The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington


BY FAR the most interesting phenomenon in Washington is the invasion of the atomic scientists. They moved in when the dollar-a-year men moved out. Both did arduous work in winning the war, and one might think that the scientists, like the businessmen, would welcome a little relaxation. But they felt that they could not afford it. They wanted to be sure that the atom was not harnessed to Mars.

The scientists’ zeal would put to shame the most professional lobby groups. They are unwearying in their efforts to develop political thinking in terms of the atomic age. They are crusaders. They talk with a compelling urgency.

Theirs is an uphill fight. The object of their propaganda is a bill that will leave scientists free to go on with their work in the common interest. But there has never been an atomic-energy bill they could support. The May-Johnson bill would have put the development of atomic energy in military hands. This bill met with loud and influential protests.

The McMahon bill went to the other extreme and kept the military completely out of the picture. It ran into foul weather when the spy scare in Canada and the difficulties with Russia arose. Again there was a return of emphasis to the military aspects of atomic energy. Senator McMahon, chairman of the eleven-man special committee in the Senate, found himself alone. The other ten members voted to tag onto the bill, which aimed at creating an all-civilian Atomic Energy Commission, a military liaison committee appointed by the President, with jurisdiction over matters pertaining to “common defense and security.”

A storm broke loose. The ten Senators were forced on the defensive and had to beat a retreat. The bill as it now stands provides for a military liaison committee, appointed by the Secretaries of War and Navy, whose function is narrowed to “military applications” of atomic energy. This arrangement satisfies the scientists, who recognize that the military must have a voice in the control of atomic weapons.

The fight, of course, is an old one in American history. Civilian supremacy lies at the root of our free institutions, and the scientists have been able to enlist support from all manner of public organizations. But fears die slowly, and they are fanned by a particularly noxious group in Congress, the Committee on Un-American Activities. Members of this committee — particularly Representative Rankin — seem to be itching for a witch hunt among the scientists. The harm they may do is incalculable. Even General Groves realizes that the Army must have full cooperation from the scientists.

Work on atomic energy may be frustrated by these Paul Prys. Already most of the scientists have quit the government laboratories and gone back to their own. They are loath to work in bondage or to be subject to surveillance whenever a Congressional committee or the military intelligence thinks that they might be spilling secrets to foreigners. If this sort of thing goes on, there will be no atomic age — only an arms race leading to Armageddon.

How the Army feels

The postponement of the atomic tests is puzzling. General Eisenhower had no information the day after the delay was announced. Admiral Blandy, the Navy man in charge of the tests, insisted that he knew only the official justification: that the Congressional delegation could not get away in May. Naturally, with appropriations all-important, the armed services want to see Congress well represented. There is a feeling, however, that the delay had some connection with international politics. Russian newspapers claimed that the test represented intimidation. The Russian comment has renewed the agitation that the test should have an international audience.

General Eisenhower’s insistence that during the coming year the Army cannot be allowed to fall below the minimum level of 1,070,000 men is listened to with respect. If it is extended, the draft will be a supplementary source of manpower.

The best guess is that the military training program will not come up before the elections. The problem is how it shall be put into effect. General Marshall insists that there shall be “one year of unbroken service.”

Many groups which are otherwise sympathetic take exception to this idea. They do not approve of Army camp life for the nation’s youth. They would use the high schools and colleges for training during summer vacations, but General Eisenhower appears to share General Marshall’s objections to this type of service.

General Marshall is going back to China, but for how long is uncertain. He has demonstrated a high order of statesmanship. He met the hope that he would bring about a truce between Chungking and the Chinese Communists; and in addition, he has laid the foundation for Chinese unification. Now he wants to improve upon the job of integrating the Chinese armies into a unit by providing equipment for the Communists. For that purpose he has actually won the agreement of Chiang Kai-shek.

President Truman deserves high commendation for the appointment of General Marshall. Relations with Russia over China might have degenerated into crisis but for Marshall’s intervention.

Paul Porter and the OPA

Paul Porter is turning out to be a better administrator of the OPA than Chester Bowles. He is speeding up consideration of price increases. He wants to drop relatively unimportant items from control. He will not tolerate procrastination by the profit controllers on the staff of the OPA. Bowles in his new role as Economic Stabilizer and Porter in Bowles’s old job make a good team.

One of the major criticisms of the Administration’s new wage-price program was based on the refusal of the OPA to agree to price relief as a condition of wage increases. However, to give such assurance in advance would result in the OPA’s becoming entangled in wage negotiations. Such a policy would also encourage some employers to grant wage increases irresponsibly, in the confident expectation of being able to shift the cost to consumers in the form of price increases.

The cost-absorption policy of the OPA is also an object of criticism. But there has been a change of emphasis that shows there will be a good many exceptions to the rule. One case is the regulation aimed at speeding up production of low-priced clothing. Even Mr. Bowles says that in other lines besides clothing — such as household furniture, most foods, and some reconversion goods — distributors have already absorbed about all the cost increases they can be asked to assume under existing price restrictions and that they are entitled to relief.

The case of the National Association of Manufacturers for the end of all controls by June has been found not proved. It is obvious that production is the answer to inflation. Yet, till reconversion has hit its stride, controls are the only way to prevent a competitive struggle for scarce materials, with skyrocketing prices.

The case for lifting controls is not improved by the anti-OPA propaganda activities of the National Retail Dry Goods Association. A copy of an OPA release entitled “NRDGA Horror Exhibit,” which examines the exhibit by the NRDGA, originally called “The Consumer Suffers,” is offered by way of proof. In seventeen items, Mr. Bowles charges that the facts were misrepresented, and the official release carries confirmatory evidence to that effect. In the eighteenth case the OPA policy was admittedly at fault.

The Hog in the trough

Where there is hunger, there is no peace. There is plenty of hunger in the world today, with India, perhaps, in a worse situation than any other country. Our slackness in meeting our commitments is shameful. It arose out of a post-victory feeling that there would be deflation, with lower consumption of food products, so that foreign commitments could be met without administrative intervention.

Inflation came instead of deflation, and food consumption increased 10 per cent over the year before. Added to increased food consumption was increased consumption of animal feed, with livestock eating the grain promised to Europe’s hungry.

This last phenomenon arose out of a meat-wheat price ratio which favored the feeding of grain to livestock. Since V-J Day we have fed 200,000,000 bushels to hogs and cattle. If this had been sent to the famine areas, the situation naturally would have been better than it is. It is impracticable either to raise wheat prices or to lower meat prices. One of two courses could be taken. Either a weight ceiling on hogs could be imposed, say 225 pounds, or subsidies could be rearranged to make it more profitable to send hogs to market at 225 pounds and under.

Bread and rationing

Why there were not set-aside orders at the flour mills instead of a change in the nation’s bread loaf is a mystery. Set-aside orders would have been a simple administrative device. They have been used several times in the past — for instance, in the Russian famine of the early nineties. This would be rationing at the source.

Under the new system, milling formulas and household habits have to be changed. Moreover, it entails a deficit in feed for animals. With the old loaf, 140 pounds of wheat were turned into 100 pounds of flour, leaving 40 pounds of animal feed. With the new loaf, 120 pounds of wheat are turned into 100 pounds of not so good flour, leaving 20 pounds of animal feed.

America’s best customer

An improved feeling for the British loan is developing in the Senate, but for the wrong reason. Legislators are more pro-British because they are more antiRussian. The merits of the loan receive little attention, in spite of the unflagging efforts of Secretary Vinson of the Treasury and Assistant Secretary Clayton of the State Department.

These officials stress the contribution of the loan to the achievement of our One World policy in commerce. If the loan does not go through, then the world will stay split up into rival economic blocs, and that is the way to war. The dollars-and-cents argument for the loan may get more attention now that Britain is reducing her purchases from us. The cotton, tobacco, and oil Senators will understand what this means.


The mood of the Capital is one of restiveness over the necessity of extending some controls and recapturing others. It is likewise dawning on Congress that the executive branch of the government can be only as strong as Congress makes it.

Secretary Byrnes has rubbed home the lesson that he cannot be tough if Congress lets him have only a cap pistol. This is a reference both to the hasty demobilization that Congress itself precipitated and to Congressional unwillingness either to extend the draft or to do anything about compulsory military training.

There may be a speed-up in the legislative program. It is even suggested that Congress may seek to streamline its own machinery in deference to these quick-moving times. The method is at hand in the La Follette-Monroney Committee report, which shows Congress the way to reorganization. More than a scare is needed, however, to persuade the legislators to squeeze out the vested interests which have grown up around their present unwieldy system of operation.