Sunday, March 20, 2011

archaic superpowers in the age of superorganismic explosion (redux)

Video - J. Robert Oppenheimer we knew the world would not be the same.

Originally posted 1/30/11
America had made the bomb, and it could not escape the decisions that the possession of the bomb entailed. We had it. No one else did. Having it, what should we do with it? Should we share our knowledge or seek some international custodian of the "secret" we had discovered by prodigious wartime effort and the expenditure of some $2 Billion? Or, should we husband it, should we keep it all to ourselves? These were the fateful questions, and on the answers to them depended in large degree the climate of the postwar world and the direction that world would take.

The answers lay in the realm of science, which alone could gauge the validity of our secret and estimate the degree of our true choice; and because these answers, like the questions, involved entire new worlds of techniques and knowledge, it could not be expected that they would be widely and clearly understood. Inevitably, the issue of the bomb, the most momentous issue of our time, would be debated and settled in the inner councils of government; and, inevitably, under these circumstances, with knowledge largely confined to the high-circle inner club, it was foreordained that the Military, which already dominated this club, would define the argument in its own terms and dictate the decision. For this was clearly the Military's province, was it not? Who else could possibly know with their certainty?

The simplicity of this logic, viewed in the perspective of the years, now seems to have been the great delusion of our times. For anyone studying the record is forced to the conclusion that the Military, preoccupied with their own narrow professional interests, simply did not know best. Trained always to seek out the more powerful weapon, drilled to the point of instinct to protect such weapons by the tightest of secrecy, the military mentality was precisely the worst possible type of mentality with which to meet the special challenges of the new and infinitely complicated age of nuclear science. Great vision would be needed to recognize and deal with the unimaginable host of problems that we had willed ourselves in the birth of our horrible brain child.

But the military mind, by its very nature, would fall prey to the obsession that it possessed a great and final "secret" when in reality it had no secret at all, or at best only one of fleeting duration. This first delusion of the military mind would lead directly to a second. Convinced we alone held the "secret" of this supreme power, we would soon envision ourselves as the guardian of the world, the policeman of its security and its peace - a decision that ignored the elemental fact other nations almost certainly would not desire a guardian and one of them, Russia, would not trust or countenance our policing. Along such paths were we to be driven into the ever-mounting tensions of the Cold War that sane men can hardly be expected to continue and remain forever cold.

The tragedy is that we need not have walked so often to so many precarious brinks. There were men who saw the issues clear and whole. But these men were not of the Military. They were civilian scientists whose only claim was that they had created the atomic monster. They knew its terrible power. They knew that the scientific knowledge on which it was based was world-wide, not the exclusive province of any single country. They could glimpse the still more horrifying potentials that lay in the nuclear future now that the door was open, and they clearly saw that an arms race to achieve these higher horrors would escalate into the most desperate competition the world had ever seen. The views of the scientists were reflected in the eleoquent voice of one far-visioned statesman in the top-level councils of government, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson. The scientists raised their voices in protest. Stimson tried to bring to the issue the power of prophetic vision and common sense and high ideals. But the scientists and Stimson lost. Inevitably, because the Military was against them. This is the story of that defeat - a defeat that led directly to all our future points of no return.

Video - FDR warns of a fifth column.