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Despite the testimony of scientists that the strength of Kenneth McKellar is insignificant compared to that of the atom bomb, the Senator from Tennessee has lately been experiencing delusions of grandeur, and is prepared to display his vocal brawn in an attempt to twist fissionable uranium into a political crowbar. Contesting the appointment of David E. Lilienthal as Chairman of the new Atomic Energy Commission, McKellar is reviving an old political battle as significant to the problem of peacetime atomicenergy development as an Ozark blood-fend.
When Lilienthal became chairman of the Tennessee Valley Administration in 1941, McKellar began a struggle against the young administrator in an effort to drag the T.V.A. into the realm of Washington and Tennessee political patronage. Last week, as President Truman named Lilienthal to head the civilian board inheriting the atom problem from the Army, McKellar again squeezed a question of international magnitude into a battered Capital top-hat and planned to fight Senate confirmation of the White House appointment.
The new commission, which, as Lilienthal said, "will be pioneering in uncharted fields," includes, besides the former T.V.A. administrator, a physicist, a banker, an editor and a government bureaucrat. By law they are required to devote all their working hours to the atom problem. Except for Lilienthal and Sumner Pike, a former member of the Securities and Exchange Commission, none of the new boardmen has had experience in governmental activity. It would be disastrous, after wresting the power of the atom out of the hands of the Army, to put it in the hands of a logrolling candidate of Senator McKellar's choosing.
Opposition to the Truman nomination exhibits, even from McKellar's partisan point of view, a case of political myopia. By attempting to institute the spoils system in atomic control, the former Senate President Pro Tem is dividing the few remaining Democrats, and rapidly convincing a worldful of people that American statesmen are still juggling the A-bomb in a Congressional circus.
With the aid of an Army-Navy board acting only in an advisory capacity, the Atomic Energy Commission will control the three huge plants in Washington, Tennessee, and New Mexico, and their bomb production, and will have power to strike out in experiment of any nature. As Lilienthal wrote, "The consequences of our work, for good or evil, are awesome." The operations of such a board transcend all party lines. Republicans are as susceptible to death by radiation as Democrats.
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