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"I'm a peculiar kind of private citizen," is the way David Lilienthal characterizes his present situation. Just how peculiar that situation is was made clear at the press conference held last week before his Symphony Hall talk--Lihienthal the private citizen, speaking on the peacetime possibilities of the atom, felt compelled to dodge all questions relating to the AEC and the present status of atomic weapons, a matter until quite recently under the considerable control of Lilienthal the government official.
Four women and ten men, pleasantly warned by some of the Hotel Statler's better martinis, had seated themselves in a half-circle around Lilienthal who was tilted comfortably back against a wall. "In these lectures I'm going back to the place where we start thinking," he said. "By my demeanor, and by what I say, I hope to indicate the optimism I feel."
Mr. Lilienthal speaks warmly, with a charm that would never lead you to think that this man had done some of his strongest and most persuasive talking before a series of hostile Congressional committees. He has obviously gotten some rest since his last trip to Cambridge (a flying graduation visit in June, when the Hickenlooper witch-hunt was keeping him under klieg lights and on the front pages); he seemed very much at ease and relaxed this time.
"I'm not one of those fellows who has much faith in push-button peace," he remarked in ducking a question on international atomic controls. He described the atom bomb as "a gadget built up in the public mind to much more than its military value," although he made no bones about it being a terrible weapon, and suggested that the present furor--particularly over the McMahon proposals--might be a similar search for "a gadget for peace." He deplored the tendency for some people "who get attention" to overplay the strength of the atom as a weapon.
Coal and Uranium
Somebody asked a question about coal. Lilienthal stretched out his hand. "A lump of coal that I could hold in my hand wouldn't give much heat, would it? The same amount of uranium would yield the equivalent in heat of 3500 tons of coal." He doubted that we could rely on coal much longer: "It is the one spot where we get both economic instability and class conflict." Steady economic development and stable social relations are not possible as long as we rely on coal; as for using atomic energy, "There's a whale of a lot of energy potential, but we'd better get a move on." Lilienthal set four years from now as the date for a practical demonstration of electric power production, 10 years before we get a bigger, but still high-cost plant, and 25 years before a "substantial part" of our electrical energy could be produced by fission. Could this be speeded up? "That's something I'd better not comment on," but there was the impression that something could be done.
It was mostly impressions, in fact: the impression of a capable man, earnest, feeling a new responsibility now that he is at least partly private citizen. David Lilienthal will never be completely free to talk; but he is now able to say a lot more than in the past.
There is much that he probably won't say even in the book he plans to write: but Lilienthal is perhaps the one public figure who realizes the importance of discussing the atom. "Fear and anxiety do nothing but put us in the doldrums," he explains. He is one man who exhibits neither fear nor doldrums over his big problems.
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