest, in 1956. The images below come from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists for October 1958, p 304.)
Here are the questions and the results of the responses:
The results of the poll were widely interpreted, and seemed to fit the needs of whomever was stretching the statistical canvas. On the one hand, for example, 87% of the anonymous respondents favored some sort of military use of the bombs, though just 15% of all of the scientists thought that the bombs should be dropped straight-away. Almost half thought that the bombs were best used in demonstration to the Japanese first, followed by renewed negotiating efforts for unconditional surrender, before the bombs were employed on targets; another 26% felt that the Japanese be invited for a demonstration in the US of the weapon. So even though 87% believed that a military use was prescribed, 72% felt that the military use was best first as a demonstration device. 2% (3 of the 150) felt that the bomb should basically be buried and not used at all.
Compton’s response to it all and to the immediate demands presented to him on 23rd July (Washington wants to know what you think”) was hardly quintessential: “My vote is with the majority….it seems to me that as the war stands the bomb should be used , but no more drastically than needed to bring surrender>” (Reported in Lewis Morton’s "The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb”, Foreign Affairs, 35, January 1957, pp 334-353).