Editorial

Ban atomic tests—at least until we know what harm they do

June 8 1957
Editorial

Ban atomic tests—at least until we know what harm they do

June 8 1957

Ban atomic tests—at least until we know what harm they do

Editorial

CONTINUED PLEAS from respected citizens and respected scientists asking that the United States, Great Britain and Soviet Russia cease testing atomic weapons because of the dangers of accumulating radioactivity have lallen on deal cars. The tests go on, and the winds from the Pacific and from Siberia continue to spread those tiny particles that some consider insidious and others insist aren’t dangerous. Recently a number of important world figures have added their voices to those of Bertrand Russell, the late Albert Einstein and others, in demanding an end to the tests. Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the saintly Nobel prize winner, has broadcast an appeal in which he says that our descendants are “threatened by the greatest and most terrible danger” as the result of the tests. Dr. Linus Pauling, another Nobel prize winner, has estimated that at least one thousand persons will eventually die as a result of proposed thermo-nuclear tests by the British. Dr. Ralph E. Lapp, an atomic physicist who worked during the war on the Manhattan Project, has written that present H-bomb tests are causing an accumulation of radiation harmful to the present as well as to future generations. On the other hand, a group of equally respected scientists and laymen have emphatically denied these and other statements and are insisting that there is little danger now irom thermo-nuclear tests and won’t be for some time to come. It disturbs us that the most optimistic of these statements always seem to spring from politicians or from scientists who are employed by one of the governments involved in these tests. An obvious inference is that they have let political considerations color their scientific detachment. Or it is possible that they know more about the subject (or think they do) because scientific information is no longer freely available to all and a government man can claim special and secret knowledge to bolster his opinions. We might ask, in passing, what all this secrecy has actually accomplished. It hasn’t stopped the Russians from building and testing super bombs. But it has confused what may well be the most important controversy in history. In this great debate about the survival of humanity there are two sets of opposing opinions, honestly held and honestly arrived at. But those who insist that continued tests may distort future generations are at a two-fold disadvantage. First, they are denied a large portion of the evidence on grounds of security while being told that they don’t know what they’re talking about. Secondly, their remarks are often regarded as vaguely treasonous. At the risk of being called both ignorant and disloyal, we add our own tiny editorial voice to those that have been raised asking a ban on atomic tests. We think they should be halted, at least for the moment. For one thing is now perfectly clear: there is enough reasonable doubt in all this business to demand a freer exchange of information and a careful public examination of all the evidence. As long as the doubt remains we ought to go slow. If, generations later, the pessimists turn out to be right, it will be too late. And. we might ask, why all the eagerness to rush on with more tests of bigger, hotter, more powerful explosives? Each side now has enough destructive power stockpiled to cripple the other. The side with the best bomb isn’t necessarily the side with the best chance of survival. National security no longer depends on the quality and efficiency of hydrogen bombs but, if the Einsteins, the Russells and the Schweitzers are right, national security is no longer of prime importance anyway. It is the security of the race that is in question; surely it demands as much careful thought and productive energy as the security of single nations.