Edwin McMillan: Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to start with two remarks. First, this is going to be a personal story, so if I use the first person singular, this is not pure egotism, it is simply the fact that that’s the part that I know best. Second remark is, the difficulty of establishing facts at such a late date, even of important things. During the Manhattan Project, of course, there was security impressed upon everyone, so very few people kept any notes.
Martin Sherwin: You mentioned a point that others have mentioned that intrigue me: [J. Robert] Oppenheimer’s summer in Corsica. You said that Oppenheimer had once told you that reading [Marcel] Proust’s Memory of Things Past was one of the great experiences of his life.
Haakon Chevalier: Yes.
Sherwin: I have two questions about that. One, could you elaborate on that? Anything that you recall he said and why. The second has to do with whether you know anything else about that summer in Corsica.
Martin Sherwin: I’m interviewing Robert Serber at his home in New York City. Date is January 9th, 1982.
Let me just begin at the beginning and ask you, how did you get to Berkeley? Why did you go there?
Serber: I got my degree at Wisconsin with [John] Van Vleck, and that was ’34. You didn’t have very many choices of what you can do. But I got a National Research Fellowship, which, if I recall, there were only five of them available that year. That was a year when the new membership of the American Physical Society was thirteen.
Martin Sherwin: You must have met the Oppenheimers when Murph [her husband, Marvin Goldberger] met them?
Mildred Goldberger: No.
Goldberger: No, Murph met [J. Robert] Oppenheimer quite early on, I think. Not during the war. But he was an early invitee to the Rochester Conferences. I am sure Oppenheimer was there. In any case, they were known to one another.
Sherwin: Right, I had known that in ’48—
Goldberger: Yeah, right.
Martin Sherwin: President Goldberger, Marvin Goldberger of California Institute of Technology at Caltech in Pasadena, March 28, 1983. This is Martin Sherwin.
This is something obviously I should have done three years ago back in Princeton when you had more time, etc.
Marvin Goldberger: That’s all right. I have plenty of time.
Sherwin: You first met [J. Robert] Oppenheimer after the war, right?
Martin Sherwin: Did you know Robert [Oppenheimer] when he was going out with Jean Tatlock?
Chevalier: Yes, but I don’t think I ever saw them together.
Sherwin: When we first spoke over the phone, you called me from the airport about three or four years ago. I was living in Princeton, New Jersey.
Chevalier: Oh, yes. Yes, that’s right.
Hans Bethe: The other was M - A - D, MAD [Mutually Assured Destruction], which essentially says that nuclear weapons make sense only as a safeguard against nuclear weapons. As [Wolfgang] Panofsky has said recently, and there is actually an article by him, "It is not a doctrine. It is a fact of life. Nothing else is possible, whatever you might wish.” So I think you should not present it as something really unavoidable, without any movements in the opposite direction.
Martin Sherwin: This is Martin Sherwin. I am on my way to interview Professor Robert Christy in his office at 423 Downs on the Caltech Campus in Pasadena, California, March 30th, 1983.
You were a student of his?
Robert Christy: I was a graduate student of [J. Robert] Oppenheimer’s from the fall of 1937 until the spring of 1941 when I got my degree, my PhD degree in theoretical physics in Berkeley.
Sherwin: What did you do your dissertation on?
Martin Sherwin: This is an interview with Dorothy McKibbin in Santa Fe, July 20, 1979.
Dorothy McKibbin: Santa Fe?
Sherwin: It sure is, but it’s not going to be my last. I’m enjoying it thoroughly.
McKibbin: Great country.
Sherwin: It is. It’s just beautiful, and, of course, we’re having such fantastic weather now. If I could put this—
McKibbin: The most wonderful summer climate I have ever encountered, and I’ve been a lot of places.
Robert Serber: Ernest [Lawrence] got overexcited about the Russian bomb. I imagine that [Edward] Teller called him and got him worked up. I warned him about Edward’s Super, that it wasn't a practical idea at the moment. I told him if he wanted to really find out he should talk to [Hans] Bethe, but he never did. He was all gung ho for the Super and he immediately went with more or less the action before he thought of what he could do, and the thing to do was to build these reactors to make tritium.