1960s >> 1968 >> no-764-april-1968

The Bomb

The Second World War was nearing its end when in August 1945 atom bombs were exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, thus adding further horrors to the crimes of capitalism at war. Like other wars it had supposedly been fought for noble ideals. Rivalries leading to war did not disappear of course and this weapon has taken its place along with more destructive variations in the armouries of the world. Strategy and international diplomacy have been revamped to take them into account.

Much of the development of scientific theory leading up to the atom bomb was done in the period between the two world wars, by scientists from many lands. Classical physicists had held that matter and energy were totally distinct and could neither be created nor destroyed. Then Einstein evolved the theory that one could be destroyed and converted into the other. This was summarised in his equation E=mc², where E is energy, m is mass, c is the velocity of light. Hence the energy released by the destruction of small quantities of matter is very large. Nuclear weapons are practical demonstration of the truth of this proposition. As long as scientific investigation into the nature of matter and the atom showed no prospect of profitable applications, capitalists and their governments were miserly in giving their support. The atom was first split in 1919 and work progressed, until by the late 1930’s it became evident to scientists that applications were possible. Once war was declared they were concerned about their findings being put to military use. In America these experts, some of whom had fled from Nazi tyranny, petitioned the President, demanding a weapons research programme, in order to get a bomb produced before Germany did.

Once convinced, the US government invested lavishly in the equipment and installations required. The problems of turning theoretical propositions into military hardware were enormous. It took the co-operation of the British, Canadian and US governments, an international team of scientists and the expenditure of $2,000 million. By 1942 calculations showed that less than 100 lbs. of uranium 235 or plutonium 239 could be used as explosive material to release energy equivalent to 20,000 tons of T.N.T. Only a minute quantity of either material had been produced at the time. Techniques and equipment for producing them had to be developed. Research was carried out at various universities and the Oak Ridge and Hanford plants were set up to produce fissile material. Work on the weapons started in 1943 at Los Alamos. The project was run as a military operation with maximum security. It was organised in such a way that only a few people knew of the whole scheme, the majority working on individual problems not knowing what their particular items related to.

By the time the first bombs were ready, Germany had been defeated. The menace the scientists had feared was gone. However this did not prevent the US government using the bombs. One of the features of capitalism is the tendency to internationalise production, and this goes for armaments too. No security system, however elaborate it may be, can stop the spread or development of ideas and techniques of production. By 1949 the United States lost its monopoly of the weapon, when Russia exploded its first atom bomb. In the years that followed other nations mastered the techniques. To-date Britain, France and China have become nuclear powers.

In the meantime research teams in America and Russia were kept busy on another project. For some time it had been known that energy was continually being released from the sun by the fusion of hydrogen atoms. This was far greater than the forces liberated by fission of uranium atoms. Work proceeded to try to reproduce this process on earth. The problem involved was that intense heat was needed in order to fuse atoms and the atoms of the lightest element, hydrogen, were best suited to this purpose. The solution was to generate the heat by setting off a fission explosion which would produce the fusion reaction. The United States tested the first bombs of this type in May 1951 and November 1952, followed by Russia in August 1953. This new weapon has had various names — Super, Hydrogen, Thermo-Nuclear. A test in 1954 in which the force of the explosion was estimated to be between 12-14 million tons of T.N.T. showed the danger from radioactive fallout in these experiments. The crew of the Japanese fishing vessel The Lucky Dragon suffered radiation sickness, and one of them died of it, as a result of fallout 90 miles from the test. Testing continued and the largest explosion to-date is estimated at 57 million tons of T.N.T. Again it was impossible to prevent the spread of this weapon. In 1957 Britain exploded an H bomb, China did the same last year and France is getting ready for its own test.

It is as well to note the feelings of one of the scientists’, involved as expressed by Teller (known in the USA as the father of the H bomb). ‘Those were days”, as Teller later recalled, “filled with a spirit of spontaneous expression, adventure and surprise” — a natural reaction for men engaged in studies in which new knowledge was coming to light. At the same time it is an indictment of present society, that their efforts were efforts directed to producing greater means of destruction. For the few who backed down, jobs were hard to come by. Those who protested did so in vain. They, like their fellow workers in other occupations, are caught in a situation over which they have no control. Another arms race was under way. There were new evils to eradicate and the scientists were led to believe their contributions were of vital interest to them. Like the overwhelming majority of workers their knowledge of the workings of capitalism is minute and they easily succumb to its propaganda.

Two factors have to be kept in mind when considering the possibility of more countries making nuclear weapons. First they must be able to produce the weapon in a compact enough form to be delivered and secondly they must be able to produce or acquire a means of delivering it to the target. Early work in America was concentrated on developing the bomb. But as time went by more effort was directed to producing aircraft, rockets and electronic equipment needed for both defence and attack. States entering the race since then have been faced with the same task and so will any others joining the club.

For nuclear weapons the first requirements are stocks of fissile material and the necessary technology to produce and handle them. One way of achieving this is through setting up nuclear power stations, fuelled by uranium 238, which have the fissile material plutonium 239 as a by-product. A number of countries operate this type of equipment and are in a position to develop fissile weapons if needed. Two of them, India and Israel, have recently been involved in wars and there has been speculation about their intentions. Such countries as Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada and even neutral Sweden and Switzerland must be considered as potential producers of nuclear weapons. Even so tremendous costs are involved. Many countries are now dependent on America and Russia for financial and technical aid and must keep this in mind. Both France and China have been isolated from their former allies since they became nuclear powers.
Before the H-bomb production can take place an A-bomb trigger device must be developed. Moreover this device has so far been fuelled by uranium 235. It is a difficult and expensive process to separate it from uranium 238. It is acknowledged that China has mastered the problem, but France has not been so successful. According to the Sunday Times of 18 June last year “The French are believed to have spent over £300m on their [gaseous diffusion plant] at Pierrelatte and it is still not fully operational”. To add to the expense large supplies of electricity are required. It is estimated that America devoted 10 per cent of its generating capacity to this purpose in the second world war. Since these early days, however, an alternative process of separating U235 from U238, centrifugally, has been investigated without success. Recent reports indicate that researchers in Holland have now made a workable centrifuge. This could lead to a cheapening of the operation of up to 90 per cent.

The development of nuclear weapons, long-range aircraft, rockets and electronics has led to radical changes in military thinking. The scientist, equipped with computers, has largely taken over from the old-fashioned military tactician. The world is now the battlefield with potential civilian casualties numbered in tens of millions. Control of the upper atmosphere and space are now as important as control of land and sea routes were in the past.

The situation since the second world war has seen the two super powers, America and Russia, battling for the supremacy of capitalism. The arms race between them has been on a scale that has left the once great powers, Britain and France, far behind. Missiles equipped with nuclear warheads can now be launched from aircraft, the ground, ships and submarines. Artillery, mortar and land mines can now produce nuclear explosions. As the power, variety and number of weapons increase so does the possibility of defending populations and industry decrease. More emphasis is placed on advanced preparation, protecting missiles and command posts so as to enable the combatants to continue the battle amidst the debris. Massive spying operations are required to keep war ministries informed of the enemy’s equipment and allow them to plan strategy. America, for instance, made wild estimates of Russia’s aircraft strength in the 1950’s as was shown up by the U2 spy flights. The U2 has been succeeded by satellites equipped with cameras able to photograph large areas in great detail and transmit information to ground stations. This has already allowed Russia and America to locate China’s nuclear plants. With electronics playing an increasingly important part in weapon guidance and early warning radar, so the search for information to jam these systems grows. The USN Pueblo was equipped for this type of work and it is claimed that Russia’s notorious trawler fleet is similarly equipped.

Both Russia and America have built up a series of alliances in pursuit of their interests. The most important of them are the Warsaw Pact and NATO, whose essential feature is that the two powers should provide the nuclear weapons. These groupings have proved troublesome as each of the states involved has had its own interests to pursue. Britain and France, with world-wide commitments, have attempted to equip themselves for a world-wide strategic role. France’s force de frappe at the moment cannot reach a target such as Moscow or Washington without its aircraft re-fuelling on route. But these will later be supplemented by missiles and rocket-firing submarines. Britain has suffered many expensive failures in trying to play this world-wide role. It still depends on its obsolescent Victor and Vulcan bombers. Shortly its Polaris submarines will be going into service with missiles capable of hitting any target on earth. While Russia has been more successful in preventing east European states developing nuclear weapons it failed in the case of its former ally, China.

Strategy has been based on being able to deliver a knock-out blow while at the same time defending against one. Though manned aircraft and submarines are still maintained, missiles form the greater part of the strategic forces. America has depended on having more inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBM), but Russia has been catching up recently and also has a superiority in intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBM). These missiles are kept in underground concrete emplacements, called silos, said to be to protect the missiles for further use. In America they are under the control of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) which has an underground HQ in Nebraska. There are also three aircraft, one of which is constantly in flight, fitted as command posts in case the SAC HQ is put out of action. Similarly there is a special aircraft and a special ship fitted out for the President. The SAC also controls a large number of bombers, some of which are kept on air-borne alert. A vital part of all this is the early-warning radar system, including ground-stations, ships and aircraft. Communication satellites and computers are also part of the equipment. Defence equipment includes fighter aircraft fitted with rockets and ground-to-air missiles, some of which have nuclear warheads. Russia has similar equipment but not on as lavish a scale. It also claims to be capable of putting bombs into orbit around the earth and of later bringing them down on target. It is developing an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) defence system. America has recently decided to invest in similar equipment. These moves have given a new emphasis to the arms race and may be the means of renewed atmospheric nuclear testing by both states.

Some of the strategy is worked out by organisations such as the Rand Corporation in America. Here over a thousand scientists of all types are kept by the US Air Force to work out possible developments in nuclear warfare. Their calculations include how to retaliate after attacks by opponents and how to maintain or revive production in the course of such a war. They juggle with figures of potential deaths running into tens of millions. One thing they do not get round to of course is an analysis of what the conflict is all about and how it can be ended. What the conflict is not over is ideas of how society should be run. Both Russia and America had sufficient in common to be allies in the last world war. Their production is based on the profit motive and it is from this that the conflict between them springs. Success in the competition springing from this mode of production demands the control of exploitable manpower, markets, raw materials and trade routes. In this struggle famine relief, technical and financial aid, military and commercial alliances, all play a part. It will only be brought to an end when the workers who produce the wealth over which the conflict rages take control of the means of production and replace capitalism with Socialism.

Joe Carter