Platt Oral History

Hi everyone,

I apologize for not having a blog post for last week. I was out sick. For this post, I can update you on what I’ve been working on the previous two weeks.

I have had a massive pile of miscellaneous folders at the edge of my desk that has haunted me for some time. I finally resolved to take this on, and I am happy to say that 1. It was not as stressful as I thought it would be 2. I am almost finished with this!

Since I have been primarily working on the Harvey Mudd Documents recently, seeing more biographical material from this part of Platt’s collection was fun. I found more of his songs, correspondence between colleagues and friends, invitations to banquets, and other writings by Platt.

I came across a Claremont Graduate School Oral History project from 1975, titled “Harvey Mudd College Oral History Project on the Atomic Age.” Joseph Platt was interviewed by Enid H. Douglas, Director of the Oral History Program at CGS, and John B. Rae, Professor of History at Harvey Mudd College. In the interview, Platt spoke about his experience working in the war labs during World War II, his involvement at the MIT Radiation Laboratory, and his thoughts on nuclear weapons at the time. He revealed, “I confess that I really didn’t want to get into the nuclear weapons business either… reasons that I now think were rather more aesthetic than moral reasons. But I was not too keen on having the first large-scale demonstration of nuclear energy turn out to be used for military purposes” (10). He went on to say, “nobody knew at the time whether it was possible to build a sustained chain reaction either for military or civilian purposes. You could only guess.” (11). He goes on to discuss his interactions with J. Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller. Throughout the interview, Platt expressed honest, and sometimes harsh, opinions about the Manhattan Project and the civilian devastation that followed for the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. From a physicists point of view, it was a groundbreaking moment, yet from a civilian point of view, it brings a different sentiment. Yet, Platt was much more optimistic about the possibilities of using nuclear energy as a power source for the country.

More next week!