Atoms for Peace and Dr. Wilhelm Reich


Having an interest in psychoanalyst-physician-scientist Dr. Wilhelm Reich’s work, especially The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933, 1946)* as well as atomic history, I’m puzzled as to proposals made by researchers that suggest Dr. Reich was a creative force behind the phrase atoms for peace. For example, Peter Robbins writes:

And while it may have been a coincidence, in late November 1955, President Eisenhower’s ‘Atoms for Peace’ proposal – a plan for the peaceful use of atomic energy – was accepted by the United Nations. Some months prior to this, Reich had sent Eisenhower a copy of his paper documenting the Oranur Experiment, and the operations and experiments that had sprung from it. The paper was titled ‘Atoms for Peace.’

A search in spring 2012 by the Eisenhower Presidential Library archives staff did not reveal any correspondence drafted by Dr. Reich to President Eisenhower and shared with Lewis L. Strauss,** Chair of the Atomic Energy Commission, Gen. Robert Cutler, Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, or C.D. Jackson, Special Assistant to the President for International Affairs. These men were the primary architects of what evolved into the formal Atoms for Peace program. To date, no records of a Reich correspondence to any member of the Eisenhower Administration appear in the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) Archival Records Catalog or ARC.***

According to the Reich Trust’s archivist, Dr. Reich first used the term atoms for peace “at some point in 1955 in his book Contact With Space (p.171) and certainly in December 1955 in his [legal] brief Atoms for Peace vs. the HIGS (Hoodlums in Government ). Further, the Reich Trust was able to verify that Reich and Eisenhower never met, and there exists no supporting evidence that Reich ever used the phrase atoms for peace in materials sent to Eisenhower prior to his speech at the United Nations in 1953.  Reich’s colleague Dr. Elsworth Baker noted in 1968 “the President’s “Atoms for Peace” program had no relationship to Reich’s “Atoms for Peace,” as Reich believed, although it is true that there were important similarities.”

As a side note, The New York Times (NYT) can be used as a potential benchmark for the origins of the phrase atoms for peace. The NYT  indicates that the initial association of atoms and peace first occurred in 1945 with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (“BIG PEACE ROLE FOR ATOM: Princeton Scientists See Uses in Industry and Economy,” NYT August 7, 1945). Further calls by the Soviet Union to develop “pooling data for peace” (September 4, 1945) and for “new knowledge recently gained is used solely in promotion of peace” (King George, October 26, 1945) also associated civilian as well as scientific applications of atomic energy as “peaceful uses.”

Atoms for peace phrases are found in the NYT for 1946 such as atoms in peace (Harry Truman, May 12, 1946), atoms as peace (February 26, 1946), and a great force for peace (Robert Oppenheimer, June 9, 1946). The linking of atoms and peace contributed to what would become the Eisenhower Atomic Energy Commission’s program Atoms for Peace.  According to President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s memoir Mandate for Change 1953-195 on what is referred to as the Candor or U.N. speech**** delivered December 8, 1953, Ike recounts that he requested Strauss, Cutler, and Jackson to work on the “idea of actual physical donations of isotopes from our then unequaled nuclear stockpile, to a common fund for peace” (p. 252).***** Additional insight on the U.N. speech is given by Ike in a memo to C.D. Jackson dated August 24, 1953.

Perhaps we can hypothesize the subject of the peaceful atom existed in the public consciousness after the bombing of Japan, a meme if you will, and efforts by the Eisenhower Administration, through the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) in promoting peaceful uses of atomic energy that led to the official naming of the program.******

As for Dr. Wilhelm Reich, that fearless, controversial investigator of the human psyche, there does not appear that he had any association with the phrase atoms for peace prior to 1955. Moreover, the official U.S. program was completely different than anything Reich envisioned.



* Once a banned book in the United States.

** As I was curious if any correspondence existed between Dr. Reich and Lewis L. Strauss, I asked NARA to do a cursory search in Record Group (RG) 326, Records of the Atomic Energy Commission, specifically  records of the Office of the Secretary: General Correspondence, 1951-1958.  NARA failed to locate any specific references to Dr. Reich.  I was informed this RG consists of more than 200 boxes, and as such, NARA was unable to comb through each file and box in detail. I leave this work to dedicated researchers.

***ARC is approximately 75% complete in terms of NARA’s holdings, which includes Record Groups of specific federal agencies.

**** See The Atom for Progress and Peace: An Address Before the General Assembly of the United Nations, December 8, 1953. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1955. SuDoc: S 1.71:88

***** Dr. John Hall recounts the history of the drafting the U.N. speech in “The Agency Loses Its Initiator” IAEA Bulletin 11 no. 2(1969). Also see Ira Chernus (2005). Operation Candor: Fear, Faith, and Flexibility. Diplomatic History 29(5): 779–809. Chernus (2005:780) links the 1953 Operation Candor to Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace proposal as it “forms the essential prehistory.” In turn, the Oppenheimer Panel, titled for its chair, Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, set the stage for Candor (perhaps along the same lines as the 1945 Smyth Report that called for an “informed” public):

The panel’s very first recommendation for Cold War success was one that it saw as a prerequisite to all forms of flexibility: a new approach of “candor” toward the U.S. public on nuclear issues. Public support for the government’s changing weapons policies would have “strength and solidity” only if the public heard and understood the basic facts of the nuclear age (Chernus 2005: 783).

****** See Martin Medhurst’s Eisenhower’s ‘Atoms for Peace’ Speech: A Case Study in the Strategic Use of Language. Communication Monographs 54 no.2 (1987): 204-220.