Arms and the Man: The Brave New World for Scientists

Arms and the Man: The Brave New World for Scientists

All the benefits mankind may some day gain from atomic energy and space travel cannot hide the fact that the main reason science has recently been catapulted into importance is its ability to advance the technology of warfare. From a self-directed discipline followed by a small and quiet fraternity, science became an indispensable part of the military services during the war years.

Scientists are not bribed to work on weapons research; their laboratories have simply become dependent on defense funds. The majority of jobs in science today are subsidized, directly or indirectly, by military agencies, so that if any considerable number of scientists were to refuse further military work, their alternative would not be to return to nonmilitary research, but to leave scientific work. They would thus set themselves off from their colleagues and from society at large, for it is more respectable to accept the new state of affairs than to resist it.

The Cold War raises fundamental questions for scientists: is the present weapons research program a means of strengthening democratic forces, or at least of holding off totalitarianism? Since the survival of civilization itself is at stake, is not opposition to, or abstention from, the defense effort hopelessly idealistic? Is not support of weapons research politically and morally the lesser evil? Isn’t the only alternative a purely personal attempt to escape responsibility for the evil of war?

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