Book Review: The Hell Bomb

During the past half century the workers of the world have met disablement and violent death in varying forms, fighting their masters’ battles. A brief review of present-day instruments of wholesale slaughter, ever increasing in efficiency, daunts the most optimistic nature. The main features of World War I were trench warfare, bayonet attacks, “Big Berthas,” small-scale air raids, the early tanks, flame throwers, and gas attacks. By 1939 man’s weapons against man had made formidable strides; combatants and non-combatants were in the thick of battle owing to the introduction of V.2 rockets and the saturation bombing of large cities, not to mention scattered raids on rural areas. When the first atom bombs fell upon Japan in 1945 and the tale of death and destruction was unfolded before the world, the majority of people must have felt that the outside limit had been reached in honor and suffering.

“Peace” was declared and U.N.O. was born with the avowed intention of “ fighting to keep it.”

During the post-war years various small-scale wars spluttered up in spite of this august body. The “cold war” with Russia developed, down came the Nazi bogey and up went the red menace. In June, 1950, U.N.O. intervened when war broke out in Korea, and at the time of writing, prolonged peace negotiations are hopelessly in dead-lock. The world is dotted with simmering trouble spots, the Suez Canal, Persia, Burma, Malaya, Indo-China, etc., which may herald the outbreak of a global war.

In the American column of the Daily Express (28.8.51) it was reported that “America is making atom bombs on an industrial basis, 250 a year, and the production rate is expected to be soon doubled or trebled.” The new bombs are a great improvement on the original ones, that is to say, in destructive capacity.

But “progress” continues and the world is faced with the possibility of an even greater menace, the hydrogen bomb. William L. Laurence, New York, has written a book on this subject entitled “The Hell Bomb,” published in London by Hollis & Carter, 1951. The first part of the book is devoted to a detailed account of the composition and suitability of various combinations for the “H” bomb. It explains that the fusion of hydrogen into helium in the sun is the source of the energy that made life possible on earth and will continue to do so for billions of years. This is the principle upon which the “H” bomb was planned as long ago as the spring of 1945 before the first atom bomb was tried out. Nothing was done, however, till 1950, although Laurence says that during the years since Hiroshima, they (the American scientists) have “accumulated a vast body of knowledge about the reactions necessary for a successful H-bomb.” The first atom bomb exploded in New Mexico made the H-bomb a definite possibility as it generated a central temperature two and a half times that of the interior of the sun. This provided for the necessary “match” to light the H-bomb, the flame of which needs a temperature of 50,000,000 degrees centigrade, and is thus incorporated and used as the trigger for the super-explosion. A “super-duper” could be built a thousand times the power of the atomic bomb, radius of total destruction by blast would be ten miles, or a total area of 314 square miles. A “super-super-duper” (an expression the scientists use in their “lighter moments”), could be “exploded at a distance from an abandoned innocent-looking tramp ship, radius of destruction by blast 100 miles, and a destructive area of 30,000 square miles.” A bomb of a thousand-fold the energy would produce fatal burns 20 miles from the centre of the explosion.

The book has a nightmare quality, especially when we learn that the casing of the bomb can be “rigged” to form a gigantic radioactive cloud “that would kill everything in the area it blankets. Nor would it be confined to a particular area, since the winds would take it thousands of miles, carrying death to distant places in addition to the danger of a boomerang effect on the attacker.”

The author writes from the ruling American angle and the book is besprinkled with the usual excuses to justify war. The H-bomb is being built to “deter aggression and prevent its use against us or our allies.” it is “not to bring Russia to her knees but to her senses.” Production of the bomb has been hurried forward owing to “Korean aggression instigated by the Kremlin.” To renounce it would “condone the advance of the Red Army.”

When President Truman directed that work be continued on the bomb twelve eminent physicists (working in that connection) issued a statement urging that the United States should make a solemn declaration not to be the first to use even the non-rigged bomb on the ground that “it is no longer a weapon of war but a means of extermination of whole populations.” They added: “There can be only one justification for our development of the H-bomb and that is to prevent its use.”

According to Laurence, the scales are heavily balanced in favour of America as regards the vitally necessary deposits of uranium used in the manufacture of the bomb. She has access to the two richest deposits in the world, whereas Russia is working depleted mines and can only develop the H-bomb at the cost of her atom bombs. The book has one informative and interesting chapter on atomic energy. It also gives particulars (and incidentally demonstrates the futility of) of negotiations and proposals between nations from May, 1945, to January, 1950, regarding international control of atomic weapons. Following this President Truman said that the United States would proceed with the development of the hydrogen bomb. This record clearly shows the cleavage between American dominated U.N. and U.S.S.R., and the closing words of the book are indeed poor comfort: “Peace (with Russia) step by step appears to be the only alternative to possible catastrophe. One limited objective after another must become our major policy.” Nevertheless, in spite of the author’s specious arguments we are left with the prospect of war between America and Russia (together with their respective satellites).

According to the Daily Express (18-9-51) President Truman is asking for another appropriation for the H-bomb project, which brought the amount to be spent on it to over the 1,000 million dollar mark. British scientists are also being offered big money to emigrate to the U.S. (Daily Express. 21-1-52) and work for the big new American H-bomb plants.

So this mis-shapen horror child is to be born of that unhappy union between Science and Capitalism. Unlike the atom bomb which cannot be made below or above a certain size, the H-bomb can be made as small or large as the designer wants it. It could be made equal to a million tons of T.N.T. Laurence
argues that “it is no greater evil to destroy thousands of your enemy in one great flash than to destroy them by goring them with bayonets.” He ignores the point of the vastly accelerated and increased method of destruction. No doubt the H-bomb will eventually be used to “save” life by shortening a war, as the atom bombs on Japan.

When the first world war broke out, Lord Grey, the Foreign Secretary, attributed the origin to the “enormous growth of armaments in Europe, the sense of insecurity and fear caused by them; it was these that made war inevitable.” He added. “We must disarm or perish.” (The Listener. 20-12-51.)

In 1936 the late W. M. Hughes. Prime Minister of Australia, said, “Talk about peace in a world armed to the teeth is utterly futile.” (News Chronicle, 25-7-36.) His words were proved true in 1939 and could be again unless the workers of the world unite to overthrow the present form of society that hatches out monstrosities like the H-bomb. Science wedded to Socialism would be working for the good of mankind and not devilish, ingenious means of mass destruction. The workers could welcome and not fear fresh discoveries.

Help us to teach them that they have no quarrel with their fellow workers abroad, that their real enemy is in their midst, the predatory capitalist class which makes nightmares like the H-bomb possible in its pursuit of gain. An enlightened working class can usher in peace and prosperity for the whole world, for always.

F. M. Robins