Twin Sons of Different Mothers: John Wheeler, Edward Teller, and the Cold War Quest for Peace through Military Hegemony, 1948–1983*

Terry M. Christensen, PACHS Visiting Fellow

Philadelphia Area Center for History of Science, Regional Colloquium

Friday, February 12, 2010 - 3:00pm

Chemical Heritage Foundation

Join scholars from the area at the Regional Colloquium in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine for a discussion of science and Cold War politics. Commentary by Erik P. Rau. Time: Discussion, 4:00 - 5:30 p.m.,
followed by social hour and light dinner
Location: Chemical Heritage Foundation * Apologies to the late Dan Fogelberg and his collaborator Tim Weisberg for the unauthorized use of their very appropriate title. Please download the paper and read it in advance. Abstract “There is not a whit of difference in the politics of Edward Teller and John Wheeler, and yet, [within the physics community] Teller didn’t have any friends and Wheeler doesn’t have any enemies.” [Paraphrased remark of former Wheeler student and co-author, Kenneth Ford, to this author on Wed, 23 Nov 2005, 30th St. Station, Philadelphia, PA. For the record, Ford also considered Edward Teller to be a friend.] In the wake of his testimony at the J. Robert Oppenheimer hearing and, in light of his consistent call for an expanded arsenal of strategic weapons, Edward Teller became one of the most controversial scientists in modern memory. Indeed, Teller was widely perceived to be the primary role model for the title character in Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 dark comedy, Dr. Strangelove. Though John Archibald Wheeler supported Teller and agreed with him on every major issue related to defense, including the Oppenheimer testimony, Wheeler was nonetheless highly regarded among his peers. This paper examines the biographical circumstances and philosophical basis for the reasoning that led these eminent physicists—each of whom believed he was acting in the interests of long-term peace—to support a series of increasingly complex, expensive defense initiatives in the face of resolute and often vociferous opposition by the vast majority of their colleagues.