tv Winston Churchill Nuclear Weapons CSPAN December 19, 2017 2:16pm-2:44pm EST
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winston churchill and nuclear weapons. we have another very special lady, please welcome edwina sands. [ applause ] >> good morning. can you hear me all right? clear as a bell, i hope. well, it's lovely to be here for another conference. each one i come to seems to be even better than the last. now we have kevin, kevin roane here, who has written this very, very good book. churchill and the bomb. so one of my grandfather's best quotations, and there are so
many to choose from, is this one. the further backward we can look, the further forward you are likely to see. we think most of us, that history is past. done and dusted. over with. just a memory. but history has a way of coming back to bite us. as ronald reagan said, here we go again. i remember when the cold war was over. but then it wasn't. i remember further back when people were scared of the a-bomb and then worse of the h-bomb. and now today, the specter of nuclear war has once again reared its ugly head.
kevin roane is professor of modern history at canterbury, christchurch university in the united kingdom. he has written quite a few books, one on vietnam and one is coming out very shortly on anthony eden. and that will be a very interesting one because he had such a long history with grand papa. he is working on now something that i'm really, really longing to get my hands on, but it's not physical form yet. it's a book on graham greene and it's going to be called graham greene in love and war. so there's a lot to be said.
i think it's going to show how fact and fiction is hard to separate. we get a bit of that today here. nobody thought that was funny. okay. anyway. kevin's book, churchill and the bomb, in war and cold war is timely today. it covers amongst other things the close relationship with lord charwell, grand papa and lord charwell. i knew him slightly, like i was a fly on the wall because he was often at chartwell. he wasn't -- didn't relate well. he didn't relate much to the church or the children didn't
relate well to him. we had a much better relationship with monty. he took a real interest in people. anyway, the prof was an important person for grand papa because he could bat ideas back and forth with him on science. it wasn't in the house of commons. he could work out his own ideas and understood. that is one of the things i've been interested in, in this book. so now i give you the wolf kevin ruane who will tell us some wonderful things about his book. [ applause ]
>> thank you, edwina. is this mike okay? it's just -- okay. thank you, edwina. very generous introduction. it's great to be back again. so thank you to michael bishop and the ics, the whole family for giving me this platform now two years in a row. it's great honor. i thought i'd begin by saying a little bit about how i came to write this book. how i came to churchill and the bomb. it's a big man. big subject. churchill, the nuclear statesman. it really began about five years ago when i was asked to do some work by the churchill archive. that's to say the online digital repository of all churchill's papers. which you've heard about from lawrence amongst others already in the conference. i'm told close to a million individual images, so letters
about homesickness to his mother and world war i, world war ii, et cetera. i have to tell you, this archive is one of the great jewels in the crown of this digital age. although it is subscription only for universities and other what i call grownup organizations. thanks to the spectacular generosity of lawrence geller, it is as has been pointed out already, at this conference, it's absolutely free to schoolkids in the usa, the uk and other places around the world. lawrence deserves i think a round of applause for that, frankly, [ applause ] there's not many fantastic thingatithin things around that are totally
free. this is, if you're a schoolkid, one of them. i was asked to do a web essay to illustrate the aladdin's cave of riches that is this online archive. in doing the original research i came across a churchill i dimly knew existed. he was one of amazing scientific vision. churchill, as a teenager, was devouring science fiction, particularly the work of h.g. wells. before i give the quote, i'm no gary oldman. i think the oscar is safe, i hope. i hope after that magnificent performance. but churchill's speech pattern was so idio s, i can't quote ch without adding a rumble. the time machine, 1895 he said
it was one of the books i would like to take with me to purgatory. in 1931, he went on to say, that he had read all of h.g. wells' output with such closeness i could take an examination in them. beyond this, i discovered a churchill of striking scientific vision. who in the interwar years was publishing on popular scientific themes. in mass circulation newspapers and magmagazines. churchill recognized that scientific and technological progress was going to be ongoing, revolutionary. it was probably going to be a force for good. it wasn't new enlightenment. it was going to bring betterment to the masses. at the same time, churchill worried that mankind might not
be mature enough be able to handle what science was about to bestow and that science might have a dark side. one of those potentially dark gifts or double edged sword gifts was something called nuclear energy. the 20s and the 30s see modern nuclear physics come of age. with newspapers carrying loads of stories about the potentialities if the power of nature could be harnessed. potentialities, like cheap electricity, also newspapers carrying stories about the potentiality of something else, maybe atomic weapons. i'd like to give you a couple of examples of the kinds of things churchill was writing. he's inspired and as edwina said he is mentored by the professor of experimental philosophy at oxford university.
physics to you and i. churchill got to know the prof, as he was almost universally known in the early 1920s and it's a very close friendship and scientific mentoring relationship. this piece, 1924, ominously entitled, shall we commit suicide? in this article, churchill writes as follows, he suggests that the poison gas of the first world war might be the first chapter of a terrible book of destructive science. then there are explosives. has science turned its last page on them? might not a bomb, no bigger than an orange be found in time to possess a secret power to destroy a whole block of buildings? nay, to concentrate the force of a thousand tons of cordite and
blast a township at a stroke. 1924. what about this from december 1931? it appeared in the bumper christmas edition of the strand magazine. it's a pretty well known piece called 50 years hence. many of you may be familiar with it. he says this, he says nuclear energy is incomparably greater than the molecular energy which we use today. the coal a man can get in a day can easily do 500 times as much work as the man himself. nuclear energy is at least one million times more powerful still. there is no question amongst scientists this gigantic source of energy exists. what he's lacking is the match to set the bonfire alight. the scientists are looking for this. the match. you know, within a year, that's 1932, two cambridge scientists
have split the atom. and at liverpool university, another english scientist has shown the neutron can penetrate the power chambers of the atom. the nucleus of the atom where most of its mass and energy and power resides. 1932. the match has been found. 1933. january. adolph hitler becomes chancellor of germany. six years on, january 1939, two german scientists working at the kaiser wilhelm institute in berlin, they prove in their laboratory experimentally that something called nuclear fission is realizable.
a nuclear chain reaction using the heavy element, uranium. they done it on a teeny laboratory scale. all around the world, 1939, as europe slips closer to the abyss. all around the world, physicists corroborate their findings. it's agreed that if this could be done on large enough scale, you would have the most tremendous power source. cheap electricity for everybody. but by the same token, nuclear fission could also make for a weapon for mass destruction. what a year to discover that, 1939. i'd like to share with you one more piece of intoward churchill pop science i suppose you'd call it. massive effects on modern life. it was written in 1925.
now, in this, churchill gave us the following prediction. he said that it might be that the military leader of some future world agony could exti extinguish london, paris or san francisco by pushing a button or by putting his missiles neatly at the bottom of a piece of wool's cap. 20 years on in 1945 as prime minister, churchill gave his approve. he put his initials neatly on the bottom of a piece of fool's cap. he gave his approval from the quest fr request from the u.s. government that he agreed with them to use the bomb against japan. he didn't just eerily live out his own premonition, he insured the bombs that would ultimately
h hit hiroshima and nagasaki bore a british as well as an american seal of approval. more on that later. let me go back to today's theme. in expanding that small web essay into a book-length treatment i discovered the nuclear churchill. his career as a nuclear statesman splits into three chronological phases. and if i may, i'd like to run through those now. the first phase, it's the wartime phase. the first phase is what i call the atomic bomb maker phase. let me take you back in time to 1941. more precisely, to the 30th of august, 1941. churchill is 15 months into his
wartime premiership. his country remains in the toils of a desperate struggle for survival. on that day, on the 30th of august, 1941, his love of science fiction, his love of the appliance of science to warfare, his belief in innovation and technology, all come together, along with the promptings of the man in bowler hat. they come together for a top secret british effort to develop an atomic bomb. it's code named tube alloys. i think we can all guess if we don't know what the great spur is. the great spur is the thought that nazi scientists could put one of these things in hitler's hands. this was a race that simply had to be won. december 1941, of course, the united states entered the war. by late 1942, this pioneering
british atomic project becomes subsumed in the juggernaut, the leviathan, the monster that is the u.s. manhattan project. from that point on the united states drives the project, but the british are still there as junior partners, maybe, but they're still there. and so we come to july 1945. out in the wilds of new mexico, the world enters the nuclear age. when a plutonium device is successfully tested to spectacular effect. july, 1945. the test is code named trinity. now, by then, of course, hitler is dead. the third reich is a smoldering ruin. it turns out the race, although won by the allies, it turned out
the nazi atomic program was nowhere near as advanced as at one time feared. out in the distant reaches of the pacific, in asia and the pacific, the war with japan grinds on and on and on. and so to come full circle, on the second of july, 1945, winston churchill has i'd already said, gave a british green light to a request from the u.s. government to the use of the bomb against japan. he gave that approval in keeping with the mutual consent clause of a secret atomic agreement that he had signed with president franklin d. roosevelt at kquebec in august 1943. the mutual consent clause. just over three weeks later, that's the second of july, winston churchill isn't prime minister anymore.
he's lost the general election. not too long after that, of course, we have the atomic end game. on the 6th of august, 1945 little boy, the code name for the uranium bomb is hiroshima. it's an air blast. it's not dropped literally on. on the 9th of august, 1945, fat man, the code name for the plutonium bomb is used against nagasaki. i think the results of the bombing, the impact of these two weapons of mass destruction is so well known, i really don't need to underscore it. for churchill, the most important thing, although has now leader of the opposition is that on the 14th of august, 1945 a japan surrenders. for churchill it's cause and effect. the bombs are dropped, the surrender comes within five days of the second atomic bombing. eight years later, 1953, in the
final volume of his history of the war, churchill maintained two things. absolutely maintained two things. first the decision to use the bomb in 1945 was a joint decision between himself and president truman. a joint decision. the second thing he maintains, and i'm going to quote him again, is that the decision to use the bomb was never even an issue. his thinking went like this, in war bombs get used. the allies were at war with japan in the summer of 1945. the atomic bombs were weapons of war. ipso facto, you use those weapons. moral qualms were a luxury for others to indulge one. not for him who had been tasked in 1940 with defense of country. commonwealth and civilization. bomb maker.
phase one. the second phase of churchill's nuclear career runs roughly from mid1945 to 1950. and it's maybe slightly more controversial. it's what i call the would be atomic warrior phase. let me begin this one with v-e day. victory in europe day. 8th of may, 1945. when churchill looked at the map of europe, as he must have done, he did not like what he saw. he saw stalin's red army in occupation of eastern europe, the balkans, half of germany. there was little to no sign that stalin was going to abide by earlier agreements to allow freedom and democracy, free elections and so forth to flourish. no sign. for churchill, this was a staggeringly distressing and upsetting outcome to the war in europe. having fought the war in a sense to save the continent from the
tyranny of the right, naziism, fascyism wis fascism, what about western europe? the democracies needed to get their act together. it's here this thing the atomic bomb began to enter churchill's mind. he first learned of the successful test of the bomb when he was attending the final big three conference of the world at pottsdam. the diary of this man, i could have given you other diariesdia. it gives us an insight, and there are other insights that cr corroborate churchill's
reaction. he writes churchill pushed his chin out and scowled. now we could say to stalin if you insist on doing this or that, well, we can just blot out moscow and then stalingrad, kiev, subastipol and now where are the russians? 26th of july, churchill isn't prime minister or before. a fortnight later the bombs are visited upon japan. churchill did not have time to factor this new atomic power into his russia policy. his soviet policy. but we've got a good idea of his thi thinking. on the 7th of august he had lunch with lord camrose here. camrose wrote churchill is of the opinion that with the manufacture of this bomb in their hands, america could
dominate the world for the next five years. if he continued in office he's of the opinion that he could have persuaded the american government to use this power, to restrain the russians. churchill starts talking about a showdown, he uses that word repeatedly. a nuclear themed showdown. what he means is a diplomatic head to head with stalin in which stalin is told pull the red army out of eastern europe. send it back to barracks abide by wartime agreements or else. dot dot dot. for the next five years, until early 1950, this was churchill's repeatedly, if privately expressed view to all who would listen. particularly ambassadors to
london. politicians in opposition are much freer we all know to express themselves than those who are actually in power. you know, even allowing for that, even allowing for churchill's showmanship, the consistency over five years, the vuhe vuhe vehom vehomence. the king's diary tells us what churchill wanted to do was tell stalin the nations that have fought the last war for freedom have had enough of this war of nerves and intimidation. if you do not agree to pull out of poland and eastern europe here and no within so many days, we will attack moscow and your other cities and destroy them with atomic bombs from the air.
we will not allow tyranny to continue. in the end, of course, the atomic menaces that churchill had in mind, the sort of punishment of the kremlin for not abiding by democratic principles in eastern europe, was never in churchill's gift to deliver. it was in a sense of harry truman's gift here. it was america's gift. we're leaving our american history tv programming for a briefing with house republicans reacting to passage of tax reform legislation this afternoon. the vote on the bill was 227-203. it will now head to the senate for consideration this afternoon.