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a memorable memo
Needless to say, once distributed this document caused a certain amount of stir and puzzlement, and at a Laboratory meeting an outraged member of the directorate suggested the perpetrator should be fired, which would free some much needed housing.
By and by the memo found its way to the AEC in Washington where it got a much better reception: A highly entertained Commissioner remarked that it was "The best thing to come out of Los Alamos yet!"
In 1947 Los Alamos was in the throes of its postwar reorganization. Administration and Services, or A&S for short-a predecessor of Mail and Records-was wont to distribute a large number of mimeographed memos, in purple ink on plain white paper, to keep Laboratory members abreast of the latest developments.
One December day in a T-Division office, two individuals busily compiled a list of numbers, which they labeled "A&S Memorandum no. 10,742" and gave to a secretary to type for dissemination through the A&S channels.
The culprits were J. Carson Mark (T Division Leader) and Stan Ulam (Group Leader).
Carson admitted later that their list had been hastily drawn and contained two "flaws": It was confusing to begin with "a dozen" for the number 12, and they altogether overlooked the number 10.
December 18, 1947
A & S Memorandum No. 10742
To All Concerned:
For your convenience and ready reference, we have had prepared the following list of the numbers 0-100 (inclusive) in alphabetical order.
12, 8, 18, 80, 88, 85, 84, 89, 81, 87, 86, 83, 82, 11, 15, 50, 58, 55, 54, 59, 51, 57, 56, 53, 52, 5, 40, 48, 45, 44, 49, 41, 47, 46, 43, 42, 4, 14, 9, 19, 90, 98, 95, 94, 99, 91, 97, 96, 93, 92, 1, 100, 7, 17, 70, 78, 75, 74, 79, 71, 77, 76, 73, 72, 6, 16, 60, 68, 65, 64, 69, 61, 67, 66, 63, 62, 13, 30, 38, 35, 34, 39, 31, 37, 36, 33, 32, 3, 12, 20, 28, 25, 24, 29, 21, 27, 26, 23, 22, 2, 0.
FOR THE ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
sents a few of the scientists and some of the
It would not take a great reach of imag-
The footnotes are Stan's own and selfexplanatory, but to heighten a younger and less familiar generation's appreciation of the satire, the following remarks and the numbered endnotes will we hope prove helpful.
Sub rosa (literally under the rose) refers
The principal characters engaged in a
fter dinner one evening in 1965, Stan in a playful mood dictated to Françoise all in one breath, so to speak-without corrections or rewrites the following "top secret" skit, which was not meant for public consumption. When asked what was to be done with it, he replied, "File it away and posterity will decide." It was filed and forgotten and no one else ever knew of its existence until it resurfaced recently. Now "posterity," in the form of the editors of this magazine, has decided to print it as a perfect example of Ulamian humor, which, built on a great sense of ridicule and classical erudition, was concise, incisive, and capturing of the essence.
Sub Rosa, which Stan called a play as if he had meant to dictate a five-act opus!— was his way of making fun of the horrendous nuclear debates that had filled the councils of state, civilian and military, and the nation's press and airwaves since the advent of the atomic age. More specifically, the skit repre
Totilus was a belligerent king of the Ostrogoths; and Ulfilas was a bishop of the Goths. (Note the reference to chess, a favorite game of Ulam's.)
Rounding the cast, we have Gregarius, the geophysicist David Griggs, a great admirer of Teller and for a while chief scientist for the Air Force; Fos-terasis, John Foster, then director of Livermore, known as an outspoken hawk; and Vertihumerus (Stan's Latin for green horn), an anonymous young man. The scientist with a lapsed Q clearance is the Russian-born physicist George Gamow, whose speech was characteristically laced with misplaced articles.
There also appear allusions to Hermandus Canaan, read Herman Kahn of the Rand Corporation, a well-known California thinktank; Libius, Willard Libby, an AEC Commissioner; and Manilius, John Manley, secretary of the General Advisory Committee to the AEC in its early years.
The trialogue takes place in Limbo, which explains the use of Latin and other classical references.
BENEFACIUS: I have just read an interesting article in Life, but I think it contains some technical mistakes. For example, the data on—
TOTILUS: Many wonderful things can come from testing. Think of obtaining oil from shale, for instance.
BENEFACIUS: One mistake I noticed
TOTILUS: Excuse me, may I say that the pressure obtained at the site of an underground explosion can produce new minerals, perhaps even diamonds. Harbors could be built in Alaska, in Greece. There is oil to be squeezed out in Texas.
BENEFACIUS: It is not correct to say
TOTILUS: Very small, economical-I mean cheap-bombs can be tested for tactical use in small wars.
ULFILAS (standing up, having kept quiet with some difficulty): This article describes in dramatic tones the horribly difficult decision the President has to make-as usual in solitude-after weighing the pros and cons of testing. This comes at the end. If one reads the beginning and the middle, there seems, however, no question as to what the decision has to be. The author makes it clear what anybody in his right mind would decide. He describes the tragedy of the moratorium. Since the Russians made so much progress in testing after the end of the moratorium, it would have been much better if they and we had tested all the time.
Isn't it possible that the Russians, with their devilish cleverness, might really want us to concentrate on little improvements of warheads instead of working on the really militarily important developments, like rocketry?
CHORUS OF SPACE SCIENTISTS:
If we miss the moon, we go around the sun.
How can we lose!
ECHO FROM DOD CHORUS:
The credible second-strike capability is firming up.
The stable deterrent might be upgraded.
ULFILAS: Unfortunately both sides have an incredible first-strike capability.
CHORUS OF FEGATELLO SCIENTISTS:
Not all is lost,
because we've got―
*With apologies to the spirit of Anatole France, who wanted to write a story so named.
Any lack of resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.
Greek for strange light.
§Italian for little liver.
a neutron bomb,
and they have not.
ULFILAS (to himself): Produce neutrons or get off the pad!
TOTILUS: Peaceful applications are very important. We might be accused of bloodthirstiness otherwise.
There is also the possibility that if we work steadily and vigorously some of the old ideas which did not work might be revived. Something close to the proposals which were proved to be impossible can be revised to show that I was right.
A body of scientists must have something to do. Si vis bellum para pacem.*
BENEFACIUS: There has been criticism of Los Alamos for working on peaceful aspects like nuclear rockets or the Sherwood project.
CHORUS OF SHERWOOD SCIENTISTS:
We have twelve approaches
to the problem of peaceful fusion.
even be promising.
Neutrons abound; the
instabilities are small.
A breakthrough is just beyond the
TOTILUS: As I mentioned to some of you ten years ago, one should think of a new
ULFILAS: I mentioned that some twelve years ago.
TOTILUS: Production of all fissionable material must be enthusiastically increased.
ULFILAS: Why? Isn't our stockpile infinite? Although I agree that there are degrees of infinity-countable and noncountable.
It seems to me that the interesting concept of "overkill" is attacked by people on the left because it is wasteful, i.e., not economically sound, whereas people on the extreme right support it for psychological reasons-it gives them a feeling of virility, which they otherwise miss.
TOTILUS: According to the calculations of my friend Hermandus Canaan, with whom I discussed the subject in detail, if only fifty to eighty million people are killed, the country can rebound vigorously in forty to fifty years, and the forward march of the consumer economy will resume.
Shelters are important. Libius has written that one can improve one's chances of survival by a million, or maybe as much as a billion.
ULFILAS: HOW? If this chance after improvement should be of the order of one, then it must before have been only one in a million or one in a billion. How does that jibe with sixty million people being killed, which is one-third of the population?
*If you want war prepare peace. Really, Si vis pacem para bellum (If you want peace prepare war).
TOTILUS: You see, that all depends. If we improve our weapons, the chances might be much greater. A toothbrush can be improved indefinitely, as, I believe, Manilius said.
GREGARIUS (Scolding everybody vigorously except Totilus, to whom he makes a mild reproach for talking too much): My committees state almost unanimously that our posture has deteriorated and needs considerable firming up both front and rear.
TOTILUS: One will never be sure without testing.
BENEFACIUS: One should really make more calculations.
TOTILUS: Perhaps you remember we discussed this fourteen years ago.
ULFILAS: A report which I wrote sixteen years ago mentions that very explicitly.
FOS-TERASIS: We have had very bad luck recently. According to the laws of probability it cannot continue indefinitely. Given enough testing, progress will be assured. ULFILAS: I doubt it.
BENEFACIUS: That is right.
TOTILUS: My friends from the Brand* Corporation have computed that the danger of fire storms and fallout has been vastly exaggerated. Also, people who try to prevent testing exaggerate the effects of the tidal waves. One could have a million megaton explosions without the waves reaching the Rocky Mountains. I do not know where the real danger point comes, but many more explosions can safely be made in a war than people think at present.
BENEFACIUS: That is not right.
ULFILAS: Somehow these things seem to me not good. I agree that we must be strong, but it is as futile not to test as to test. Our only cleverness recently was to induce the Russians to test underground too.
VERTIHUMERUS: It is not futile to test, and it is not futile not to test. I keep my guarded pessimism.
BENEFACIUS: Why should the neutron bombs lead to such a great advantage? I agree to a possible small advantage. In the wars of the eighteenth century there were nice close formations marching with officers and drummers in front. A neutron bomb would have been useful then; it could have killed the whole group without ruining the wristwatches of the officers.
ULFILAS: I don't think there were any wristwatches in those days.
BENEFACIUS: That is right.
TOTILUS: Small bombs would enable one to have a lot of small wars. If one should exercise additional self-restraint, these might be contained. And perhaps, even in the eighteenth century a Napoleon would not have been possible.
*German for conflagration.