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The Atom Bomb Story

WNEW: The Newspaper Game

The Atom Bomb Story

Oct 10 1945













NOTE: "This is the script exactly as it was broadcast on October 10, 1945"

ANNCR: Dateline: New York . . . April, 1945 . . .



LAURENCE: You called me, Mr. James?

JAMES: Yeah. Sit down. Bill, you're getting a leave of absence. Starting May 7th, 1945, you stop working for the New York Times and start working for the War Department.

LAURENCE: What's the story?

JAMES: I'm not sure, exactly, but they want you to work on something they call the Manhattan Project. Know anything about it?

LAURENCE: (EXCITED) Do I? Why--that's the--the--

JAMES: (CHUCKLING, ALSO EXCITED) Sh--take it easy. It's top secret. The atom bomb project. Now, get this. You can't tell anyone where you're going. And there's no telling how long you'll be gone. We'll cover up here for you. Okay?

LAURENCE: Okay! Listen, I've been working on that myself for six years--for nothing. Count me in!


ANNCR: THE NEWSPAPER GAME! WNEW goes to press with the fourth edition in a new series of programs known as THE NEWSPAPER GAME, presenting dramatizations of famous, true news assignments depicting the vivid, the ingenious machinery of the newspapermen in action. It is through the work of these newspapermen, who venture into the field of social, political, and economic problems, that many unhealthy aspects of our present day society are exposed to the people and reforms instituted. Tonight's script: The Atom Bomb Story! The Elements: U-235, the secret of atomic energy, and a top-notch scientific reporter. This is the Atom Bomb Story!


LAURENCE: (QUIET, UNASSUMING) I have just returned from an assignment on one of the greatest news stories of all time. My name is Laurence--William L. Laurence. I'm considered quite a veteran with the New York Times, where I have worked as a science reporter and writer for many years. But the most hectic months of my entire journalistic career were spent away from the Times, working on a secret assignment for the War Department, an assignment the public now knows as the Manhattan Project. It was the toughest assignment I've ever covered, but it was the greatest experience any newspaper man ever could wish for. (PAUSE) This story really begins back in February of 1939. I was attending a meeting of an eminent group of scientists at Columbia University. They were discussing uranium fission as an industrial agent, and the more I listened, the more terrified I became. . . . After the meeting broke up (BEGIN FADE) I took one of the scientists aside. . . .

LAURENCE (FADE IN) ... Doctor . . . Doctor . . .

DOCTOR: Yes, Mr. Laurence.

LAURENCE: Doctor, I must talk to you. While the meeting was going on, I felt more and more that Uranium has a terrible future.


LAURENCE: Well, the more I listened, the more frightening it became. Don't you see, Doctor, that Uranium could be the basis for the most terrifying war weapon the world has ever known?

DOCTOR: (SARCASTIC, BITING) May I infer, Mr. Laurence, that you suggest the use of uranium in some form of bomb?

LAURENCE: Exactly. You must admit, Doctor, that it is not beyond the realm of possibility for a belligerent power to concentrate on harnessing the secret of atomic energy--not for it's amazing potential good to mankind but--in a form so destructive, that it will be a threat to the complete annihilation of civilization!


LAURENCE: This was February of 1939, and even though all of Europe was girdling for war, not many people here were aware of the danger --especially scientists engaged in purely academic theorizing. But I felt that it would be only a relatively short time before Europe--and maybe, the whole world--would be engulfed by war, and I believed then, that if the German could develop a weapon utilizing the secret of atomic energy, Hitler could win his war inside of a few weeks. It was a terrifying thought. I had a little conference with Mr. James, managing editor of the Times, my boss, and an encouraging confidante. . . .


JAMES: All right, Bill. Let's hear it.

LAURENCE: Well, Mr. James, I've got a problem.

JAMES: Shoot.

LAURENCE: You know that I've been hot on the trail of atomic energy. Well, the other day in Germany, a group of scientists discovered a new material known at U-235. They've been getting some strange reactions with it.

JAMES: Such as?

LAURENCE: I'm positive they're planning to use it as a weapon. I think they're going to be able to, eventually. And if they do--


LAURENCE: I'd like your authorization right now to have carte blanche. I want to study every angle of this atomic energy affair, and try to awaken people here to its potentialities.

JAMES: Well, what are you waiting for? Get to work!


LIBRARIAN: (FADE IN) ... Yes, Mr. Laurence, we have that new book on the atom that you asked about. We just about turned the library upside down locating it and holding it for you. . . . (FADE OUT) ...


SCIENTIST: (FADE OUT) ... My dear Laurence, U-235 and U-238 are isotopes--chemical twins--possessing the same chemical properties. Thus they cannot be separated by chemical means. . . . (FADE OUT) . . .


EINSTEIN: (SLIGHT ACCENT) (FADE IN) ... The existence of atomic energy was advanced by me about forty years ago, purely theoretically, of course, as an outgrowth of my relativity theory. I never believed at the time, however, that any means ever could be found of tapping this potentially tremendous source of energy. . . . (FADE OUT) ...


REFUGEE: (HEAVY ACCENT) (FADE IN) ... Ja, Laurence, I tell you with my own eyes have I seen it. Just before I got away. I tell you the verdamte Nazis have at least two hundred of die best German minds still remaining in Germany all concentrating night and day to discover the secret of atomic energy. . . . (FADE OUT) . . .


LAURENCE: On May 1st, 1940, I shot off the first gun in my campaign on atomic energy--a page one story in the New York Times--seven columns worth--revealing that the Nazis were at work, and that U-235 was potentially the greatest source of power known on earth. On May 30th, I hit again in the Times, and again on September 7th with an article entitled "THE ATOM GIVES UP" in the Saturday Evening Post. People started thinking. . . . That was evident from the mail that began pouring in. And then--


JAMES: I guess you've heard, Bill?

LAURENCE: Yes, Mr. James. No more stories about U-235. War Department orders. They've clamped a complete security blackout on everybody.

JAMES: Feel badly, after all the work you've put in on it?

LAURENCE: As a matter of fact, Mr. James, no. I'm more convinced than ever that something big is in the wind. And this isn't the only indication I've had, either.

JAMES: What do you mean?

LAURENCE: Well, I seem to be losing all my friends. Everybody I know in the scientific world has been avoiding me as though I had the plague--which I haven't.

JAMES: Well, what does that prove?

LAURENCE: Nothing--yet. But I'm sure that quite a few of them are working on some form of atomic energy for the government--and they've probably been pledged to secrecy. And I may be a friend--but I'm still a science reporter. Get it?


LAURENCE: And then--came the assignment. As far as I was concerned, it was the biggest story of the century, and I grabbed at it. But it was tough from the word go. ... I worked in a little office in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, near the Tennessee Eastman Corporation's plant, eighteen miles northwest of Knoxville. . . . (BEGIN FADE) ... I felt like a writer in Hollywood . . . completely secluded. . . .


LIEUT.: (KIDDING) Good day, Mr. Laurence.

LAURENCE: (KIDDING TOO) Good day, Lieut. Robinson.

LIEUT.: (LAUGH) How are you doing, Bill?

LAURENCE: Well, Gus, I'm writing plenty of releases--if they ever get released.

LIEUT.: They will--eventually--I suppose.

LAURENCE: I hope so--because this is the toughest assignment I've ever been on--in every way.

LIEUT.: Yes, I guess it is tough.

LAURENCE: The hardest thing for me to do is acclimate myself.

LIEUT.: Why--anything wrong with your accommodations, Bill?

LAURENCE: No. That's not it. It's just the all-fired secrecy which gets me. Here I am with the biggest story of my life and I have to keep my big mouth shut. Here I am, working in a room under lock and key, without a telephone, and with a military policeman right outside my door to keep anyone from getting in--and . . . just incidentally ... to keep me from getting out.

LIEUT.: Well, we just can't take a chance, Laurence. Security.

LAURENCE: Oh, I know, I know. Only thing is, it keeps making me think of the old convict I knew once. He used to say those bars they had on prison windows were there to keep him from falling out. (CHUCKLE) That's just about the way I feel.

LIEUT.: (CHUCKLE) Well, you're not a prisoner.

LAURENCE: I might just as well be. That's gripe number one. Gripe number two: The next time I visit one of these plants, may I please take a few more notes?

LIEUT.: Well, it's been suggested that you take as few notes as possible for ...

LIEUT.: & LAURENCE: (TOGETHER) Security reasons. (LAUGHS)

LAURENCE: But Lt., that memorizing everything is quite a job. It takes me hours of work putting my thoughts together after I get back here. Which brings up another gripe. I don't mind that military colossus out there scooping up my releases from me before they're even dry. I don't mind--too much, that is--watching him burn all the trash paper, including carbons. Nor making certain that every scrap in the waste paper basket is torn into minute fragments. But when he makes me lock everything in a safe if I just have to leave the room for a few minutes to--to--well, that's the limit!

LIEUT.: (LAUGHING) I'm sorry--but it's really very funny!

LAURENCE: (CHUCKLE) I know, Lt.--but the whole business is a strange, new experience for me. It's against every precept of newspaper training I've ever had. Can you imagine a newspaperman trying to make himself as inconspicuous as possible?


LAURENCE: The work continued apace. There were no restrictions on what I wrote. After I finished writing the majority of the material in mid-July, I was ordered to New Mexico to witness the first experimental explosion of the new bomb. I was standing next to President James Bryant Conant of Harvard University when the bomb went off. (PAUSE) It was the most devastating thing any human being has ever witnessed. We were stationed at a spot twenty miles from the actual scene of the explosion, but when the bomb went off, it illuminated the sky for hundreds of miles around . . . (BEGIN FADE) ... the blast was also heard for hundreds of miles....


CONANT: Good Lord! Did you see that, Laurence?

LAURENCE: It's--it's fantastic!

CONANT: They won't believe it when the time comes when this can be told. It is more fantastic than Jules Verne.

LAURENCE: They'll believe it if it works!


LAURENCE: It worked . . . and they believed it ... and I believed it, too. . . . (PAUSE) I missed out on the flight which dropped the first atom bomb on Japan. ... I arrived there the day before the take-off, too late to be included in the flight. ... As an American, I didn't care too much about that. ... I asked the crew officer to keep a diary of the flight, so I could piece together a report for the War Department. ... As a newspaperman, though, I was kind of sorry I missed out on the climax to my story . . . but my Nagasaki eye-witness more than made up for it. ... It was one of the most widely played stories of the war. . . .


LAURENCE: And so for four months, I, William L. Laurence was privileged to act as the eyes and ears of the world in a unique assignment which was one of the world's most important secrets. It was an honor and a privilege.


VOICE: (ECHO CHAMBER) The War Department salutes William L. Laurence of the New York Times as the only newsman to record the history of this nation's work on the atom bomb. In so doing, William L. Laurence made a vital contribution to the nation's efforts toward a swifter completion of the war!


ANNCR.: You have been listening to the fourth edition in a new series of programs known as THE NEWSPAPER GAME, featuring dramatizations of famous, true news assignments. Listen in again next week at this same time, when WNEW goes to press with the fifth in this new series. Next week's script: THE WILKES BARRE STORY! Tonight's script: THE ATOM BOMB STORY! Our special thanks to Mr. William L. Laurence and the New York Times, for allowing us to use special material in connection with the dramatization of this story on the air; and to Mr. S. J. Monchak of Editor and Publisher magazine for material from a story by him about Mr. Laurence, in the September 22, 1945 issue of Editor and Publisher magazine.

THE NEWSPAPER GAME is written by Mort Green.

Principals in tonight's case were: Paul Conrad, Leonard Sherer, and Lou Sorin.

Music was by Kay Reed, and the program was directed by Milton Bernard Kaye.