George Walford: Why Weapons?

IC has received a printed sheet, undated but evidently recent; bearing no indication of author or source it reports the development, in the USA and the USSR, of radiofrequency weapons. Impressive both in content and in its carefully understated, hysteria-free approach, it ends by speaking of them as “a new kind of weapon the world could do without.” Taken at face value, that is doubtless correct; if the world did not have these weapons it would continue to do without them. But the tone of the paper suggests more than that, it carries the implication that we would be better off without them. This, too, may well be so, but before trying to eliminate them let us think what this would entail.

It can perhaps be agreed that to prohibit merely their use, allowing them to be made and brought on to the battlefield but with a ban on using them, would be cutting things too fine; to be safe from them their production would have to be stopped, and this requires more than a ban. The restrictions placed on manufacture of armaments in Germany after 1918 produced a crop of stories about factories producing parts for prams which on assembly proved to be machine-guns. We may choose to dismiss these as apocryphal, but the risk that a prohibition might be disobeyed cannot be overlooked. Prevention of manufacture would require continuing supervision of every factory capable of producing even parts of the forbidden equipment, and – since capabilities can change – every factory and workshop would need constant inspection and control. Even then complete security remains unattainable, for governments routinely grant themselves exemption from their own regulations, while reports of terrorist activities show the likelihood of secret production of weapons.

So we go back a step farther, to the knowledge which makes these new weapons possible; with that eliminated we shall be safe from them. This knowledge forms part of truth, so in suppressing it we shall be suppressing truth, but let us accept that. Let us also assume that all printed references can be suppressed, and not worry about freedom of the press. And, since great things are at stake here, let us not hesitate; kill off all who possess this knowledge and destroy all records. Now we can breathe more easily – except that what one person has discovered another can rediscover. With all information on these weapons destroyed there would remain no way of knowing what studies to forbid in order to prevent their reappearance.

One answer might be to prohibit all research into radiofrequency for any purpose at all. That undertaking would present its own difficulties, but before starting to think about those it is well to recall where the research leading to these weapons began. In the early sixties Dr. Robert Becker, investigating the salamander’s powers of regeneration, found that they depended upon electro-magnetic fields; these also affected the healing of bone fractures in human beings and the functioning of the human brain; he managed to link hospital admission rates of psychiatric patients with solar magnetic storms.

The argument could be taken farther, but the point has been made. Suppression of these weapons might well offer great advantages, but let us not overlook the cost. It would entail constant widespread interference with freedom of investigation, and an intensity of government supervision so far found unacceptable in any democracy. We would never know what potential benefits their suppression had cost us, and it would not necessarily save life, for the absence of sophisticated weaponry does not ensure security from mass killing. At the battle of Cannae, 216 BC, Hannibal’s men virtually wiped out a Roman army of 85,000, using nothing but sword and spear.

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Russian authoritarian communism may be in difficulties, but the broader-based socialist movement makes steady progress. Does it?

In the forty-six years since 1945 Labour has held power for seventeen years, the West German SPD for thirteen, Australian Labour for fifteen, the French Socialists for ten, and the Italian PSI for four. In Sweden a Centre-Conservative coalition looks set to win the next election. (A. Adonis, Us 1 February).

Only in this century have organisations [calling] themselves socialist been accepted as parties of government, but even so we have small ground for thinking of them as advancing steadily towards a lasting victory. Their connection with socialism as its founders understood it has weakened as their numerical support has increased, and they seem now to have reached a point of balance, just different enough from the parties of the right to justify a separate existence but, because of that difference, receiving only minority support for most of the time.

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One may say that man is rather a lazy creature… The only way to attract the labor power necessary for economic tasks is to introduce compulsory labor service… compulsion plays and will play an important role for a significant period of history.

(Quoted in Pipes R. 1990 The Russian Revolution 1899-1901 London: Collins Harvill 703-4)

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RESTRICTIONS on cars? They are already restricting each other to such an extent that within the big cities they move hardly faster than horses used to do. And outside the cities the main hindrance to travel by car comes from the other cars. Yet they continue to be an immensely popular mode of transport (this is indeed the root of the problem). Those who criticise the car usually compare it with some never-yet-attained ideal system of transport. It would be more realistic to compare it with the natural method of getting where you want to be; it seems likely to remain popular, however anti-social its side-effects, so long as it offers advantages over walking.

from Ideological Commentary 52, Summer 1991.