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Labor Action, 3 December 1945


Atomic Energy:

For Barbarism or Socialism?

A Series by the Editors of Labor Action


From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 49, 3 December 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Part II

The magnitude of destruction caused by the new bomb will usher in tremendous changes in the “science of warfare.” Hiroshima and Nagasaki were only a preview of the next world war. The disintegration of these two cities merely indicated the destructive possibilities of the bomb. We have the opinions of the scientists to support this view.

Dr. Arthur H. Compton, Nobel Prize physicist and one of those who worked on the bomb, wrote in the New York Mirror that “science sees no reason to doubt atomic weapons will be made that, related to the present atomic bomb, will be as the blockbuster to the blunderbuss.”

In an interview printed in the New York Times of October 13, 400 Los Alamos scientists who worked on the bomb project declared:

“Before many years they (other countries than the U.S., Britain and Canada) may also be manufacturing bombs – bombs which may be tens, hundreds or even thousands of times more powerful than those which caused such devastation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

What would such bombs mean concretely? The scientists have testified before the U.S. Senate that with robot atomic bombing, forty cities the size of New York and tens of millions of lives can be wiped out in a few minutes!

Some scientists put it this way: if another war takes place, atomic warfare will mean the death of one out of every four persons in the country.

The New Type of Warfare

This type of warfare will not even require pilots. All the new devices in the technique of mass slaughter developed in this war – rocket planes, rocket bombs, radar, radio-directed weapons – can be applied to the queen of them all, the atomic bomb. The “science of warfare” has become so elevated that every city in the world can be razed. Capitalist civilization has at last produced a weapon that can truly destroy itself.

The bomb has antiquated the present concepts of warfare by mass armies, air fleets and navies. It has revolutionized warfare in a more fundamental way than did the invention of gunpowder. The mass army in the next war, if it miraculously succeeded in surviving an atomic war, could only be used to occupy wastelands, devastated areas with millions of dead, so great is the disintegrating force of the atom bomb.

Even more significant than this is the fact that there is no defense to the atom bomb. The new weapon has destroyed the military cliché, “To every offense a corresponding defense.”

“We might surpass by far the defensive achievements of this war,” writes the Oak Ridge group of atomic scientists, “but even if we could keep nine of these missiles from their goal, dare we hope that we could stop the tenth as well?”

Is There a Defense Against It?

Only the House of Representatives’ Naval Affairs Committee insinuated that “an effective counter-measure to atomic bombs had been developed.” What that might be, they have not indicated. The atomic scientists of Chicago, however, stated October 13 that:

“... Expert scientific opinion contradicted a report issued Thursday by the House Naval Affairs Committee.” They called the report “highly misleading” and said that its “attempt to minimize its (the atom bomb’s) importance and convey the impression that the armed forces will soon bring the situation under control can do incalculable harm.”

Another direct refutation came from Dr. H.J. Curtis, one of the leading scientists on the Oak Ridge project:

“We scientists can offer no hope of a specific defense against the atomic bomb. Counter-offensive warfare will not restore the ruins of our cities nor revive the millions of our dead.”

This opinion is supported by Drs. David L. Hill, Eugene Rabinowitch and John A. Simpson, Jr., of the Chicago group, who say:

“No specific defense against the bomb itself – i.e., a device which would explode them before they reach their targets – is in sight. Irresponsible claims that such a device has been invented only stimulate wishful thinking ... The conclusion cannot be avoided that in the atomic age it will be difficult if not impossible for any one nation, big or small, to make itself secure against a crippling attack.”

The Chicago group was even more graphic in its description of a future atomic war. It stated:

“In the not too distant future, many nations might possess the several hundred atomic bombs which would be sufficient to annihilate in a few minutes sixty per cent of our industrial resources, paralyze ninety per cent of our productive capacity and destroy one-third of our entire population. (These figures represent the part of our population and national economy concentrated in thirty metropolitan centers.)”

Just think, the present atomic bomb devastates an area of four square miles and damages a surrounding area of a hundred. No city of a population of 100,000 would remain an effective operating center after the first hour of an atomic war. Twenty-five per cent or more of a nation’s population could be wiped out in an initial blow.

What, then, should one think of a scientist like Einstein, who writes that “no new problem has been created” by the atomic bomb?

Industrial Potentialities

Up to now we have dealt solely with the military consequences of the creation of the atom bomb. The question naturally arises: What are the industrial, or non-military, potentialities in the control of atomic energy?

In answer to this question, the opinions of the scientists are not uniform nor so sure as on the other aspects. The reason for their equivocation may be found in the fact that our capitalist government developed the bomb at great expense for destructive purposes, but has never contemplated any peacetime industrial project similar in scope or expenditure which might compete with existing private enterprise. However, there is much evidence and testimony available to indicate that atomic energy has just as great significance for the revolutionizing of industrial production as for the “science of warfare.”

According to Professor Compton, there is no indication as yet that atomic energy may be used in automobiles or airplanes, because the radioactive waves produced by nuclear fission make it impossible to use safely in such relatively small machines. However, he says with certainty that “at this moment the obviously great field open to atomic energy is that of the production of useful heat and power.”

Dr. Enrico Fermi, one of the foremost of the atomic scientists, communicated his opinion to the Kilgore Sub-Committee that “The industrial potentialities can be exploited.”

In his testimony before the Senate Military Affairs Committee, reported in PM on October 15, Dr. Oppenheimer asserted that “... a million kilowatts of electric energy is not far off, possible five years or less. But to fit this into our economy may take a long time.”

Other than military use of atomic power also concerned the Chicago group. In its Life (October 29) report, it states:

“The scientists are often asked: What about the peacetime applications of atomic power? These, too, will depend on how successfully the specter of atomic warfare is banished from the earth. We may look confidently to benefits which the production of new radioactive elements will bring to science, industry and medicine, since small-scale atomic plants will be sufficient to provide an abundance of these invaluable tools for scientists, doctors and engineers. On the other hand, only in a world free from fear of war will it be possible to give full freedom to the development of large-scale atomic-power prospects.”

Thus we see that the future and complete answer to this question lies in the field of economics and politics.

(Part III)

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