Two years ago the federal government and Howard Morland, a former Air Force officer turned free-lance writer, were locked in a courtroom battle that earned daily national headlines. The issue: Could The Progressive magazine publish Morland's article about the secrets of the H-bomb?
"I want to think a long, hard time before I'd give a hydrogen bomb to Idi Amin," said a Milwaukee federal judge before he issued a temporary restraining order that raised the serious issue of prior censorship. "It appears to me that is just what we're doing here."
The case was dropped in September of 1979 after a California computer progammer's letter to Sen. Charles Percy (R-Ill.) about the workings of an H-bomb was published in a small Wisconsin newspaper.
Both the California man and Morland claimed they based their theories on publicly available information -- no classified material. For example Morland learned one so-called secret -- that the trigger for the H-bomb isn't outside the bomb -- when he saw an illustration in a 1966 encyclopedia.
The Progressive published Morland's article after spending about $250,000 in legal fees. Idi Amin didn't get the bomb. And today, working from his Northwest Washington home, 38-year-old Morland is trying to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Later this month Random House will publish his book, The Secret That Exploded, and Morland has put together a slide show about nuclear weapons he hopes will take the world beyond the question of simply how a bomb works.
Morland says he wasn't offering a how-to-make-a-bomb guide.
"I wanted to make the point that nuclear weapons are real, industrial equipment," says Morland. "I want people to know it's assembled, where the factories are . . . I wanted to demystify it, to destroy the mystique of scienctists having sole knowledge of this. I want to enfranchise everyone else on the subject."
And by dispelling the notion that only specialists can debate and decide the issue of nuclear weapons, Morland hopes more citizens will regard the way the weapons are now handled and deployed by governments as a danger to the world's existence.
When he was in the sixth grade, Morland says he ran a slide projector, often showing filmstrips on topics such as the making of catsup. He remembers the strips began by showing smiling tomato-pickers in fields and ended with the bottling process.
In his slide show, lectures, and book, Morland uses the same approach to explain nuclear weapons. Having visited most of the plants that produce an H-bomb's components, he knows all about a bomb's beginning. But he worries full-time about the ending.