This summer took me to four scientific meetings in Europe where I found very great and widespread concern about current trends in world affairs, especially the ever-growing arms race and the failure to make real progress in reducing tensions between the great powers. Strong criticisms of the Reagan government’s policies came even from scientists whose livelihood depended on US defence contracts. Some of those who were most strongly condemnatory of the danger to world peace posed by SDI still felt that they could accept SDI funding for basic research provided that the results were unlikely to be used for offensive purposes and would be published. Of course, accepting such funds sends a message to one’s co-workers and makes it harder to criticize the system.
My attempts to discuss these matters with scientists from Eastern Europe met with little success. At two of the four meetings, expected Soviet participants did not arrive, and at the third they came late and were not very communicative. Only at one place did they arrive as expected and then two of the three Soviets (at a meeting with participants from 24 countries) apparently spoke only Russian. The third was not an active scientist and, while he was able to interpret for the others, one could not have a discussion through him on any sensitive subject. A highly respected Soviet scientist in my field was reported banned from international travel.
The need for scientists to group together to make their collective voices heard has never been greater. In Darmstadt it was encouraging to meet with Gunther Schwarz who, by publicizing our activities through the “Darmstadter Blatter” is trying to promote the formation in West Germany of an organization similar to Science for Peace. But in the same country it was deeply disturbing to hear that the name of an old friend, professor of physical chemistry at one of Germany’s oldest universities, and certainly no warmonger, was on the death list of the “Rote Armee Fraktion” who recently murdered the research director of Siemens and his driver. The well-publicized activities of such radical fringe groups are only too easily used to discredit other activists, including those working for peace, and to justify excesses of other kinds.
- John Dove