Breadcrumb

Address in Groton, Conn., at the Keel Laying of the First Atomic Energy Submarine

June 14, 1952

Mr. Chairman, Governor Lodge, Mr. Secretary of the Navy, distinguished guests:

I am very glad to be here today in Groton, Connecticut. You see, I got the right town this time. Somebody told me last week that this ceremony was going to be held in New London, over on the other side of the river. I referred to it in the speech I made Saturday out in Missouri. Very shortly thereafter I was set right in no uncertain terms.

I am glad to see the people of Groton are proud of their home town. I know how they feel. I sometimes get pretty tired of Kansas City taking all the credit for things that happen in Independence, Missouri. I can understand why the people of Groton should be proud of what is happening here today.

Today is Flag Day, the 175th anniversary of the adoption of the flag of the United States of America. Flag Day 175 years ago, the United Colonies--afterwards the United States--adopted the flag which flies over us today.

In 1905, 47 years ago, I celebrated Flag Day by joining the National Guard as a private. I became a corporal, a sergeant, a captain, a major, a colonel--and finally the Commander in Chief of the whole works.

As we celebrate this Flag Day, it marks one of the most significant developments of our time.

We are assembled here to lay the keel of a Navy submarine, the U.S.S. Nautilus. This ship will be something new in the world. She will be atomic powered. Her engines will not burn oil or coal. The heat in her boilers will be created by the same force that heats the sun--the energy released by atomic fission, the breaking apart of the basic matter of the whole universe. Think what this means.

Just 7 years ago next month, down in New Mexico, our scientists released the energy of the atom in a gigantic explosion of incredibly destructive force. The desert at Alamogordo was lighted for 70 miles, by a white light, brighter than the sun.

That was a terrible moment, and it was a wonderful moment, too, for mankind. It was a terrible moment because it heralded a new weapon of war, a new weapon of destruction more nearly absolute than anything ever known to man before. It was a wonderful moment because it opened up for all men enormous possibilities of peaceful progress, of industrial development and economic growth and better lives for human beings everywhere.

In 1945 the whole world learned that the vast power of the atom could be put into a bomb. After the first shock and amazement, all men asked themselves: What is this awful new force? Can it be used only to destroy men, or can it be harnessed to help them?

For 7 years we have been working to find the answer. And now we have found it. This vessel is the forerunner of atomicpowered merchant ships and airplanes, of atomic power plants producing electricity for factories, farms, and homes.

The day that the propellers of this new submarine first bite into the water and drive her forward, will be the most momentous day in the field of atomic science since the first flash of light down in the desert 7 years ago.

Then we knew we had a bomb for war. Now we will have a working power plant for peace.

The Nautilus will be able to move under the water at a speed of more than 20 knots. A few pounds of uranium will give her ample fuel to travel thousands of miles at top speed. She will be able to stay underwater indefinitely. Her atomic engine will permit her to be completely free of the earth's atmosphere. She will not even require a breathing tube to the surface.

The military significance of this vessel is tremendous. The engine of the Nautilus will have as revolutionary an effect on the navies of the world as did the first oceangoing steamship 120 years ago.

But the peaceful significance of the Nautilus is even more breathtaking. When this ship has been built and operated, controllable atomic power will have been demonstrated on a substantial scale.

I wish I could convey to everyone what a tremendous and wonderful thing has been accomplished. It is amazing what our scientists and engineers have done. Think what was involved in creating the engine that will go into this submarine.

New metals had to be produced. Wholly new processes for refining and using these metals had to be invented, tested, and put into production.

All sorts of new machinery had to be designed and built to specifications more rigid than anything ever attempted by American industry before.

The whole complicated mechanism required to make atoms break apart had to be designed to fit into this vessel's hull. Safety devices had to be worked out to protect the ship's crew from harmful radiation. Special controls had to be developed so that the speed and intensity of atomic fission can be regulated instantly by the flick of a switch. And all this intricate mechanism had to be rugged enough to withstand combat shock from depth charges and from other attacks.

The power plant that will go into this submarine is not just being planned on paper. The Atomic Energy Commission and the Navy have actually gone out and built a submarine hull on dry land at Arco, Idaho. They are putting into it a full-size, working engine, complete in all respects-the same kind of engine that will be used in this ship.

That engine on dry land is almost complete right now. Soon they will start it running and give it the most thorough tests. And, believe it or not, when they are through working with that model it will be perfectly possible to hitch it up and turn out electricity, like any other dryland power plant.

All this has been accomplished in an amazingly short period of time. When it was started 4 years ago, most people thought it would take at least 10 years, if it could be done at all. But one tough problem after another has been conquered in a fashion that seems almost miraculous, and the work has forged ahead.

Thousands of people have participated in designing, developing, and building the power plant of this ship. In the process they have learned what it takes to put atomic energy to work. And they have learned how to work together to create useful atomic power. Men from the Navy and the Atomic Energy Commission, from Government and industry, from management and labor--all have worked and learned together.

Now the men and management of the Electric Boat Division are joining the team to carry forward this remarkable project. In view of the long record of good relations between your union and your company, I know you men and women will do your full part in leading us on into the age of atomic power.

An engine to use in a ship underwater is a very difficult kind of engine to design and make. But having done this difficult job, our scientists and engineers should not have too much trouble finding ways to build simpler and cheaper power plants in the future.

Now I don't want to be misunderstood. Widespread use of atomic power is still years away. But with this vessel we are making a giant stride ahead.

It is a paradox that most of our progress toward the peaceful application of atomic energy has come under the pressure of military necessity. We tackled the secret of the atom to build a bomb that could secure our military victory in World War II. We are building the first atomic engine to power this warship, so she may help secure the seas against the danger of aggression.

We have no love for war. I hope and pray with all my heart that the day will never come again when we have to use the atomic bomb. I pray that this ship, this first atomic submarine, will never have an enemy to fight. I hope she will be tied up someday as an historic relic of a threat of war long passed.

I know that all Americans will join me in this. For we are a peaceful people, not a warlike people. We want peace and we work hard for peace. This is a great day for us, a day to celebrate--not because we are starting a new ship for war, but because we are making a great advance in the use of atomic energy for peace. We want atomic power to be a boon to all men everywhere, not an instrument for their destruction.

Today, we stand on the threshold of a new age of power. In 10 short years we have bridged the great gap between the first discovery of a new source of power and its peaceful use. Never before in history has mankind made such rapid strides. Between the first application of steam by Hero of Alexandria and the steam engine of James Watt lay almost 2,000 years. Between franklin's experiments with electricity and the first successful incandescent lamp there intervened almost a century and a half.

No man can foresee what breathtaking developments in atomic energy will take place in the next 10 years. The power plant of the Nautilus may soon seem to us as crude and inefficient as the steamboat of Robert Fulton.

If we could devote a full share of our energies to the peaceful development of the atom, it should soon be possible to bring this new source of power into daily use. Self-contained power plants, able to run almost indefinitely without refueling, and capable of being moved from place to place, would be within reach of our industry, our transportation systems, our cities, and our farms. Such a possibility would revolutionize the technological basis of our civilization. It could provide the answer to the crying need for sources of power in the underdeveloped areas of the world. It could mean industrial development for areas now held back because they have no supply of coal, or oil, or waterpower. It could set man free from servitude to geography and climate.

And such a development would bring other, unforeseeable benefits along with it. The use of radioactive materials in the detection and treatment of disease has already shown startling results. Such materials have also been used in remarkable research experiments in the development of foods and fibers. All these advances are still in the primitive stages of exploration. Nobody knows what marvels lie ahead of us.

We stand on the threshold of a new age. But the question is: When shall we be allowed to enter it?

These great developments depend on the creation of a free and peaceful world. So long as there is the threat of conquest and war, we must devote the greater part of our scientific resources and of our budget to defense. So long as there is a danger from atomic weapons, we must apply the greater part of our fissionable materials to atomic defenses. Before we can enter the atomic age, we must achieve peace.

That is our goal. That is what we are working for. That is why we have undertaken the great projects of collective defense, in the East and in the West. By building our defenses we are trying not only to make war impossible, but to turn the tide toward peace through agreement.

Even as we build these defenses, we are seeking to find some way to reach peaceful settlement of the world's difference. We have offered a plan in the United Nations for effective international control over atomic energy and for outlawing atomic weapons. We want an end to atomic armaments--we want an end to every kind of armament-and we have never ceased to hope that the Soviet rulers might come to entertain the same desire and might join us in constructive measures for disarmament.

But this they have not done. They have shown no willingness to work out honest, fair solutions for the problems of the world. Instead, they have sought to sow disruption and distrust among free countries; they have used threats and riots, bloodshed and outright aggression, in their attempt to expand their empire.

They have left us no choice except to look to our own defenses. They have made us understand that only great strength to offset their own can keep the peace. That is why the free countries of the world have banded together for greater strength. We are building strength for security. And this ship Nautilus is a part of that great effort. She is designed to patrol the seas and thus protect our land. She is an answer to the threat of aggression in the world.

Now, I want to turn to a phase of this matter that cannot be ignored. That is the fact that atomic developments cost money-indeed, they are very expensive. Only a few weeks ago I had to ask the Congress for an additional sum of more than $3 billion for expanding our atomic energy work. All national security programs are expensive and we might as well face up to it.

I think efforts are being made to sell the American people on the idea that there is some cutrate, bargain-counter route to national security, and that route is a very dangerous one. The people of this country have faith and courage and patriotism enough to do what is required for our national survival. They are willing to do what is necessary even though the way may be long and hard.

The difficulty is that the American people are getting all kinds of foolish advice from people who know better. This is a political year and politics does funny things to people who are seeking office--and I know, from experience. Now the air is filled with promises to strengthen national security and to cut taxes all at the same time. I even heard the other day that somebody was talking about a $40 billion tax cut. That would leave us with only about half enough money to support our Armed forces even if we didn't spend a dollar for anything else.

This passion for economy regardless of the consequences is raging in the Congress. That is where the greatest danger lies, because the Congress can wreck our chances for world peace if it takes the wrong kind of action. Very fortunately, there are many men in the Congress who recognize the serious danger that confronts our country and who are not yielding to political pressures for false economy. I hope and believe that there are enough of these men so that we will get through this election year session with our national defense reasonably intact.

Two of the best of them, I want to say to you, are your Senators from Connecticut.

Brien McMahon has done so much to guide the development and control of atomic energy, that people sometimes lose sight of the other good work he does. But I want you to know that he is doing much--all across the board--to keep the United States on the right road, and is doing as much as any man in the Senate in that direction.

Then there is Bill Benton. Bill is always on the right side of every tough fight that comes along. And the thing I admire about him most is his courage. He has stepped right up and tagged Joe McCarthy for what he is, when a lot of other people were running for cover--or were even doing a little sordid coattail riding.

I want to thank the people of Connecticut for sending men like this to the Senate. I hope you will keep it up.

We must have men in office who have the courage and the wisdom to choose the right course whether it is popular or not.

We may have to live in a half-peace, halfwar condition for a long time to come. We must lay our plans accordingly. If we are to maintain peace, we must be prepared to defeat aggression. And we must be prepared to make the long-term investment in national security that this requires.

But clearly this does not mean that we should pay attention only to military matters. Far from it. What we must do instead--what we are doing--is to make use of every opportunity we have to advance the arts of peace and respond to human needs.

That is why this ceremony here today holds great hope for the future. We are here, in a true sense, pioneering to bring the world new advances. We are, at one and the same time, fortifying the cause of free men everywhere against aggression and taking a long stride toward the day when man can reap the material benefits of the atom.

But think how much more we could do if we were able to devote all our atomic knowledge to peaceful purposes. If the attitude of the Kremlin should change, if the Soviet Union would cooperate in building a better world instead of standing in the way of all progress, think what vistas would open up. Think what could be done for the betterment of mankind with only a fraction of the money now going into military strength.

No wonder men look with bewilderment and dismay at the bitter stream of lies and threats that come from Moscow. No wonder millions of men, on both sides of the iron curtain, look to the Kremlin and ask, "When will they let us have peace?" For the people of the world know that men have within their reach today the means of a better li