Bradley, David

Bradley, David
Feb. 22, 1915-Jan. 7, 2008
American nonfiction author, surgeon and state legislator


The effects of the radioactivity resulting from the atomic bomb experiment at Bikini in 1946 are analyzed by Dr. David Bradley in No Place to Hide, published in 1948. Viewing the problem from the public health aspect, the physician is concerned chiefly with the inability to eradicate completely the radioactive materials left by such an explosion, and with the necessity for publicizing the danger of accepting the prospect of atomic war with complacency.

The birthplace of David John Bradley is Chicago, Illinois, where he was born to Harold Cornelius and Mary Josephine (Crane) Bradley on February 22, 1915. (Mrs. Bradley was a daughter of C. R. Crane, once Ambassador to China.) Because his father, a physiological chemist, was a member of the teaching staff of the medical school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, young David was brought up in that town. He had six brothers, two of whom became geologists, two painters, one a musician-architect, and the sixth a physicist. (A sister died in early childhood.) At Wisconsin High School, from which he was graduated in 1933, David Bradley found his extracurricular interests in skiing, swimming, mountaineering, sailing, and writing.

While attending Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, Bradley majored in English and was graduated summa cum laude in 1938, as a member of the Phi Beta Kappa honorary scholastic society. In his junior year he belonged to the Green Key, the governing group for that year, and in his senior year to Paleopatus, the senior governing group. He continued his skiing as well, and was elected to the captaincy of the Dartmouth ski team. In 1939 he was a student at St. John's College of Cambridge University, where he specialized in English and history. Engaged in free-lance writing at the time World War II broke out in 1939, Bradley obtained a newspaper assignment to cover the Russo-Finnish campaign. Returning to Madison some time afterward, he began the study of medicine at the University of Wisconsin. Under the Army program that permitted medical students to continue their work, with the proviso that they serve in the Army medical services upon the completion of their studies, Bradley next attended the Medical School of Harvard University, from which he received his M.D. degree in 1944. After putting in part of his internship in surgery at the University of California Hospital in San Francisco, he was assigned to the Manhattan District Project in 1945, with the rank of lieutenant in the Medical Corps. This was the name given to the atom bomb research and production unit.

After six months of training in the project, Bradley was detailed to the radiological safety section of Joint Task Force One, the section ordered to carry out President Truman's injunction to see "that no one gets hurt" in the "Operation Crossroads" postwar atomic bomb experiment on Bikini atoll. Eight months of preparation preceded the detonations in June and July 1946. Bradley was one of the "Geiger" men, who determined, after the bomb had exploded, the amount of radioactivity in the targets with Geiger counters, which he describes as a "sixth sense, a prerequisite to survival in an atomic age." In the period of several months he spent as a monitor of the results and conclusions of the experiment, Bradley recorded his tasks and observations in his diary.

Subsequent to serving at Fort Beal upon his return from Bikini, Dr. Bradley was discharged from the Army, whereupon he returned to the University of California Hospital to resume his studies in surgery. According to Joe McCarthy of the New York Times Book Review, the physician originally undertook the writing of No Place to Hide with the intention of submitting it as an article to the Atlantic Monthly; but as he worked on it during that year of 1947, the article developed into a book. Serialized in the October, November, and December 1948 issues of the Atlantic, before its publication in book form in December 1948, the book was also condensed in the February 1949 issue of the Reader's Digest as well as reprinted in a pocket edition and for the Book-of-the-Month Club. Of his reasons for writing a book on the aftereffects of an atomic bomb explosion, Bradley told McCarthy: "As a doctor who has learned something about the public health problem connected with it, I feel I should try to let the public know about the danger of the atomic bomb. We shouldn't leave that job to experts. It should be shared by everyone."

Norman Cousins of the Saturday Review of Literature, who called the book "simply, effectively, and occasionally beautifully written," summarized Bradley's main thesis: "The principal danger of atomic warfare is represented not by the blast and the heat … but by the strong and unmanageable force of radioactivity. Bradley states flatly that there is no defense against atomic attack." No Place to Hide was viewed by Sterling North of the New York Post as "authoritative and quietly terrifying," an opinion to which he added the observation that "Dr. Bradley is no scaremonger. Neither is he an uninformed fantasist."

The point emphasized by Bradley has been frequently quoted: "There are no satisfactory countermeasures against the bomb and methods of decontamination. There are no satisfactory medical or sanitary safeguards for the people of atomized areas. The devastating influence of the bomb and its unborn relatives may affect the land and its wealth-and therefore its people-for centuries through the persistence of radioactivity." In view of this danger, Bradley urges the release of hitherto withheld information on atomic energy, and particularly of the final report of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Evaluation Board on the Bikini experiment. From these he believes that a "Monroe Doctrine" on the atomic bomb might be developed. "We need a high policy governing our employment of atomic weapons in war. The American people must participate in this policy, must accept it and be willing to support it."

Bradley is a member of United World Federalists. In a statement he has explained, "I have decided to fight the next war now. I don't believe war is necessary. I am convinced that a rule of law (world government) is possible-in steps if necessary-provided enough people wish it. …I have temporarily given up medicine to lecture and write on the question of atomic bombs and other weapons as a real force making peace imperative. At the moment [April 1949] I am working with Pare Lorentz on a film based on my book."

David John Bradley holds an Army Commendation Ribbon for his work at Bikini. He is accompanied on his lecture tour by his wife, the former Elisabeth B. McLane, to whom he was married on April 26, 1941. They are the parents of two daughters, Kim and Josephine, and a son, David.

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