AUGUST 27, 1945
HYDE PARK, Sunday—I wonder if anyone noticed a little editorial item in one of the papers, not long ago, praising a former President of the United States for having the courage to allot two billion dollars to our scientists for the research which produced the atomic bomb. What ridicule this President would have had to face had the research been unsuccessful! Super-boondoggling would have been the least of the accusations leveled against him, stated the article. And so he was praised for being willing to gamble with the taxpayers' money, since there was the possibility of failure!
It struck me, as I read the item, that some people have very little conception of the responsibilities that any President of the United States, or any head of a government, must assume. In this particular case, it seems to me, the decision was an inevitable one, since it was well known that a race was on with Germany for this new discovery. If we had not taken the gamble of discovery, we would have taken the greater gamble of destruction in the event that Germany won in the race.
* * *
What struck me especially is that the courage to gamble with money should come as such a surprise when so many greater gambles must be faced constantly. The man at the head of a great nation has to accept final responsibility. He takes the advice of scientists in a scientific project, and he gets the best advice he can. Every time some new move in a war is mapped out, it involves not only the expenditure of money but the expenditure of human lives. Here, again, the head of the government takes the best advice that he can get from his military advisers. Nevertheless, for good or ill, the ultimate decision and responsibility, when that military plan is made, remains with him.
Do you think any president or any head of a government—like Mr. Churchill, for instance—thought more seriously about the gamble of two billion dollars on a scientific experiment than he did about the gamble of the human lives involved in landing in Africa or on D-Day in Europe?
* * *
Too few of us ever think about the responsibility which rests in times of crises on the shoulders of the men who are heads of states. It is gracious to acknowledge the courage of a man when you recognize it. But in the present case the very acknowledgment showed how little we really understand the greater responsibilities and more important decisions which required greater courage almost daily.