C.L.R. James

The Gathering Forces

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II. Contemporary International Class Struggles

The Abuse and Promise of Modern Technology

Today the whole world witnesses and is properly terrified by the barbaric abuse of technology, a technology which is primarily geared to the production of weapons of instead of to the satisfaction of human, creative needs. Moreover, this abuse of technology for military purposes cannot defend anyone, cannot be the deterrent to modern wars and: holocausts. A look at the development of anti-ballistic missile demonstrates this clearly. We rely heavily upon the information supplied in an article in the French journal, Le Monde, for October 14, 1967.

The anti-ballistic missile (A.B.M.) installed in the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. is claimed to be the perfect weapon by those who, in the interests of survival against aggression, either advocate defence by improving the weapons of attack, or support a system of protection.

However, important American and French experts on military techniques claim that the A.B.M. will be almost useless against short- and middle-range nuclear weapons and therefore leads to a military policy of offence rather than defence. We must pay careful attention to the details of this missile warfare despite the difficulties because of its ultimate significance for all humanity.

The American system (Nike-X Model 167) will be ready in 1970, and is composed of two missiles. The Spartan reaches an altitude of 500 miles. The Sprint, reaching sixty miles with very strong acceleration powers, intercepts those enemy missiles which succeed in getting past the Spartan There will be several radar systems which will reinforce the missiles. The Perimeter Radar Acquisition (P.R.A.) “should be able to detect all aggression up to 5,000 miles, provided that the intercontinental device has a high culminating point.” The Multi-function Army Radar (M.A.R.) is supposed to be able to distinguish the real threat from atmospheric echoes. The short-range Missile Site Radar (M. S.R.) in principle guides the path of the Sprint by being attracted to the infra-red. of the enemy missile. There are plans to perfect the Nike-X Model 161 to a Model 267. This will mean that the Sprint will be combined with a Tactical Missile Radar Acquisition (T.M.R.A.) in order to better distinguish the bomb-carrying missiles from the decoys. Although the Soviet network remains hidden in diplomatic fogs, it is known that it also is composed of two missiles, called by NATO Galosh and Griffin, which probably operate in the same way as the American system.

Yet the anti-ballistic missiles according to French and American specialists “can, under certain conditions, neutralise the intercontinental missile, but it does not block short- or medium-range missile, especially those from the strategic submarine.”

There are, of course, other defence systems. The Early Warning System, running from Alaska to Greenland and England, guards 6,500 miles and allows America fifteen minutes to launch the counter-attack. There are also the satellites. The fixed satellite cannot explore and send out information, and the mobile satellite cannot guarantee a permanent control, because the use of indirect reflection by the ionosphere cannot be relied on. “Finally, even the most advanced reconnaissance planes do not allow an appreciable improvement for the carrying of radar.”

It is estimated that the radar system can spot an intercontinental missile flying from 2,000 to 3,000 miles up at thirteen miles per second at midnight; that is to say, fifteen minutes before it explodes. Theoretically this gives the Spartan and the Sprint enough time to intercept it. But the launching of the A.B.M. from the launching pad, which only reaches 3,000 to 5,000 miles, or from a submarine allows a delay of only three to four minutes. The missile launched from a stationary base flies too low. The manoeuvrability of the submarine’s submersion makes detection difficult and complicated. Therefore, the Spartan is absolutely useless, which leaves the Sprint to intervene.

But intervention by the Sprint causes more problems. The effect of a nuclear explosion even a dozen miles high is much more violent than a nuclear explosion at ground level. The Sprint works at altitudes below sixty miles. And the sea-to-earth missiles are not aimed at enemy launching sites; they are aimed at the cities. “As such, it is as if the A.B.M attracts a thunderbolt. The government will be cornered with a choice which, in any case, leads to the same disaster. One can launch the Sprint, and the nuclear explosion will take place in the altitude, that is, in the worst conditions. Or they will decide not to intercept those bombs launched against their territory, with all the consequences that one can imagine. The Sprint is a weapon with a double-edge, which indirectly provokes the destruction it is supposed to prevent.

Despite all this and more, it is estimated that by 1972, there will be more than 7,500 nuclear warheads. Mr. McNamara, the American Defence Secretary, continues to propound his theory that offensive missile sites must: be protected, which means the American government would probably install the proposed eighteen A.B.M.s around nuclear sites, rather than near populated areas. In other words, Mr. McNamara and his supporters say that attack is the best defence.

If all of this seems insane, it is because the power structure of the capitalist states, East and West, can only destroy human life. It cannot build the social relations which can use the promise of technology for the cause of human freedom because, of course, such new social relations demand the total destruction of these power structures. Only the working class, the peasantry and other revolutionary forces can fulfil the promise of modern technological knowledge. This, too, is the significance of October for our day.

Last updated on 18 October 2020