Are Scientists Monsters? (Feb, 1949)

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Are Scientists Monsters?

“Lord, what has happened to people’s thinking!” writes a Mr. R. C. C. of San Francisco, telling us how “shocked” he was to read artist-writer Frank Tinsley’s article, Atomic Duster . . . Deadliest Weapon, in the December issue. Quoting Mr. Tinsley’s statement that his atomic-powered, ramjet missile (see cut) is not pure dream dust but that such a weapon is mentioned in the latest progress report of the hush-hush Nuclear Energy for Propulsion of Aircraft project, the reader asks:

“How can a man have such a perverted mind as to call a weapon designed for wholesale cold-blooded murder progress? What right has science to create and release such forces under the guise of progress and jeopardize the life of every living thing?”

Science, believes R. C. C, “stands condemned as a terrifying Frankenstein which has gotten out of hand, and society stands condemned for approving of this monster and supporting it with its taxes.

“I think that Mechanix Illustrated, as a scientific magazine, could surely find something more progressive on which to report.”

The phrase “progress report” as used by the NEPA (or any other research agency, for that matter) simply means a report of technical progression toward a scientific objective and does not imply that the objective is good or bad, moral or immoral. In this case, the NEPA’s progress report covered all phases of atomic-energy power-plant development, for peaceful as well as warlike uses.

But since Mr. C. chose to interpret the word “progress” as he did, we think his questions deserve an answer.

For a good many years people have been lambasting “science” for starting wars, slaughtering human beings, demolishing property and perpetrating uncounted crimes against the human race. The charge that science is a “terrifying Frankenstein which has gotten out of hand” is old hat by now and we won’t rebut it again—except to remind our correspondent that in Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s famous story, Frankenstein was not the monster but was the name of the fictitious physiology student who created the monster and then discovered to his horror that he couldn’t control it.

When scientists come up with a newer and more deadly weapon for killing people, can you call that progress? We think it all depends on where you sit. Was it “progress” when science handed the American infantryman the “cold-bloodedly murderous” bazooka which enabled him to destroy rather than be destroyed by Nazi tanks? Was it “progress” when science evolved the portable flamethrower with which our soldiers and Marines wiped out Jap machine gun nests instead of being wiped out themselves? Was it “progress” when our scientists developed these and dozens of other weapons with such cunning and murderous success that we won the war instead of losing it?

You’re darned right it was!

If, ten years ago, the United States of America had been armed with far deadlier weapons of war—and a whole lot more of them—than our potential enemies had, there might never have been a World War II. And even if the Nazis and Japs had risked war with us anyway, in spite of our superiority in weapons for “wholesale cold-blooded murder,” we would have suffered far fewer casualties, and won the war much more quickly than we did.

Would that have been “progress”? Ask the widows and children and parents of the 250,000 Americans who died in World War II.

We’re as much against war as any man— or magazine. We know that war is cruel and destructive and tragic. But we also know, from the bitter experience of only seven years ago, that when a peace-loving country like ours is forced into a war for which she is unprepared, war can be even more cruel and more destructive and more tragic than it normally is.

We think it’s about time the “shocked” idealists stop cursing “science” as some fiendish, Frankensteinian monster dragging us all to our doom. Science doesn’t start wars— people do. And we think that until the mil-lenium arrives, when men no longer settle their differences by killing each other, we should be grateful for having on our side scientists with the foresight and ingenuity— yes, and the patriotism—to devise, for us, the weapons of war that may some day be the only instruments protecting us from destruction by our enemies.

Until the millenium, Mechanix Illustrated will continue to tell its readers of the progress these American scientists are making. We think most of you want, and all of you ought, to know about it.

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