Garwin: Witness to History

On Tuesday, April 22, the AAAS Center for Science, Technology, and Security Policy (CSTSP) and the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) held a screening of the documentary “Garwin: Witness to History.” After the screening, Dr. Garwin himself joined the film’s two directors – Richard Breyer and Anand Kamalakar – and FAS President Dr. Charles Ferguson for a question and answer session with the audience.

The film proceeds, as noted by Garwin himself, in an impressionist fashion rather than a chronological one. While the film did cover his life history, and his long and distinguished career, it focused more on conveying a sense of who he is now. The impression conveyed is one of an extremely competent yet unassuming, and very honest figure. He shows up for important meetings at the White House or on Capitol Hill toting around his signature worn green backpack. He speaks his mind frankly, yet unconfrontationally.

Garwin completed a Physics Ph.D. in 1951 at the age of 21, and designed the first hydrogen bomb the following year. His doctoral advisor, Enrico Fermi, referred to the young Garwin as “the only true genius I have ever met.” Although he worked at IBM for most of his career, he has actively advised the U.S. government on nuclear security issues.

His interests and contributions have ranged broadly across many fields, with both civil and military importance, but those given most emphasis by the film, are those relevant to national and international security. He has advised, in some capacity, every President of the United States from Eisenhower to Obama, serving on numerous government advisory panels. He has been a long serving member of the JASONs, a select group of professional scientists that has advised the government on a wide range of issues from security barriers during the Vietnam War era to nuclear weapons Stockpile Stewardship today.

However, somewhat unusually for someone who has for so long worked with a security clearance, Garwin has been deeply involved in public discussions on key security issues, with a particular focus on nuclear arms control issues. He has worked with NGOs and individuals interested in the topic, challenged the viability of ballistic missile defenses, and advocated for the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, among other issues.

During the brief question and answer session at the end, the filmmakers explained that their goal was to educate the public about an enormously influential figure who most Americans had never heard of.