1950s >> 1957 >> no-636-august-1957

The “Clean” H-Bomb

But for the sobering thought that the world is governed by these dangerous clowns, the antics of the politicians over the H-Bomb would be riotously funny. Solemnly swearing that they, one and all, had no slightest intention of going to war, America, Russia and then Britain perfected the atom bomb and the H-Bomb to deter the other side from starting anything. At the same time they all assured us that if they actually started an H-Bomb war it would destroy the human race by the combined effects of the explosive destruction and by the fall-out, which would so poison the atmosphere as to make life impossible; which, if true, meant that, short of an all-round morbid desire to destroy themselves along with everybody else, the politicians dared not use their deterrent. One group might gloat over the prospect that “six big bombs . . .  would be enough to destroy central government in the Soviet empire,” but it could hardly escape their notice that another dozen lobbed off in the opposite direction would simultaneously put paid to government in Europe and U.S.A.

Nice old-fashioned war
The perfection of nuclear weapons had, of course, already inspired a frothy campaign among allegedly wiser rival politicians, churchmen and “peace-lovers” calling upon the governments to abandon these caddish devices altogether so that war could be conducted with old-type, friendlier, conventional weapons. This started a new controversy with Bishops on both sides. Some argued that the greater evil is “atheistic Communism,” and to fight it we must be prepared to use the Bomb; others said we must forswear the Devil’s weapons no matter what the consequences, because to use them might destroy the human race. (It was only a rank and file Christian who intervened to point out that as Christians value the spirit not the body, destroying the bodies of the human race is not important).
Stop the tests and keep the bombs
Then it was realised that even without the use of bombs in war, the peacetime testing of bombs had its horrors too. So the campaign was switched to a demand that the tests be suspended. Mr. Hugh Gaitskell, leader of the Labour Party, endorsed this fatuity in a speech at the Vienna conference of the “Socialist International” : –

   “Mr. Hugh Gaitskell today called for a separate agreement, not tied to a general disarmament pact, to stop atomic and hydrogen bomb explosions. It would be wrongs he told the Socialist International here, to make the suspension of tests dependent on a ban on nuclear weapons, although Socialists wanted this too.” (Daily Herald 4/7/57).

The “Clean” Bomb
But in the meantime American scientific experts claimed that they were on the way to producing “clean” bombs without serious fall-out (hotly disputed, of course, by other scientific experts). This highly gratifying achievement (about as consoling as “to tell a man in danger of having his head chopped off that the axe will at least be clean,” said the Daily Telegraph, 6/7/57) was marred by the further disclosure from the first group of scientific experts “that a continuation of tests is essential not only to the perfection of a “clean bomb,” but to the maximum benefits to be derived from the peaceful uses of atomic energy.” (Times, 27/6/57.)
So we are asked to carry on progress towards destroying the human race because in the long run (if there is any long run) there may be benefits from the peaceful use of atomic energy; provided, of course, that there isn’t another world war with conventional weapons, which would more than swallow up all conceivable economic gains from atomic energy.
But to make it more farcical the Washington Post reached the logical conclusion that as it is to the advantage of all people everywhere that they should not be injured or destroyed by “dirty bombs” in another war, it is equally to their advantage that the enemy should wage such a war with “clean” bombs; and that consequently America, having the know-how about the production of clean bombs, should hand over information about their production to Russia and any other country. (Manchester Guardian, 9/7/57.) (And to think that there are a number of spies and traitors languishing in jails for doing this sort of thing a little prematurely!)
But do not be hasty in counting your blessings
But before we rejoice about the great superiority of the “clean” over the “dirty” bomb, we must pause to consider another disquieting view; voiced by the Editor of the Daily Telegraph (6/7/57). He fears that with the removal of the threat of universal destruction in a dirty bomb war, the Powers are more likely than before to go to war with clean bombs. (After America had set them all up with clean bombs, as the Washington Post believes). The Telegraph writes:—

   “What are the likely strategic and political implications of this new development? First, that war might once again become a conceivable instrument of policy. A war fought with clean H-bombs would do a vast amount of damage, but it would not destroy the human race, whereas the radiation effects from a similar number of dirty bombs very possibly would. Clearly, therefore, if war. must come, it will be of inestimable advantage that it should be fought with clean bombs. But the whole of Western policy to-day is based on the deterrent value of the dirty bomb. For this deterrent purpose the dirty bomb would seem far more effective than the clean. It is precisely because the dirty bomb is so uncontrollable—as likely to poison the country that used it as the country against whom it was used—that no one to-day is likely to risk thermo-nuclear war. Is it not possible that the clean bomb, by making war less terrible, will make it more likely?”

Now the “Fall-out” without The Bang
But that is not all, for America claims to have a new type, radiological weapon, which emits the radiation without the blast and which would dispose of the people in factories and industrial areas without destroying the property.

   “For some time consideration has been given to the possibility of using radio-active material deliberately as an offensive weapon in what is called radiological warfare. The basic idea is that radio-active contamination of areas, factories, or equipment would make their use either impossible or very hazardous without accompanying material destruction.” (Manchester Guardian, 13/7/57.)

It is assumed in American official circles that the Russians already have this too.
Futile opponents of war
When, half a century ago, the S.P.G.B. asked the workers to recognise that capitalism causes war through its economic rivalries in the lust for profits and markets, and only the abolition of capitalism and establishment of Socialism will abolish war, this was met with the argument that as Socialism could not be achieved in a short time, it was better to concentrate on immediate, smaller social issues, and on the abolition of war. Well, not quite the abolition of war (because these Labour Party opponents of the S.P.G.B. had to admit that there was force in the contention that war would continue as long as capitalism), but at least its amelioration: let us try, they said, to abolish the more dreadful weapons, and generally humanise it. Let us support the Red Cross abolish the blockade and all attacks on civilians and see that prisoners of war are well treated—this was their line, and what has come of it? Every decade has seen new and more terrible weapons, and as each came along the same pathetically futile campaign has been organised to ban it—submarines, bombing ‘planes, tanks, poison gas, incendiary bombs, germ warfare, napalm, atom bombs, H-Bombs—and all along the only real changes in weapons have been dictated not by the organised campaigns, but on purely technical and military considerations.
Decline and Fall
How far the Labour Party has declined from its illogical but at least well-intentioned position of the past is shown by the pitiful demand for stopping H-Bomb tests. (Incidentally it was the Labour Government that built the British atom bomb and started the H-Bomb and launched the £1,500 million a year rearmament of 1951). At the Vienna Conference in July Mr. Gaitskell remarked: “Before 1914 the Socialist International was a pacifist, revolutionary organisation. That is neither relevant nor practical today.” (Reynolds News, 7/6/57.)
His view of the International as it was in 1914 is certainly not warranted, except that the Labour Party’s own past must seem “pacifist” and “revolutionary” by comparison with recent and present policies of the Gaitskells and Bevans. In Mr. Gaitskell’s eyes not being pacifist or revolutionary is commendable and practical. Yet if we apply the test of being practical to the Labour Party’s belief of 50 years ago that war should be tackled as a first step and Socialism left for the distant future, what has it achieved? The gain has been nothing at all the world is even more of a savage jungle of rival capitalist, states than it was then. They put the thing in the wrong order. You cannot humanise war anyway, and you cannot abolish it except by coming back to the Socialist insistence on getting rid of the cause of war—capitalism. The only way to stop war—to get Socialism.
Edgar Hardcastle