I have made the case elsewhere (Oh Canada! Wilbert Smith & The UFOs) that Vannevar Bush was an extremely unlikely choice to be tapped by President Truman for anything to do with a crashed flying saucer, whether it was the supposed MJ-12 group or the committee referred to by Smith in his famous (or, in my opinion, infamous) "Top Secret" memo which , among other things, detailed his conversation with American scientist Dr. Robert Sarbacher.
Why? Because, to put it in the vernacular, the two were on the "outs" - Bush was Rossevelt's man. With the ascension of Truman to the Presidency, Bush's spot at the top of the scientific establishment in Washington was effectively finished.
In my MJ-12 Mea Culpa, I raised four points for Stan Friedman to answer with respect to MJ-12, one of which was the unlikelihood that Bush would be tapped by Truman for any such project. To his credit, Stan responded to this particular point by sending me the relevant excerpt from Bush's memorandum of his meeting with Truman and Secretary of Defence James Forrestal on 24 September, 1947. It was at this meeting that MJ-12 was supposedly established by Truman, with Forrestal and Bush as key members.
The problem for Stan and other MJ-12 defenders is that Bush's memo of the conference, far from demonstrating that Truman considered Bush a trusted advisor (the kind you would put on a project like MJ-12), reveals the opposite.
Bush was there to discuss with Truman the prospect of Bush taking on the chairman's job at the newly formed Research and Development Board. It was not the job that Bush had been angling for - he wanted the post of Secretary of Defense, as noted by historian Pascal Zachary in Endless Frontier: Vannevar Bush, Engineer of the American Century (at pp. 322-323). Still, Bush was willing to take the RDB position for a year or so, but only on one condition - if the scientists in the country felt that he had the confidence of the President.
According to Bush, Truman replied that he did not see how they could think otherwise, and that Bush "certainly had his confidence."
That was not enough for Bush, however, who knew better. He told Truman that "inasmuch as he had not called me in for anything for a year, and since the last report that was made on the future of science in this country was made by someone else [PK note - Bush's rival John Steelman], scientists naturally gathered that I was not in his confidence."
This is a remarkable moment for anyone who thinks that Bush had retained any influence in the Truman administration. In the first place, he was being given a consolation job. In the second, he was not willing to take it unless Truman specifically expressed his confidence in him - twice! A man who knew he had the President's confidence would not have had to ask at all.
Truman again assured Bush that he had his confidence, and that Truman had not really realised that Bush had not had anything to do with the preparation of the Steelman report. He then told Bush that, "if it had not been true in the past, I would rather be frequently in contact and that if there was an impression that [Bush] did not have [Truman's] confidence that that impression would soon be corrected by future relations."
Bush took the job. He lasted, as he had predicted that day, less than a year, leaving the RDB in a mess after failing to secure Truman's confidence in his ongoing battles with the Joint Chiefs (see letter from V. Bush to James Forrestal, 8 September 1948 - NARA, RG 218, CDF 1948 - 1950, 334 RDB, 102). In 1948 Bush was specifically excluded from Truman's special advisory committee for an appraisal of progress in atomic research, a final snub to the man who had been instrumental in the creation of the atomic bomb in the first place (see Truman's Memoirs: Years of Trial and Hope, pp. 298 - 303; it is one of the few references he makes to scientific issues, indicating its importance).
In 1950, William Golden, Truman's science advisor, noted after a conversation with Bush that "Bush is now on the outside so far as Government scientific matters are concerned, a position of which he is very conscious and to which he referred time and time again. Though President Truman is very cordial to him he does not call upon him for advice, though Dr. Bush has pointed this out to him on a number of occasions. It is very evident that Dr. Bush, who had a very close working relationship with President Roosevelt, does not approve of the current state of affairs." (See the American Association for the Advancement of Science archives, Memoranda of William T. Golden, "Memorandum to File: Conversation with Dr. Vannevar Bush")
None of this should come as a surprise to anyone who has studied the totality of Bush's government service, in particular the rapid decline in his influence once Truman suddenly came to power. Take the New York Times obituary for Bush (30 June 1974, pp. 1 and 36), for example. The Times devoted six columns to Bush's life, but only two paragraphs to his work after the end of the Second World War. Similarly, Physics Today (September 1974, pp. 71 - 72) observed that Bush would be "chiefly remembered for his leadership of the Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II" and the twenty years prior to 1938, when "he attained great distinction as a professor of electrical engineering at MIT."
Of course, all of this was painfully obvious to Bush, who had discovered the true nature of his relationship with Truman on 14 June, 1945. Truman, in a 15 minute meeting that day, told Bush that he "liked" Bush's Endless Frontier report, which Bush saw as the blueprint for the future of science in the United States (a future that would have Bush at the helm). It was eerily similar to Truman's expression of "confidence" in Bush at the 24 September, 1947 meeting.
Bush left the June 1945 meeting no doubt feeling good about his prospects.
Later that day, a presidential aide told him that Truman had rejected "Endless Frontier."
Not the president himself; an aide.
It is a snub that is indicative of what Truman really thought of Vannevar Bush, a man who, as he got the news, must have realised that he had reached the beginning of the end of his own, once seemingly endless, frontier in government service.