The President's Corner
This is the last “President’s Corner” I shall write. Within a few days there will be a new president with whom we can share the job we set out to do.
As an organization we have grown and developed more sophistication about the search for an end to the arms race. As individuals we have surely learned how to combat frustration, impasse and pessimism, or we would not be claiming to end a “successful” year and looking forward hopefully to the next. The “real world” is more perilous than it was a year ago and the only way to survive in it is to generate hope from our combined efforts to “do something about it”.
Ray Kapral and John Dove provide some summaries of our structural and financial state. Science for Peace is “fitter” in both respects. The number of members who have assumed responsibility for the tasks necessary to reach this state are too numerous to mention. Suffice it to say that we have extremely capable and creative members. At least a partial record of their creativity is available in a catalogue of members’ publications which appears this month.
Through these pages I have attempted to explore with you some aspects of the responsibility of scientists for the arms race and its consequent threat of the final holocaust. Of special concern to us, of course, is the disavowal of responsibility by scientists on the grounds of the imperative that science be “value” free, that scientific cognition be divorced from ethical commitment. This is indeed the way the matter appears if science is conceived as consisting of so many areas of expertise and the role of the scientist as one of using his expertise to answer questions put to him by whoever has the authority to do so.
The matter appears otherwise if science is conceived as a collective enterprise dedicated to truth rooted in experience that can be shared by everyone, the results of which can improve the quality of life for all, not just some human beings.
Today the dominance of the first ethic I described allows scientists to be coopted into the service of war machines. Career opportunities mean much to young scientists whose prospects outside the weapons labs are not bright. Mature scientists with a flair for organization are seduced by the opportunities to become leaders of large scientific enterprises. The creative ones are seduced by challenging problems. All this busy-ness, and the glamour of the trappings of being with the powerful insulate the scientist from thinking about the end result of all this feverish activity. Thus, the Orwellian language of the defence community is not challenged by the scientists who benefit from being a part of it or by those compelled to work for it.
The alleged insoluble problem of “getting the genie back into the bottle” is a pseudo-problem. One need not “disinvent” the guillotine to refrain from chopping people’s heads off. The oft-repeated question “What if, after nuclear disarmament, nuclear armament starts again?” should not block action toward disarmament. When a physician is saving the victim of an accident from bleeding to death, he need not answer the question, “What if the victim has another accident?”
In the April issue of PHYSICS AND SOCIETY is an article, “Cost of Getting the Scientists Away from Weapons Research”, wherein author Vladislav Bevc suggests, “If we are interested in getting the scientists away from weapons research and development we must find a place for them where they can work in their fields and make a decent living at par or better than what the military can offer.” It’s an intriguing challenge for an organization like Science for Peace.
(The President’s Corner this month is abstracted from the president’s report to be presented in full at the annual general meeting.)