The Atom Essay

The Atom Essay-83
It has been rather hastily assumed that this means bigger and bloodier wars, and perhaps an actual end to the machine civilisation.But suppose – and really this the likeliest development – that the surviving great nations make a tacit agreement never to use the atomic bomb against one another?

It has been rather hastily assumed that this means bigger and bloodier wars, and perhaps an actual end to the machine civilisation.But suppose – and really this the likeliest development – that the surviving great nations make a tacit agreement never to use the atomic bomb against one another?

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This trend has been obvious for years, and was pointed out by a few observers even before 1914.

The one thing that might reverse it is the discovery of a weapon – or, to put it more broadly, of a method of fighting – not dependent on huge concentrations of industrial plant.

We were once told that the aeroplane had “abolished frontiers”; actually it is only since the aeroplane became a serious weapon that frontiers have become definitely impassable.

The radio was once expected to promote international understanding and co-operation; it has turned out to be a means of insulating one nation from another. Wells and others have been warning us that man is in danger of destroying himself with his own weapons, leaving the ants or some other gregarious species to take over.

Considering how likely we all are to be blown to pieces by it within the next five years, the atomic bomb has not roused so much discussion as might have been expected.

The newspapers have published numerous diagrams, not very helpful to the average man, of protons and neutrons doing their stuff, and there has been much reiteration of the useless statement that the bomb “ought to be put under international control.” But curiously little has been said, at any rate in print, about the question that is of most urgent interest to all of us, namely: “How difficult are these things to manufacture?We may be heading not for general breakdown but for an epoch as horribly stable as the slave empires of antiquity.James Burnham’s theory has been much discussed, but few people have yet considered its ideological implications – that is, the kind of world-view, the kind of beliefs, and the social structure that would probably prevail in a state which was at once unconquerable and in a permanent state of “cold war” with its neighbours.” Such information as we – that is, the big public – possess on this subject has come to us in a rather indirect way, apropos of President Truman’s decision not to hand over certain secrets to the USSR.Some months ago, when the bomb was still only a rumour, there was a widespread belief that splitting the atom was merely a problem for the physicists, and that when they had solved it a new and devastating weapon would be within reach of almost everybody.The haggling as to where the frontiers are to be drawn is still going on, and will continue for some years, and the third of the three super-states – East Asia, dominated by China – is still potential rather than actual.But the general drift is unmistakable, and every scientific discovery of recent years has accelerated it.After the invention of the flintlock, and before the invention of the percussion cap, the musket was a fairly efficient weapon, and at the same time so simple that it could be produced almost anywhere.Its combination of qualities made possible the success of the American and French revolutions, and made a popular insurrection a more serious business than it could be in our own day. This was a comparatively complex thing, but it could still be produced in scores of countries, and it was cheap, easily smuggled and economical of ammunition.For Burnham’s geographical picture of the new world has turned out to be correct.More and more obviously the surface of the earth is being parcelled off into three great empires, each self-contained and cut off from contact with the outer world, and each ruled, under one disguise or another, by a self-elected oligarchy.

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