This week is an Archives Week! Which means I’ll be spending the whole week in an archive, doing research, with the aim of posting something amusing for you, dear reader, each and every day of the week. This might seem ambitious, but the best part about working on nuclear history is that each and every archival box contains something so surreal it would knock Dali’s socks off. No doubt every giant bureaucracy produces its Kafkaesque moments, but mixing them with the potential to wipe out entire nations makes them into something sublime.
I’m camping out all week in the Legislative Archives, which are housed in the downtown DC National Archives building. Veteran researchers know that the downtown National Archives are not where most of the research records are kept (most were moved, some time back, to the Archives II facility in College Park). But the Legislative Archives are one of the exceptions, so I get to spend the week in the same building that the tourists all go to when they want to see original copies of the Constitution.
I’ll be looking primarily at the records of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy (JCAE). The JCAE was created in the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 to serve as the Congressional oversight committee for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). What this means, in a nutshell, is that the JCAE was a group of Senators and Representatives who spent most of their time being very unhappy with the AEC, with the ability to make life difficult for the AEC. They were immensely powerful, as Congressional committees go, and, because of the national security implications, incredibly secretive. They were also, on the whole, neither scientists, professional bureaucrats, or military men, so they often provided a, shall we say, “unique” take on the major nuclear issues of the day.
So keep an eye on this spot, and you’re sure to be rewarded with some amusing archival finds, just in time for the holidays!
Incidentally — so today’s post isn’t just a total bore — I tried to come up with some quantitative data on how secret the JCAE really was. (Though the heavy presence of graphs might indeed make it even more of a bore…)