PART ONE—Social Class Foundations of the Nuclear Project
The present process, of which this is an initial statement of five—a number that might easily become fifty, or five hundred, or whatever—develops a narrative that necessitates greater complexity than each of the first four Spindoctor installments here on Contributoria. Nor does even a cursory glance at these earlier articles suggest that any Spindoctor production inclines toward simplification, meaning that what follows may end up displaying tortuous whorls indeed.
Precisely because the current attempt at deconstruction of what we can term the Modern Nuclear Project expresses so many arcane and intertwined elements, this report begins with the simplest possible synopsis of what will follow. To wit, the following hypothesis or theoretical articulation underpins everything else that flows in its wake.
The contemporary contextualization of what one might call Imperial Capital originated in conjunction with and has become completely dependent upon the capacity to comprehend and manipulate matter and its realities at the atomic and subatomic levels. The recognition of this dynamic has multiple important implications. For today’s purposes particularly, it means that, whatever the objective basis or truth of the Nuclear Project’s conclusions, its supposed necessity, accuracy, rationality, efficiency, and utility are primarily matters of the class interests of those who rule Imperial Capital. Moreover, it means that whatever the drawbacks, dangers, or even lethal inevitabilities of the Nuclear Project, it must remain a core aspect of the plans and needs of these rulers; as it was in the beginning, so it will continue until such a time that some other manifestation of social power takes command or calls the shots, as it were.
Of course, one of many problems with starting so simply, or perhaps baldly, is that an observer almost has no choice but to doubt that all of the intricacies of something like the politics and science and social relations and history of energy, with a focus on atomic chemistry and physics, can possibly fit inside of or under the umbrella of such a basic rubric. The primary method and purpose of this section of today’s essay is at least to summarize some of the vast array of components of matters nuclear that in fact do dovetail elegantly with this relatively rudimentary thesis.
In a sense, Frank Stockton offered an excellent summation of the sociopolitical pieces of today’s puzzle in his fanciful novel, The Great War Syndicate. He did this in 1889, more or less, fifteen years or so after James Maxwell definitively expressed the interconnectedness of light and magnetism but several years before the Curies were uncovering radioactivity, over a decade before Frederick Soddy and his colleagues were laying the basis to deduce actual workings of atomic structures, almost two decades before e=mc-squared, and a half century prior to a wealthy financier’s delivering a fateful letter to Franklin Roosevelt, a missive that called for a new kind of weapon—syndicated in every sense—that would consign ‘conventional warfare’ to obsolescence.
Readers will have the option of seeing Stockton’s imaginative labor in greater depth in the introductory section that lies ahead. Now, we might just note that he depicted weaponry that resembled atomic ordnance in many of its particulars, destructive machinery, moreover, that had totally depended on a ‘syndicate’—as the title attested—of wise financiers and industrialists for its formulation, production, and deployment. These shadowy and insistent plutocrats intended with their mastery of destructive technology to put into place a ‘New World Order’ in which their imprimatur would be impossible to challenge.
“The unmistakable path of national policy which had shown itself to the wisest British statesmen appeared broader and plainer when the overtures of the American War Syndicate had been received by the British Government. The Ministry now perceived that the Syndicate had not waged war; it had been simply exhibiting the uselessness of war as at present waged. Who now could deny that it would be folly to oppose the resources of ordinary warfare to those of what might be called prohibitive warfare.
Another idea arose in the minds of the wisest British statesmen. If prohibitive warfare were a good thing for America, it would be an equally good thing for England. More than that, it would be a better thing if only these two countries possessed the power of waging prohibitive warfare.”
To anyone who has studied the development of what in this writing we term the Modern Nuclear Project, the language here recalls both the formative years prior to the Manhattan Project and the early attempts, no matter how self-serving and duplicitous, of the Atomic Energy Commission and its cohorts in England after the United States had waged the first nuclear war on Japan. Stockton’s prescience in this vein appears simply astonishing.
“No time was lost by the respective Governments of Great Britain and the United States in ratifying the peace made through the Syndicate, … the basis of which should be the use by these two nations, and by no other nations, of the instantaneous motor, …for both Governments felt the importance of placing themselves, without delay, in that position from which, by means of their united control of paramount methods of warfare, they might become the arbiters of peace.
The desire to evolve that power which should render opposition useless had long led men from one warlike invention to another. Every one who had constructed a new kind of gun, a new kind of armour, or a new explosive, thought that he had solved the problem, or was on his way to do so. The inventor of the instantaneous motor had done it.
The treaty provided that all subjects concerning hostilities between either or both of the contracting powers and other nations should be referred to a Joint High Commission, appointed by the two powers; and if war should be considered necessary, it should be prosecuted and conducted by the Anglo-American War Syndicate, within limitations prescribed by the High Commission.
The contract made with the new Syndicate was of the most stringent order, and contained every provision that ingenuity or foresight of man could invent or suggest to make it impossible for the Syndicate to transfer to any other nation the use of the instantaneous motor.”
The opponents in Stockton’s yarn were off, of course, as was the presumption of high-mindedness that this preacher’s son blithely advanced regarding the antagonists, but the culminating union was completely accurate. In essence, the upshot—the confirmation of an Anglo-American collaboration to rule the Earth through wildly powerful technical legerdemain that involved weaponizing electromagnetism—was as the British might term it, “spot on.” In any case, his insights and predictions serve to initiate today’s effort, a rhetorical bookend for a way of examining the issues of our time that represents a political economic version of Einstein’s famous equation.
That the Anglo-American Mandate has failed to forestall ‘motor-bomb’ nuclear arms races that threaten mass collective suicide emanates from Stockton’s chauvinism, a naïveté that might seem paradoxical in contrast to the incredible precision with which he foresaw aspects of how the coming decades would develop. In any event, this incisive description of how ‘prohibitive warfare,’ or “strategic armaments,” would rule the future represents an inescapable recognition of an intersection of industry, finance, government, and hegemony, a predictive portrayal of an atomic military industrial complex in charge of everything.
The remainder of this portion of today’s report lays out a handful of elements that thinkers need to ponder when they seek to grapple with the technical, political, and social enormities, not to mention the potential ecological Armageddon, that inhere in the human uptake of this Modern Nuclear Project. Those who ‘butter their bread’ as a result of atomic processes can rail against such a conclusion, but Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima are just a few of the eventualities that force any but the fatuous at least to contemplate the ecocidal potential of this course-of-action that syndicates have so ardently syndicated for over a century now.
An initial aspect of the overall rationale for the coming of a nuclear age appears in some detail in the prefatory section that comes next. It also shows up, overall, throughout the present narrative. Most simply, emphasizing this point repeatedly, and now, is necessary because of how central this kind of thinking is to any sort of understanding of science.
This perspective upends most ways that the inculcation of science and technology happen, even in our supposedly ‘enlightened’ times. In essence, a Science, Technology, & Society rubric holds that no historical expression of technical knowledge or scientific ‘progress’ depends primarily on expertise or priestly insights or hard-sought magisterial discoveries of any kind.
Instead, every scientific development emanates from specific social relations that surround, economic forces that underlie, and political decisions that impact things. What sorts of things? The weapons that people use; the crops that people cultivate and the processing of these plants into food; the structures that people build and the materials that they use for these projects; the energy that people employ and the chemical and physical steps that utilizing this power entails; these and just about every other aspect of ‘civilized’ society depend on some combination of knowledge and technical acuity that do not arise from practical necessity so much as from social convenience for the families and networks in charge of status quo operations.
In other words, therefore, “(a) key framework that I bring to this discourse …suggests that neither knowledge nor machines emanate from ‘objective’ or neutral labors of unbiased ubermensch, any more than the castles and guilds of feudalism emanated from God’s commands. Instead, everything that (exists) results from complex webs of relations that inherently blend social, political, and economic factors in a dynamic interplay of human conflict and cooperation that yields the present from the past, just as the only route to the future is through the now.”
“Faraday disk generator” by Émile Alglave
In terms of the conceptual origins of the Modern Nuclear Project, one need look no further than Michael Faraday’s seminal thinking, which impacted Maxwell as much as the work of any other co-venturer in the attempt to unravel electromagnetism. Though Faraday famously refused to help the English government devise chemical killing weapons to use against the Russians in Crimea, the powers-in-charge persistently asked and continued to look for such venal and homicidal machinations.
Such possibilities also permeated the electromagnetic work that James Maxwell carried out, about which much more is soon to come, who among other things first uncovered scalar energy, which “has enormous implications for military applications.” Though these capabilities were not forthcoming in Maxwell’s abbreviated lifetime, multiple actors, Nicola Tesla among them, worked on beam weapons that had destructive potential that at least theoretically might match that of fission and fusion energy.
Closer to contemporary manifestations of different-and-yet-similar EMS developments, in the lee of the Trinity Test and the Atomic Energy Act, one might consider the institutional meaning of the present day Department of Energy(DOE).
“DOE began in the Manhattan Project. That thirteen of twenty four ‘Assistant Secretaries’ in the department deal directly with nuclear matters should therefore come as no surprise. In terms of spending, a better name for DOE might be the Department of H-bombs. This fundamental underpinning of U.S. energy bureaucracy by nuclear weapons and nuclear power is clearest in following the names that led to the formation of the Department of Energy under President Carter, himself a nuclear engineer and commander of a nuclear submarine.
The Manhattan Project yielded the Atomic Energy Agency, which was a bomb-maker, pure and simple. This led to the Atomic Energy Commission, which both continued nuclear weapons R&D and vowed fission ‘power too cheap to meter,’ a prognostication hilarious but for the wasted alternative energy opportunities foreclosed by adherence to the false promise of nukes. The Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 separated nuclear reactor issues from technical energy research matters, creating the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Energy Research and Development Agency. While the NRC has remained the overseer and erstwhile guarantor of civilian nukes, ERDA formed a key part of the skeleton of Carter’s DOE, which has continued to operate from its formation in 1977 until today, as noted, in a fashion that is overwhelmingly, and from a historical point of view, unavoidably, biased in favor of nuclear solutions to energy questions.”
A centrally important actor in these predecessors to the present Department-of-All-H-Bombs, David Lillienthal served as the a Director or Chair of the Tennessee Valley Authority from its inception to the Oak Ridge Clinton Engineering Works’ key role in creating the enriched Uranium to fuel the Little Boy device that incinerated Hiroshima; he acted as a legal and science adviser to Dean Acheson, so much so that his name was part of the title of the 1946 report that purportedly sought to ‘internationalize’ the Modern Nuclear Project. He went on, for several years, to lead the Atomic Energy Commission as its first Chairman, till his ‘New Deal credentials’ and other complications resulted in his sacking.
As such, he embodies the ubiquitous predisposition among those who bridge government and business and science to insist on strategies that maximize the concentration of capital in strategic social choices. One would hope that the fact would be obvious that H-bombs and nuclear reactors are two of the top aggregations of all types of power, likely in fact number one and two, and that their deployment will always amount to a ‘strategic’ selection.
Although Lilienthal himself, in his rapturous Big Business: a New Era, presents a clear brief in this regard, a 1954 Northwestern Law Review symposium articulated this point unequivocally. His work as “director of the TVA, and three years as Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, he testifies, struck the scales from his eyes. He came to see bigness in corporate and in governmental organization as essential to the achievement of the technological, the economic and even the social possibilities of modern life. Now retired from the active executive role to the analytical and advisory role, he feels he can take a ‘relaxed look at this controversial issue.’ Some may think that they see traces of the convert’s zeal. Far from being a mere apologetic defender of Big Business, Mr. Lilienthal is its militant protagonist.
He not only capitalizes Big Business through the book; he apotheosizes it as a ‘proud and fruitful achievement of the American people as a whole. …a social institution that promotes human freedom and individualism. … Big Business is basic to the very life of the country; and yet many—perhaps most—Americans have a deep seated fear and emotional repugnance to it. Here is a monumental contradiction.’”
Thus, the citizens who serve as subjects in Big-Business’ ongoing ‘science projects’ are often nervous and more-than-occasionally profoundly distraught at their powerlessness and marginalization. Much Science, Technology, & Society investigation examines such input disparities, and widespread anxieties that have no reasonable outlet, as key aspects of how machinery and technical knowledge operate in societies. Again, in any case, these observations without doubt do fit seamlessly with the propounded proposition that began today’s reporting.
Another product of decades of scientific effort—by Dr. Chris Busby, a gadfly English opponent of established nuclear safety protocols—Green Audit provides both a forceful and stalwart website and a respected and sought-after public health service that puts these matters into perspective in regard to the partialities and fallacies of the contemporary atomic establishment. Busby quotes Karl Polanyi in contextualizing the methodologies of diminution and derision that guide aficionados of the nuclear SOP.
“[For] the stability of the naturalistic system we currently accept, instead, rests on the same logical structure as Azande witchcraft beliefs. Any contradiction between a particular scientific notion and the facts of experience will be explained by other scientific notions. There is a ready reserve of possible scientific hypotheses available to explain any conceivable event. Secured by its circularity and defended by its epicyclical reserves science may deny or at least cast aside as of no scientific interest, whole ranges of experience which to the unscientific mind appear both massive and vital.”
The word on the street directs inquiries to follow the money. While such a basic directive might oversimplify a fair number of interesting phenomena, it is nonetheless a reliable general template. And in any event, the mandate to consider legal and other political economic arrangements, class social interests and patterns, and financial foundations, all through a historical lens, proffers an expansion of the ‘follow-the-cash’ advice that is robust and vital indeed as a method for thinking about such things as the Modern Nuclear Project.
In this vein, a huge portion of what would pass for a ‘history of science’ and everything that has emanated from the Modern Nuclear Project in fact deals with amplifications of motive energy and process heat and advances in the mechanics of killing. Inasmuch as increases in basic knowledge have transpired, the progenitors of all sorts of ‘pure science’ have always, or almost always, also thought in terms of practical applications, therefore, that have served monopoly commerce, imperial imprimatur, and large-scale manufacturing.
The nub of this STS thinking basically comes down to the idea that ‘standard operating procedures,’ after the Stone Age chapters in human prehistory, have at least as much to do with delivering leverage to certain social sets as they do with either such ‘neutral’ concepts as efficiency and optimality, or such ‘pure’ motivations as knowledge and understanding. This kind of deconstruction, as above, must deal with the appearance-of-separation and actuality-of-conjunction between technique, on the one hand—instruments to do things—and theory or core comprehension, on the other hand—equations, laws of motions, periodic tables, and so forth.
In sum then, to this point, the hypothesis with which we’ve begun fits quite nicely both with empirical aspects of the electromagnetic spectrum’s ultimate expression, the Modern Nuclear Project, and a key theoretical construct for making sense of such complicated eventualities. One might further amplify this essentially social and socioeconomic analysis with more strictly economic and fiscal assessments.
The Sway of Monopoly Money
Thus, in addition, one might examine the way that, since plus-or-minus 1900, technology generally has evolved under the rubric of monopoly capital and the way that modern imperialism has arisen in that context. While a significant swath of ‘progressive’ or otherwise empirically real investigators will agree that finance has infiltrated every single aspect of contemporary existence—from religion to drugs to elections to sex to anything that interests anybody—such admissions nevertheless only occasionally inform attempts to explain how the Modern Nuclear Project and its pieces fit together and function on a day-to-day basis.
And even less will analysis generally accede to the way that empire’s commands underlie all such socioeconomic and securitized decision-making. In no realm is a failure to follow the fiscal and imperial imprimatur more likely to lead to error or befuddlement than in relation to the inner workings of the atom and how an understanding of these atomic interactions inform contemporary existence.
In the end, all atomic theory both flows from and leads to machine interfaces. These linkages, moreover, dwarf in scale and cost and impact all other mechanisms that were, theretofore, also inevitable accoutrements of capital’s growth and restless acquisitiveness. While mechanization for at least a century-and-a-half or so might have appeared as simply a seamless part of modern society, a student of such manifestations might discern this deeper functioning, an utterly essential component of capitalization that supersedes by orders of magnitude the uptake of mechanisms that merely attempt to do more, have more, make more.
Induction Coil Electrical Transformer
Most basically, the joining of electricity and magnetism, as a practical matter, has elicited both the most profound and the most widespread expansion of instrumentation in different areas of the economy. On the one hand, no component of modern machinery is more central than the electric motor or the various means by which electricity provides a starting capacity for other machines.
Furthermore, on the other hand, whether one looks at spectroscopy or telegraphy, television or computers, nuclear devices of multiple kinds or robots, Hollywood or the Pentagon, EMS applications show up everywhere as key aspects of the tools and techniques that drive modern existence. This general proliferation of impact, from Maxwell’s foundations through Einstein and Fermi and beyond, is inescapably a core element in contemporary standard operating procedures.
As the editors of Major Problems in the History of American Technology conceive the issue, “America is frequently called a ‘technological society,’ …suggest(ing) that the United States is better known and respected for its technological accomplishments than for its democratic institutions. … The history of technology is a relatively new field of inquiry within the larger discipline of history. While the…history of science traces it roots to the period of World War I, the history of technology is a child of the Cold War.” Thus, it is an accompanist of Hiroshima and H-bombs.
The editors continue:
“Sustained professional interest and institutional support for the subject came only during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, largely in response to the successful Soviet launching of the Sputnik and the widely held belief that the United States had fallen behind the Soviet Union in space as well as in other critical areas of engineering and technological endeavor. …
Historians of technology have long been interested in… .the origins of mass production, the rise of modern management, and the emergence of large technological systems in manufacturing, power distribution, and transportation industries. (These) ‘big technologies’ continue to receive considerable attention.”
Nor does such an evolutionary arc transpire neutrally or democratically or beneficently in any general sense. From their inception as pragmatic expressions of theoretical knowledge, telegraphic, radio, electric power, media, and nuclear instantiation of the dialectic of electromagnetism have served to centralize economic power, to enlarge imperial capacity, and to further both internationally and nationally the gulf that separates those who have and own from those who have not and labor.
Perhaps no individual actor’s story in these dramas more clearly and explicitly demonstrates these points than does the career of Alfred Loomis, a ‘blue-blood’s blue-blood,’ whose specialty revolved around packaging and selling stocks and bonds of early electrical production companies. He had always imagined himself as a scientist, but the need to live up to the manor which had born him caused him first to turn to law and ultimately to finance, in which capacity he and his partner and brother-in-law, Landon Thorne, came to rival the Morgans and Rockefellers as financial titans.
Both Loomis and Rockefeller will show up in greater detail at the heart of today’s articulations of the Modern Nuclear Project. For now, an adequate summation is that the confluence of hydroelectric business and engineering interests with the acquisition of one of the vastest fortunes in history in turn permitted—when he exited daily labor at making money from money—Loomis’ use of family and business connections in the creation of ‘amateur’ science projects that brought Lawrence, Fermi, Einstein, Bush, Compton, and Conant into his intimate circle, where he provided seed funding and guidance to literally thousands of young engineers and technicians and pioneers of nuclear physics and other elements of electromagnetic knowledge as World War Two and the Manhattan Project beckoned on the horizon.
“Loomis’ interest in high voltages prompted him to try his own cyclotron experiments. …He had no trouble laying his hands on one, as he was a member of the MIT Corporation and was quite involved with the high-voltage machine the school had developed. …So when Loomis later heard that Lawrence had succeeded in building a big cyclotron and ‘had gotten a million useable volts out of little seven inch disc,’ he understood immediately ’just what [Lawrence]was working for and why he was working for it.”
What Lawrence’s Berkeley recruit Luis Alvarez termed “a perfect marriage” between the equable and curious financier and the shambling giant of a scientist whose drive in nuclear matters was unstoppable yielded over a million dollars from Rockefeller and countless additional collaborations as the committed Californian sought ever ‘bigger-and-better’ cyclotrons to elicit more and more subatomic comprehension. “Lawrence was thinking of ‘the beam to end all beams.’ …’It would require more than half a million dollars.’ With the active encouragement of Loomis and other big-thinking admirers, it would increase steadily in size and cost over the next year. ‘He was building a cyclotron as big as money would permit him.’”
And despite all manner of propagandistic thinking that these steps were ‘purely’ for research purposes and that practical applications such as weaponry played no part in these men’s thinking, their own words and the context both of the times and of the types of research involved significantly contradict such naïveté. And another magnificent monument to the wills of the mighty and well-born followed its logical path to both greater capacity for power and amplified ability for mass destruction.
Not for nothing were people suspicious of science and technology as these new gadgets of mayhem began to show up on various drawing boards. Not by chance were the patrons of early nuclear research wealthy private individuals. As Loomis fan Jennet Conant stated the matter, “In the 1930’s, raising large sums for scientific research was a daunting task, (since) during the Depression, there was limited public sympathy toward underwriting the expense of scientific knowledge. The technological advances that for so long fueled the industrial machine had manifestly failed, and the country felt not only betrayed by science, but deeply ambivalent about its impact on their lives.”
thierry ehrmann flickr
Karl Marx was in this realm as in so many others far-sighted beyond almost all other thinkers. “John Stuart Mill says in his Principles of Political Economy: ‘It is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day’s toil of any human being.’
That is, however, by no means the aim of the capitalistic application of machinery. Like every other increase in the productiveness of labour, machinery is intended to cheapen commodities, and, by shortening that portion of the working-day, in which the labourer works for himself, to lengthen the other portion that he gives, without an equivalent, to the capitalist. In short, it is a means for producing surplus-value.”
Though steam was the prime mover of machinery when Capital was first complete, Marx foresaw the critical role that electricity would play.
“Once discovered, the law of the deviation of the magnetic needle in the field of an electric current, or the law of the magnetisation of iron, around which an electric current circulates, cost never a penny. But the exploitation of these laws for the purposes of telegraphy, &c., necessitates a costly and extensive apparatus. The tool, as we have seen, is not exterminated by the machine. From being a dwarf implement of the human organism, it expands and multiplies into the implement of a mechanism created by man. Capital now sets the labourer to work, not with a manual tool, but with a machine which itself handles the tools. Although, therefore, it is clear at the first glance that, by incorporating both stupendous physical forces, and the natural sciences, with the process of production, modern industry raises the productiveness of labour to an extraordinary degree, it is by no means equally clear, that this increased productive force is not, on the other hand, purchased by an increased expenditure of labour.”
Leaving aside all questions of plausible mass extinction, of hideous swaths of disease and disability as a result of radiation, the immense empowerment of capital vis a vis labor that results from the Modern Nuclear Project would seemingly set up an antagonism between labor generally and nuclear mechanisms. At least, if Marx’s ideation is logical, such an opposition would inhere in the nature of the relation at its inception.
“When machinery seizes on an industry by degrees, it produces chronic misery among the operatives who compete with it. Where the transition is rapid, the effect is acute and felt by great masses. History discloses no tragedy more horrible than the gradual extinction of the English hand-loom weavers, an extinction that was spread over several decades, and finally sealed in 1838. Many of them died of starvation, many with families vegetated for a long time on 2½ d. a day. On the other hand, the English cotton machinery produced an acute effect in India. The Governor General reported 1834-35:
‘The misery hardly finds a parallel in the history of commerce. The bones of the cotton-weavers are bleaching the plains of India.’
No doubt, in turning them out of this ‘temporal’ world, the machinery caused them no more than ‘a temporary inconvenience.’ For the rest, since machinery is continually seizing upon new fields of production, its temporary effect is really permanent. Hence, the character of independence and estrangement which the capitalist mode of production as a whole gives to the instruments of labour and to the product, as against the workman, is developed by means of machinery into a thorough antagonism. Therefore, it is with the advent of machinery, that the workman for the first time brutally revolts against the instruments of labour.”
“Nuclear power reactor fuel assembly”. Nuclear power reactor fuel assembly at the Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrate Works
At the same time, among those workers, often technically trained in the military or who possess four-year engineering degrees from accredited universities, who directly operate nuclear power plants, or construct them, or work at many of the phases of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle, such a revolt or uprising against these massive and overwhelmingly powerful mechanisms is nowhere in evidence. Harry Braverman provides a framework for understanding such a lack of protest among those who have the closest connection with the Modern Nuclear Project.
Those with higher skills—those who displaced craftsmen and designed the instruments that replaced their tools—commanded significantly higher incomes. They often formed a pool from which occasionally emerged those who would rise into the upper levels of society. Smart moves in marriage and the marketplace did permit such occurrences, even if they were rare. But one requisite of such ‘opportunity’ was a slavish commitment to whatever ‘project’ capital presented, no matter its problematic or even seemingly self-destructive nature. In such an arena, no wonder nukes did not engender much doubt, let alone outright opposition.
The ‘miracle’ of the American Century is in fact, at least in some sense, the rise of the scientific and technical trades, which Braverman points out expanded almost in exact proportion as janitorial occupations grew larger. Both fields consisted of plus-or-minus 50,000 employees in 1900; both comprised one and a quarter million or more jobs by 1960 or so. Clearly, the hosannas due to the U.S. colossus must accept janitors along with lab nerds and pocket-protected nuclear engineers. Labor & Monopoly Capital evokes the analysis that places both of these social phenomena in the context of an overall political-economic and sociopolitical process, the coming of monopolized markets and monetized business’ more or less total control over every aspect of social and economic existence.
The rise of science itself occurred in response to this mandate of a depleted ‘industrial revolution,’ which could only revitalize and overcome such eventualities as the Depression of 1893 with the potent boost to production and enlargement of market’s penetration of existence that scientific knowledge seemed to promise. Braverman points out that Germany for more than half-a-century paved the way for the Anglo-American juggernaut in this regard.
“The story of the incorporation of science into the capitalist firm properly begins in Germany. The early symbiosis between science and industry which was developed by the capitalist class in that country proved to be one of the most important facts of world history in the twentieth century, furnished the capability for two world wars, and offered to other capitalist nations an example which they learned to emulate only when they were forced to do so many decades later. The role of science in German industry was the product of the weakness of German capitalism in its initial stages, tougher with the advanced state of German theoretical science.”
“German Experimental Pile – Haigerloch – April 1945”
In the shadow of these transformations, Germans led laboratories in England and the United States, even in France, from the late nineteenth century onward. Moreover, only the vicious Aryan supremacist thinking of Nazism drove thousands of highly skilled technicians and thinkers from Germany and Europe into the research centers of Great Britain and America in the 1930’s. In essence, fascism forced the Modern Nuclear Project to come to fruition across the English Channel and the Atlantic, despite the fact that Rockefeller funding was literally worldwide in its scope, and many of the breakthroughs that seeded Lawrence and Compton and Bush, at MIT and Berkeley and Harvard emanated from German scientists and their close allies whose most gifted researchers were often Jewish or socialist or both, or worse, even redder in their political leanings.
The drive to mechanize predated this eruption of science, of course. Braverman summarizes Marx’s method in seeking the socioeconomic underpinnings of this longstanding process.
“This initial step, removing the tool from the hand of the worker and fitting it into a mechanism, is for Marx the starting point of that evolution which begins with simple machinery and continues to the automatic system of machinery. Like all starting points for Marx, it is not fortuitous. Marx selects from among a host of technical characteristics the specific feature which forms the juncture between humanity and the machine: its effect upon the labor process. The technical is never considered purely in its internal relations, but in relation to the worker.”
Braverman contrasts this approach with more technocratic thinking. “In engineering literature, by contrast, the worker tends to disappear, which accounts for the fact that this literature is written almost entirely in the awkward grammar of the passive voice, in which operations seem to perform themselves, without human agency.”
Science, and especially the delving of the electromagnetic spectrum, clearly accelerated and intensified mechanistic potential. “The study and understanding of nature has, as its primary manifestation in human civilization, the increasing control by humans over labor processes by means of machines and machine systems.” But for Braverman the critical point is where control resides, and how this control expresses itself. He elegantly displays the political content of the social development of advanced machines and their electrical, chemical, and even atomic accompaniments.
“But the control of humans over the labor process, thus far understood, is nothing more than an abstraction(which)must acquire concrete form in the social setting in which the machinery is being developed. And this social setting is, and has been from the beginning of the development of machinery in its modern forms, one in which humanity is sharply divided, and nowhere more sharply divided than in the labor process itself. The mass of humanity is subjected to the labor process for the purposes of those who control it rather than for any general purposes of ‘humanity’ as such. In thus acquiring concrete from, the control of humans over the labor process turns into its opposite and becomes the control of the labor process over the mass of humans.
Machinery comes into the world not as the servant of ‘humanity,’ but as the instrument of those to whom the accumulation of capital gives the ownership of the machines. The capacity of humans to control the labor process through machinery is seized upon by management from the beginning of capitalism as the prime means whereby production may be controlled not by the direct producer but by the owners and representatives of capital.”
While science as a whole is in play as this managerial mechanization of total control occurs, and every aspect of existence comes under the scientific scrutiny of technicians and empirical programmers, one would be hard-pressed to discern a more perfect fit for the needs of capital for ideal techniques and technologies than what results from the Modern Nuclear Project. Inherent centralization, untouchable basic operations, necessarily total policing, and many more characteristics of H-bombs and atomic water heaters attune these particular mechanisms to the imprimatur of owners and their managerial minions.
A glowing cylinder of 238PuO2
These affinities become exceedingly noteworthy in an environment where otherwise the attributes of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle begin to approximate a Nuclear Fool Cycle. No matter the apparent irrationality, even insanity, of ecocidal wastes, of irreversible possibilities for mass collective suicide, and the complete evisceration of liberal fantasies of any sort whatsoever, the perfect fit of fission and capital’s monopoly frisson means that every Chernobyl will elicit a renaissance, every Fukushima a new reactor design, and so forth.
Herbert Marcuse foresaw such madness, all dressed up as the most reasonable rationalizations imaginable, in his brilliant but difficult monograph, One Dimensional Man.
“(A) totalitarian administration may promote the efficient exploitation of resources; the nuclear-military establishment may provide millions of jobs through enormous purchasing power; toil and ulcers may be the by-product of the acquisition of wealth and responsibility; deadly blunders and crimes on the part of leaders may be merely the way of life. One is willing to admit economic and political madness—and one buys it. But this sort of knowledge of ‘the other side’ is part and parcel of the solidification of the state of affairs, of the grand unification of opposites which counteracts qualitative change, because it pertains to a thoroughly hopeless or thoroughly preconditioned existence that has made its home in a world where even the irrational is Reason.”
In terms of the socioeconomic, and technocratic, justifications for embracing atomic energy, just as Marcuse suggests, authoritative backers have touted both its efficiency and necessity—and blithely shrugged off its murderous meltdowns and apocalyptic games of ‘chicken’—in relation to human society’s reliance on external sources of power. In various ways, a political-economic assessment, like what we’ve been attempting here, of this kind of point of view must make the perspective seem, if not solipsistic in its self-interested clamor for more for those who own most everything to begin with, at least dubious as a rational analysis of the deep rationale that underpin such strategic social choices.
In so ordering our thinking as to assume a critical stance about these seemingly rooted tendencies, we would conceivably lay a foundation for elevating justice or equity or even equality over the absolute tyranny of the fastest, most powerful mechanism. And that of course would be a dangerous subversion indeed, from the point of view of capital and its firmly gripped imperial imprimatur.
An adjunct to this unshakable commitment to the role of technique in capital’s development under increasingly plutocratic conditions, a way out for some social actors who shudder at the idea of actually confronting bourgeois hegemony, is a variation on the idea that ‘the rich are always with us,’ and ‘of course great wealth will determine the course that society takes in its development.’ While such a conception concedes a key aspect of this report’s argument about the Modern Nuclear Project, that finance and its imperial imprimatur have been the guiding force in this arena, the observation trivializes the investigation that comes to pass.
After all, that great wealth and power guide social development goes without saying. Therefore, the only pragmatic rejoinder is to manage a set of relationships in which common people have some expectation of a place or a prospect in regard to this inevitable hegemony of plunder and plutocracy—or however else one chooses to label inherited right and privilege to guide the course of society.
Among the core difficulties with such a conceptualization, one might consider at least the following several points. Many more might be plausible to reveal in a fuller recounting, but these few show the serious shortcomings of a proto-‘Biblical’ view of midas-worshipping billionaire magnates.
In the first place, such an outlook basically rejects the potential for social transformation. While a description of any physical process as changeless is absurd, apparently some thinkers fail to examine social matters with the same logical rigor and empirical common-sense that they would see as obvious in more routine natural settings. Such assumptions are not only likely dangerous because they may preclude positive adjustments of human difficulties but also plausibly lethal because they force human beings who must reflect the realities in which revolutionary change is a given to consider tools at their command—such as hydrogen bombs—to effect these potentialities when stringent political reaction makes no other recourse seem possible.
A second reason that believing in something like the Modern Nuclear Project just because rich people do is at best risky revolves around either a polar opposite or an at least more pluralistic set of ideas about how human social relations have heretofore actually come to pass. Certainly, Bill Gates and Paul Allen and George Soros and other wealthy trust-funded aficionados of nukes might nod in agreement with Ralph Nader’s only half-in-jest screed, Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us, but either the world might more objectively emanate from those who “plowed the prairies, and built the cities where they trade, dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid,” or humanity’s social substance conceivably has resulted from complex contrariety, dances of wonder and woe among multiple participants. In either case, just to shrug that the scions of lucre must have their way could miss out on real social possibilities.
Finally, for now in any event, to accede to such an all-too-seductive bowing to the powers-that-be ineluctably denies that reality is knowable, that science even exists, that consciousness is something that can evolve. And of course, any or all of these propositions might be true: perhaps reality is not even vaguely comprehensible; science may be a pretense; consciousness may represent nothing except an endless repetitive loop of a single set of ideas that we propound in slightly varied fashion. But one needn’t choose such a fatalistic worldview. Both because it is more exciting and because it is possibly vastly more empowering, one can proceed as if understanding, systematic knowledge, and consciousness are a responsibility of the human condition, especially when these objectives concern something as important and otherwise inaccessible as the Modern Nuclear Project.
Scientific Justifications & Criticisms of Mandated Politics
One basis for doubting that such an optimistic template might ever work out is that those who purport to have the greatest understanding, the most rigorously-tested and carefully-organized objectivity, and the clearest concept of manifesting a ‘helping’ attitude toward the rest of humanity—in other words, scientists of one stripe or another—have so firmly bought into the Modern Nuclear Project for the most part. Among engineers and techies and those who can perform regression analysis, for example, probably the largest proportion support a nuclear future, whereas among the rest of the common herd, more oppose such scenarios.
Perhaps one of the clearest spokesmen for these ways of thinking about these matters is Vannevar Bush, though his colleagues from M.I.T., Harvard, the Carnegie Foundation, and corporate America could also join the queue for the title of nuclear ‘flack-in-chief.’ Certainly, that he led the Manhattan Project from start to finish makes him especially apt as a nuclear and technological cheerleader. Bush’s lengthy essay, Science: the Endless Frontier, in any case remains a key component for any citizen’s useful summation of the present pass that conjoins technology, government, monopoly business and finance, and the intelligentsia.
Bush quoted Franklin Roosevelt at the outset of his work. “New frontiers of the mind are before us, and if they are pioneered with the same vision, boldness, and drive with which we have waged this war we can create a fuller and more fruitful employment and a fuller and more fruitful life.” Has this vision come to pass? Inquiring minds should count H-bombs and seek to find out.
In a fifteen-year-anniversary edition of his July, 1945 essay—issued prior to Hiroshima and Nagasaki but with their incineration clearly forthcoming—an Introduction lays out some of what had transpired from Bush’s recommendations. The report stood as “a classic expression of desirable relationships between government and science in the United States. Its usefulness and validity today are all the more remarkable when it is remembered that Dr. Bush and his advisers were of course quite unable to anticipate the specific developments that have most profoundly influenced our time, namely, the Korean war and the cold war, the missile and satellite race, the Soviet technological challenge, and the rapid acceleration of space research. Nor could Dr. Bush have estimated, in the final days of World War II, the full growth and direction of the atomic energy effort, including the large-scale programs and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. But he did anticipate in fullest measure that important developments would occur and that science and science education would be of immense importance in the postwar growth of the United States. The closing words of his Report were strongly prophetic: ‘On the wisdom with which we bring science to bear against the problems of the coming years depends in large measure our future as a nation.’”
Bush spoke approvingly of the introductory analysis. Of particular import was Alan Waterman’s assessment of the transformation that had occurred from the original author’s extremely modest recommendations for centralized military research to the gargantuan expansion of both service-based and central investigative efforts, the upshot of which portrayed a military takeover of much of what universities represented as ongoing operations.
“The military services, who were well pleased with the civilian research performed in the universities under O(ffice of)S(cientific)R(esearch &) D(evelopment) sponsorship, continued such arrangements with the universities by writing appropriate new contracts to continue the work started under OSRD auspices or to launch entirely new investigations. In ensuing years, many contracts of this type were entered into by the military services with a growing number of universities. The central laboratories originally associated with OSRD contracts, such as the Applied Physics Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University, the Radiation Laboratory at M.I.T., and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology, developed into the research centers, which, though supported by military funds, are operated by civilian scientists under civilian management. In addition to applied research for the solution of immediate problems, the three services gradually expanded their research programs to include grants for basic research — in general related to their missions but often of a very fundamental nature.”
Whether one investigates the brainchild of Bush, the National Science Foundation, or an elite gathering of the cognoscenti that predates his post-Manhattan-Project efforts such as the National Academy of Sciences, one encounters similarly glowing, or at least de rigeur, accounts of the role of established science—including the Modern Nuclear Project—in having and maintaining a modern and safe and comfortable social presence on Earth. In the main, those who academically or governmentally or commercially hold positions of technical leadership overwhelmingly endorse both S.O.P., technically-driven, establishment, capitalized scientific hegemony generally and the Modern Nuclear Project specifically.
In such a context, imagining a grassroots response to such a priesthood of protocol and secret awareness seems to constitute a daunting challenge, to say the least. However, several factors definitely provide tangible reasons for hoping that just such a popular uprising in favor of learning about, caution in regard to, and even outright opposition to the Modern Nuclear Project might take root and lead to a widespread participatory democratic dialog about humanity’s technical future.
Such technically trained professionals as Helen Caldicott and John Gofman are just two of hundreds who have turned against the largesse and oversight of their atomic masters. Gofman in particular spent decades, after he had worked for twenty years at the heart of the nuclear industrial complex—for the Lawrence Livermore Lab at Berkeley—serving as a stalwart and persistent witness that the Modern Nuclear Project insidiously threatened human survival even should we prove miraculously fortunate in never detonating one more atomic weapon.
He makes this clear over and over again in testimony of all sorts. “Licensing a nuclear power plant is in my view, licensing random premeditated murder. First of all, when you license a plant, you know what you’re doing—so it’s premeditated. You can’t say, ‘I didn’t know.’ Second, the evidence on radiation-producing cancer is beyond doubt. I’ve worked fifteen years on it [as of 1982], and so have many others. It is not a question any more: radiation produces cancer, and the evidence is good all the way down to the lowest doses.”
Harry Braverman also, albeit in a very different fashion, uses scientific and technical analysis to serve human and democratic possibilities. He does so by helping his readers to understand the evolution of science-in-industry as a tool of management supremacy: commoditizing and monetizing every expression of science as a line item of business; the implementation of ‘scientific management’ in even the smallest details of worker habits and behaviors; the specification of machinery that more and more increased extraction from and output of human minders; the cannibalization of even those job functions—engineers and scientists—that had permitted the rise of technique to its supreme place so that these workers too became mere cogs in a system that operated according to machines and algorithms and computations that removed all decisions from workers’ hands.
In the end, science itself functions in such environs as profit-making in its very essence. “The key innovation is not to be found in chemistry, electronics, automatic machinery, aeronautics, atomic physics, or any of the products of these science-technologies, but rather in the transformation of science itself into capital.”
In such a context, “the reduction of the worker to the level of an instrument” more and more closely approximates the theoretical ideal of such a possibility that the likes of Frederick Taylor and other ‘time-and-motion’ experts dreamed of. “Thus, after a million years of labor, during which humans created not only a complex social structure but in a very real sense created themselves as well, the very cultural-biological trait upon which this entire evolution is founded has been brought, within the last two hundred years, to a crisis, a crisis which Marcuse aptly calls ‘the threat of a catastrophe of the human essence.’”
Moreover, in relation to such an arc of transformation, the weapons and machinations of the Modern Nuclear Project come into focus as just the most perfectly adapted realizations of additional instruments to discipline and control labor’s surly humanity, its recalcitrance, its every move and thought that might undercut capital’s predominance. Braverman paints a grim portrait that, paradoxically, represents the only vision from which a popular transformation toward social justice is possible.
Yet other social and physical science scholars synthesize the analytical foundations that Braverman provides with the social and political economic threads that the Spindoctor lays out in this essay. One of these is Langdon Winner, whose The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology extends a bracing critique of especially the Modern Nuclear Project and its rationalization and monetization of every single aspect of labor and life and nature, till its surreal rationality threatens the ‘catastrophe’ to which Marcuse alluded in Braverman’s note above.
Winner’s “epiphany”—he compares it to Henry Adam’s deification of the forty-ton dynamo at the 1900 Paris World Fair—comes at the end of an elliptical narrative, at once lyrical and incisively empirical and ecological. He has come back to the place of his birth, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, where a power company tour bus delivers him to a beach on which he had cavorted as a youth.
“Although I had known some of the details of the planning and construction of the Diablo Canyon reactor, I was truly shocked to see it actually sitting near the beach that sunny day in December. As the grey whale surfaced, it seemed for all the world to be asking, ‘Where have you been?’ The answer was, of course, that I’d been in far-away places studying the moral and political dilemmas that modern technology involves, never imagining that one of the most pathetic examples was right in my hometown. …
About that power plant, of course, the standard criticisms of nuclear power certainly hold. … (Furthermore), (f)rom the point of view of civil liberties and political freedom, Diablo Canyon … require(s) authoritarian management and extremely tight security. It is one of those structures, increasingly common in modern society, whose hazards and vulnerability require them to be well policed. What that means, of course, is that insofar as we have to live with nuclear power, we ourselves become increasingly well policed.
Sophisticated arguments pro and con on issues of this kind have involved some of the best minds in America. …But beyond the sophisticated studies of scientists and policy analysts concerned with these issues lies another consideration, which, if we ever become incapable of recognizing it, will indicate that our society has lost its bearings, that it is prepared to feed everything into the shredder.
To put the matter bluntly, in that place, on that beach, against those rocks, mountains, sands, and seas, the power plant at Diablo Canyon is simply … . out of place, out of proportion, out of reason. It stands as a permanent insult to its natural and cultural surroundings. The thing should never have been put there, regardless of what the most elegant cost/benefit, risk/benefit calculations may have shown. Its presence is a tribute to those who cherish power and profit over everything in nature and our common humanity.
To write any such conclusion in our time is, I realize, virtual heresy. My colleagues in the science, technology, and society assessment business often counsel me to be more careful, to reword my point of view… . But the plant and its inherent destructiveness are already much more than ‘possibilities.’ They are already in place. More and more the whole language used to talk about technology and social policy—the language of ‘risks,’ ‘impacts,’ and ‘trade- offs’—smacks of betrayal. The excruciating subtleties of measurement and modeling mask embarrassing shortcomings in human judgment. We have become careful with numbers, callous with everything else. Our methodological rigor is becoming spiritual rigor mortis. …
(E)mbarrassing disclosures of structural flaws and shoddy workmanship forced a thorough, enormously costly rebuilding of the plant during the last several years of the project. Some of the plant’s engineers and workers still insist that the structure is unsound and complain that they have been harassed on the job for talking to the press about these troubles. To recoup the spiraling costs of the installation, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company has already applied to the Public Utilities Commission for the first of what is bound to be a series of steep rate increases. …
(T)oo much money had already been spent, too much institutional momentum built up, too many careers invested, too many sermons preached from the pulpits of progress to allow any course of action (as) sensible (as closing or repurposing the facility). At present our society seems to prefer monuments … to gigantism, war, and the overstepping of natural and cultural boundaries. Such are the accomplishments we support with our dollars and our votes. How long will it be until we are ready for anything better?”
The brave engineers and wage-earners that Winner mentions felt sick at their turning a blind eye to corruption and the very real potential for grotesque mass murder. Nevertheless, as in all such cases, they must have had to overcome intense distaste and fear to take such a stand. Always is this likely to be true among the beneficiaries of this central tenet of contemporary capital and its empire.
Nonetheless, despite the indisputable fact that technically trained adherents to the Modern Nuclear Project substantially outnumber opponents, one might go on at great length prior to reaching the end of the list of expert detractors of fission-and-fusion as energy and imperial policy. Such thinkers as Arjun Makhijani, Rosalee Bertell, Steve Wing, and dozens of others are merely North America’s sampling of contrarians. Russia, Japan, Korea, and most other national repositories of learning would contribute their own gadflies, insistent that a non-nuclear future represents the best, or even the sole, hope for human thriving and survival.
The Spindoctor, on the other hand, quite clearly possesses the opposite of expertise about anything except grammar. He merely operates as a concerned citizen whose persistent curiosity has in fact persisted for the forty-three years since a long-ago sophomore tutorial introduced him to Gar Alperowitz and Atomic Diplomacy. Today’s profferal both stems from and serves as a powerful argument in favor of rejecting anything that even resembles a requirement that professional authority should become a requisite for considering these matters.
In this vein, a recent blog—both scholarly and popular—conveyed citations and material to suggest that such perseverance as the Spindoctor’s might again rise up from below to manifest political struggle for a democracy that is both informed and engaged. In the event, the analysis that Corey Robin presents in his brief reflects the wider struggle against monopoly capital and empire, both of which are built-in components of the Modern Nuclear Project.
He focuses on the labors of popular and credentialed historian, Stever Fraser, whose most recent monograph, The Age of Acquiescence: the Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power compares our ‘gilded age’ with the first one just over a century ago. Though Fraser’s take on American popular combativeness is that it has ebbed to a low point, he outlines the steps that can initiate a resurgence, some of which are no more ‘radical’ than the type of examination that is occurring here today.
“Steve asks why in the late 1800s, the concentration of wealth and extremes of inequality sparked an explosion of mass rebellion that lasted well over a half-century, whereas today, with some isolated and episodic exceptions, we see, well, acquiescence. Not consent, not apathy, but acquiescence. It’s a word that makes me shudder. As Steve says, the men and women of the nineteenth century witnessed the violence of capitalist development and managed, out of that hellhole, to conjure and wage war on behalf of an entirely different vision of society. But we live in a ‘windowless room,’ where we it’s difficult to see beyond capitalism. Part of that, he says, has to do with the ‘fables of freedom’ we’re told, where freedom is equated with, reduced to, the free market.”
Vannevar Bush expressed these fabulist notions of freedom in terms of science. The point of today’s essay is that concerned citizens cannot either overcome acquiescence or take on the likes of Dr. Bush on his own terms without an analytical structure that looks at eventualities such as the Modern Nuclear Project in a clear-eyed and comprehensive fashion.
Lacking such a rubric of consciousness and comprehension, we will never even be able to play a part in discussion, let alone take action that is anything other than reactive and doomed, like latter-day Luddites. Monopoly, empire, government, and expertise have combined to project a strategy and plan for the next thousand years on everybody else. Our job is to find the data and heart to ponder this Project so as to advance alternatives, unless upon sober reflection we end up agreeing that monopoly, authoritarian norms, and skating on the verge of mass collective suicide are good things or better than all other alternatives or somehow, in any event, inescapable.
Secrecy As Sine Qua Non: ‘Red-Herrings,’ Hidden Agendas, & Glib Ignorance
One of the most intractable attributes of the Modern Nuclear Project also makes discovering its essence—as above, doing our job…to find the data to ponder” it—difficult or even impossible. In at least half-a-dozen ways, in fact, promulgators of nuclear visions hide away their source materials or otherwise obfuscate discovery of what is happening in the realm of the atom.
Failures to Instruct
The first way that this severing of popular capacity from necessary knowledge takes place is in education. In the United States, propagandizing or otherwise distorting the scientific process is only a small part of the picture. As well, at least in the vast majority of public schools, science instruction is so weak in comparison to other ‘developed nations’ as to contribute at best rudiments to young people who might ever want to apprehend something as complex and multifaceted as the Modern Nuclear Project. A Fordham University assessment stated the case like this.
“Only a year ago, twenty-six state science standards received grades of D or F from our reviewers, while twelve also earned Cs. Just thirteen jurisdictions—one in four—had standards worthy of honors grades. Only seven earned grades in the A range. (You can see which in the table below.) As is widely understood, weak standards are not the only—or the most worrisome—problem facing science education in the United States in 2013. Achievement in this field has been dismal. The most recent appraisals by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, 2009) found barely one-third of fourth graders at or above the ‘proficient’ level in science, followed by a mere 30 percent in eighth grade and an embarrassing 21 percent at the end of high school. Other studies have shown that just 30 percent of U.S. high school graduates are prepared for college-level work in science.”
Arguably as crucial to capacity as science instruction, which in general and in relation to the Modern Nuclear Project is a huge and central topic to develop further, is the ability to think critically. Especially in regard to the choices and patterns that have surrounded the creation of nuclear weapons and power, this skill is paramount.
Paolo Freire’s efforts have acted as seminal guides in this area. As one reviewer capsulized some of Freire’s ideas, “Traditional teaching wouldn’t help (disempowered and needy people) much. It would not make them find root causes and possibilities for change, but would rather fill their heads with other people’s static ideas. Freire called the effects of this kind of teaching massification. Massified students, he said, have the illusion of being educated, of being free, of being able to understand and control their circumstances. But they are not much more conscious or analytical than their illiterate counterparts. Only those whose critical faculties have been nurtured through dialogue about the issues that matter in their lives develop critical consciousness.”
The count of public secondary schools in the United States that have adopted such an approach to examine and probe deeply fission and its inception as a technical choice is easy to determine. It is a round number, as in zero.
Business-as-Usual Versus Needed Commons
Other mechanisms for withholding key information happen commercially. Relatively recent occurrences in patent and copyright are the primary culprits here, though one might inquire about a vast range of topics that relate to a contention that ‘intellectual property,’ as currently practiced, often precludes public access to ideas whose origins were only possible as a result of common collaboration.
As things now stand, various methods exist to withhold publicly funded knowledge from those who might use the data for over a century, according to copyright ‘reforms’ that came to passa generation ago. Similarly, data about such tangible techniques as nuclear reactors is at least occasionally not available for common consumption despite the origins of all such instruments in government-backed projects, from the Manhattan Engineering District onward.
Nor is the Spindoctor’s take on this situation rare or marginal. In fact the search, <“intellectual property” versus commons technology capacity impediment OR hindrance OR obstruction >, yields well over a million hits, the first several pages of which nearly all at least countenance the concept that protection of ‘property rights’ impedes access to data and hence learning.
A Chinese scholar proffers an impressive literature review in addressing this issue recently.
“(W)e know that the IP system is merely one of many institutional arrangements employed by national governments to promote innovation. But the IP system seems to have received the most skepticism and criticism about its role in innovation. First of all, many scholars questioned whether IPRs could really stimulate innovation at all or to a certain degree. In their work, The British Patent System, Boehm and Silberston said that patents were largely irrelevant as a means of inducing inventions, and that some other stimuli ‘must have been responsible for the inducement of a large body of nineteenth century invention.’ Ashton, in his 1968 book, The Industrial Revolution, and Landes in his 1970 book, The Unbound Prometheus, reached a similar conclusion. Eric Schiff studied inventive activity in Switzerland and the Netherlands during the period that the two countries abandoned their patent system and he concludes that the ‘industrialization of a country can proceed smoothly and vigorously withouta national patent system.’ Blakeney found that the ‘assumption that patent protection incentivizes innovation has never been convincingly demonstrated, even in industrialized countries, although it underpins the globalized intellectual property regime.’”
Legally Mandated Withholding
The legal arena has exhibited several additional techniques for keeping facts from the public sphere. One such method appeared in the previous Spindoctor Contributoria installment, a machination of monopoly that compensates an injured party but imposes a nondisclosure or other ‘gag order’ in regard to the underlying event that led to litigation.
Such efforts have been ubiquitous in cases that involve parties that have suffered as a result of prescription antidepressants, as last month’s article showed. Similar patterns are present in radiation or other sorts of tort-damages lawsuits against nuclear facilities of widely varying sorts.
In the United States, some of the most troubling instances of such prohibition of information exchange took place after the partial meltdown of the reactor at one of the Three Mile Island nuclear power station reactors in early Spring, 1979. Despite the almost draconian standards of proof that the Federal Courts imposed, many litigants did win recovery.
Yet then they could not discuss or follow up on this hideous eventuality in their lives, while the owners of the plant and nuclear spokesmen generally could then contend that “no harm was ever done.” A community organization put such situations in powerful context: “If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, did it make a sound? If somebody signs a non-disclosure agreement, were they ever officially harmed? Today we challenge the misconception that nobody was hurt in the Three Mile Island accident, because history is repeating itself at Fukushima Daiichi.”
Even more at the heart of what stands in the way of understanding these sorts of issues are the overall standards that U.S. courts now impose on those who want to recover damages. Incredibly, this “Daubert Principle” has received virtually zero critical, in-depth analysis, despite the fact that the underlying case, Daubert v. Dow Chemical, is one of the most important evidentiary holdings in history.
A section of a Spindoctor article from a few years back, “Truth, Lies, & the Daubert Principle,” develops this point. “Unfortunately, because the plutocrats who are murdering soldiers and children with DU are the same top-hats who mainly control the court system, the ‘standards of evidence’ now extant for science-and-law issues like these is impossible to meet for all matters but those so obvious that they don’t require study. This flows from the most important legal decision about which people have never heard, Daubert v. Dow Chemical.”
Most obviously, and insidiously, this stripping away of any public right to know results from supposed ‘security’ rationale. This is yet another gigantic area of study, one that will come to the fore in later episodes in this five-part series. For now, we might note that substantial portions of the Manhattan Project’s efforts, seventy-odd years after their creation, are still secret.
The continuing relevance of this concern about public access is possible to view in regard to just a couple of highlights, though one might devote a hundred thousand volumes and ten thousand or so scholarly existences to uncovering this nuclear opposition to ‘freedom of information.’ One such instance happened to the Spindoctor lo these almost forty years ago, in 1979.
As fate arranged the incident, Professor Ed Passerini and I had engaged a pair of experts, one from the Department of Energy and one from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, to debate us about the future viability of nuclear power on March 30, 1979. Three Mile Island was then in its most delicate phase, following the initiation of the criticality accident on the twenty-eighth.
Our audience overflowed the 750-seat auditorium in which we had optimistically hoped to see a gathering of a couple hundred. The scientists who originally had booked themselves as our opponents had absconded to Pennsylvania, so we ended up with a former Air Force officer and public information hack for the NRC and an ambassador without portfolio from who knows where in the Federal bureaucracy.
The poor fellows knew that they were truly in the lion’s den in this situation, and in the end had little to say, other than pro forma assurances that nukes were inherently safe and that everything near Harrisburg would work out fine. At one juncture, when we had taken to a half hour of back and forth questions and answers, the P.R. flack challenged that I could back up assertions that I had made about the accessibility of nuclear weapons, and their natural connection to nuclear power, as in the operations of the DOE itself.
While he expansively asserted that I was just another naïve liberal talking above his skill level, I drew on a napkin a credible diagram of a hydrogen bomb. I was about to sketch it out on the overhead projector that we were using when he interrupted his scathing derision.
“Hold on a second there, young man.” I once merited such a description. “Let me see that.”
Not one to deny a retired Colonel, I handed over my study in pen-and-ink on soft paper. The entire auditorium grew silent as he first looked askance at the little drawing and then widened his eyes and lowered his nose into the lines that I’d just drafted there.
He folded the napkin and put it into his shirt pocket. “You’re lucky I was here.” A pin’s dropping would literally have registered on the microphone.
“Why is that?”
“Because the minimum sentence for sharing that sort of information is five years in Federal Prison.”
The secrets that I had been about to disclose were the result of my ‘study’ of such arcane sources as the Encyclopedia Britannica. That and an ability to read carefully were all that proved necessary to pass on highly classified information, apparently.
The other example that could serve as a classic case study of the proposition that ‘secrecy’ in nuclear-weapons research makes no sense is Howard Morland’s ‘born secret’ article that Progressive magazine sought to publish in 1978, and did publish in 1979. Though for such a momentous legal and social matter, the attention that the imbroglio now receives virtually is paltry at best, analysts consistently attest to the importance of the matter.
Similarly as what had happened to me in Alabama, Morland went from lead to lead, and publicly available document to random encyclopedia entry, and pieced together a much prettier, more detailed, and even more credible design for a thermonuclear device. The reason that he did this was explicitly to show the absurdity of the “born secret” provision of the Atomic Energy Act Amendments of 1954. The only basis for such an orientation to nuclear information was to squelch public discussion and crush even vague chances for democratic participation.
Again, one might speak about the atomic veterans and other victims of the Modern Nuclear Project whose cases could not come to court for decades because of self-serving secrecy. One could look at analogous difficulties that DOE facility workers faced in making their litigation and pleas heard. One could show in ten thousand ways the duplicity and hypocrisy of ‘classifying’ what fiction writers and students the world over have been figuring out for the last century: everything about nuclear weapons and power is possible to figure out without having to use spies.
In much more moderate language, these were the conclusions of four DOE contract employees who ended up consulting for Progressive and Morland in their defense against the U.S. initially successful imposition of prior restraint in this affair. They just did not buy the notion that true security damage would flow from discussion of what is already widely known, or that the harm that attended eviscerating freedom of speech was proportionate.
Secrecy’s purpose, in the end, therefore serves to shut people up. Such a rationale ought to be a crime. Its presence still in these affairs is execrable.
As the Washington Post quoted Morland fifteen years back, two decades and a year after the battle itself, “I thought I had revealed all the interesting H-bomb secrets some twenty years ago in The Progressive magazine,’ he writes in a recent essay on the Web, ruminating about the Lee case and his life in the disarmament trade. ‘One of my purposes then, as now, was to argue that nuclear bomb secrets are a hoax and that public understanding of nuclear arsenals is a necessary step in the quest for nuclear disarmament. This idea was, and remains, a hard sell.’” Ah well: so much for humanity.
Refusing to Investigate
Yet another clear-cut failure in relation to knowledge development in regard to nukes takes place in the research arena. The entire research realm in some definite fashion comes down to a huge Catch-22.
Those in charge—whose financial overseers and imperial masters necessitate the entire nuclear scene—are wont to quip: “Oh, you can’t advance a claim like that. The data doesn’t support such a position.”
After duly noting that some data in fact does provide backing for different critical contentions about nuclear matters, someone like the Spindoctor, “born a critic,” might look into the overall state of research that concerns a particular question, perhaps ‘downwind’ cancer rates around nuclear power stations, perhaps one of the other plus-or-minus ten thousand uninvestigated related issues regarding atomic operations. Discovering that with a few exceptions—Spain and Germany, for example—virtually no investigation has been ongoing or consistent about this particular empirical body of knowledge, our critic could intone as follows.
“Hey, you know, funded studies for this question have been few and far between. Why don’t we plan on initiating a significant study at least once a year for the next decade?”
My goodness, that sounds reasonable. Doesn’t it? But the response would be instantaneous and unequivocal. “Such work is not a priority. It’s unnecessary. We already know the answers to those queries.”
If this invented conversation seems far-fetched, one might consult many of the slightly in excess of three-and-a-half million citations that appear for the following search: <“nuclear power” OR “nuclear fuel cycle” OR radiation “environmental effects” OR “health effects” “inadequate research” OR “unexamined questions” OR “underfunded research” OR “incomplete research” OR ignored>.
Of course, this huge database also includes a large number of arguments that low doses of radiation are harmless, and a smattering, especially at the beginning, of narratives that state that small exposures are in fact beneficial. While one might argue in regard to this latter idea that it is criminal nonsense, that is not the purpose of today’s missive, though one rightly should take note of a truly exhaustive and indubitably unbiased and authoritative gathering ofstudies that indicates that these problems are in fact of huge concern.
Rather, here-and-now, the Spindoctor insists that the research is obviously not available to answer these questions. Those who insist on the SOP refuse to fund or otherwise insure that such data-collection happens. Then, these arrogant sorts have the temerity to point to charlatans who say, ‘radiation is good for you,’ and contend that since we have significant disagreement about radiation’s effects, we ought just to let the whole arena alone and carry on with business-as-usual.
The final manner in which data about these issues is less than fully accessible revolves around the fact that, with only a precious few exceptions among monopoly outposts of media, news either ignores or distorts the facts and analyses that surround the Modern Nuclear Project. Again, this aspect of today’s topic is massive enough to ponder for the next millennia, but one could deal with it briefly by noting that in regard to the hugely significant free speech, first-amendment, and nuclear weapons brouhaha that Howard Morland and Progressive magazine stirred up in 1979, the two largest ‘liberal’ bastions of journalism—The Times and The Post—seemingly each only published a single op-ed about the case, The United States v. Progressive. The Chicago Tribune published a news story on the District Court’s actual holding later in the month.
This willingness to discredit or otherwise overlook investigating what could end up being the most critical issues of human survival ever staggers the senses of a social observer. Yet this willful ignorance is, if not irrefutable, then at least exceedingly plausible, if only by way of analyzing the truly vast numbers of articles and reports that spoke, as just one example, of Saddam’s non-existent nukes vis-a-vis the vanishingly small cache of narratives that examine the empire’s own nuclear foibles and plans. In any event, some five thousand sources do agree that such a slant in favor of nuclear is present among ‘established’ sources of news that their reportage on the subject is reliably going to reflect the imperial and political-economic inclinations of the promoters of the Modern Nuclear Project.
In sum, then, the present thesis has called forth four ideas in particular in its support. A much larger contextualization, no doubt, would be possible and plausibly useful. Nevertheless, for the present pass, we will consider these points.
- First, the social dimensions of the implementation of strategic technical interfaces, especially in regard to the Modern Nuclear Project, are all too easy to overlook or distort in the common conception of science and technology as factors external to the society’s operation as a place of conflict and contention and differential interest and power;
- Second, analysis of political-economic aspects of the Modern Nuclear Project further illustrate the inequalities and disparities that affect both the selection of this particular course and the dispersal of its costs and benefits among different classes of people;
- Third, the commanding position that Science has attained on the one hand authoritatively guides social participants to accept its estimates of what is optimal and on the other hand hides away the duplicity, bias, and even corruption that inheres in its everyday presumption that the Modern Nuclear Project is inescapable, a dynamic about which people’s thinkers are available to offer guidance and support in considering these matters;
- Fourth, in multiple ways—related to education, media, the notion of intellectual property, the legal interpretations of the sanctity of contract and the utility of evidence, and various expressions of national security—secrets or other inaccessible or difficult-to-obtain knowledge make the Modern Nuclear Project seem almost unassailable.
Taking these notions into account proffers a minimal basis for imagining how effectively to critique, and possibly to overturn, the Modern Nuclear Project. In fact, outside of some such approach, any critical engagement with matters nuclear is likely to amount to little more than some combination of idealistic fervor and loud-but-ineffectual protest.
Frank Stockton closed The Great War Syndicate with one of his powerfully punched doses of insight, conjoined with idealism, that combined astounding guesswork and romantic nonsense.
“This is the history of the Great Syndicate War. Whether or not the Anglo-American Syndicate was ever called upon to make war, it is not to be stated here.
But certain it is that after the formation of this Syndicate all the nations of the world began to teach English in their schools, and the Spirit of Civilization raised her head with a confident smile.”
The Spindoctor maintains that by seeing both the acumen and simplistic innocence of this lesser-light of American literature, students can obtain a perch from which to make sense of one of the world’s most complex issues. Syndicated promoters of the Modern Nuclear Project—with “electricity too cheap to meter,” ‘weaponry that exists to end the possibility of war,’ “thank(ing) God that he put the atomic bomb in our hands,” and so forth—sound much like Mr. Stockton. Only by admiring and criticizing such ideation, and putting it clearly in a web of historical, social, and political-economic context, might citizens today have much hope of rational apprehension of these matters, let alone much of a prayer of promulgating alternative scenarios.
The primary purpose of this section in today’s narrative will be twofold: first, to introduce the different actors, mainly British and German but occasionally otherwise, who contributed to James Clerk Maxwell’s synthesis of the equations that underlie the Modern Nuclear Project as a whole; second to elucidate the physical riddles that these efforts sought to account for. As regards this task—‘Lord have mercy,’ as the Spindoctor’s mother was wont to say—one cannot lose sight of the undoubtedly obvious fact that, whatever intuitive grasping of things that is representative of this author’s abilities, he lacks any real mathematical insight into these problems, which means—according to some folks—that he lacks any insight whatsoever.
Nevertheless, here we go. After all, none other than Dr. Einstein wrote, “The supreme task of the physicist is to arrive at those universal elementary laws from which the cosmos can be built up by pure deduction. There is no logical path to these laws: only intuition, resting on sympathetic understanding of experience, can reach them.” Whatever his mediocrity in calculus, the Spindoctor can as often as not intuit with the best of them, as he seeks something like ‘elementary cosmic laws’ of political, economic, and social nature’s development of all manner of physical techniques that in turn depend on more traditional cosmic laws.
In the main a little book by Albert Einstein, Essays in Science can take the reader and thinker a substantial portion of the way to seeing what was at stake and who did what in regard to the joining of electricity and magnetism and matter in time and space. In the first place, in his Introduction, a talk he delivered on the occasion of Max Planck’s sixtieth birthday, he points out that most—perhaps the vast majority—of the ‘inhabitants of the Halls of Science’ are what he terms “creepers,” by which he means parasitical creeping vines in “the forests of science,” a wood that would be much less magnificent if only these clinging runners were present.
By this metaphor, he means opportunists and profiteers, though without the potentially pejorative tone with which those terms can resonate. His notations were descriptive rather than normative, analytical rather than polemical.
Whatever one wants to make of what Einstein without doubt said, he goes on to point out the deficiencies, despite the almost heretical paradox in saying of Newton’s revolutionary contributions to an elegant understanding of nature.
“All happenings were to be interpreted purely mechanistically—that is to say, simply as motions of material points according to Newton’s law of motion.
The most unsatisfactory side of this system…lay in its description of light, which Newton also conceived, in accordance with his system, as composed of material points. Even at that time the question, ‘What in that case becomes of the material points of which light is composed when the light is absorbed?’ was a burning one. Moreover, it is unsatisfactory…to introduce into the discussion material points of quite a different sort, which had to be postulated …(to) represent…ponderable matter and light respectively. Later on electrical corpuscles were added to these, making a third kind, again with completely different characteristics.”
This necessary cobbling together of ad hoc ‘additions’ to Newtonian mechanics meant the system was not quite right. Einstein views James Clerk Maxwell, because of his strong-suit in math—the fundamental ‘language’ of physical description—as the prime mover in this unfolding of a new system. But Maxwell had important help from other investigators.
And Michael Faraday is without question one of the chief members of this supporting cast of characters, moreover definitely not one of the parasitic climbers in science’s vineyard but a stalwart hardwood, reaching above the canopy. His whole life story differentiates him from the typical ‘gentleman,’ or gentry natural philosopher.
In fact, although he came from working class roots and never had the chance for a first rate—or any ‘rate’ formal education, after he parlayed work in the early Victorian ‘web,’ as a publisher’s assistant and printer, into a position as one of Sir Humphrey Davies’ minders—working on the side as Mrs. Davies’ valet in a year and a half in the ‘parlors of European knowledge’—his unquenchable thirst to see and understand launched one of the most remarkable practical and experimental scientific careers in history. In a world where the ‘playing field’ revealed the same leveling tendencies as the electrical fields that Faraday intuited, Einstein might have made a different estimate of the equities in regard to this man whose demonstration of electrical induction accounted for both massive practical impact on industry and commerce and key theoretical influence on what he too was struggling to make sense of as an electromagnetic extension of Newton.
Nor does Maxwell, though he came from great privilege, evince the appearance of a ‘creeper’ or plunderer of nature. After he managed to survive Smallpox, and before a stomach cancer cut him down, his purpose was to coordinate and make sense of Faraday’s and others’ practical illustrations of something like electromagnetic fields and the speed-of-light phenomena that made of the visible light spectrum merely a small series of steps on a vast journey.
In the event, the young thinker completed an initial version of his ideas by 1865, which he turned into his fuller treatment eight years later. A more complete presentation of this section of today’s narrative might draw on the widely available multivolume compilation of Maxwell’s scientific papers, as well as literally hundreds of now digitized materials from either the man whose math-magic Einstein, the calculational bumbler, so revered, or from other equally astute logicians and device-minders.
When Maxwell’s devotion and talent allowed him to produce this estimation of reality that turned out to be in all important particulars correct, this achievement did not cause his peers instantly to hail his genius, however. On the contrary, even the most established voices—in particular these spokesmen of establishment protocols—found Maxwell’s ideas suspicious to the point of implausibility.
J.J. Thompson, the renowned Lord Kelvin himself—absolutely one of those that Einstein viewed as climbing vines—more or less rejected Maxwell’s work outright. He might have made several fortunes to add to his inheritance; he might have been the natural philosopher whom the Lord Admiralty and the like chiefly championed; he might have worn the mantle of ‘Lord Kelvin’ proudly. But his theoretical blinders for years helped to prohibit the uptake of Maxwell’s profound notions of the way that the natural world worked below the surface.
The great Kelvin did not block another working class maven, who also became a self-taught maestro, this time in math itself, from recognizing Maxwell’s brilliance and rectitude. Oliver Heaviside took Maxwell’s almost indigestible score of simultaneous equations, dependent on the construct of a ‘displacement current’ that so horrified the likes of Professor Thompson, and reformatted the entire edifice into the now ubiquitous ‘four-fundamental-theorems-of-electromagnetism.’
Moreover, practicing the laborer’s diffidence to his ‘betters,’ Heaviside never sought credit for this transformative reformation. He decided, whether sagely or self-deprecatingly would be an interesting question, to leave the entirety of what he accomplished in the name of the to-the-manor-born, if decidedly unlucky in matters of wellness and family, James Maxwell.
In addition to a pair of titled researchers from the United Kingdom who sought to particularize Maxwell’s work in relation to light, the fact is that Germany as a nation, through the Prussian Academy of Sciences, began to offer cash prizes to labs and the workers in them who could find evidence of Maxwell’s theories and mathematical summaries. And here Heinrich Hertzmakes an entrance. His detections completely won over most physics students about the veracity of Maxwell, at the same time that they both lay the basis for radio and in different ways established a foundation for the work of Konrad Roentgen, the Curies, and others whose efforts more directly look like the undeniable initiation of the Modern Nuclear Project.
To an extent, though Einstein mentions only Lorentz and Hertz among the additional contributors to the formulation of the electromagnetic puzzle, he is really taking note of the edifice of the German scientific establishment, albeit at the times in which he composed these essays, he was as often as not well aware of what was hurtling toward the world on the as-yet-to-appear Autobahn of Aryan supremacy and technical mastery. Braverman, as noted above, powerfully testifies to this institutionalization of theoretical and synthetic sway over the confluence of industry, science, and technology.
“It would be well for those who still do not understand the importance of German speculative philosophy to ponder, if not the example of Marx, of which they are so distrustful, the concrete instance of modern science and its sharply contrasting careers in Germany on the one hand and in the United States and Britain on the other. ‘If much in contemporary Britain is to be explained in term’s of Bentham’s philosophy,’ writes P.W. Musgrave in his study of technical change in Britain and Germany, ‘so did Hegel have a great influence in Germany’… .in giving to German scientific education a fundamentally theoretical cast. Thus while Britain and the United States were still in the grip of that common-sense empiricism which stunts and discourages reflective thought and basic scientific research, in Germany it was these very habits of mind that were being developed in the scientific community. …th(e) reason more than any other that the primacy in European science passed from France to Germany in the middle of the nineteenth century, while Britain in the same period remained mired in ‘what J.S. Mill called the dogmatism of common sense backed by the rule of thumb.’”
To any who might doubt Braverman’s thesis, one could easily turn to the handful of British thinkers who recognized the overweening dominance of empiricism as well. Oliver Heaviside was one of these, and when a gathering at Bath finally gave a grudging nod to Maxwell’s theoretical correctness, he “burst into verse” as follows:
Self-induction’s ‘in the air’,
Waves are running to and fro,
Here they are, there they go.
Try to stop ’em if you can
You British Engineering man!
A recent review essay by a software entrepreneur and history-of science enthusiast gives extensive context both for the inception of Maxwell’s mathematical overview and for the propagation and proof of his underlying theory. In the event, both Faraday, as well as others, from whom Maxwell induced aspects of what he depicted mathematically and the efforts of often German thinkers, who proved that Maxwell was correct, provided bookends to the Scotsman on whose intellectual labors the underpinnings of the Modern Nuclear Project rest.
For readers who want more, a twenty-five-year-old monograph from a Cornell science series provides incisive and fascinating background to this entire situation. Not only does Professor Bruce Hunt make the science almost transparent in his telling of the social and political-economic tale, but he also brings heretofore little utilized documentary evidence to the process that still more potently enrich his contextualization.
In any event, for explanations at once much more technically complete and lucid, one might readily turn to Richard Rhodes monumental The Making of the Atomic Bomb. He notes that Maxwell never completely forswore mechanistic ideation, despite the brilliant young theorist’s having reoriented Isaac Newton himself, and how Einstein’s comrade and friend Planck saw more deeply beneath the surface about these things. Interestingly enough, rather than looking into the political-economic and sociopolitical differences that so obviously influenced this England-versus-Germany divergence, Rhodes accounted for Planck’s choices as indicia of cultural fetish.
Whatever the case may be in such matters, the gargantuan ‘power-boost’ latent in the atom, which Maxwell’s syntheses made transparent to all and sundry who were willing to abandon their commitments to mechanism, became more and more tangible, so much so that the mouth-watering possibilities drove many of the creeping-vines of science to fantasize social hegemony for the duration. Observers here will see this in Frederick Soddy’s writing and research soon to come. Here is a foretaste of that.
“It is probable that all heavy matter possesses—latent and bound up with the structure of the atom—a similar quantity of energy to that possessed by radium. If it could be tapped and controlled what an agent it would be in shaping the world’s destiny! The man who put his hand on the lever by which a parsimonious nature regulates so jealously the output of this store of energy would possess a weapon by which he could destroy the earth if he chose.”
To complete this briefing, a return to Einstein is apropos. For all Rhodes’ meticulous synthesis and his scientific skill, he only infrequently mentions that the interests of these early laborer’s toils in the vineyards of science probably, or even decidedly, included such practical matters as great sources of energy, immensely powerful weapons, the tools of empire and means of making money.
In his essay, “What is the Theory of Relativity,” Einstein clarifies that “(t)he special theory of relativity…was simply a systematic development of the electro-dynamics of Clerk Maxwell and Lorentz, point(ing) beyond itself.” Perhaps without meaning to do so precisely, the estimable former clerk suggests that Lord Kelvin’s ever-present concern for practical results, and the German model’s recognition of the way that scientific prowess would translate into industrial supremacy and military muscle must have been present at the outset of the inklings of an electromagnetic conceptualization of thermodynamic truths.
If Energy’s content equates to a multiplication of mass and such a large universal constant as the speed of light, squared, even a dense mind indeed might imagine great force’s coming to the fore. But Einstein states explicitly that his famous and perhaps even frightening equation was the logical outcome of Maxwell’s thinking. Surely he was not the only one who saw this potential.
Frank Stockton had a strong interest in science. One rational inference is that the “Instantaneous Motor Bomb” was a fictional deduction of what would inevitably result from tinkering with nature’s secrets in these matters. The transparent similarity in Soddy’s language above, from the early years of the twentieth century, echo eerily the fictional fantasies of Stockton fully a quarter century before. Therefore, reasonably if not conclusively, one might see a likely implication of the Modern Nuclear Project exactly in the decades-earlier work from which Stockton’s stories emerged.
Anyhow, plenty of yarnspinners leapt to that conclusion in their imaginary confabulations. A small sample of their efforts, beginning with that of the author of The Lady and the Tiger, appears immediately below.
By Way of Introduction
None of the works of literature that follow belong among the highest exemplars of wordsmithing. For all of his inventiveness and prolificity, one can hardly imagine H.G. Wells,’ arguably the best of this particular lot, delivering a Nobel lecture. The same holds true for the other storytellers and lyricists who appear below as well.
Yet each of the yarns in this cache demonstrates craft and capacity worthy of the substantial—perhaps vast would be more apt—audience that each of these highly successful writers entertained. In any case, however one elects to view these pieces as literary artifacts, their wider cultural significance—not to mention their presence here among the Spindoctor’s humble paragraphs—concerns a fact that all too many thinkers and citizens either never consider or consign to the realm of abstruse theorizing.
These novels and shorter items inextricably intertwine with the marvels and terrors, the paradoxes and routines, the madness and wonders of the Modern Nuclear Project. In so doing, they form a part of that scientific process that everyone who wants fully to understand that emanation of technos must account for. Nonetheless, except as context or oddity, they are unlikely to show up at all in the contextualizations of this field.
That at least one of these authors, and his work, does make a minor but arguably critically important appearance in The Making of the Atomic Bomb is what makes Richard Rhodes’ labors so satisfying, at times almost thrilling. The reader shall hear more of this when we speak of both Wells, in this section, and Frederick Soddy in the central portion of today’s essay.
The warp and woof of the Spindoctor telling obviously fits with his particular thesis. These authors are without exception obsessed both with empire and with the way that upper class command opened psychic and material wounds that threatened to rend social life into bloody mayhem. That they focused on a scientific evolution that might somehow address or ameliorate these problems indicates at once that this comprehension of science’s potential required no doctoral degree nor mathematical legerdemain and that both popular writers and their numerous readers found such an integration of science with politics, the juxtaposition of only plausible machinery with absolutely certain sociopolitical necessity, to be credible and interesting.
With these points in mind, a turn to the stories themselves is in order. They have much more to tell us than we can possibly discover in this first pass. Yet even a brief tilling may rake up fascinating, as well as useful, data and ideas.
Stockton’s training before he began to publish all manner of popular narratives was as a craftsman. He aspired to literature even as he mastered wood engraving. His paternal family’s recent adherence to Methodism and preaching was not for him . “One of his early ambitions was to study medicine, and much of his class work was devoted to the sciences, physics and chemistry particularly. …(H)is interest in physical phenomena never left him, and revealed itself frequently in his writing in later years. He was a realist, preferring always the concrete fact to the romantic or remote ideal.”
While this man, idealization of the ‘middle-class’ worker-bee American, with tangible and quite deserved ambitions to exercise his imagination in text, was one of the most popular authors of the nineteenth century, biographies of the workmanlike prose-smith have been sparse. However, one literary compilation does examine the body of Stockton’s oeuvre in relation to his life experiences.
And in any event the two volumes that he composed, both of which touched on electromagnetism and his general interest in the natural philosophy of the physical world, are easily available as electronic texts. Neither The Great War Syndicate nor The Great Stone of Sardis are volumes notable for their richly drawn and complex characters. Their action is for the most part linear and predictable. But they are nonetheless charmingly readable for themselves.
For the purposes of an examination of the cultural loam from which the Modern Nuclear Project sprang, furthermore, they are an untapped resource rich in potential to understand in the first place the general social arrangements that might foster such enterprise. In the second place, these works demonstrate ways that a popular understanding of physics might yield, under the pen and mind of an observant scribe, plausible accounts of how empire, chauvinism, as well as capital’s combination of cupidity and idealistic insistence on bettering human life might all conjoin to bring about opportunities, techniques, and relationships that in turn create a ‘new order’ out of industrial, financial, and scientific might.
The reader has already seen some of the final phases of this from The Great War Syndicate. Though in some ways The Great Stone of Sardis is even more revealing in the fashion that the Spindoctor has already suggested, this note in today’s effort will bring out additional details from Stockton’s former volume about the Anglo-American syndication of martial legerdemain in order to rule the planet. Stockton’s sole biographer, even as he misses the significance of the science of the popular novelist’s weaponry, does note the combination of popular science and socioeconomic ambitions in both volumes.
The overarching premise of The Great War Syndicate is that the financial might and productive reach of the United States must inevitably bring it into conflict with any other planetary power. At the time that Stockton was writing this volume, England ruled the waves, and this provided the tension for the necessity of epitomizing scientific and strategic warfare when a British warship seized U.S. vessels that the superior English cruiser claimed had slightly strayed into Canadian waters in search of fish.
Stockton essentially launched in 1889 a yarn of internecine squabbles between England and the United States, which ultimately ended in a ‘hot-headed’ declaration of war by the upstart Americans.
Upon sober reflection in the lee of such temerity, many people wondered how the U.S. could fight a naval war with the world’s greatest sea power when the U.S. forces were of such a paltry sort in comparison that it made David’s challenge to Goliath seem almost bullying in comparison. The reaction that Stockton imagines ought to be a required text for every student of war and every citizen who avers a desire to participate in a democracy.
“Almost from the beginning of this period of national turmoil, a party of gentlemen met daily in one of the large rooms in a hotel in New York. …until at last they numbered twenty-three. These gentlemen were all great capitalists, and accustomed to occupying themselves with great enterprises. By day and by night they met together with closed doors, until they had matured the scheme which they had been considering. As soon as this work was done, a committee was sent to Washington, to submit a plan to the Government. These twenty-three men had formed themselves into a Syndicate, with the object of taking entire charge of the war between the United States and Great Britain. This proposition was an astounding one, but the Government was obliged to treat it with respectful consideration. The men who offered it were a power in the land, — a power which no government could afford to disregard.
This shadowy syndicate emerges “with the object of taking entire charge of the war between the United States and Great Britain.” As insane as such a proposition sounds, as noted these were the sorts of fellows whom “no government could afford to disregard.”
A contract duly issues that establishes an “enormous” Syndicate deposit, which success will return to the venturers, compounded more extensively the shorter the duration of the conflict. “The men who offered to relieve the executive departments of their perilous responsibilities were men of great ability, prominent positions, and vast resources, whose vast enterprises had already made them known all over the globe. Such men were not likely to jeopardize their reputations and fortunes in a case like this, unless they had well-founded reasons for believing that they would be successful.”
While the relations and moves that Stockton propounded are in most ways a combination of fantasy and chauvinism of one sort or other, a core of common sense and accurate depiction is also present. These men are the “merchants of death” of the Nye Committee with happy faces. Thus, this is patently not how the conduct of war and empire occur, and yet underlying aspects of imperial and martial power are precisely as suggested here.
This paradox continues when the basis for the Syndicates intentions comes to Stockton’s pages. The syndicate’s potency and confidence stem from patented technologies never before brought to bear in combat, the combined forces of which would in the syndicate members’ calculations prove unstoppable.
Stockton’s descriptions of these weapons are vague and largely nonsensical. However, he is clear that electric forces are in play, that the powers are untold orders of magnitude greater than any ordinance previously deployed, and that the accuracy and intensity of the impact of an “instantaneous motor bomb” would simply vaporize some more of less extensive portion of the Earth.
“Each of these(in any projectile) tubes could exert a force sufficient to move an ordinary train of passenger cars one mile, and this power could be exerted instantaneously, so that the difference in time in the starting of a train at one end of the mile and its arrival at the other would not be appreciable. The difference in concussionary force between a train moving at the rate of a mile in two minutes, or even one minute, and another train which moves a mile in an instant, can easily be imagined. …Its force was brought into action while in the cannon by means of electricity while the same effect was produced in the other tubes by the concussion of the steel head against the object aimed at.”
Again, this describes nothing except a margin of power unimaginably more immense and intense that anything theretofore imaginable, activated by electrical mechanisms. These destructive ‘engines’ use no traditional explosives whatsoever. The visual depiction that Stockton evokes of each motor bomb demonstration in the novella brings to mind a small nuclear explosion, and the promise of the Syndicate is that larger devices are in the works.
“A little after two o’clock P.M., an instantaneous motor-bomb was discharged from Repeller No. 1 into Fort Pilcher. It was set to act five seconds after impact with the object aimed at. It struck in a central portion of the unfinished fort, and having described a high curve in the air, descended not only with its own motive power, but with the force of gravitation, and penetrated deep into the earth.
Five seconds later a vast brown cloud appeared on the Fort Pilcher promontory. This cloud was nearly spherical in form, with an apparent diameter of about a thousand yards. At the same instant a shock similar to that accompanying the first motor-bomb was felt in the city and surrounding country; but this was not so severe as the other, for the second bomb did not exert its force upon the underlying rocks of the region as the first one had done.
The great brown cloud quickly began to lose its spherical form, part of it descending heavily to the earth, and part floating away in vast dust-clouds borne inland by the breeze, settling downward as they moved, and depositing on land, water, ships, houses, domes, and trees an almost impalpable powder.
When the cloud had cleared away there were no fortifications, and the bluff on which they had stood had disappeared. Part of this bluff had floated away on the wind, and part of it lay piled in great heaps of sand on the spot where its rocks were to have upheld a fort.”
Stockton was obviously an imaginative man. Just as clearly, an inkling into the end result of electromagnetism, in other words the Modern Nuclear Project appears like a film’s special effects projection in his creative portrayals. The destructive forces’ explosive fury, their origins in EMS phenomena, their dependency on and promulgation by a conglomerate of the high and mighty, the promises of peace from potency, all these are elements of The Great War Syndicate, and whatever the engineering vapidity of the author’s ideas, these observations comport exactly with what was six decades down the road.
This might have been accidental of course. But the odds might seem much more likely to favor an intuitive grasp of the physics that had remained a lifelong study and the politics that he was living through, even if he did so as a booster and patriot of capitalism and the United States respectively.
As readers may recall from the OVERTURE above, after a bit more carnage to convince the stubbornly supremacist military minds of the British of the futility of opposing the Syndicate, Stockton’s conclusion of this ‘war’ that ‘was no longer a war but a proof that war as heretofore waged no longer made sense,’ was another predictive miracle. The Yanks and the Brits joined forces to oversee the Instantaneous Motor Project in almost exact form as Churchill and Roosevelt agreed that the Anglo-American control of the Modern Nuclear Project would proceed half a century hence.
In essence, either Mr. Stockton was the luckiest human ever to enter the world from a mama, or he was aware of things at some deep level that allowed him to see the rough outlines of how matters might transpire. In any case, his stories act as circumstantial evidence of both a popular consciousness of the intersections of empire and science and plutocracy and government, on the one hand, and a physical science that appeared to the likes of him to have a decided orientation toward ends that actually developed in different and yet clearly similar fashion.
As a textual creator, Wells was even more prolific than Stockton, whose encounter with near blindness definitely limited his output. He had a larger, worldwide, audience. More of his titles have entered the pantheon, if not the canon. He worked as a masterful propagandist during World War One—“the war to end all wars” is likely his meme.
Months prior to his shouldering the burden of distorting reality so as to ‘keep the boys on the front in fighting trim,’ Wells’ prognosticating, atomic novel, The World Set Free, aptly compounded the mixture of genius and madness that has long come to mirror the social and political-economic hegemony of the ubermensch and their technical marvels, which have always marked their societies made concrete. He starts, in his “Sun-Snarers” prelude, by bemusing on power: “The history of mankind is the history of the attainment of external power.”
Despite the facile limitation of this trope, if accepted as any sort of whole cloth of the human fabric, it remains all-too-popular, right up to the juncture when readers take up Wells this very moment. “Man is the tool using, fire making animal. From the outset of his terrestrial career, we find him supplementing the natural strength and bodily weapons of a beast by the heat of burning and the rough implement of stone. So he passed beyond the ape. From that he expands.”
Atomic power, and the bombs that it makes possible, not only formulate a new and better technique, but a new and better humanity. Though such mechanistic ruminations, at best vastly less than complete, lead down dangerous alleyways, Wells wittingly or not stumbles upon much of merit in considering this grand new age of Uranium that in many ways plutocrats have kept struggling to bring into being. And, whether by design or moral dharma, he shows us a leader dying of cancer, in a magnificent clinic where the clinicians promise times soon to come when such ‘mistakes’ as malignancies will hardly matter.
“How encumbered the world had become! It was ailing as I am ailing with a growth of unmeaning things. It was entangled, feverished, confused. It was in sore need of release, and I suppose that nothing less than the violence of those bombs could have released it, and made it a healthy world again. I suppose they were necessary.”
This lethal encomium continues, Wells as unaware of the absurdity of his inversions of reality as is the triumphant bull in making its irresistible charge into the snares of the matador’s killing thrust. The ‘evil’ of the world, inherent in all except ‘science,’ tortures and distorts the pure beauties that scientific creativity proffer. The leading “they,” somehow magically and exclusively consisting of men, whether real like Vannevar Bush and Leslie Groves and so forth or fictional matters little, who will “not suffer open speech” or otherwise effectuate mass education that is objective and empowering.
“You who are younger cannot imagine the mixture of desperate hope and protesting despair in which we who could believe in the possibilities of science lived in the years before atomic energy came.” The majority of forefathers, in Wells’ view, both feared and worshiped science, terrified of self-knowledge but in awe of the capacity attendant on general comprehension.
“’(D)o tricks for us. Limited little tricks. Give us cheap lighting. And cure us of certain disagreeable things–cure us of cancer, cure us of consumption, cure our colds, and relieve us after repletion.’”
Incredibly, fantasy no more advanced than the twelve year old’s tight-lipped assurance of glory if only all the adults would disappear, the author of this and War of the Worlds, among other titles, continues. “Science is no longer our servant. We know it as something greater than our little individual selves. It is the awakening mind of the race.”
Dying of the cancer that ‘science’ has been causing instead of ‘curing,’ paradigmatic inanity resplendent, the soon-to-expire hero announces the good news which sounds like a prophecy of today’s doom unless folks “straighten up and fly right,” as the Spindoctor’s mama used to say. “While I lie here, they are clearing up what is left of the bombs in London… .Then they are going to repair the ruins and make it all as like as possible to its former condition before the bombs fell.”
Yet he sees the toxicity of the ‘former condition’ that all paradoxically still want restored, even as he fails to detect the seeds of destruction in the new ways, so long as they continue to accrue from the material relationships and social ties that maintained before. Then,
“(t)hey were ill. They were sick with confusion. Everybody was anxious about money, and everybody was doing uncongenial things. …One sees how ill they were by their advertisements. …London… plastered with advertisements of pills. Everybody must have been taking pills. …The pill carrying age followed the weapon carrying age.”
Leading thinkers uniformly embraced Bismarck’s ‘blood and iron.’ Chillingly, to anyone paying attention–searingly, to anyone suffering from DU deposits in his organs or Uranium’s daughters’ burning into her bones–he predicts an end to this. “The monstrous worship of the old fool’s ‘blood and iron’ passed all around the earth. Until the atomic bombs burned our way to freedom again…” Wells’ ellipses nauseate with their presumption at just such a touchy point as this, immediately prior to conceiving that humanity’s growth-phase will also somehow include the elimination of eros and sexual need.
Wells dedicated The World Set Free in part to Frederick Soddy, whose prior volume resulted from a popular series of lectures that he had delivered to thousands in the United Kingdom of the early twentieth century and about whom more is soon to come. Herbert George notes in his dedication that, both conceptually and stylistically, he has grounded his story in Soddy’s work.
This is true from the outset. As already mentioned, ‘external power’ rather than relations with each other and ourselves, represent Wells’ and Soddy’s notions of a Homos Sapiens sine qua non. Thus, clever technicians and calmly authoritative scientists construct atomic devices that annihilate the old and brutal ways and put in their place times of objectivity, plenty, and the outright upending of the old economy, based on carbon and steam, replacing it with the nascent energy contained in the atom.
Mixing Darwin, his own reactionary social-Darwinism, and the just-released Totem and Taboo of Sigmund Freud, Wells traverses the thousands of generations that had produced the necessary modern ‘priesthood’ of knowledge capable of piercing nature’s secrets at the atomic level.
Arriving in the course of this ‘Prelude’ at the inanities of his own time, on the verge of yet another hellish descent into mass murder, his main character is in the midst of lectures about Radium, such as those that Soddy delivered. This youngster, Holsten, is destined in the next chapter to ‘solve the riddle’ of both instantaneous and controlled release of radioactive energies in 1933, pessimistic in regard to the proof of fission by a year, optimistic concerning a measure of control-at-a-larger-scale by about a decade.
This new interlude, “The New Source of Energy,” astounds with both insight and ignorance as Wells’ hero unleashes the first chain reaction, though naturally this is not its name here. In the process, Holsten hurts his hand and suffers “a blister on his chest.” However, he “knew that he had opened a way for mankind, however dark and narrow it might still be, to worlds of limitless power.”
In due course, after fits and starts, a “Holsten-Roberts engine” comes online that permits the operation of automobiles for pennies a day, dominates all forms of transport, and “invades industry” in a way unfathomably profitable, in part due to the atomic engine’s waste products including significant by-products of gold. India and the United States follow suit, and wherever one looks, having enough is no longer an issue.
Wells is astute enough to realize that such a massive shift in production would create unprecedented turmoil and upheaval. He envisions mass marches of the unemployed, peripatetic wanderers, formerly wealthy, traipsing the globe in search of something to do, and, even as unprecedented riches and accumulation amass in the hands of the new atomic class, a rising of tensions takes place until the stress is at levels that match the newfound plethora of riches available through radioactive ingenuity.
Thus, the next chapter ensues, logically, as “The Last War.” Though the chronology–set in the late 1960′s and early ’70’s–is off, the configuration of combatants is almost precisely correct, with England, France, and the United States, joined by Slavic empires still topped with crowns, confronting Germany and other Central and Southern European powers and Japan, which has taken over China.
Before long, all of the national pugilists have acquired nuclear weapons, which Wells tells the reader are deliverable in open-cockpit biplanes. A bombardier lifts each lethal gadget by hand and hurls it in the general direction of a target, the resulting fireball’s buffeting the plane hither and yon as the explosion continues for years on end, leaving the afflicted cities as infernos for a decade or more.
Underestimating the conflagration that he foresees by many orders of magnitude, the carnage is nonetheless intense enough to cause all belligerents to cease and desist, after humans have fled to the hills and shudder in anticipation of a final accounting. In “The Ending of War,” the former royalty, plutocrats, and politicos come to terms with the new nuclear masters and create a world government united by the English language and atomic abundance.
Declaring that all old affectations of privilege and appointment no longer apply, that, in fact, “Science is the new king of the world,” they plan for a transition to the promised Elysian fields of atomic surfeit. They must all hunt down a Balkan royal thug, who would unleash a salvaged trio of atom-bombs in order to maintain his ordained predominance.
This accomplished, “The New Phase” is set to begin. Consciousness has magically transformed, the basic problems cured because now, having seen the decimation that they face, workers and other miscreants are easy to control. Farming and other heavy labor has passed away, replaced, again through some unstated legerdemain, by atomic acuity.
Though Holsten has died, Karenin, a crippled Russian diplomat and avatar for the fading away of all that is hideous and ugly, now leads the world toward the new Eden. People know their places, Christianity and science end up saying the same thing, everyone speaks English, and the only problems revolve around boredom and filling the free time with something meaningful.
Karenin welcomes his end. By extension, residents of earth should welcome the death of the old ways that atomic-energy will make pointless, embracing instead the natural abundance that the tree-of-knowledge permits.
As fatuous and insane as this vision may be, it is not far removed from what the billionaires and bureaucrats of the Modern Nuclear Project convey. They still foresee the emanation of such claptrap, despite their seventy years of similar promises that have yielded H-bomb arms races, Chernobyl, and what the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has calculated is plus-or-minus “three minutes to a(n apocalyptic) midnight.”
In some way, in perfect fashion, Robert Heinlein creates a Yankee foil to Wells’ British ‘establishment socialism.’ The American science fiction writer considers himself ‘liberal,’ desires disarmament and international control of weapons of mass destruction, and otherwise abjures openly ethnocentric forms of chauvinistic rule despite his openly multifaceted supremacist bigotry. He envisions a world of enlightened plutocrats and their clever political servants, assisted by sober and able technical savants. His is an Earth, composed in 1940, of a Modern Nuclear Project in which fission and fusion explosive devices are presently unobtainable.
Fiction, since it need not face juried trials to merit publication, can at times give clues about how such otherwise arcane matters as the high technology of modern physics routinely operates and the passes to which it leads. Both H.G. Wells and Robert Heinlein, neither moronic nor technically ingenious, created lengthy novels that spoke of a future ruled by atomic energy and atomic weapons. Each placed Uranium in prominent positions in their imagined worlds.
Robert Heinlein’s effort, not nearly so grandiose as that of Wells, and hence less arrogant and ludicrous from the vantage point of those who have lived through the paradisaical holocaust that both authors foretell is a necessary prelude to peace and plenty, actually predicts that the coming effort to achieve a Uranium-based explosive will prove a bust. His main character becomes a chief adjutant to a Leslie-Groves analog who oversees the attempted taming of Uranium to fulfill its killing potential.
Heinlein, due to injury, had left the Navy immediately prior to U.S. entry into war. As an Annapolis graduate, engineering is inbred; his technical ‘literacy’ includes a basic familiarity with the coming attempts to develop a fissile bomb. His little booklet, Solution Unsatisfactory, proceeds from a simple premise based on the almost-certain results of the fact of nuclear fission.
“In December, 1938, in Berlin, Dr. Hahn split the uranium atom. In April, 1943, Dr. Estelle Karst, working under the Federal Emergency Defense Authority, perfected the Karst-Obre technique for producing artificial radioactives. So American foreign policy had to change. Had to. Had to. It is very difficult to tuck a bugle call back into a bugle. Pandora’s Box is a one-way proposition. You can turn pig into sausage, but not sausage into pig. Broken eggs stay broken.”
Only the first one-third of the novella is necessary to reveal that the failure of bomb-creation nevertheless yields a ‘dust’-based weapon of unstoppable lethality. So devastated is Estelle Karst by the brutal use of her hoped-for humanity-salving researches into radioactivity, that she enters the primary processing room at the reactor without a shield, dying almost instantly.
“‘I wish,’ Manning added slowly, ‘that I could explain to her why we had to do it.’ We buried her in a lead-lined coffin, then Manning and I went on to Washington.”
As is typical of Heinlein, his scientific prophecies often lack the bite of technical plausibility. Still, his insights into government, bureaucracy, and the actions of the always-lurking vultures of the ‘powers-that-be’ are as acute as the penetrating power of a Depleted-Uranium round, also, as things have transpired, a ‘dust-based’ weapon of the present pass of the Modern Nuclear Project. Thus, in his novel, having defeated the Nazis (Japan makes no appearance in the World War as concocted by this Naval officer of the Pacific fleet), American politics begin to revolve around the new-found capacity to end life on earth, in almost precisely the fashion as was to occur in regard to the Atomic Energy Commission, the failed attempts to ‘internationalize’ nukes, and the coming of the Cold War. The correspondence with reality is eerie.
However, he again does not foresee a key ingredient, which is the uppity Russians’ gaining a nuclear capacity–dust-based or not–of their own. Under the circumstances that he foretold, his hero, Manning, the narrator’s boss, states a credible summary of the U.S. position, whatever the high-minded rhetoric of democracy that flows forth from Washington as propaganda.
“‘There are a lot of good, kindly people who are internationalists these days. Nine out of ten of them are soft in the head and the tenth is ignorant. If we set up a worldwide democracy, what will the electorate be? Take a look at the facts: Four hundred million Chinese with no more concept of voting and citizen responsibility than a flea; three hundred million Hindus who aren’t much better indoctrinated; God knows how many in the Eurasian Union who believe in God knows what; the entire continent of Africa only semicivilized; eighty million Japanese who really believe that they are Heaven-ordained to rule; our Spanish-American friends who might trail along with us and might not, but who don’t understand the Bill of Rights the way we think of it; a quarter of a billion people of two dozen different nationalities in Europe, all with revenge and black hatred in their hearts. No, it won’t wash. It’s preposterous to talk about a world democracy for many years to come. If you turn the secret of the dust over to such a body, you will be arming the whole world to commit suicide.’”
The only ‘sensible’ step, under such circumstances is an ultimatum to everywhere on the planet to accept American hegemony. All other states must deliver their planes and heavy armaments to Kansas.
Manning’s role in all of this, as Secretary of State, is completely idealistic. This is all for the good of the most people. Life can now be fair, and we can live well in civilized surroundings, thanks to the extraction of war from the human arsenal by a wise dictatorship of a nation that does know how to accomplish democracy–by force, and that does understand the Bill of Rights–applicable as Americans announce, or the consequences are assaultive.
The benevolent President for whom Manning serves, unfortunately, dies suddenly, however. A cabal of corporate raiders, conspirators who evince the morals of snakes and the appetites of crocodiles, comes to the fore. This certainly fits in with the realities of the actual Modern Nuclear Project in relation to Atomic Veterans, energy workers, and much more.
Manning saves the day. Having organizational authority over the dust, he undertakes a counter-coup. Confronting the new President, a stand-in for the gang-of-thieves who are planning a world plantation for purposes of plunder and profit, Manning now makes an ultimatum. Washington will face immediate termination, unless Manning receives imperial imprimatur; he, at least, knows how to rein both firmly and selflessly.
A perfect Heinlein climax is this. A sweet-tempered tyrant, a fair-and-decent fuhrer, is all the world needs to avoid blundering its way to Armageddon or planning its way to a technically-powerful but socially-bankrupt dystopia.
Quite likely inextricably intertwined with the publication of these two novels was their timing, the one at the start of the carnage of World War One and the other as the decimation of World War Two was beginning to unfold. Of course, these two vomitous upheavals of murder and brutality have undeniable roots in the industrial, financial, and imperial crises of the business that is the business of America, 1914 and 1940 each standing at a gateway between fiscal meltdown and the purgative ministrations of martial medicine.
The point of developing today’s narrative in this fashion is to illustrate how, in seeking a way out of socioeconomic mire through war’s political firestorm, the masters of the universe were ever seeking the magical specific that might, somehow, overcome the implosive impulses of their hegemony. Successful story-tellers, appealing to important audiences, can guide the pupil both to a clearer picture of these conundrums in the past and to their continuing manifestation in the present—hence their presence in this exploration of an all-too-real Modern Nuclear Project.
In any case, as both Wells and Heinlein repeatedly–and some with a critical bent might say heavy-handedly–belabor in their texts, and through their characters, new techniques, new knowledge, new formulas are the sanctioned methods for ending the self-immolation of war and its analogs. Of course, wherever one looks under capitalism, ‘reform’ entails grasping after life-preservers of just this limited sort, that do not eliminate the bourgeoisie’s oversight or otherwise require any systemic conversion to a different consciousness or material methodology.
That such thinking is puerile, at best, is one component of a critique. However, rational analysis must go further, at least hypothesizing that no mere technique, no matter how elegant or majestic or far-reaching, can ever substitute for transformation of the material and social paradigms that create capital’s inherently self-immolating tendencies.
The applicability of this assessment to the present pass in regard to a Uranium economy ought to be easy enough to bring into focus. On the one hand, militarists view our weapons—including as suggested above our ‘dust-based’ DU ‘penetrators’—as tantamount to Manning’s ‘miracle-of-dust,’ while many soldiers, who believe that they have suffered from the different ‘dustings’ that they have reeived, see them as precisely the opposite, embodiments in their own rights of demonic potency unleashed as an evil conspiracy. Neither perspective is apt though.
These ‘transuranic’ ploys are not merely hateful conspiracies; they are necessary tactical moves, at least from the point-of-view of the ruling classes. DU, nukes, the entire Nuclear Fool Cycle certainly appear as, in one sense anyway, ploys to salvage capital: reducing or eliminating the toxicity of such ploys necessitates facing up to the need to revamp capital’s rule altogether. If the Modern Nuclear Project threatens to eviscerate all humankind, its elimination can only proceed through the course of curing ourselves of capitalism.
Of course, neither Wells nor Heinlein will advance such a proposition, preferring the fantasy that some combination of friendly thinking and innovative things will overthrow an empire of politics, economics, and control. They imagine dismantling the primacy of blood and steel with ideals and i-Pods, with compassion and technical know-how.
Of course, such hubris did not require the ascertainment of radioactivity. It is a response to a breakdown in the world’s first globe-trotting system, in which capital’s repeated convulsions of mass murder have been reaping a bloody harvest for more than two hundred years now, since at least the Napoleonic Wars, possibly for longer than that, stretching back to one of Wells’ favorite authors and sources for some of his ruminations in The World Set Free, the depictions of slaughter-as-policy that appear in Voltaire’s Candide.
SHORT STORIES, POETRY, POPULAR CULTURE
Many additional texts, including dramas and poems, published and abandoned items, also preceded the clear-cut demonstration of the Modern Nuclear Project that culminated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and continued in the Cold War that imperialists in both the ‘private and public sectors’ had planned since, as Harry Truman stated the proposition, ’God had put nukes—“these terrible weapons”—in our hands.’
In particular, readers might turn to Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction, by Paul Brians. This effort at a comprehensive compilation at the very least proffers the more accessible titles and other ways of designating such materials.
The author quotes a developer of such fictions, whose 1985 story gives a plausible overview of what these materials mean, in psychic terms.
“Throughout the ages–and long before the invention and development of nuclear weapons–there had been those who prophesied that the world would end because of man’s wickedness.
Such prophesies were always believed, no matter how many times they had been proved wrong in the past. There was a wish for, as well as a fear of, punishment. Once nuclear weapons were invented, the prophecies gained plausibility, although now they were couched in lay terms rather than religious ones.
Evidence, the more convincing because governments tried to suppress it, proved that the world could be ended at the touch of a button.”
Rather than present much of the arcana of this arena—Upton Sinclair’s unproduced nuclear-weapons play of 1907 that he later reformatted as a two volume, 1924 novel, for example, The Millennium: a Comedy of the Year 2000—this final section will restate some of the thinking that underlies this evidencing of how fiction and literature have predicted and circumscribed and often enough ‘scooped’ the Modern Nuclear Project. A phrase from the prior quotation is telling in this regard: “the more convincing because governments tried to suppress it.”
For ‘secrecy’ in regard to these matters—inherently massive, and massively social, efforts, which always require debate and testing and outsize structures and processes at every step—is at best an infantile hope. That is not to say that it is not a popular trope, as echoes from Stockton make clear. “What gave the(Instantaneous Motor Bomb) tubes their power was the jealously guarded secret.”
Still, in many ways, and with much less of science’s prattling to rely on than either Wells or Heinlein had at hand, Stockton had better foreseen the Manhattan Project, the Atomic Energy Commission, and the American empire at work in the mid-1940’s. Though his practically bloodless conflict was, most charitably, naive idealism, he clearly recognized that scientific ability and industrial strength would determine martial outcomes and that politics would then consist of controlling these ‘more-bang-for-the-buck’ forces. This is another function of these writings in relation to the Modern Nuclear Project.
At the same time that these fictional fancies are utterly inadequate as descriptions of methods to reshape capitalism, which cannot avoid the allure of the arcane, the expensive, the deadly, and the new–such as Uranium promises with a glowing glitter, they do illustrate incisively and fairly comprehensively why and how Uranium-based ‘solutions’ are so appealing to the masters of the universe. They also articulate the imprimatur of science, which, as a never-ending ‘new frontier’ and otherwise, has become equivalent to fixing everything that ails the world as well.
All such big issues are, fundamentally and unavoidably, matters of wielding power and managing the means of production. Such political-economic origins of things lead to their current form. Thus, the inaugural decades of the Uranium age underlie contemporary difficulties and controversies attendant on this new epoch, which political leaders everywhere–promising that it is ripe for ‘renaissance’–seem to be eyeing as not only necessary but also highly salubrious. Barack Obama’s triumphalist visit to India illustrates this intractable tendency, where titans hope, with titanic fantasies of reactor sales, to ‘balance their budgets’ once and for all. Or, wait, China is also a ‘market’ of this sort too; and Brazil; and Russia, once we take care of that inconvenient little Judo master at the helm.
These fantasies, ludicrous and lucid intermixed, come from both the minds of wordsmiths before anyone admitted a Modern Nuclear Project’s existence, soundbites about the future as viewed from 1914, and from the latest Department of Energy bulletins. The predecessor predictions appear at times too astute to bear. Of course, they are also characteristically fantastical and foolish in retrospect, as are official pronouncements’ predictable promises that always turn out to be false.
Nevertheless, these capsules of ruling ideation—whether fictional or ‘real’—display an essential shape: that ‘free’ or ‘painless’ solutions to life’s enigmatic struggles are available; that technology will save us from social suffering; that nothing fundamentally responsible need occur; that business as usual will therefore remain possible without an utter gutting of human welfare and democracy. And of course, these same conceptualizations, more or less a social norm, now appear in the form of film and television, albeit with vampires and zombies to manage in the bargain. Whether mad, or merely childish, such notions can only sow devolution rather than evolutionary possibility.
Yet such are the meanderings of the Modern Nuclear Project, on the one hand, and the yarnsmiths who have predicted and chronicled it, on the other hand. Such thinking is part of the imperial, political economic, and sociopolitical substrate of the entire process.
As noted above, a deeper delving might yield much greater rewards in these realms. However, no matter its merely nascent development, today’s churning of this little plowed field has provided some ideas that promise utility and may, to at least some who consider them, proffer a measure of fascination.
Having arrived once more at the heart of things, yet again those who have accompanied the Spindoctor on this journey will find that we’ve covered a lot of territory and that a full portrayal of what should appear at this juncture would require even greater reams, or bits and bytes, to convey. Alas, time and tide necessitate abbreviation here, as is so often the case with these heartfelt messages here on Contributoria.
But the briefs that follow do solidify the overall proposition that this initial installment about the Modern Nuclear Project offers to its readers. These men all entered the world with substantial fortunes, in four out of five cases with vast sums at their command.
Their biographers speak glowingly of the ‘restless intellects,’ the ‘drive to discover,’ the ‘commitment to knowledge,’ and other characteristics that no doubt this quintet did display. However, their cash-on-hand, their imperial positions, their substantial interest in a commanding position in competitive commerce—with the possible exception of Frederick Soddy—mean that much more mundane and less admirable qualities were also in play as this group, along with many others who happen not to trot across this particular state, determined that the human future would involve atomic energy and the omnipresent proximity of mass collective suicide.
The hypothesis of this report, of course, is that this second set of goals and objectives both has received inadequate attention among chroniclers and, clearly, may have equal or greater heft in explicating why the Modern Nuclear Project has been humanity’s fate. Perhaps our survival will keep intertwining with this path: yet without a single doubt, we also must acknowledge that avoiding Homo Sapiens extinction may instead require abandoning this pathway that in any event has so obviously emerged from the class interests and moneyed predominance of the likes of these five children of millions and magnates of empire.
Frederick Soddy emerged from great wealth. His family members were grocery moguls. In a sense, the arc of Soddy’s career—from nuclear chemistry to political economy—delineates his kin’s evolution from the sale of nutrients to the banking of massive fortunes.
The focus of the young chemist’s efforts revolved around the heavier elements. In this realm of nature, of little interest prior to the machinery and theories that accompanied electricity’s conjunction with magnetism induced, oddities soon began to appear. Some of this strangeness would take till the doorstep of World War Two to puzzle out, but of one thing Soddy quickly became certain: Radium was a treasure chest of energy, though we now might ponder the metaphor of Pandora’s closet.
In his monumental and seminal work, The Interpretation of Radium, Soddy attests to all of these ideas as he extolled the 91st member of the Periodic Table. One might write volumes about each of Soddy’s chapters, so informative and dense with thought and wonder were they all. He especially demonstrates the last sensibility, the awestruck apprehension of being in the presence of holy orders.
He makes this clear from the outset. For example, in the original Preface he notes the material’s “application not (being) confined to the physical sciences, but ha(ving) a wide and general bearing on our whole outlook upon nature.”
The Preface to the Third Edition, penned in 1912, confirms and expands on this assertion of revolutionary implications. In Chapter One, “The New Science,” he writes that no homey analogy can do Uranium’s potential justice, “because in these latest developments science has broken fundamentally new ground.”
He then continues as follows. “The phenomena with which I am concerned…belong to the newly born science of radioactivity and to the spontaneous disintegration of elements which the study of radioactivity has revealed to us. …see(ing) the first definite and considerable step into the ultimate nature of…atoms, which in one sense is not merely an extension of existing knowledge or principles, but a radical new departure. …concerned with the knowledge of the elementary atoms themselves of a character so fundamental and intimate that the old laws of chemistry and physics, concerned almost wholly with external relationships, do not suffice.”
And he carries such ideation through to a climactic crescendo, in Chapter Ten, as “this interpretation of Radium is drawing to a close.” First, he presents the deconstruction of the physics and chemistry of Maxwell.
“The aspects which matter has presented to us in the past is but a consummate disguise, concealing latent energies and hidden activities beneath a hitherto impenetrable mask. The ultra-material potentialities of radium are the common possession of all the world to which in our ignorance we used to refer as mere inanimate matter.”
He goes on to lionize, in tones foretelling the nuclear engineers and other atomic priests of the present. “Is it not wonderful to reflect that in this little bottle (with less than a pound of Uranium) there lies asleep and waiting to be evolved the energy of at least one hundred sixty tons of coal?…The store of energy in Uranium would be worth a thousand times as much as the Uranium itself, if only it were under our control and could be harnessed to do the world’s work in the same way as the energy in coal has been harnessed and controlled.”
Near the final pages, Soddy waxes eloquent.
“When we have learned how to transmute the elements at will the one into the other, then, and not until then, will the key to this hidden treasure house of Nature be in our hands. …(I)t has come to be recognized that in the discovery of radioactivity, or rather, of the subatomic power and processes of which radioactivity is but the outward and visible manifestation, we have penetrated one of Nature’s innermost secrets. …A race which could transmute matter would have little need to earn its bread by the sweat of its brow. …(S)uch a race could transform a desert continent, thaw the frozen poles, and make the whole world one smiling garden of Eden. …It is a legitimate aspiration to believe that one day (w)e will attain the power to regulate…the primary fountains of energy which Nature now so jealously reserves for the future.”
The language here bespeaks the realm of the sacred, at the same time that the arrogation of ‘Nature’s’ essence to paltry human hands also suggests the sacrilegious. In this vein, an observer needs to realize that all of this priestly poking about for new knowledge was impossible outside of the context of a bargained-for-exchange.
Moreover, at every level of the manifestation of the Modern Nuclear Project, a humble cash-out of the lofty ideals was on the minds of all the players, with the exception of the very rare ‘dear Max Planck’ whom Einstein extolled fifteen thousand words back. In the event, if for no other reason than that the instruments to interact with atoms were expensive, almost everybody pondered where to get money and how to monetize the work.
The equipment that Soddy lovingly describes, coated with gold and utilizing chemicals of the most arcane complexity and routinely high cost, was only conceivable under the most advanced material and economic conditions. Truly, given what people have learned about Uranium’s transit through human culture, a Faustian bargain may have been in play, from the inception, when bankers and barons and industrialists watched over the scurrying laboratory wizards attempting to tame all that is.
Furthermore, Soddy and his cohorts were aware of this everyday intersection between their Faustian searches and their repeated mention of value and scarcity and the potential for unfathomable increase . That their efforts necessitated the concerted support of the highest levels of public and private wealth follows as ineluctably as light follows facing the sun.
In another interesting turn suggestive of confirmation of the core import of these fiscal matters, Frederick Soddy himself became a devotee of political economy after he won his Nobel Prize in 1921. The Role of Money is merely one of dozens of papers and monographs that Soddy produced in this area of thought during the 1920’s and ’30’s.
The University of Toronto’s Thaddeus Trenn introduces the student to this career component in his long article, “The Central Role of Energy in Frederick Soddy’s Economics.” Soddy thus not only produced multiple volumes of what contemporary thinkers call Ecological Political Economy or Energy Political Economy, but he has reached across the decades to garner some of today’s investigators as colleagues.
Trenn quotes Soddy, who sounds like a contemporary ‘Peak Oil’ proponent. “The fact remains that, if the supply of energy failed, modern civilization would come to an end as abruptly as does the music of an organ deprived of wind. [But] … the still unrecognized ‘energy problem’ . . . awaits the future.”
The lively Brit goes on to plug Uranium as the basis for human renovation, or, should one prefer, ‘renaissance.’ “[The human control of atomic energy could] virtually provide anyone who wanted it with a private sun of his own.”
That these promises have proved nonsensical is immaterial; that the risks have come to appear monstrous matters less than nothing; Soddy’s is the vision of the entrepreneur or venture capitalist at the pinnacle of the bourgeois order. As the clock continues to tick on the imposition of a ‘Nuclear Renaissance’ on all humankind, his remains the stubborn, and purportedly farsighted, folly of finance that predominates right this second in the Modern Nuclear Project.
On the basis of soda ash—both the industrial and the home products—Ernest Solvay’s paternal line had lined the pockets of many of Belgium’s wealthiest individuals. He was one of Europe’s richest men. Moreover, he viewed the chemical techniques that had created his fortune as a beckoning to unlock still deeper mysteries of matter.
The Solvay Conferences grew out of this intersection of capital and inquiry. For over a century, every couple of years or so, Ernest Solvay’s drive in this arena has continued to create physics efforts and chemical insights. The International Solvay Institutes for Physics and Chemistry has impacted scholarship and practical machinations of these fields at the same time.
While one might devote many volumes just to such important individual conferences as the 1927 Institute on Protons and Electrons, where the buzz was all about the potential for additional particles—the neutron waited in the wings, as it were—today’s materials will merely whet the reader’s interest about the process that this scion of plutocracy developed as an invitation-only gathering of nuclear cognoscenti. Einstein was a ubiquitous presence, as were Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi, and others.
The contents of the sessions at a Solvay event were not open to the public. The luminaries there have indicated subsequently that many aspects of the Modern Nuclear Project were under discussion at these closed door sessions.
Some who are wont to view the work of the world in these circumstances as conspiratorial are wont to concoct all manner of theories about such events.
“Project Lightbulb started out as an experimentation with electrons and photons and how they can affect they way we perceive space and time. Some say Project Lightbulb was commissioned in highest secrecy during the Fifth Solvay Conference in 1927. Seventeen of the twenty-nine attendees were Noble Prize winners including Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg, Marie Curie, Erwin Schrödinger, and many others.”
Whatever the possible proofs or refutations of such views, that Solvay’s great wealth—and his strategic focus on bringing nuclear physicists and chemists together to talk shop privately on a regular basis—without a single doubt did contribute to such obvious ‘conspiracies’ as the Manhattan Engineering District, the development of thermonuclear weapons, the transfer of nuclear techniques to nations such as Britain and France and Israel and more.
These are not theories. And with more time and resources, the underlying events of Solvay’s work could stand as a multi-volume treatise about the political-economic, social, and imperial aspects of the Modern Nuclear Project generally.
ROCKEFELLER FAMILY INTERESTS
If the Solvay family network in relation to nuclear issues would necessitate at least one big, fat volume, the same coverage of the clan that synthesizes oil and money and monopoly and empire would require a small library of dense monographs to cover the same ground. Wherever one looks in the nooks and crannies and foyers and common areas of The Modern Nuclear Project, individual Rockefeller’s show up; their foundations and other ‘non-profit’ arms span the globe; their employees and functionaries have a seat at every table that matters.
This is true whether one is looking at Werner Heisenberg, Enrico Fermi, Glenn Seaborg, Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard, Ernest Lawrence, Edward Teller, or half a thousand other ‘leading lights’ in atomic research. The oil family’s interests hypothetically stemmed from the potential to use radium in cancer therapy and like possibilities. But high energy physics had other offshoots that might captivate such actors as these.
The New York Times summarized this trend in an analytical article centering on Rockefeller’s beneficence to science. Its headline stands as a precis for the wider trend: “Scientific Giving Is Now Big American Business.” As well, the oil giant’s generosity was among the leading sources of early funding for decoding the meaning and possibilities of Uranium.
Such monographs as Ben Martin’s The Political Economy of Science, Technology, and Innovation make this point more generally. Additionally, one may turn to radical critics of scientism, who insist on a holistic accounting of science and its specific techniques, to expand and further deepen this contention about the interwoven strands of money, politics, and the understanding and exploitation of nature. Philip Murowski’s Science Bought and Sold: Essays in the Economics of Science is merely one of hundreds of examples of such interpretations.
As with most of what the Spindoctor manages to produce, more time and resources might garner results both more monumental and more pointedly revealing. More will show up in future installments, in any event.
Having seen a fair swath of the pies in which Alfred Loomis had his fingers in the OVERTURE, a tiny precis of what else an investigator might plumb shows up here. Just as with all of the above moneybags with an intense interest in the Modern Nuclear Project, so too with the estimable Mr. Loomis: further research would likely pay huge dividends.
The National Archives fulfills the assertion that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ about this. It depicts merry hilarity among a special group of men: Meeting in the Radiation Laboratory on the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) campus to discuss the 184-inch cyclotron; left to right: Ernest O Lawrence, Arthur H Compton, Vannevar Bush, James B Conant, Karl T Compton, and Alfred Loomis, March 29, 1940.
Loomis’ heritage of cash, his vocation to study science, his proclivity to make investment coups in the electrical utilities industry, and his compulsion to be a part of the electromagnetic spectrum investigation mean that he is a man of the atom. He is a core member of the Modern Nuclear Project.
The final table of the hypothetical “World Series of Nuclear Poker” could easily include these five men. Truman’s constant use of a poker metaphor – that the Trinity Test and atomic bombs were an “ace in the hole” – in many ways is perfectly apt. Taking others’ things, controlling outcomes, ending up with all the money, are what empire and capital and the Modern Nuclear Project share in common with the game of poker.
Alexander Sachs seamlessly fits in with this group. The Atomic Archive makes this point briefly. “On october 11, 1939, Alexander Sachs, Wall Street economist and longtime friend and unofficial adviser to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, met with the President to discuss a letter written by Albert Einstein the previous August. Einstein had written to inform Roosevelt that recent research on chain reactions utilizing uranium made it probably that large amounts of power could be produced by a chain reaction and that, by harnessing this power, the construction of extremely powerful bombs was conceivable. Einstein believed the German government was actively supporting research in this area and urged the United States government to do likewise. Sachs read from a cover letter he had prepared and briefed Roosevelt on the main points contained in Einstein’s letter. Initially the President was noncommittal and expressed concern over locating the necessary funds, but at a second meeting over breakfast the next morning Roosevelt became convinced of the value of exploring atomic energy.”
As a savvy investor and member of capital’s inner circle, Sachs had a longstanding interest in fission and the atomic and subatomic realms. This is typical of the upper reaches of the upper crust, then and now. Further investigation, forthcoming in the next installment of this series, will show this much more extensively and powerfully than what has appeared thus far.
If a reader recalls Einstein’s observation that somewhere between a large and an overwhelming majority of scientists have very practical reasons for choosing their careers, the accomplishments and meaning of these five characters conceivably comes crisply into focus. Plutocratic wealth was in play here. Fascination with the workings of the natural world without a single doubt represented to some measurable degree among these men an interest of at least similar intensity with the forming of commodities, the making of money, the accouterments of power and empire, and other such indicia of upper class imprimatur and social entitlement and worldly success.
The Modern Nuclear Project, as Soddy’s integration of energy and political economy make especially transparent, summed up for this group of central actors in the fields of money and war and empire a mandatory turn. Nature provided the potential for bombs that at one fell swoop might incinerate hundreds of thousands or even millions of victims. Physical law underlay the capacity to boil water with the same energies that achieved these refinements in mass murder. But the social, political, and economic selection of that particular direction flowed undeniably from the social and political and economic priorities that these titans brought to the fields of knowledge and the arenas of science.
That other options were available—and well-established and understood—is possible to demonstrate too. The rare rebel points out that this assertion is true. Just before he died, Thomas Edison spoke to a scoffing Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone. “We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy — sun, wind and tide. … I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”
Whatever else he was, Mr. Edison was no dummy. But he was also not a banker, nor did he particularly favor untrammeled control from such social sets. This hegemony, then, may account for the paths that our sort have trod down a primrose path laden with Plutonium and plunder, plutocracy and inequality.
Some Conclusions to Consider
An irreverent start to this penultimate section would be fairly simple to state. The name of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle should be, in perpetuity, The Nuclear Fool Cycle. A recent article about nuclear waste is just one of countless analyses of late, which examine multiple issues—proliferation of weapons; heretofore hidden health effects of reactors; much larger impacts than generally admitted from dramatic accidents; massive and continuing cost overruns; and the list is just beginning—any one of which would rationally make the Modern Nuclear Project appear as a fool’s errand, yet precisely a certain sort of biased rationality, as today’s report has examined from its inception, make the Nuclear Fuel/Fool Cycle overpowering, even compulsory, in its allure.
What is the nature of this irresistible attraction? Again, as the circumstantial and direct evidence of this article has developed repeatedly, the financial and imperial interests at the heart of social control and political power now simply must find, on the one hand, outlets for capital surpluses that lock-in their dominance and hold out—by hook or by crook—chances to reach an ongoing cash-out position in their favor. On the other hand, they also simply must continue to brandish weaponry that are adequately terrifying in fighting off the multiple and increasingly potent challenges to their rule.
From a ruling class perspective, these two advantages to nukes outweigh all conceivable drawbacks, including the destruction of every living thing on planet Earth. These are not the only points that today’s hegemons discern that dispose them to protract nuclear investments, but they are completely dispositive in overruling all dissent.
Because this central conclusion of the present Spindoctor production so clearly mandates persistent ‘Establishment’ support for the Modern Nuclear Project, whatever the costs and consequences, any conclusory language to the effect that ‘Society ought to rid itself of nukes,’ no matter how reasonable and necessary that such a step might be, is at best fantastical, more likely fatuous. As Marcuse might put the case, ‘reason has itself become utterly unreasonable.’
Thus, the following deductions are all extremely moderate. They seek to provide parameters for two things: first, to build popular awareness and consciousness about both nuclear issues generally and about the participatory potential of democratic power; second, to select those steps that—even though they will never ‘pass muster’ in the present political-economic context—show how rotten and hypocritical and corrupt the Modern Nuclear Project is, since only something rotten and hypocritical and corrupt would reject such moderate, practical, substantive reforms, practices that apply, practically speaking, to every other sector of capitalist enterprise.
AN INITIAL DEDUCTION
Eliminating secrecy represents the sine qua non in terms of effective action that addresses the Modern Nuclear Project. Though this often enough calls forth a terrified response—What?!?! but then all the terrorists will find out!!—unless one wants completely to forego reason, the answer to this fear is straightforward, whether or not it persuades the fearful:
“Anyone who has half a brain and wants to discover how to create these devices will find all the information necessary in publicly available documents. Secrecy has nothing, as in zero, to do with prohibiting evildoers from learning how more horribly to carry out their evil deeds.” The evidence on this point, as opposed to the purported opinions of self-serving nuclear weapons scientists, is close to dispositive. Secrecy does not keep countries that have the industrial base to support nukes from acquiring them, nor would a lack of secrecy permit ‘terrorists’ who lacked the necessary manufacturing capacity from being able to design, assemble, and test their own WMD’s.
What secrecy does absolutely destroy is any ability to discuss the issues that are out of the public eye. Therefore, all secrecy—but especially that related to decades-old projects and ‘intellectual property concerns’ and so-called ‘intelligence activities’—needs to stop tout suite. Otherwise, we can first of all kiss any chance of democracy goodbye, en route to bidding adieu to any large likelihood of continued human survival.
A SECOND DEDUCTION
Forcing the firms that profit from nukes to capitalize at least their own insurance ought to be another automatic course of action in relation to having even a vaguely ‘level-playing-field’ in the energy sector. As things stand now, despite legal attacks over the years, and copious criticism from various parties, the nuclear industry—which, as readers have seen, is the uttermost darling or ruling class financial and imperial interests—as a whole faces at most a plus-or-minus $15 billion exposure in the event of nuclear accident.
Such an amount naturally is not chump change, but it is at most 1.5-3.0% of the total expected average liability of $500 billion-$1 trillion in the event of a serious nuclear disaster. Where will the remaining 97% or more of recompense come from? The answer is a ‘duh’ moment: it will come from the erstwhile ‘beneficiaries’ of nuclear power, i.e., taxpayers.
The Price-Anderson Act’s protections of nuclear businesses that tout their ‘competitiveness’ and profitability are, in the most optimistic view, absurd. Therefore, moving ahead, all such subsidies need to end.
A THIRD DEDUCTION
Unilaterally eliminating all but one hundred U.S. H-bombs, with a promise to rid ourselves of that final centurion of megadeath, is another step in the direction of the viability of the Modern Human Project, even if it would appear as anathema to the Modern Nuclear Project. What such an eventuality could mean, more or less, might be something along these lines.
Of the fleet of United States ballistic missile submarines, only one—not disclosed—would carry armaments at any particular time. Of the massive fleet of bombers that are able to deliver H-bombs, at any given time only a handful would carry such weapons. Of the scores of Intercontinental Ballistic Missile silos that the U.S. maintains, only a few would at any given moment would contain ready-to-launch thermonuclear rockets.
For a period of years, moreover, or perhaps—for the paranoid—decades, a non-deployed stockpile of back-up weapons of mass destruction could be accessible, albeit their presence and availability would be something that both U.S. and international officials monitored. Further, a key development would be that all future research and development of new killing schemes and delivery systems would cease forthwith.
A FOURTH DEDUCTION
Engaging citizens in various initiatives, overseen by non-governmental organizations with no ties to the Modern Nuclear Project as such, and empowering citizen action based on these learning and research and discursive programs, lies at the heart of any attempt to deliver humankind from the complete certainty—given the way that small chances aggregate over long periods of possibility—of a likely future total annihilation if the MNP endures unimpeded. Such a ‘Citizen Action Program of Popular Engagement for Reform,’ or something similar, might have such elements as these.
First, the nuclear industry and anti-nuclear community organizations would both receive funding and freedom to produce learning materials, instructional media and programming of various sorts, and classes or seminars in which community members would receive generous stipends to participate. This work could consist of one-third nuclear-industry, one-third anti-nuclear organization, and one-third jointly presented efforts.
Second, at various levels, in different jurisdictions, organizational teams from both the pro-nuclear and anti-nuclear camps would conduct ‘trials’ that citizens panels and citizens juries would render verdicts. These decisions, in good time, would yield policy and legal authority in relation to the matters in dispute in the ‘trials.’
Third, in relation to specific aspects of the Modern Nuclear Project—ranging from nuclear weapons facilities to university research reactors—community groups could call for programming, analysis, and other citizen-led assessments of the devices and properties through which the MNP manifests itself, including epidemiological and other health-and-environment studies.
Fourth, in general, community groups, national organizations, or ad-hoc coalitions of citizens could call for amplification of the study of nuclear health and impact issues, with a fund of at least a $billion per years that a small surcharge on utilities would fund. This would in time undercut the ‘lack of research’ response that is presently one of the favorites of nuclear defenders.
A FIFTH DEDUCTION
Introducing Science, Technology, & Society and ‘History-of-Science’ vectors into the teaching of science in middle-school and high-school should have become standard practice at the very latest with the publication of Vannevar Bush’s Science: the Endless Frontier at the culmination of World War Two. Otherwise, exploring that hinterland would inevitably be something that intrepid explorers would be unable to do except inasmuch as—like young people at private schools—they had learned the analytical approaches of something akin to STS programs.
Inasmuch as nothing like this essential development transpired under the aegis of Dr. Bush or anyone else, it should now become a priority of great enough magnitude to permit its implementation in short order, within a few years at most. The price of such a curriculum would likely not be trivial. The cost of not carrying out such steps will remain—in both ‘productivity and output’ terms and in relation to species survival—astronomical and, given enough time for the small aggregations of probability in favor of holocaust to operate, possibly total.
A FINAL DEDUCTION
Developing a comprehensive analysis of every type and level of subsidy for nuclear weapons and power, and then distributing it widely, is a last ‘conclusion’ for today, though one might posit many others in time. A fair amount of research about such pork-barrel supports for nukes, and about the overall ‘lifetime’ expenses of the Modern Nuclear Project as a whole already exists.
The purpose of the labor that this ‘deduction’ proposes would be to combine and repackage in various ways all of these present data sets, making certain that all aspects of the MNP equation came under scrutiny. Furthermore, this set of projects might also compare the level and sort of subsidy that has been available in other arenas of both energy enterprise and the wider economy.
Will implementing all of these ideas prove possible? Certainly in the foreseeable future, the answer would be no. Would any of these transformative changes be plausible to carry out? If such a step could be local or outside the United States, the answer would be a resounding yes.
Whatever the case may be, we may take to heart advice from one of history’s complicated heroes, whose ultimate stand for justice and progress is difficult, or even impossible, to dispute, even as we see all manner of flaws in the wrinkles of heroic complexity that characterize his life. Abraham Lincoln advised, “The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.“
We can keep these words in mind as we contemplate today’s essay and these suggestions near its end. Taking some tangible step, at a minimum a single move of something like one of the above, in any event, might seem like a sensible course.
The definitive character of a successful depiction of a modeled reality, a theory or hypothesis about the social and political and economic operations of the world, rests on its capacity to predict outcomes. Were we to imagine that the year were 1940, only an audacious seer indeed would foresee the fiscal and industrial and administrative bundles of the Manhattan Engineering District’s strategic conspiracies of mass murder and eternal power.
But a student of Soddy’s political economy, a reader of his good friend H.G. Wells’ novel of a fictionally pendent ‘atomic war,’ a follower of the monetary largesse of Rockefeller interests at atomic laboratories in nations that clearly were on conveyor belt to total war, and so and so forth, might very well have foreseen something like Vannevar Bush’s and Leslie Groves’ and Dow Chemical’s and General Electric’s, and so on and so forth, conjoining themselves in some sort of overarching conspiracy to tap the atom and rule the world. If nothing else, why else would the humble writers have written these yarns in the ways that they did?
Similarly, were we to have been looking forward from the mid-to-late 1940’s, an analogous compilation of the materials that this essay makes available might also have led to a more or less accurate prediction of arms races and near misses as the thermonuclear chapters of the Modern Nuclear Project unfolded. Certainly, among the thinkers whom we have chronicled here, this sense of an inevitable arms race given an inevitable amplified conflict with Russia, itself inevitable given an inevitable murderous brandishing of the atomic “ace-in-the-hole” about which Truman so frequently bragged was fairly commonplace if not universal.
Equally so, were we to have found ourselves in Shippingsport, Pennsylvania for the opening of America’s first Reddy Kilowatt atomic power experiment, or even earlier aboard the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, we clearly could have foreseen—with access to the information and views here presented—decades of further refinement and expansion of fission-based water boilers. Their sucking up excess capital and locking down ownership in reliable and designated hands was just so convenient.
And even in the aftermath of, first Three Mile Island, then Chernobyl, and finally—for now—Fukushima, one would have had the capacity—given the data and argumentation present here today, to discern that even these grotesque and yet still-not-final devastations of fission-based steam generators might not manage to ‘put the nuclear genie back in its bottle.’ Indeed, the Spindoctor has been prognosticating along these exact lines since before Three Mile Island, when his gambling ways induced him to intuit a likely three or more serious reactor accidents a century.
And, so too, the situation today also permits a theorist and analyst to risk validation or contradiction of this essay’s capsulization of the Modern Nuclear Project. Essentially, this looking forward would insist that only an upending or overthrow of capital itself as imperial arbiter would ever allow a ‘peaceful’ sundering of the bourgeoisie’s sucking on the nuclear teat. How else would one explain a ‘unipolar’ commitment to “strategic weapons” at the rate of another budgeted trillion dollars—meaning, in the event, vastly more—over the next two decades? Or what else would account for Bill Gates and Paul Allen and various other plutocrats who insist that micro-nukes, fusion power, thorium reactors, sodium-cooled death-traps, or other variants of this irrepressible capitalist proclivity were the ideal vehicles for human progress?
One martial exception to such a ‘pacific’ capitalist continuation would, obviously, be a different sort of revolutionary development—in the form of the culling of the human herd via one variety of nuclear war. Another combative elimination of the MNP would flow from the utter annihilation of humankind in a more intense manifestation of a global exchange of thermonuclear holocaust.
None of these nightmarish visions would be what the Spindoctor suggests or chooses. Far from it: a socialized uptake of technological potentials that overturn private property would seem ever so much more interesting and beautiful and loving.
But such courses seem a hard row to hoe from where we are. Thus, the next five installments of this ongoing manifestation of the Modern Nuclear Project would consider these parameters for packaging a narrative.
- First would be an examination of the Manhattan Project and the U.S.’s initiation of the world’s first nuclear war, at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the immediate aftermath of those experiments in incineration.
- Second would come an investigation of military-industrial-complexes, ‘Cold-Wars,’ and arms races, including the addition of multiple new Modern Nuclear Project full members.
- Third would be an abstracting of the history of nuclear electricity generation for the three decades from roughly 1950-80.
- Fourth would be a look at the ‘woes’ that compounded the nuclear industry’s financial ‘disasters,’ in the form of TMI, Chernobyl, and Fukushima, in addition to the huge costs and ethical horrors of atomic veterans sick to death, cancer-ridden ‘energy-workers,’ the insidious death knells that have attended Depleted Uranium weaponry, and so forth, in relation to all of which the ‘resilience’ of the Modern Nuclear Project has remained unflappable.
- Finally, a look ahead, with fingers crossed on the one hand and fatalistic fiery pen at the ready on the other hand, will characterize the last chapter of the Spindoctor’s MNP series.
Of course, a premature launch sequence might cut off these best laid plans.
Otherwise, readers may certainly stay tuned. Given time and tide, each of the above works will come to pass. In each case, an initial guiding premise will remain that with which we began today.
The contemporary contextualization of what one might call Imperial Capital originated in conjunction with and has become completely dependent upon the capacity to comprehend and manipulate matter and its realities at the atomic and subatomic levels. The recognition of this dynamic has multiple important implications. For today’s purposes particularly, it means that, whatever the objective basis or truth of the Nuclear Project’s conclusions, its supposed necessity, accuracy, rationality, efficiency, and utility are primarily matters of the class interests of those who rule Imperial Capital. Moreover, it means that whatever the drawbacks, dangers, or even lethal inevitabilities of the Nuclear Project, it must remain a core aspect of the plans and needs of these rulers; as it was in the beginning, so it will continue until such a time that some other manifestation of social power takes command or calls the shots, as it were.