But whatever the technical originality of the idea [Stanislaw] Ulam and [Edward] Teller developed together in February 1951, John Manley concluded, the political effect was electrifying. “Teller and Ulam really won [the argument about building the thermonuclear bomb] by figuring out how to do it… You don’t really want to work on something that you don’t know how to do.” Los Alamos radiochemist George Cowan enlarges shrewdly on Manley’s point:
Knowing that it was going to work sure encouraged those people to go ahead and do it. Particularly because now, whether you believed that it was a good idea or not, the fact that that power was available- anyone who has a realistic view of the way power gets used by governments would know that you had to do it. There was no longer an option. Despite all the debates, no responsible government would ever voluntarily forgo developing a very powerful new weapon if it knew how to do it. That is something that you can talk about if you’re not in the government, but if you are in the government it is not an option.
Part 3, Chapter 23