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4. Atomic physics: The career of an imagination
By World War II, capitalism had lost its poetic power, and the free market lay as a desiccated myth. At this juncture, science took over as the sustaining force of the liberal imagination. In the discourses of university dons, science was the model of communitas. The Republic of Science was deemed an open society, sustaining a creative tension between individual initiative and collective truth. In this more liberal world, the scientific method was substituted for the invisible hand and Popper and Polanyi became the Adam Smiths of this new regime.
This contemporary theology of science has been challenged from three perspectives. First, from within the philosophy of science itself, Thomas Kuhn has redrawn science as a totalitarian gestalt, observing heretically that science, like Stalinism, rewrites histories, in which the defeated became non-persons. Second, from political psychology (trying to come to grips with the Nazi phenomenon) came the writings of Arendt, Bettelheim and Frankl. They have shown that as rational structures the concentration camp and the research laboratory were easy bed-fellows, that Eichmann had the particularly prized quality we call scientific detachment. Frankl summed up this argument in his observation that the 'gas chambers of Auschwitz and Treblinka were ultimately prepared, not in some ministry or other in Berlin, but at the desks and lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.' 1 Third, complementing these critiques in filigreed detail, if not philosophical power, are the writings of journalists chronicling the scandal called science: the works of reporters like Daniel Greenberg, Gordon Ratray Taylor and Edward Goldsmith. To this last genre belongs the work of the Viennese journalist, Robert Jungk.
Robert Jungk is the most comprehensive historian of the nuclear regime. He represents liberal humanism at its best - secular, rational, aesthetic, Erasmian; he is knowledgeable about evil but always surprised by it. This vision stems not solely from the impeccable sociography of a liberal humanist Jew, but also from his self-view as a survivor (he barely escaped death in a Nazi concentration camp). As a survivor of one holocaust, he has become the futurologist of another, goaded by the memory of one to warn against the possible occurrence of another. Jungk sees nuclear energy as cancerous imagination, and his books are an attempt to understand its career.
His Tomorrow Is Already Here2 is a study of America as a threat to the liberal future; Brighter Than a Thousand Suns3 is the classic history of the making of the atom bomb; Children of the Ashes4 is a study of the survivors of Hiroshima, of death as vivisection contending with death as sacrifice; The Big Machine5 is a gentler essay on the research laboratory CERN, where Americanized science sought to recover its lost European civitas; and, finally, The Atom Staat,6 a statement of nuclear energy as occidental despotism.
Underlying the anecdotal richness of the books, one discerns a set of typological constructs that determines the structure of the narrative. These are the proverbial dualisms of western science: the hiatus between the secular and the sacred, sciences and humanities, truth and power, theory and praxis. Even in his moment of uniqueness, the scientist as hero remains a creature of this captive text. The theatre for the ritual enactment was inevitably the modern university. The modern university encapsulated in the classificatory organization of its faculties these dualisms, representing also a particular relationship between knowledge and power, and the various forms of knowledge as power. Jungk becomes the master story-teller in his pages on 'Once there was a university in a town called Göttingen.'
Jungk sees nuclear physics as socio-drama. He observes that each age finds a peculiar site to act out its fantasies. It becomes a magical domain that attracts the most gifted and adventurous. Atomic physics possessed such a magnetic power after World War I. By that time, the researches of Rutherford, Bohr, Planck and Einstein had ruptured the nineteenth-century world of fin de sičcle physics, altering the epistemic relations between subject and object, cause and effect, observer and observed. Physicists had begun their lovers' quarrel with the Newtonian world. It was a moment of discovery which became a moment of communitas: 'Old and young became comrades of this journey into the interior.'7 Otto Frisch recounts an anecdote about Bohr's seminar, where
A young scientist [Lev Landau] sat down on a lecture bench tired from his walk and lay down flat on his back. In that position he continued arguing and gesticulating at Niels Bohr who was bending over him, earnestly trying to convince him that he was wrong. Neither of the two appeared to be aware that this was an unusual way of conducting a scientific discussion before an audience.8
At Munich, under Sommerfield, the conversation would move to the cafes where
Marble topped tables were covered with scribbled mathematical formulas The waiters had strict instructions never to wipe the tables without special permission. For if a problem had not been solved by the time the cafe had closed for the night, further calculations were carried out the following evening. It happened fairly often that some unknown person would have the audacity to jot down the solution during the interval.9
Years later, when the mathematician John von Neumann emigrated to America, he longed for these cafes 'where one could gossip for hours over a cup of coffee'. He even thought of investing his savings in one such institution. When his American colleagues objected that the citizens of Princeton would not know what to do with a Viennese cafe, von Neumann replied, 'Don't bother about that, we'll recruit a few of our European colleagues. They will sit in my cafe every afternoon for a few days just to show you how it's done.'10
In Homeric epics, the bard would list the names of the ships sailing off to war, the very names sounding a magical incantation. Jungk's list of scientists who passed through Göttingen in those years has a similar incantation. There were the childlike George Gamow, the gentle James Franck, Dirac and Pauli, the American wunderkind, Jules Robert Oppenheimer, Lev Landau and Norbert Wiener, Houtermans and Blackett, Fermi and Rabi and Heisenberg and Weizacker. The account reads like a troubadour singing of the romance of a distant court. These were the beautiful years of nuclear physics, of science at play, of discovery and communitas. That, combined with the epistemic openness of atomic physics, made up the paradigm for the liberal imagination. One is reminded of Rilke's lines - a thing of terror conceived in a moment of beauty....
In 1949, an old scientist at the company town of Los Alamos made a confession to Jungk. His outburst serves both as an epitaph for atomic physics and as the problematique of this genre of books. The scientist exclaimed:
What an extraordinary and incomprehensible thing, my whole youth was absolutely devoted to truth, freedom and peace, yet fate has seen it fit to deposit me here where my freedom is limited, the truth that I am trying to discover is locked behind massive gates and the ultimate aim of my work has to be the construction of the most hideous weapons of war. Could fate have been more perverse?11
It is the Dostoyevskyian paradox of freedom culminating in tyranny and being resolved in a many-layered fashion. Jungk wonders repeatedly whether the subversion of science was caused by the external environment of politics or whether its perversions were inherent in, and normal to, it. What emerges is a split-level analysis - a synchronic portrait of the repertoire of roles available to the scientist during a crisis of conscience and a description of the basic changes in the structure of the nuclear regime.
Jungk is a master of what anthropologists call thick description. The multitude of anecdotes he provides coalesce into a choreography of positions available to science in relation to the violence of the atom bomb as a social fact. Within such a perspective, scientists like Einstein, Szilard, Teller, Bohr and Oppenheimer appear not as idiosyncratic figures but as permutations within a scientific code. Names become role tags listing various possibilities as the table shows.
We begin with Enrico Fermi's statement, 'Don't bother me about your conscientious scruples. After all, the thing is beautiful physics.'12 It embodies a picture of apartheid science - aloof from politics. The accompanying positions reflect various amalgams of the scientific and the political.
The atomic scientists realized the irrevocable nature of the bomb which had triggered forces science could no longer control. They sought for a Maxwell's demon to control the entropy of the resulting socio-political system. Inevitably, one of the first models offered was the social organization of science itself as a model of communitas. Archetypal of this attitude were the efforts of the Danish physicist, Niels Bohr. The great physicist believed that the scientific community was the homunculus of the future international order.
|Good science, indifferent politics||Social organization of science as a model of politics||Use of politics to further science||Political control of science|
|Scientization of politics||Scientist as political Prometheus||Retreatism without retrieval||Renunciation|
|Von Neumann||Klaus Fuchs||Einstein||Helen Smith|
|Restriction||Alternative science||Good science, bad science||Humanist Hamlet, Promethean scientist|
|Norbert Wiener||Nazi Science||Hans Bethe||Oppenheimer|
Pure science had managed to avoid the violence of war by sublimating it into agonal play. The scientific paper was a precious gift, and it circulated in joyous exchanges between the three centres at the Cavendish, Göttingen and Denmark. Every conference was a kind of potlatch, each scientist showering the others with knowledge in return for eponymous recognition.
The internationalism of science withstood the pressures of war. When the English scientist, James Chadwick, was interned in a war camp during World War I, his German teachers, Nernst and Reubens, helped him establish a small laboratory where he carried out important researches. Even during World War II, Wolfgang Getner saved his former teacher's laboratory in occupied France. When the German was appointed director of Joliot-Curie's laboratory, the two sat in a cafe and drew up an agreement on the back of a menu card that Joliot's laboratory would never be used for research devoted to war. For Bohr, scientists were never at war. He hoped to use this internationalism of science to bridge the hostility between nations, particularly between the USA and USSR. Hoping to initiate informal contacts that would facilitate an arms control agreement, he approached Roosevelt and Churchill for permission. Of the fate of the first interview, we know little; but the report of the second reveals the endemic dualism of knowledge and power. Churchill listened to the physicist for half an hour in silence and then turned around to his scientific adviser and asked, 'What is he really talking about? Politics or physics?'13
If Bohr proposed science as the model of the ideal polls, Edward Teller used politics to perpetuate science by promising to perpetuate politics. Lewis Strauss, chairman of the AEC, once remarked that there were three kinds of scientists: pure, applied and political. The last category sums up his henchman; Teller embodies the scientist as a political lobbyist playing on military and political fears to obtain larger financial sanctions for research. All he needed was the sealing-wax morality of Reader's Digest anti-communism. The father of the H-Bomb was the first of the 'sputnik scientists', scientists who played on political fears to perpetuate their own research interests.
Opposing them was a larger group of scientists who believed that it was only political organizations that could control science. These scientists, led by Szilard and Franck, participated in the democratic process, urging greater public understanding and control of science. Szilard and Franck represent the scientist as political visionary. By 1945, Szilard had already proposed international supervision of the entire product cycle of uranium. His futuristic measures included partial surrender of national sovereignty, Soviet police on American soil and vice versa. Ironically, while the scientist campaigned for the political control of science, the politician, with odd objectivity, realized that science as a text was politically indifferent. This increased the catchment area from which scientists could be recruited to further national policies. Jungk reports that despite the protests of scientists, the USA recruited former Nazi personnel who had worked on V-2 rockets to assist the armaments industry. Needless to say, Soviet Russia matched this ideological cynicism.
The indifference of science to context and ecologies makes it a powerful vector, an exponential virus. The effects are immediately obvious in the scientization of various domains, particularly modern politics through the introduction of game theory. Game theory was an innovation of von Neumann. Game theory facilitated the planning of future nuclear wars. For von Neumann's computer, 'the end of the world was only one more question to be answered by calculation'.14 Neumann's scenarios and the later ones of Herman Kahn represent science as a futurological exercise. They represent the eventual denial of the meaning of death in the scientific community, of Thanatos that lacks a supporting eschatology.
What frightens one is the poverty of language in these scenarios. The end of the world has been an important and continuous concern. Yet these impoverished scenarios lack an occult dimension, the poetry that magic and religion provide. They are numbers sans numerology, calendars sans ritual, the emptiness of clock time pretending to be history.
When Oppenheimer was defeated in the struggle to control the superbomb, he summed up his reactions thus:
I find myself in profound anguish over the fact that no ethical discussion of any weight or nobility has been addressed to the problem of atomic weapons.... What are we to think of such a civilization which has not been able to talk of the prospect of killing everyone except in prudential game theoretic terms.15
Jungk sees this as the greatest threat to the liberal imagination; and we shall elaborate it later.
Returning to the repertoire of models, we now confront a most cryptic figure in the scientist-as-politician Klaus Fuchs. Jungk's terse pages on him are fascinating and suggestive. They consist basically of two long extracts, one from an interview with the scientist's father, a Quaker pastor, and another from a long essay by a family friend, Margaret Hager.
In modern mass media as ersatz folklore, Klaus Fuchs is the scientist who betrayed a generation, the scientist who delivered the atomic secret to Russia. But in Jungk's report, the espionage agent as traitor becomes a quiet Prometheus. Fuchs' act had all the irrevocability of the Promethean enterprise. It altered human history, shattering the American monopoly of the bomb, ironically unleashing the race for the 'super' bomb. Like the Promethean gift, it was a stolen one and thus perpetually embedded in violence and guilt. Fuchs' father remarks, 'I can understand his extreme inward distress.... He said to himself: "If I don't take this step, this imminent danger to humanity will never cease." '16 If the Promethean spirit of arrogance and doubt adheres to any scientist, it is to Klaus Fuchs. Like Prometheus, Fuchs was forced to live with the strange ambivalence of the stolen gift. Like Prometheus, he was the real thief of fire; he stole fire from the men who played God. In his acceptance of punishment lies a touch of grandeur that all Oppenheimer's later crucifixion fails to capture. Yet, ironically, in a small way, the scientist as the political Prometheus is still captive to the scientific text. The scienticized world has psychiatrized the language of guilt. One of the opening lines of Fuchs' confession reads: 'My father was a parson and I had a happy childhood.'17 One is almost afraid of a link between toilet training and the atomic bomb.
Margaret Hager, a family friend, contends that by contemporary standards of morality Fuchs was guilty, and maintains that he was so that 'nations, individuals and humanity at large might learn in principle where the present social organization is taking us'.18 She believed that Fuchs' act was morally a stopgap, safeguarding the human race in its forward movement to a more creative humanity. Hager's observations tempt one to complete the Promethean myth as in Plato's Protagoras:
Then Prometheus, seeing man was defenceless, stole fire. Now men were in a position to maintain themselves from day to day. But each lived apart. When they tried to form communities they failed and quarrelled to death amongst themselves. Then Zeus, touched by pity for man, sent Hermes to make up for Prometheus' deficiency. Hermes brought to man the civic art of justice and order that men might live peacefully together on earth.19
In the final pages of The Atom Staat,20 Jungk explores such a return to Hermes.
The description, so far, has sought to emphasize the political reconstruction of science. The next list of possibilities centres round the social construction of the scientific role itself. We begin with retreatism. Einstein, and, later, Oppenheimer returned to the seclusion of Princeton to speculate on the pure sciences. Their attempt marked the return of pure science to monasticism, but the monastery was the most exclusive of scientific clubs, the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton. The Institute reflected the pursuit of pure science as truth leavened with humanism, seeking to build pathways between the 'villages of art and the villages of science'. Here the pure scientist had annulled the pretension of applied science to call itself scientific, contending that technicist science was an instrument of power. Einstein's retreatism was marked by intermittent forays into politics. He told Ervin Strauss, his scientific assistant at Princeton, 'Yes, we now have to divide up our time between politics and our equations. But to me our equations are far more important, for politics is only a matter of present concern. A mathematical equation stands for ever.'21 His name continued to be associated with a rag-bag of pacifist movements. Jungk tells the story of Lew Kowarski, Joliot-Curie's associate. The Polish émigré scientist, later to spearhead the French atomic effort, once asked a group of young American academics what they were discussing. They replied, 'Oh, we are just wondering what we are going to say in Einstein's latest letter to the President!'22
There is a touch of Francis of Assisi about Einstein; the same compassion and gentleness. The secluded Princeton institute in fact resembles the great monasteries of the Middle Ages seeking to preserve culture against encroaching barbarism. Yet, behind the music of intentions, one senses the same captive disjunctions between knowledge and power, the arts and the sciences, pure science and applied science. One is reminded of Walter Miller's Table of the nuclear age, The Canticle for Leibowitz.23
It is a tale of a strange epoch, in which a group of monks live in the wilderness preserving religion after the great cataclysm called the fallout. A young monk discovers within a sarcophagus, actually a fallout shelter, a circuit diagram and an accompanying set of words. Its meaning eluded the monks, but they treated it as sacred, preserving it in the finest calligraphy, a relic of a-great saint. Through gradual exegesis, they decoded the diagram and its accompanying text, and the story ends with the world once again engulfed in a fallout.
There are two alternatives which Jungk mentions but never explores in detail. These are the possibilities of an alternative science and the notion of renunciation. He mentions the case of one of Max Born's English students, Helen Smith, who, when she realized the possible applications of the atom bomb gave up physics for jurisprudence. The renunciation of scientific research seems remote to the progressive rhetoric of science. Science can be organized, redirected, but not renounced. Implicit in the genetic structure of science is a technological Circe who programs every 'can' to mean a 'must' - that is, whatever technological reality indicates as feasible is interpreted as morally imperative. 'Can', a neutral statement of feasibility, is raised to 'ought', a normative imperative.24 It is the can-implies-ought tenor of science that accounts for the instability of many of the solutions. Jungk hints that science as a cognitive system lacks a notion of restraint, the equivalent of an incest taboo. All it possesses is the proverbial package of dualisms. You can save the head but not the heart.
If renunciation appeared remote, even self-imposed restriction seemed problematic. But it is a pragmatic policy and deserves consideration. One recalls Heisenberg's observation that the self-imposed restriction of a dozen scientists in the 1930s would have halted the atom bomb. Ironically, it is the German scientists under Hilter - Max von Laue, Houtermans, Weizacker - who secretly decided that they would 'avoid working for Hitler's war machine or only make a presence of doing so'.25 Sadly, this is in sharp contrast with the almost paranoid frenzy with which Allied scientists went for the bomb. Jungk cites von Laue's statement, sad and sardonic, that 'no one ever invents anything that he does not really want to invent'.26
In the post-war era, a specific proposal regarding the restriction of scientific communication was made by the American mathematician, Norbert Wiener. Wiener believed that the scientist must take personal responsibility for the results of his research rather than hide under the cloak of value-neutrality. When an American armaments firm requested Wiener for one of his papers, he refused, stating 'that to disseminate information about a weapon in the present state of civilization is to make practically certain that the weapon will be used'. He added: 'If therefore I do not desire to participate in the bombing or poisoning of defenceless people - and I most certainly do not - I must take a serious responsibility as to those to whom I disclose my scientific ideas.'27 Jungk reports that Wiener's ideas were decisively repudiated by the scientific community which contended, with a sense of the mysterious, that no one could predict the final consequences of one's research. In this milieu Wiener's statement comes as breath of fresh air.
The necessity for an alternative science, that is, a science grounded in an altogether different metaphysics, was not seriously considered because of the coerciveness of immediate history. Possibly because of his faith in humanism, but also because of the spectre of Nazi science, Jungk himself dismissed the notion of such an alternative. The Nazi regime forced the dismissal of some of the finest physicists from Göttingen replacing Jews with mediocre party functionaries. Jungk's sentiments regarding an alternative science are captured in an anecdote he relates about Göttingen in the Nazi era. About a year after the great purge, the mathematician David Hilbert was seated in the place of honour next to the Nazi minister of education. The minister asked, 'Is it really true, Professor, that your institute suffered from the departure of Jews and their friends?' The scientist replied, 'Suffered? No, it didn't suffer, Herr Minister. It just doesn't exist anymore.'28 The perfidies of Nazi and Stalinist science have given the idea of an alternative science a parochial or totalitarian odour of politically distorted truth. Yet one feels today a deep need to work out the axioms of an alternative science. For example, the ethical power of the anti-vivisection movement needs to be separated from the fact that Hitler and Mussolini were advocates of such idea. Faddism and political accident must be separated from the logic of an alternative metaphysics.
Jungk is ruthlessly honest in exposing the unstable nature of many of the solutions caught in the dualistic grid of western science as a collective representation. We observe cases of official science and extracurricular humanism, of atoms for peace and atoms for war. We have cases of scientists warning the public against the dangers of atomic warfare while simultaneously pursuing a science devoted to it. This instabilitymarks the remarkable scientists' movement against the bomb. Inspired by Szilard, Franck and Einstein, the scientists' movement had all the innocence and futility of a children's crusade. Its initial successes were impressive. It was mainly because of their efforts that civilian control of atomic energy became possible. Yet it is this great movement that reveals that idealism alone is inadequate. To understand this, one has to see it through the cynical eyes of General Groves, overall military co-ordinator of the bomb. Leslie Groves is usually portrayed as a bumbling peasant among the aristocratic scientists of Los Alamos. When Groves observed the initial retreat from the company town of Los Alamos back to the freedom of the university, the shrewd peasant in him made him retort that 'his little sheep would find their way back'.29 He was right. By 1947, the scientists' crusade against the bomb had failed and they were trudging back to Los Alamos. Groves remarked later, 'What happened is what I expected, that after they had this extreme freedom for six months, their feet began to itch, and, as you know, almost everyone has come back to government research because it was just too exciting.'30 Jungk analyses this pendulum-like swing between good science and bad science through the career of Hans Bethe, an outstanding physicist.
During the war years, possibly because he was an émigré from Nazi Germany, Hans Bethe felt no qualms about atomic research. But after the bombing of Hiroshima, his attitude changed. He felt personally responsible and became a leading opponent of armaments research. He left Los Alamos, returned to the university and established at Cornell an outstanding centre for theoretical physics. Jungk's description turns biblical here. He reports that in the middle of 1949, 'That paradise of pure research was invaded by Teller, advocate of the Hell bomb. Teller intended to lead Bethe to temptation. He begged him to return to Los Alamos for one year, since his collaboration in the production of the bomb was indispensable.'31 When offers of money failed to work, Teller offered the prospect of knowledge, new insight into thermonuclear reactions and the opportunity of working with new computing machines, hitherto restricted to military uses. Bethe was flattered but hesitant. He sought the advice of his colleagues. He saw Oppenheimer at Princeton, but the scientist was ambiguous. Then, during a walk with his friends Placzek and Weisskopf, Bethe became convinced that in a nuclear war there were no victors, for 'We would lose the very thing we fought for.'32 Between 1949 and 1950, Hans Bethe still remained an extreme opponent of the bomb. He was among the twelve scientists who questioned Truman's ordinance to pursue research into the H-Bomb. These twelve condemned the act as genocidal, inimical to the basic tenets of Christianity. Yet by 1951, Hans Bethe, along with Oppenheimer, was participating enthusiastically in H-Bomb research.
Jungk asks, 'How does one explain such macabre enthusiasm which has swept away all earlier scruples and objections...?'33 Oppenheimer himself provides a clue in his later ruminations:
It is my judgement that when you see something that is technically sweet you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you had your technical success. That was the way it was with the atomic bomb. I do not think anybody opposed the making of it. There were some debates about what to do after it was made. I cannot very well imagine if we had known in late 1949 what we got to know by early 1951 the tone of our report would have been the same.34
It is this technicist imperative (what the scientist finds 'technically sweet', he finds nothing less than irresistible) that haunts Jungk.
Probably the most fascinating figure in this danse macabre is the American scientist, Jules Robert Oppenheimer. Jungk captures the idiosyncratic uniqueness of the man and yet reveals his archetypal qualities as scientist. Even in the epic world of Göttingen, Oppenheimer acquired a legendary reputation as the wunderkind, 'often improvising on the spur of the moment entire dissertations so that hardly anyone else had a chance to speak'.35 But the prodigy of the Göttingen, era realized that the Muses had eluded him in the later years. While his contemporaries - Pauli, Dirac, Heisenberg - had enormous contributions behind them, Oppenheimer was still not associated with any major discovery. It was at this stage that he was asked to co-ordinate the construction of the atom bomb. As a scientific orchestrator, Oppenheimer was a genius, truly the Toscannini of the atom bomb, a theoretical physicist with experimental brilliance, a polymath who could discuss Proust, Dante, the Gita and pure physics with equal verve, a fox among the scientific hedgehogs. Jungk repeatedly cites the zeal with which Oppenheimer pursued his study of the Gita or his explorations into literature. He recounts that Oppie joined the University of California at Berkeley because of a few old books, the enchanting collection of sixteenth and seventeenth-century French poetry in the library. In his preface, Jungk writes that if Shakespeare had to write Hamlet today, he would have made Hamlet not a prince but an atomic scientist.
What Jungk reveals, however, is that it is a humanist Hamlet struggling against a scientific Prometheus. In fact, it is Oppenheimer who reveals the weaknesses of humanism in controlling science. When the bomb exploded, this was the man who exclaimed that the scientist had known sin. Yet this is the same man whose role in the bombing of Hiroshima was described as providing a technical answer to a technical question, and who participated enthusiastically in the final plans for the H-Bomb. One has to confront the eerie power of the man. He is both innocence and evil, the idiot and the possessed, scientific sophisticate and political innocent, emerging eventually as the most Dostoyevskyian figure in modern science. The other roles mentioned become mere refractions of this archetypical portrait of the scientist as hero. Jungk unravels the structure of this modern myth brilliantly. His interpretation is reminiscent of Akiro Kurosawa's film 'Rashomon' where the same event is seen through three separate viewpoints. Similarly we have three separate variants of the Oppenheimer legend: Oppenheimer as the scientist crucified, followed by Oppenheimer as a self-confessed Judas. But the obviousness of the two stories screens the other equally real picture of Oppenheimer as Pontius Pilate. We begin with the first two versions.
The post-war years saw the heightening of what Durkheim might have termed Oppenheimer's 'mana'. Unlike many other scientists who had retreated to their specialist warrens, Oppenheimer remained a public figure, a charismatic presence translating the esoteric adventures of science to the public at large. Aristocratically distant and yet strangely populist, to the common man he was the scientist as hero. But to the paranoid world of militarist America, he was the hesitant egghead, dithering over the H-Bomb, a rootless scientific intellectual and therefore a security risk. Adding drama to this was the struggle between the two scientists, Teller and Oppenheimer. The man who orchestrated the atom bomb was hesitant about the H-Bomb, while Teller was its most frenzied advocate. The militarist pressure groups manoeuvred an investigation into Oppenheimer's activities, and he was deprived of his security clearance. Oppenheimer became a scientific Dreyfus, stripped of his epaulettes by the country he served. The humiliation of Oppenheimer stirred the public who saw in him the conscience-stricken symbol of the atomic age. 'Even before the proceedings had started, the halo of martyrdom was already bestowed on him.'36
The picture of the scientist as political martyr is then juxtaposed to the picture of the scientist as Judas, particularly because of Oppenheimer's self-confessed betrayal of Haakon Chevalier. In the mid-thirties, Oppenheimer had an elaborate but erratic network of leftist contacts, which he later abandoned. To the American intelligence this fact, however, made him politically suspect. Oppenheimer had been appointed director of Los Alamos despite their objections. Refusing to relent, they kept him under perpetual scrutiny. Succumbing to their hound-like persistence to identify his alleged communist contacts, Oppenheimer invented a colourful story of Chevalier as a communist agent.
Haakon Chevalier, a lecturer in Romance languages in California, was a close friend of Oppenheimer. The two friends spent hours discussing Anatole France and Proust and trying recipes in Oppenheimer's kitchen. Chevalier never realized that Oppenheimer had implicated him. He was subjected to continuous harassment and eventually forced to leave for Paris, where he worked as a translator. Unaware that Oppenheimer was the source of his troubles, Chevalier wrote to him to help him obtain a security clearance. The two friends met in France in 1953, when Chevalier recounted his problem again. Even then Oppie never confessed that he had betrayed Chevalier. On taking leave, he embraced him and his wife. Haakon Chevalier was to shudder later at the recollection of this parting gesture.
The dramatic power of the two variants cannot be denied.
The trial of Oppenheimer had all the stuff of drama, anguish, doubt and ambiguity of a conscience-stricken scientist. The Chevalier affair adds to it. It emphasizes the human frailty of the man in power. The composite picture is that of Oppenheimer as Dreyfus-Galileo, ersatz images that emphasize vulnerability to disguise power. But the subversive power of modern science as myth lay precisely in this. It transformed the vivisector into the sacrificial lamb. As subtle a historian as George de Santillana wrote an essay exploring the similarities between the Oppenheimer and Galileo trials. Even the struggle of the survivors of Hiroshima lacks the mythical power, the poetry of the trial and exile of Jules Robert Oppenheimer. The FBI once convicted the gangster Al Capone for an income tax evasion, an irony which escaped no one. But history offers a greater irony: Oppenheimer was convicted falsely and thus enabled to escape a more serious charge. A petty conviction covered the trial of a war criminal. It is this that we must confront, a seeming innocence that hides genocidal intent. The portrait of Oppenheimer as Judas Iscariot obscures the element that is missing in the triptych: Oppenheimer as Pilate washing his hands of genocide.
We are not merely talking of Oppenheimer's fascination with power, his need to cling to it. Many of the younger scientists were disappointed that he distanced himself from the scientists' crusade against the bomb, with his truth-by-expert-committee approach. They felt that the scientist who claimed he had known sin had made no suggestion as to how he might show remorse in a practical form. We are not even considering his pendulum swings between official science and extracurricular anguish. What makes him Pilate is the eerie inocence of pure science washing its hands of genocidal guilt.
Talking to a French diplomat after the war regarding the prospect of establishing a supra-national European laboratory, Oppenheimer emphasized that the proposed laboratory should be devoted, not to the development of atomic energy and nuclear engineering, but to pure, application-free, fundamental research. Oppenheimer added in the course of the conversation that 'the bomb was in fact no more than a gadget. Now we should be allowed to return to deeper problems.'37 The finality and naively of this statement is amazing. It is as if he had dismissed the applied scientist, the Faust, in him as an aberration. One is reminded of the equally atrocious statement cited by that hagiographer of science, C. P. Snow, that 'when the bomb exploded the scientists were sad and the technicians happy'. This kind of statement can disguise two falsehoods. First, it ignores the technicist imperative within science; and, second, it ignores the scientists' responsibility for the bombing of Hiroshima.
Much is made of the feud between Teller and Oppenheimer. But this struggle only disguises the vivisectional unity of the two opponents. Teller appears as a one-dimensional Oppenheimer, the scientist who had stopped reading his humanist classics. Yet, despite such differences they merge into one another. Both co-operated in the making of the H-Bomb. Oppenheimer does not lose to Teller, he becomes Teller. Behind the occasional humanist anguish is the modern death mask. Oppenheimer is no longer the scientist who has known sin. One senses no pain in him. It is as if he had computed the atomic weight of a new element and moved on. There is no atonement. He encounters guilt in the manner one measures temperature. In Oppenheimer's career we observe not the resolution of moral anguish, but the bureaucratic closure, not heroic denouement but the closing of a file. The scientist as hero collapses into the organization man. He who had read Dante turns out eventually to be a clerk. He who boasted of having read the Gita remains only a fragile humanist. This eventually raises an important question: Can humanism control science, deepen it? Or is it only a quarrelsome sibling, competitive but eventually complementary to it? Jungk attempts to answer the question through a diachronic portrait of the nuclear regime.
The writings of Jungk possess a mimetic quality in the manner in which each work mirrors the epoch described. Brighter Than a Thousand Suns, a study of the physicist as the fallen hero, has an epic quality about it. Science in this era possessed hints of the medievalism of the chivalric knighthood and craft guilds. Tomorrow Is Already Here, a portrait of industrialized science, has all the terseness and immediacy of a newspaper report. It is almost a subversive mimicking of the manufacture of information in a mass society. The difference in style between the two books provides a clue to Jungk's perception of the changes in the nature of the nuclear regime.
Jungk discerns three major changes in the movement from one epoch to another: the degeneration of science as a play form; the shift within science from epistemic uncertainty to vivisectionist hegemony; and the displacement of science from the university to the company town. All three are symptomatic of the transformation of western liberalism into occidental despotism, heralding the coming of the atom staat.
For Jungk, as for many western intellectuals, the university, rather than the market-place, was the seedbed of the liberal imagination. Unlike the market which eroded the fraternity of the medieval aristocracy and craft guilds, the university employed heraldry, chivalric codes and craft rituals to create and maintain the fraternity of a modern democratic knowledge system. While both market and university emphasized formal freedom, the latter was successful in embedding it in a framework of communitas. Robert Jungk is fascinated by the ludic quality of the modern university, which was the domain of play. The early years of nuclear physics were the beautiful years precisely because they were the playful years. Jungk does not formally employ the notion of play, but it is implicitly present in his ethnography of physics at Göttingen
The category of play38 seeks to understand a cultural form that transcends the more mundane sociological dichotomy between work and leisure, between the serious and the non-serious. Baldly stated, play is any rule-bound voluntary activity, conducted within strict but arbitrarily defined limits, disinterestedly pursued without any specific intention of material gain. As an aesthetic form, it embodies a search for order, an activity deemed valid in and of itself. Jungk perceives pure science as a distinct play form. The paradigms of pure science embody a search for order, and as order is a thing of beauty, we have the affinity of pure science to aesthetics. Pure science is theoria which justifies itself in terms of poesis rather than praxis in that the performance of the scientific act is legitimate in itself. From this we derive the notion of science for science's sake. Rules become important in this context, and any deviation, such as the search for utility, threatens the very existence of the play form. It was this sense of play that made Rutherford insist that his work on the atom was useless, for his was a search for order and beauty, not utility. More particularly, it reveals the understanding that pure science as play must be conducted within strict limits, that play is always enacted within a bounded space that must not be ruptured.
One is reminded of Jungk's story of David Hilbert. While addressing a Göttingen meeting, the crusty mathematician remarked, 'One hears a lot of talk about the hostility between scientists and engineers. I don't believe in any such thing. In fact, I am quite certain that there is no such thing. There can't possibly be anything in it because neither side has anything to do with each other.'39 What appears as the arrogance of the pure scientist embodies a deeper grain of wisdom. The osmotic distinction between pure science and applied science is the only system of in-built control which prevents the erosion of pure science as a play form. Pure science as play also embodies a notion of seriousness. Jungk narrates a story about Rutherford. Failing to attend a British defence meeting on enemy submarines during World War I, the New Zealander was censured for his absence, but retorted without embarrassment, 'Talk softly please. I have been engaged in experiments which suggest that the atom can be artificially disintegrated. If it is true, it is of far greater importance than war.'40 Huizinga notes that play can rise to the heights of beauty and sublimity which leaves seriousness far beneath: 'The inferiority of play is continually offset by the superiority of its seriousness.'41 This statement embodies the cosmic playfulness of physicists like Bohr, Rutherford, Einstein and Pauli in the beautiful years. Yet, paradoxically, the seeds of the atom staat lay in the eerie innocence of this ludic community.
Pure science as play was an aesthetic form sans ethics. In emphasizing the dangers of pursuing science for science's sake, Jungk recounts his encounter with a mathematician he met on his last visit to Los Alamos. 'His face was wreathed in a smile of almost angelic beauty. He looked as if his gaze was fixed upon the world of harmonies. But in fact he told me later he was thinking about a mathematical problem whose solution was essential to the construction of a new type of H-Bomb.'42 Jungk adds that this scientist never bothered to watch the trial explosion of any of the bombs he had helped produce. To him 'research for nuclear weapons was just pure mathematics untrammelled by blood, poison or destruction.'43
Play remains play because of its sense of limits, a realization that it embodies an 'as-if' world played out within strictly defined limits. It is the degeneration of the play form contaminating the serious that horrifies Jungk. This occurs in two ways. First, science as play is taken over-seriously and, like other play forms such as modern sport, becomes overorganized. As science gets managerialized, it is bereft of its playfulness, consequently losing its celebration of artlessness, gladness and detachment.44 The second process involves the contamination of other domains by degenerate forms of pure science. Jungk cites the example of the entry of game theory into such serious domains as death, work, sexuality and politics. Game theory in these domains represents the degeneration of the ludic into the ludicrous:
These methods were spawned in the weapons laboratories of World War II to be tested on major military objectives. 'Thinking about the unthinkable' (as Herman Kahn put it) became the fashion and researchers staged elaborate games that took into account the destruction of entire nations and continents. This gave rise to an entire generation of scientifically trained gamblers oblivious of the inhuman implication of their models. At first only confined to military sciences, their methods have entered the civilian sector and found credence and application in governmental planning at all levels, including the decision making of the industrial complex.45
What impresses one is the reduction of the polysemic worlds of life and death to the formal language of the game. It is the poverty of language that astonishes one. Even death is no longer a cosmic phenomenon, but only an option to be weighed. Neither genocide nor nuclear destruction seems to be grasped through the wisdom of ordinary language. In the world of these new scientists, there is no cosmic rupture, only another managerial game where guilt, death, sin, all get decoded into the selfsame uniform flow to be controlled as game or sport. Not that science as play is not conducted in formal language, but at least it recognizes limits, realizing the polyvocality of ordinary life. Science as a puerile game attempts to reduce the world to a series of formal languages. The destruction of language anticipates the hegemonization of the atom staat.
It is the absence of an effective system of in-built controls in science that worries Jungk: that science has no innate sense of the sacred, of limits, of what it must not touch or must touch gently. Jungk reiterated that within the structure of the university community, the world of science finds its only checks in the humanities. One is fascinated by the ethnographic intensity with which Jungk details the various leading scientists who read poetry or philosophy. He emphasizes that Oppenheimer read Proust and Dante, that Teller wrote poems in secret and even translated the Hungarian works of Ady, that Heisenberg read Trollope. The humanist in him insists that he who has read Goethe cannot be a Faust. But the journalist in him catalogues the technicist imperative of science, the inability of the humanities to recode the scientific text in a more ethical direction. Jungk suggests that what made science impervious to the humanistic idiom was the vivisectional paradigm encoded into it. While the degeneration of pure science as play involves an alteration in form, vivisection relates to the very content of science.
Between the Descartian machine and the vivisectional code there lies a vital difference. The Descartian machine was not half as hegemonic as the latter. The ritualistic segregation of mind and body did recognize limits, allow for spaces which were non-, un-, pre-, scientific. It allowed for differences even if it hierarchized them. Vivisection, however, is indifferent. Everything is mechanical, so there are only more-or-less efficient machines. The laboratory, far from defining the limits of play, becomes the paradigm for the managerialization of the world. It is this that Jungk captures in Tomorrow Is Already Here.46 Science, to the liberal mind, represented knowledge contra power. But vivisection conflated the two by emphasizing the power of science as hegemonic truth. The politicization of science has unleashed the hegemonic power endemic in science.
The epistemic uncertainty of early quantum physics now appears an aberration. For a brief period it had returned the subject back to physics. But the machine was eventually to reassert its hegemony. The career of this cycle can be compared to equivalent phases in the other paradigm of modern science, management science. Scientific management under Winslow Taylor represented the Newtonian predictability of the object. The Human Relations School was temporarily overwhelmed to discover the importance of man as subject in the problem of productivity. Human relations, like quantum physics, occasionally celebrated uncertainty or free will of the subject. But the eventual response was to eliminate man, or to incorporate a less fallible man back into the mechanical code. Science built into its experimental procedure a more formalized vivisectional code, for it realized that that which it could not predict it could not control. Vivisection provides such a guarantee by scientizing the world.
For Jungk, the history of the body becomes the crucial variable for liberalism, so that the fate of the body as metaphor embodies the fate of a civilization. To the liberal mind, the body determined the boundary of the self and the other, and the relation between public and private domains. Liberalism believed in technological progress where the machine was an instrument of man, an extension of his body. The iconography of liberal homo faber, while it lacked an occult sensibility, portrayed the tool as an extension or projection of human sensibility. The body was the grid for the technological imagination, the hand and foot a measure in more than one sense. Vivisectionist technology introduced an inversion into iconography. While man hegemonized nature by mechanizing it, he himself entered into a perpetual foetal relation with the machine.
Jungk cites the picture of a modern pilot umbilically linked to a complex circuit of machines. Every act of technological control necessitates a further foetalization of man. The picture that comes to mind is Bruno Bettelheim's report on an autistic child, Joey, who insisted he was operated by machines. He had plugged himself to an elaborate support system made of radio tubes, light bulbs and breathing machines. During meals, he plugged himself into a socket to facilitate digestion. To Joey, the fact of having a body was insufferable. Security derived from being a machine, because if the parts were bad, they could be replaced by more effective spares. Joey treated his mind and body as mechanical parts to be discarded or replaced if they functioned badly. 'If he spilled something, he would remark, "I must break my arm, it does not work right." '47 Bettelheim cites Joey's case history as a cautionary tale of man losing his perspective as homo faber. Joey's attitude to machine is rorschach, reflecting the anxieties of the modern era. For Jungk, the logic of vivisection - that is, the indifference to the body as subject of the experiment - culminates in the science's attitude to the survivors of Hiroshima.
Jungk's Children of the Ashes48 has to be contrasted with another major work on the same survivors, Robert Jay Lifton's Death in life.49 The Yale psychiatrist published his study, far more comprehensive in detail, almost a decade later. Lifton studies the survivors within the matrix of relations between occupier and occupied, American and Japanese, white and yellow races. He locates the perception of survivor as patient primarily in his chapter entitled 'On Perceiving America'. He embeds the survivors' perception of being 'guinea pig material' as part of the trauma of race and defeat. As a result the language and content of science as objectification eludes him. Jungk's ethnology is far more sensitive to the nuances of the dualisms between research and healing, and to the notion of the patient as Taylorized spectacle submitting to the indifference of the clinical gaze. The events described in the book centre round the establishment of a clinic by the Atom Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC).
The bombing of Hiroshima brought, not a feeling of atonement, but a sense of opportunity. American scientists realized in the studies of radiation sickness the full possibilities of obtaining a Taylorized index of symptoms. Impressed by the pilot plant studies on radiation, the American defence secretary, James Forrestal, wrote a letter to Truman emphasizing 'this unique opportunity for learning the medical and biological effects of radiation', which 'would be of the highest significance for the US'.50 As a result ABCC inaugurated a special clinic for the study of radiation damage.
At first sight, the clinic was something out of a fairy-tale world. 'A patient would be examined for a whole day by the most outstanding specialists and in the most perfectly hygienic conditions. Indeed, the patient was even driven home and deposited at his own door without extra charge.... For many of them - particularly women and children - this was often their first automobile ride.'51 Closer scrutiny revealed that the fairy-tale clinic was a Taylorized scientific boudoir. What fascinates Jungk is the objectification endemic to the scientific act. In the case of Hiroshima it was further compounded by cultural dissonance. But Jungk is careful to differentiate between the two.
The atomic clinic was built at Hijayama Hill, a sanctified military cemetery, despite the protests of the mayor. The ultramodern style and elegance were a source of confusion to Japanese patients. Many skidded on their wooden sandals upon the polished floor. Signs on all doors were in English, and so patients were incapable of finding their way about. 'Many women would not dare go there without having first visited their hairdresser. Poor people such as casual labourers borrowed clothes from their neighbours in order to make a decent appearance.'52 The Japanese were accustomed to being examined by a single doctor, but in the clinic they were treated like something on a factory belt, passed on from one specialist to another. 'The doctors would take specimens of their blood, semen, bone marrow, skin tissues, the patients would be thumped, have lights shone in their eyes, be photographed and pumped full of serum and none of the specialists ever explained why or with what purpose all this was done to them.'53
The scientific attitude added to this impersonality. The researchers imagined that, in a place where patients could get no medical treatment from their own doctors, they could simply examine 'interesting cases', and after establishing the fact that thousands of such cases were suffering from this or that agony, send them home without treatment or even hope of treatment. Jungk remarks, 'The atomic clinic became a greater source of hatred than the bomb itself.'54 While many of the citizens could probably explain away the horror of the bombing itself as an act in war, they regarded the purely scientific activities of the ABCC as inexcusable.
Jungk's only comment on the cultural dissonance is his observation that Albert Schweitzer was often criticized for keeping his forest clinic in a primitive state, for refusing to equip it with the most modern technical devices. The experience of the ABCC with all its ultra-modern equipment shows that Schweitzer was right when he maintained that those who bring help to others must show by their behaviour that they approach in humility those they would help. But beyond the culture lag, what worries Jungk is the disjunction between research and healing:
If a patient were ever to ask the scientist at the clinic, 'What do you advise, doctor? What can I do to get well again?', the doctor's reply was always the same, 'This is not a therapeutic establishment but a scientific institute founded in collaboration with the Japanese health authorities with the exclusive object of carrying out research.'55
Why was it that almost no scientist at the Hijayama clinic offered to heal or help a patient?
The disjunction between research and healing has been explained at two levels. First, it is explained away as a political directive. Jungk remarks, 'American official policy from the very beginning up to the present day, has been adamant on one point. Any special treatment for the atom-bombed cities, any special treatment for bombed persons, has been absolutely denied.'56 To do so would have been to admit to a war crime. 'In some respects the radioactive rays disseminated by the bomb could practically be equated with the effects of poison gas.'57 It could thus be read as a contravention of international law and as a war crime. It was this mark of Cain that America refused to bear.
At the second level of explanation, Jungk suggests that the official dismissal of atonement compounds the vivisectionist paradigm of science. Modern science saw within radiation sickness a territory where symptoms could be studied in a Taylorized form. Jungk admits that some individual scientists objected and personally attempted to treat patients. Such efforts were treated as emotional outbursts, and some of the doctors were forced to submit to psychiatric care. Even the 'human relations' techniques only mask the subservience to the Taylorized world. When public hostility to ABCC became intensive, some scientists recommended the treatment of patients. But their letters ran as follows: 'With an increased effort to study more patients more thoroughly, and judiciously offer them therapy, there should be a marked increase in the rapport between the families and the ABCC. Then in the eventuality of death, it would be more possible to have worthwhile autopsies.' The clinic at Hijayama Hill did maintain a ten-bed diagnostic ward but it only dealt with interesting cases. 'It was a corpse production factory, to facilitate better experimentation.'58 The industrial attitude to death is awesome. In vivisection, death and disease are merely obsolescence to be studied experimentally. The vivisectionist act denies the pain of the survivor in the search for meaning and thus precludes the possibility of sacrifice.
Jungk's sense of the tragedy of liberalism is like that of Greek tragedy. He argues that the power of liberalism encodes a fatal flaw. He refers in particular to the liberal commitment to technological progress. But instead of resorting to the metaphors of Greek tragedy, Jungk explains it in the current archetypes of the technological imagination. For Jungk it is America as concept, as utopia, that has dominated current mythology. As a secular myth it has exercised a powerful fascination. America is the new world, the country without a past; it is the frontier, the land of endless opportunity; it is the future telescoped into the present. It is the epitome of Western technological civilization as the perpetual-motion machine. In Tomorrow Is Already Here,59 he explores the contradictions between liberal democracy and the liberal commitment to technological progress. Had Alexis Tocqueville become a science correspondent, he would have written such a book.
Jungk differentiates between the two variants of the myth of America as a frontier. The first is the classic myth of the old frontier glorified in the writings of Frederick Jackson Turner; the second is the myth of science encoded as a bureaucratic text in science-policy documents such as in Vannevar Bush's Science, the Last Frontier. Both frontier myths serve to differentiate Europe and America as cultural categories.
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