Abstract: The Business of the Atomic Secret: Discerning the Cultural Dimension in the Strategic Economy of the Cold War

Robert Dalton Harris and Diane DeBlois


The Atomic Energy Commission was designed "to get the whole atomic energy business in civilian hands completely." But once in civilian (that is, political) hands, atomic energy was too linked to defense strategy to avoid military control, and too much "big business" to escape government control. In this paper, we focus on a little-known bureaucrat, Bryan F. LaPlante of the Atomic Energy Commission (to whose personal files we had access), to explore the evolution of the military-industrial complex, 1946-1961. Despite the culture of secrecy, atomic energy policy provided an attractive career alternative for America's brightest scientists, as well as business and political bases for promoting America as a force for "good." LaPlante was working within an emerging culture that provided a strategic blend of business, political, and social involvement as an alternative to the market and a limit on the analytics of rational action.

BEH On-Line Paper