Hans Bethe

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Hans Bethe in 1967

Template:TOCnestleft Hans Albrecht Bethe (born in 1906 in Strasbourg, Germany, died March 6, 2005) was a German-American Physicist, and 1967 Nobel laureate in physics for his work on the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis.[1]

Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists

The Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists was formed in 1946 with the primary purpose of raising money for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Federation of American Scientists and other public-education activities of the atomic scientists.[2]

The following were members of the Committee:[2]

Federation of American Scientists

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) was founded in 1945 by scientists who had worked on the Manhattan Project to develop the first atomic bombs.

Hans Bethe, was one of the founders of FAS.[3] Leo Szilard, Philip Morrison, Richard L. Meier and Harold Urey[4] were others.

FAS was founded from the merger of thirteen smaller groups. It started with a membership of more than 2,000 scientists and an advisory panel that included Robert Oppenheimer, Harold Urey, Harlow Shapley, Smyth, Leo Szilard and Edward U. Condon.[5]

The Hydrogen Bomb Decision

With some other scientific leaders of the World War II bomb project, including the members of the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission, Bethe advised as an insider against a crash program to develop a hydrogen bomb as a response to the first Soviet nuclear test in August 1949. President Harry Truman rejected this advice and announced his decision to go ahead on January 31, 1950. After the announcement, Bethe used the pages of Scientific American to explain to the American public his fundamental objection to such a weapon:

"I believe the most important question is the moral one: Can we, who have always insisted on morality and human decency between nations as well as inside our own country, introduce this weapon of total annihilation into the world? The usual argument, heard in the frantic week before the president’s decision and frequently since, is that we are fighting against a country which denies all the human values we cherish, and that any weapon, however terrible, must be used to prevent that country and its creed from dominating the world. It is argued that it would be better for us to lose our lives than our liberty; and with this view I personally agree. But I believe that this is not the choice facing us here; I believe that in a war fought with hydrogen bombs we would lose not only many lives but all our liberties and human values as well."[6]

Having lost the debate, Bethe returned to Los Alamos, however, as a consultant and, after failing to prove that it would be infeasible to build a thermonuclear bomb, contributed to the design effort. Indeed, following the proposal by Edward Teller and Stanislaw Ulam in March 1951 that the X-ray radiation from a fission explosion could be used to implode and ignite fusion fuel, Bethe led the theoretical program to develop thermonuclear weapons, as he had done with the fission weapon. Bethe later explained that, "[i]f I didn't work on the bomb, somebody else would—and I had the thought that if I were around Los Alamos, I might still be a force for disarmament. It seemed quite logical. But sometimes I wish I were more consistent an idealist."[7]

Teller, by contrast, had been obsessed with the need to develop the hydrogen bomb ever since Enrico Fermi suggested the possibility to him in 1941.[8] After his dream was finally realized, Teller was lionized by the right as "the father of the H-bomb" and became a leading proponent of the need to stay ahead of the Soviets in the arms race and for the deployment of ballistic missile defenses. Teller and Bethe, once close friends, were fated to be on opposite sides of arms control debates for the rest of their lives.[9]

Anti-Nuclear Weapons Lobbying

During the early 1950s, Bethe also played an important role in the development of the larger hydrogen bomb, though he had originally joined the project with the hope of proving it could not be made. Bethe later campaigned together with Albert Einstein in the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists against nuclear testing and the nuclear arms race. He influenced the White House to sign the ban of atmospheric nuclear tests in 1963 and the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, SALT I.[1]

Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign

Circa early 1980s, Hans Bethe was an endorser of a US-Soviet Nuclear Weapons Freeze petition circulated by the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, National Clearinghouse, based in St. Louis, Missouri.

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

As at April 1984, Hans Bethe served on the Board of Sponsors for The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists journal.[10]



  1. 1.0 1.1 Absolute Astronomy: Hans Bethe
  2. 2.0 2.1 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Harrison Brown 1917 - 1986, March 1987 by John Holdren
  3. http://www.fas.org/about/index.html
  4. http://osulibrary.oregonstate.edu/specialcollections/coll/pauling/peace/narrative/page6.html
  5. Crucibles: the story of chemistry from ancient alchemy to nuclear fission By Bernard Jaffe, page 312
  6. Hans A. Bethe, “The Hydrogen Bomb: II,” Scientific American, April 1950
  7. S. S. Schweber, In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), p. 166.
  8. Rhodes, Making of the Atomic Bomb, p. 374.
  9. Arms Control Association: Hans Bethe Memorium
  10. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 40, No. 4, April 1984, page 28