[Marxism] Fwd: The tragedy of the socialist atomic bomb. – Cold and dark stars

Jeff meisner at xs4all.nl
Sat Aug 19 13:07:05 MDT 2017


On 2017-08-19 14:26, Louis Proyect via Marxism wrote:>
> 
> https://colddarkstars.wordpress.com/2017/08/18/the-tragedy-of-the-socialist-atomic-bomb/


This article is remarkably inaccurate historically and misleading in 
regards to the dispositions of "scientists" which it talks about in 
sweeping general terms that, if applied to any other identifiable social 
entity (other than class) would be roundly denounced. And in particular 
it is absolutely slanderous toward Albert Einstein. The sad part is that 
this author is a leftist who I would probably agree with on almost any 
given political issue, but through his self-righteousness he displays 
his ignorance of the history of physics to the point that I find it 
embarrassing to have to address it. If he had spent two minutes checking 
out each of his historical "facts" then I would not need to be writing 
this.....

       Yet, the biggest socialist name behind the
       atomic bomb was Einstein.

This has got to be one of the greatest fallacies prevalent in popular 
culture based on both historical and scientific ignorance. I guess its 
prevalence can explain why a physics student could repeat it though he 
absolutely should have known better. Einstein had absolutely nothing to 
do with the development of the atomic bomb (or atomic energy for that 
matter); more on this below. The tiny grain of truth in such a statement 
is that Einstein discovered the equivalence between mass and energy, 
given by the well known equation (well known only because it's the 
simplest of his equations to write down) E=Mc^2. This was just one 
direct consequence of the special theory of relativity, which he 
proposed long long before WWII (actually long before WWI) and before 
anyone had the slightest idea about nuclear fission. And if Einstein 
hadn't written it, unquestionably it would have been written soon 
thereafter by other contemporaries of Einstein developing what Einstein 
would name the theory of relativity, such as Henri Poincare or Hendrik 
Lorentz (both of whom had already written the "Lorentz transforms," the 
kernel of the theory of special relativity).

Einstein's work was great, but had nothing at all to do with nuclear 
fission. It simply stated that when energy is given off by a reaction, 
such as burning gasoline, a tiny amount of mass is lost which accounts 
for that energy according to that famous equation. And in the other 
direction, it allowed nuclear scientists to calculate the energy that 
would be produced if the particles in an atomic nucleus were 
reconfigured into different nuclei by subtracting the resulting mass 
from the original mass, multiplied by that huge number c^2.

     According to relativity, the fissioning of
     an Uranium-235 nucleus  releases  high energy
     particles and heat.

Wrong. Relativity says nothing about the uranium nucleus or fission 
(which was unknown until decades after the discovery of the theory of 
relativity). It simply supplied the equation through which you could 
compute the kinetic energy liberated by such a process by comparing the 
masses of the uranium and its fission products.

      Yet, the second world war forced Einstein to
      apply the laws that regulate the starry night
      to the science of human massacre.....

      The same man that had a thousand page FBI file.....
      was now an acolyte  of  the cult of nuclear death.

Although the author probably believes these popular fictions, I cannot 
think of a more slanderous statement that could be made against the 
great scientist! Of course Einstein never applied any of his expertise 
to the "science of human massacre" or joined the "cult of nuclear 
death," if only because he was NOT ALLOWED to work on the Manhattan 
project (which first developed the atom bomb). Einstein continued on as 
a theoretical physicist especially in the development of quantum 
mechanics, very abstract work with no connections to anything as 
specific as a uranium atom let alone making a bomb with it. It wasn't 
until the 1930's I believe that nuclear fission was discovered and the 
possibility of a chain reaction predicted and its energy yield 
calculated, at which point warmakers in America and Germany suddenly 
became very interested.

But beyond Einstein, the following narrative greatly distorts the 
history of the atom bomb and scientists associated with it:

      The atomic bomb had domesticated the brightest
      minds of the world into becoming the mercenaries
      and slaves of presidents and politburos.

This can only be a reference to scientists' role in the Manhattan 
project. Now we can start actually talking about politics and the social 
role of scientists. Even viewed in the most critical light, however, the 
above description of scientists' roles is generally unfair. I don't know 
anything about Nazi scientists working on the German atom bomb. But the 
scientists in the US (which included many refugee scientists from 
Germany and occupied Europe) faced ethical dilemmas, knowing the energy 
that an atom bomb would unleash. They generally accepted working on the 
Manhattan project for one single reason: they didn't want the Nazi's to 
obtain (and use!) the atom bomb first.

Now, you can tell me all about both sides being imperialist/capitalist 
etc. But faced with the choice of a Nazi victory over the imperialists 
(also destroying the SU, but that's just a detail) and world domination, 
I would find it hard to argue against cooperating with the one effort 
likely to prevent that in the case of success of Germany's nuclear 
program. I can not denounce as "mercenaries" those scientists for taking 
that reasonable stand. This was further demonstrated when Germany was 
defeated in May 1945. With the Nazi danger gone, there was widespread 
feeling among the physicists working in the Manhattan project, that 
their work was thus no longer needed. A number of them quit for that 
reason.

As would have Einstein. Except that he was never even allowed to work on 
the Manhattan project in the first place, probably because they didn't 
want someone with left politics, and who was very well known and 
respected (unlike the others) who could have spoken up in such 
circumstances. I might also add that their refusal to let Einstein work 
on the atom bomb shows at least that they understood the lack of 
connection between Einstein's theoretical work and the atom bomb, even 
as that popular fallacy gets absorbed and repeated by young physicists 
as we see here.

Alright, that deals with the historical errors in the article. I'm sure 
I'd agree with the author in normative terms regarding the role of 
scientists in society and relative to authority. But here, too, he makes 
some unfair exaggerations. Maybe these apply more to the author's 
environment (it doesn't say which university he studies at) and indeed 
there are many scientists who work for evil governments or corporations 
in unethical ways and should be denounced. But it is really unfair to 
say:

      As the material means of scientific self-
      reproduction became increasingly tied to a
      racist, war-mongering State, the scientist
      became more conservative. The scientific
      imagination that once dreamed of utopian
      communism in Mars.....

(Huh? I don't know of anyone dreaming of communism on Mars! Mars would 
be an awful place to live or build communism!)

I honestly don't know anything about scientists becoming MORE 
conservative currently or at a particular time in the past. It's true 
that there is more domination of university research by industry and 
government (including military) which presents ethical dilemmas for many 
scientists. So there may be more work opportunities for scientists that 
are apolitical/unethical. You could say they were "conservative" from 
the start. But at least at universities and national laboratories, one 
would not get the impression of many scientists being on the right. The 
main crime I would say is indifference, apathy. But there is clearly a 
sizeable minority of scientists who are vocally left wing (and others 
who simply reject government austerity and bad science policy, 
especially in the era of Trump!). Announcements shared in university 
departments often echo these concerns (where I received pleas to join 
last spring's March for Science, or to fight cuts to university funding, 
for instance). I never see anything of the sort coming from the right. 
That isn't because there are no right-wingers in science; I believe it's 
because they want to avoid embarrassment among their colleagues. Exactly 
as it should be!

- Jeff













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