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The Marshall W. Nirenberg Papers

Letter from William A. Shurcliff to Marshall W. Nirenberg pdf (100,502 Bytes) transcript of pdf
Letter from William A. Shurcliff to Marshall W. Nirenberg
Retired Harvard physicist Shurcliff urges members of the National Academy of Sciences to join him in denouncing President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, or "Star Wars," plan. Questions regarding the potential success of the program are included along with a return envelope.
Number of Image Pages:
1 (100,502 Bytes)
1986-03-15 (March 15, 1986)
Shurcliff, William A.
Nirenberg, Marshall W.
Reproduced with permission of William A. Shurcliff.
Exhibit Category:
Beyond the Laboratory: Professional, Personal, and Political Life, 1967-2002
Box Number: 15
Folder Number: 26
Unique Identifier:
Accession Number:
Document Type:
Letters (correspondence)
Physical Condition:
Series: Series III: Laboratory Administration, [1959]-1993
SubSeries: Daily Books, 1968-1996
Folder: #297 - #327, 1985 Jun-1986 May
March 15, 1986
Dear Member of the National Academy of Sciences:
It seems to me and many of my physicist colleagues that the President's SDI (Star Wars) program is doomed to failure.
If most of the members of the National Academy of Sciences likewise regard it as doomed, the President, Congress, and the public should be so informed. No other advisory group is more broadly competent or more impartial than the NAS.
I am now making a personal effort to sound out the NAS membership on its views on Star Wars by means of the following questionnaire. I intend to compile the results promptly and to publicize them appropriately. (Seventeen years ago, when the threat of the sonic boom of the proposed supersonic transport (SST) plane was at issue, I wrote -- as Director of the Citizens League Against the Sonic Boom -- to all of the NAS members, received strong confirmation that the sonic boom would do much damage to buildings, and was able to bring additional pressure to bear on Congress to halt the program. It soon did so.)
I hope you will indicate your views on the following questions and will return the sheet to me in the enclosed stamped envelope.
Is it likely that the proposed Star Wars program would succeed in providing an effective shield against a surprise attack by a flight of several thousand rocket-launched, high-altitude atomic-bomb-carrying warheads? Yes; No
(The attack could, I suppose, be launched on a stormy night and could be accompanied by tens of thousands of decoys of new and sophisticated type.)
Would the Star Wars program, even if capable of defeating a high-altitude attack, prevent atomic-bomb delivery by various other methods? Yes; No
(My impression is that an enemy could introduce dozens of city-destroying atomic bombs by cruder methods such as smuggling them ashore in innocent-looking lobster boats and yachts, then transporting the bombs by truck to our biggest cities, ready for detonation by clockwork. Or they could be smuggled in across the Mexican or Canadian borders with the aid of a bribed customs officer. Or the bombs could be delivered by short-range low-altitude rockets launched from close-offshore freighters and submarines.)
Would the Star Wars, program prevent ten-minute short-range delivery of atomic bombs to England, France, and West Germany? Yes; No
What is your overall attitude toward the Star Wars program?
Strongly for; For; Neutral; Against; Strongly against.
Your signature (Comments welcomed. Use reverse side?)
William A Shurcliff
Physics Dept., Harvard Univ. Retired.
Senior Editor of "Smyth Report" ("Atomic Energy for Military Purposes: The Official Report on the Development of the Atomic Bomb, 1940 - 1945")
Senior Author of Top Secret Report on the First Atomic Bomb Tests at Bikini.
Recipient of the 1980 Forum Award of the American Physical Society.
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