THE SECRET THAT EXPLODED by Howard Morland
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THE SECRET THAT EXPLODED

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Nuclear secrets and (in #2 position) the First Amendment: how Morland researched and wrote an article on the H-bomb's inner workings for The Progressive, and what happened when the government tried to suppress its publication. A former Air Force pilot turned off by the Vietnam War and radicalized by the 1977 Seabrook demonstration, Morland is up front about his antinuke views. The point of the article was to ""present the world with a real, substantial, solid, mechanical bomb, not a mere idea""; and to force readers to focus on the objective reality of nuclear weapons and their capacity for annihilation. Motives aside, Morland accomplished an extraordinary feat of investigative reporting, piecing together the mosaic of the H-bomb secret from encyclopedia articles, basic college physics books, technical articles, interviews with scientists, and government-sanctioned visits to a number of major nuclear-weapons production facilities. He insists that he received no classified documents from anyone (though he appears to have misled a few interviewees about his purposes), and his careful account of how he cracked the mystery--including errors and detours--substantiates his claim. A copy of Morland's manuscript reached the government, which moved immediately to enjoin publication--thus setting up a classic legal confrontation between First Amendment freedom-of-press doctrine and the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, which bars disclosure of any nuclear weapons information if the writer has ""reason to believe such data will be utilized to injure the United States."" Lawyers for Morland and The Progressive argued that, if all of the material had been gathered from public sources, Morland could not fairly be deemed to have had the ""reason to believe"" required for application of the 1946 Act. The government contended that publishing the Morland article would cause irreparable harm to the nation; and a lower-court federal judge agreed. Prior to the hearing on appeal, however, the government dropped the suit (claiming it had been rendered moot by the publication of an article similar to Morland's), so the legal battle was never fully resolved. Despite some high-tech wading in the secret-cracking chapters (more about lithium-6 deuteride, radiation coupling, etc. than the Average Reader might wish) and Morland's prejudgment of the central issue (must you reveal the bomb's ""secret"" to make it real?), a solid effort, of interest to scientists, journalists, lawyers, and anyone concerned about nuclear weapons.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1981
Publisher: Random House