Adrenaline For Peace

Science for Peace is a small organization in a country without nuclear weapons trying to influence the odds for passing on to future generations the gift of life.

Science for Peace serves to encourage its members in their individual efforts and from time to time organizes collective efforts for education and research devoted to the elimination of war particularly wars of mass destruction, and the causes of war.

Despite the best intentions of science educators, the number of scientists contributing to and benefiting from the arms race continues to rise. In the face of changing world opinion in the nineteen eighties, they have switched their rationalizations of their personal involvement from those of prevailing in wars and the saving of their way of life to that of preserving the peace. These scientists convince themselves that they are serving their societies, which provide them the opportunities for challenging research and development. Indeed they are right, for if societies became convinced that this was not the case, the funds for their work would vanish There is increasing awareness of this on their part. Beneficiaries of the arms race will argue that every advance toward a cooperative world is the result of their insistence on military strength based upon superior technology.

Should members of Science for Peace work towards changing the minds and occupations of their fellow scientists or toward changing the minds of the electorates that ultimately pay for their work? Or is the target the politicians who make the decisions of how government resources are allocated?

Two major influences in the choice of occupation of young scientists are the facilities and opportunities for exercising their skills and the direct rewards from the conditions of their employment. Even before leaving universities, their choices of fields of research are influenced by the sources of funding and the terms of graduate student stipends.

NATO serves an example of how easy it is to influence scientists. NATO supports conferences and the exchange of scientists to the benefit of many at a very small cost, about $30 million Canadian per year Most likely, a psychological survey of scientists would produce a strong positive response to the mention of NATO, including most members of Science for Peace.

Science and engineering follow the money. The feedback in this process comes as the scientists dream up new possible technologies which spur the politicians to appropriate more money in order that they will not be accused of having failed to provide for future defence.

There is perhaps no better cautionary tale than the case of Peter Hagelstem, a highly creative young scientist with altruistic visions of serving mankind by providing an x-ray laser for better medical technology. As a graduate student he was offered an attractive Hertz fellowship and access to the multi-million dollar facilities of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratories. At the weapons lab he attended a seminar on the use of nuclear explosions to trigger an x-ray laser. From his own thinking about lasers, he realized that they were on the wrong track and that he had a better way of doing it. His girl friend, Josie Stein, told him that if he worked on the idea, she would leave him. She followed through on that, as Peter went on to provide Edward Teller with the dazzling scientific arguments that Teller used with hyperbole to push the Strategic Defence Initiative and to hold back the United States from agreeing to a ban on nuclear weapons testing.

Certainly it has been demonstrated by Edward Teller that one scientist can make very significant impacts on the course of history. Teller can rightly claim responsibility for development of thermonuclear weapons, the maintenance of atmospheric testing for four additional years, the continuation of underground testing for more than 25 years and the rise of Star Wars and its influence on scientific research. He did not need the backing of the scientific community to achieve all this. He did need the money that the politicians provided to create a Laboratory that attracted and continues to attract some of the best scientific minds.

Partisan political activity in Canada is outside the mandate of Science for Peace. Our aims are for the education of members of all parties in the quest for peace. It should be obvious, but it seems not to be, that the change in language of politicians around the world in this decade is in response to the awareness of the people of the dangers of the arms race, not to the success of peace through strength policies. The peace through strength advocates can take credit for their unintentional injection of a shot of adrenaline into peace movements around the world.

Adrenaline provides for response in times of stress. But it wears off. And the arms race continues. There is another effect of adrenaline that remains long after the chemical activity. Nothing serves so well for the creation of lasting memory as the presence of adrenaline in the blood stream. Awareness that Man has the power of ending the four billion years of nature’s experiments that have led to his existence raised the adrenaline of many. That thought has entered into the collective consciousness of humanity.

Each member of Science for Peace can build upon that new awareness. We have an opportunity to participate in task of as much importance as that of any generation that has gone before. We can help pass that task on to the next generation by working to preserve life.

— Tony Arrott

For those wishing insight into the role of science in the arms race outside of academia, William J. Broad’s book Star Warriors, published in 1985 by Simon and Schuster, is highly recommended. It sets the stage for the current turmoil in the US weapons laboratories. Recent accounts are found in the New York Times Magazine Oct. 8 and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists for September.

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ISSN 1925-170X (Print) | ISSN 1925-1718 (Online)