Focus on Education

Two letters to the editor in this issue respond to last month’s editorial. Carl Goldberg (See “Letters”) points out that in order to wean scientists and young people aspiring to careers in science away from war research it is not enough to call attention to opportunities to do peace — oriented research. Some couldn’t care less about how the results of their research will be used; others are attracted to weapons research by the sense of power it confers; others believe that in contributing to their country’s war potential they are doing their patriotic duty.

None of these points can be disputed. But it is also true that some scientists continue to do war research and some young people, beginning their scientific careers, go into war research because they see no other opportunities. For these, information about other opportunities may make a difference. An opportunity made a difference to Peter Hagelstein — designer of the X-ray laser — a key component of SDI (cf. W. Broad, The Star Warriors). Hagelstein was reported to have left the Livermore Laboratory to work on medical applications of lasers at the Mass. Institute of Technology.

Spreading information about existing opportunities for doing peace oriented research can create new opportunities. The more senior scientists choose peace-oriented in preference to war-oriented research, the more young people will follow their example. No effort can be expected to be sufficient for stopping war research or for slowing down or reversing the arms race. But in order to achieve these goals, effort is necessary. Small efforts have a way of adding up to sufficient ones.

Probably the best investment of effort to wean science from its dependence on the war system is to become involved with young people — the scientists of the future. Prizes will be awarded for distinguished peace-oriented projects. These fairs provide excellent learning opportunities for young people and can help to bring into focus possibilities for peace-oriented research. The January Bulletin carried a story about the fairs and a list of the 70 regional fair directors who are seeking judges from among SfP members. Copies of the list are available from the SfP office or from the National Youth Science Foundation. As we help these opportunities grow and become more salient, the attractiveness of war-oriented research as an ego trip may pall and the justification for doing war research as a “patriotic duty” may be more critically scrutinized.

Rob Dickinson (See “Letters”) writes about an effort to involve Canadian firms and universities in “high tech” research — via participating in and being funded by the U.S. SDI. There is a literature table in Terminal I at Toronto International Airport graced by a sign that reads, “MAKE BEAM WEAPONS OR LEARN RUSSIAN.” The young man staffing the table greets passersby with the question, “Are you for a strong defence?” His spiel includes the revelation that the Russians have been working on Star Wars since 1963, and that when both the US and the USSR spread the SDI shield, nuclear weapons will become obsolete. Asked about the advantages of this approach over simple abolition of nuclear weapons, he replies, “What ‘about Khomeini?” The literature he peddles is the output of the US Central Intelligence Agency (Intelligence Review-ERI) and of the public relations department of the now far-flung SDI conglomerate. There are no Canadian publications on the table. An important task for Science for Peace is that of counteracting such demagogy and disinformation.

A Baha’i sponsored ad in the Toronto subways reads, “Peace is inevitable.” This may or may not be so. But if it is a possibility, we should be preparing for it.

— Anatol Rapoport