Alex Wellerstein Profile picture
Historian of science, technology, and nukes at @FollowStevens. Author of RESTRICTED DATA: The History of Nuclear Secrecy in the USA (2021). Creator of NUKEMAP.
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15 Sep
@NarangVipin @SecDef19 I'm not sure that's what he's saying. The procedures do involve the CJCS, that is clear. It is also implied in much testimony that they can go "around" the CJCS in some situations. This is entirely separate from whether CJCS has a true veto power, beyond disobeying an order.
@NarangVipin @SecDef19 The "standard" chain of command jumps from POTUS to CJCS and from there to the theatre commanders. It is clear that there is meant to be some flexibility to this as well. I read Miley as saying, "don't be flexible, and make sure it goes through CJCS himself, not a subordinate."
@NarangVipin @SecDef19 Here's the cute lil' diagram I made of the US system as described in doctrine and testimony. Person #2 is CJCS or head of STRATCOM (there seems to be flexibility there).

Whole paper is here, diagrams for diff countries (and legend) are at end:…
Read 5 tweets
12 Sep
This is a little painful to read, because it repeats some long-debunked myths about the Nazis atomic program: They didn't fail to make a bomb because of a lack of heavy water, or by being bad at industrial production. ...…
...they failed because **they didn't invest in an atomic bomb production program.** In early 1942, German Army Ordnance decided that nuclear fission research would be irrelevant to the outcome of the war, and declined to finance a large-scale effort.
Instead, they agreed to keep a small-scale (I would say "pilot") reactor program, as a possible long-term program aimed primarily around military propulsion. This is what the cubes were part of — a small-scale reactor program. The Nazi reactors couldn't have made bombs for WWII.
Read 22 tweets
11 Sep
For 9/11/01 I was I living in a studio apartment on top of a hill in Berkeley with nobody I knew around, no radio, no television. So I got all my news through a terrible dial-up connection. 1/
I remember logging on that morning, after everything had happened, and trying to make sense of the news. It seemed totally non-sequitur. I think my internet was being especially slow that day as well, so pages were only half-loading. It was so surreal. 2/
We still had classes that day, which is I guess surprising in retrospect. People were super worried about there being West Coast targets as well. The bomb squad had parked itself at the front of campus. In class we sort of just talked about it all. 3/
Read 9 tweets
10 Sep
The difficulty for doing Oppenheimer well is that Oppenheimer, the man, was not a relatable character in practically any way. Trying to make him so makes for a bad filmic Oppenheimer. But anchoring a film around an unrelatable character is pretty tough.
I still really like how Daniel London portrayed Oppenheimer on MANHATTAN — as stressed, self-doubting, at times extremely harsh and cold. That wasn't 100% of the real Oppenheimer, but it's a legitimate side of him that is usually NOT visible in dramatic representations.
For me, the two Oppenheimer plot lines that I hate the most (because they are maximum mythical) is "Oppenheimer as martyr" (way more complex than that) and "Oppenheimer as regretful" (he really wasn't).
Read 4 tweets
10 Aug
August 10th, 1945 — another very important day in the history of nuclear weapons. Groves informs Marshall (and Truman) that another bomb will be ready to use in a week. Truman tells Marshall that they are NOT to use it without his express permission. Image
This, and not the "decision to use the bomb" (which Truman played almost no role in), is what establishes the tradition and eventually the policy of "presidential control" for nuclear use orders in the United States (it was still de facto before 1948, when NSC-30 codified it). Image
Truman told his cabinet — as recorded in the diary of Henry Wallace, his secretary of commerce, that he had issued the "stop order" because "he didn't like the idea of killing, as he said, 'all those kids.'" Image
Read 6 tweets
8 Aug
August 8, 1945, has become one of the more important atomic bombing dates in my mind over the years. It's after Hiroshima, but before Nagasaki. It's easy to ignore for that reason. But a few very significant things happened that day.

(A fairly shortish thread)
16 hours after Hiroshima was bombed, the US released Truman's statement about what had happened. The Japanese, of course, did not take it at face value, and sent a delegation of scientists to Hiroshima to confirm that it wasn't just firebombing or something else.
Because of the disruption, it took until the evening of August 8th for them to get to Hiroshima, inspect the damage, do some tests, and to report back to the Japanese high command:
Read 10 tweets
8 Aug
In a dream I had last night, I was talking to someone about pitching a Shout and Murmurs about "buying your dream house," except "dream house" here meant the weird houses that appear in your dreams — those weird mashups of real and imaginary dwellings, with secret rooms, etc.
Separately, I've been thinking a lot about dream architecture lately — my brain clearly has "dream versions" of certain places that I dream about more than once, and they clearly represent real-life places, but are really different than the real ones.
I find them so odd because they have almost a "theme" of the original place (e.g., college, a house I lived in during grad school, a library I used to go to) but they end up being totally different (almost impossibly larger and grander, for example).
Read 4 tweets
7 Aug
"Key words and phrases that could indicate the presence of Restricted Data/Formerly Restricted Data"
The plot thickens
I looked into this a tiny bit more... according to Chuck Hansen, BURRITO was a code-name for a device tested at Upshot-Knothole Badger (1953), which was apparently a test of a mockup of the TX-16 ("Jughead") secondary. So it may, in fact, have been a frozen burrito.
Read 4 tweets
11 Mar
As probably the historian who has spent the most time researching World War II secret atomic parents, I can confirm that a) there is no single patent for the atomic bomb (there are many!), b) none of them have Hirohito listed as an author (ht @pashulman) Image
There are patent applications that cover the atomic bombs themselves. They are still classified and have never been granted. They can never be granted under the Atomic Energy Act, as it prohibits patents on nuclear weapons. Read my article for details:…
A while back I FOIAed the names/titles/dates for the still-secret "patents of the atomic bomb," and it's mostly the standard Los Alamos scientists you all know about. Oppenheimer. Bethe. Teller. Von Neumann. A few lower-level folks are the only surprises.
Read 5 tweets
19 Oct 20
This week in my nuclear class we looked at security and loyalty in the 1950s, and read and talked at length about the Oppenheimer security hearing. I asked the students whether they would have, based on the hearing transcripts, restored or stripped Oppenheimer's clearance:
As you can see, most thought they'd strip it, and even those in favor of restoring it did so on the basis that it was just a political hearing anyway, and had no real consequences (since his clearance was about to expire anyway).
As I said to them, I suspect they'd feel differently if I had framed it in a more pro-Oppenheimer way, the way it is usually portrayed popularly.
Read 5 tweets
6 Oct 20
For awhile I've thought the framing of the "crazy President" for nuclear use authority — e.g., in which a POTUS might get up one day and have VERY WILD ideas about nukes — was not a great one, because real mental illness doesn't suddenly appear overnight.
But I did not anticipate the current conditions of the Presidency — a POTUS who appears extremely in denial about being sick, self-discharging while on heavy drugs, essentially allowed to dictate his own care. COVID-19 does not go away in 3 days. He looks quite sick.
This is a completely bizarre situation. Short of the 25th Amendment — a huge decision under any conditions, obviously not one any of his cabinet or cronies are willing to invoke a few months from an election — it appears nobody has any control over this very sick man.
Read 7 tweets
23 Sep 20
About this time last year I was thinking very seriously about what the future of academic talks and conferences would be, if we took climate change seriously and stopped flying everywhere on jets so regularly.

Now we know! Better for the environment, for sure, but not as good.
As an aside, I would have thought, by now, that there would be a whole host of AMAZING software offerings for the "next gen" of teaching/conferencing online, given that engine of "disruption" that is Silicon Valley. But instead we just have Zoom, which is Skype for More People.
Where are the apps that will help replicate the need to have side conversations while listening with one ear to the main conversation? Where are the apps that will make us feel embodied and not just a bunch of floating heads?
Read 6 tweets
11 Sep 20
When I'm teaching history to undergraduates, I always point out that if you take a historical figure's birthdate, and add about 20 to that, you get the foundational years that shape their view of the world. It's a way to make the ubiquitous birthdates in historical texts useful.
For me, that gets you 2001, and I do think much of my worldview and mindset got fixed into place by 9/11. I was on another coast, don't get me wrong. But there was an experience that got seared into the minds of all Americans that day, especially younger ones.
(Before anyone wants to school me on the difference in experiences between people who were in NYC and people who were not — I know. My wife was in NYC on 9/11. But the non-NYC experience is still an experience.)
Read 8 tweets
7 Sep 20
Is there any software paradigm I loathe more than Apple's file versioning system? It only applies to a handful of programs that Apple itself makes, it makes an absolute mess out of saving new files, and half of the time it screws itself up and won't let me save things.
I mean, is there anything more straightforward in principle than opening up an old file, modifying it, and wanting to save it with a new file name? For someone who routinely updates old files or uses them as templates, this is just my bread and butter.
But with Keynote or the other twelve or so programs that use this model, you have to either remember to make a copy of the old file first, OR you have to do a tedious "Duplicate" action and then Revert all of the changes in the original. Is the "Save As" command such a sin?
Read 4 tweets
30 Aug 20
Tenure file submitted. I have a found an accurate image depicting what writing one of these things does to a person. But it does feel good to have it out the door. Fingers crossed...!
My experience is that non-academics don't really understand why the tenure thing is such a stressor. Here is how I explain it to students: After 6 years, I compile a +80 dossier of everything I've ever done, asking the university to please make it impossible for them to fire me.
Several committees and administrators look it over. They have only two options:
1. They can choose to make it (almost) impossible to fire me, giving me a job for life
2. They decide never to re-hire me again, and I have a few months to find a new job
Read 5 tweets
29 Aug 20
It took me a week of thinking about it but I finally solved my "using OBS with Keynote and seeing Presenter Notes" problem. For anyone who might find it useful, it's two things, one obscure, the other positively annoying:
1. In Keynote, you can make it project the presentation to a separate window. Play > Play Slideshow from Window. It won't let you do Presenter View while doing this (I mean, why make it easy?), but it'll let you use that window as your target for OBS.
2. I wrote an Applescript "Stay Open Application" that will, every second, check to see what slide Keynote is on. If it is not the slide it was last on, it grabs the presenter notes and puts them into TextEdit. The TextEdit window can then be put wherever you want to look at it.
Read 5 tweets
27 Aug 20
People are ragging on this poor girl, but the questions she's asking are actually GREAT. How did Pythagoras do what he did when he did? Why was algebra invented — "what did they need it for?" I cover all of this in my History of Science survey and the answers are fascinating.
For example, on the "what would you need it for": the text responsible for disseminating algebra widely ("The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing [al-jabr]," by Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī, 820) emphasizes its practicality in the very first pages:
And almost the entire thing are "word problems" or "story problems" that show how you'd use it to answer practical questions — practical for Abbasid empire, anyway!
Read 5 tweets
26 Aug 20
Zoom's "Slides as Virtual Background" feature is ALMOST great. All it really needs is to support transitions/animations/sounds, and the ability to change the opacity of the speaker's portrait. That would 100% solve my "OBS is terrible for Keynote" issue.
OK I just looked at how it turns up on cloud recording and it is totally different from what it looks like on screen, and it makes no sense at all. Yeesh. Beta, indeed.
When you are sharing it in Zoom, you can move your little head onto the slide, and it'll turn your greenscreen background transparent. Which is cool. You can even resize your head! Useful for those of us with big or small heads.
Read 8 tweets
11 Aug 20
I've spent a lot of time thinking about August 10, 1945 (75th anniversary of which is today), because it's where you can really pinpoint the beginnings of Presidential nuclear control in the United States. Thread:
More frequently, scholars invoke Hiroshima for this. That's not quite right; Truman was barely involved in the initial decision to use the bombs, and certainly didn't exercise any control of his office. (At best, he exercised the control of not stopping it.)
And he wasn't involved in the use of the second atomic bomb at all; it's not even clear he knew it was going to occur. It certainly wasn't any kind of decision on his part.
Read 21 tweets
8 Aug 20
When we talk about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we tend to focus on August 6 and August 9th. But August 8th, 1945, is one of the most important dates for understanding these events, as well. A thread:
August 8th was when the Japanese confirmed that Hiroshima had been attacked by an atomic bomb. The bombing had happened at 8:15am on August 6, but the American announcement about its nature was not released for 16 hours — midnight, Japanese time.
The Japanese high command sent a team of scientists the next day (August 7) to confirm whether this was true or not — WWII was full of propaganda on all sides. Yoshio Nishina, the head of one of Japan's own modest fission research projects, led the mission to Hiroshima.
Read 19 tweets
6 Aug 20
Today is the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Most of the imagery we associate with that event is understandably of destruction. But how we frame that destruction can vary. My favorite example of that is a pin that I saw in a Hiroshima hotel lobby in 2017: Image
When I show this to students, they tend to react very strongly. "That's sick," is a common response. "Why?," I push them. Because, it comes out, we Americans associate the Atomic Bomb Dome with death and ruin, full stop. It's like Hello Kitty! visiting Buchenwald.
The pin isn't an aberration; if you go to Hiroshima there is a LOT of this kind of stuff — e.g., Atomic Bomb Dome cross-stitch patterns. This isn't being sold as dark humor; it's part of the standard tschotskes sold at bland hotel stores. They aren't meant to be sick jokes. Image
Read 9 tweets