Science: World War III Preview

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Some Americans have almost forgotten the atomic bomb. Some think of it as just another weapon, and think that an atomic war will be just another war. This week such ostrich notions were rudely jolted. One World or None (McGraw-Hill; $1)' "a report on the full meaning of the atomic bomb" by 17 scientists (including five Nobel prizewinners), generals and pundits, gave a preview of World War III. One World or None is a calm, hair-raising warning of swiftly approaching disaster. Americans who would like to die a natural death can read it with profit.

They will learn that a present-day atomic bomb, exploding half a mile above Manhattan's Gramercy Park, would kill 300,000 people. But Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, who bossed the great Los Alamos Laboratory, knows that more destructive bombs are in the cards. One type, he says which "has been investigated in a preliminary way," will be too powerful for all except "very major targets such as greater New York."

General Arnold treats this subject in more detail. If supplied from the first with atomic bombs, he believes, the B-29s of the Twentieth Air Force could have accomplished all they did in Japan in a single day's raid. The cost, for bombs a measly $200,000,000. "Destruction by air power," says General Arnold, "has become too cheap and easy. . . . The existence of civilization [is] subject to the good will and good sense of the men who control air power."

No Defense. None of the contributors to One World or None believes that there can be an effective defense against airborne or rocket-borne atomic bombs. In a blackly pessimistic chapter, Physicist Louis N. Ridenour, radar expert, explains how even the most elaborate precautions cannot keep a good proportion of the bombs from hitting their targets. And just a few bombs, he feels, will be enough Before the start of World War III writes Physicist Edward U. Condon of the National Bureau of Standards, atomic saboteurs may sow the U.S. with hidden volcanoes waiting to erupt on a chosen Pearl Harbor day. "A target, to be safe must be surrounded by a sanitary area at least a mile in radius. Any house can be as dangerous to its surroundings as the greatest of powder magazines. Twenty thousand tons of TNT can be kept under the counter of a candy store."

To guard against such sabotage, writes Condon, the U.S. would have to turn itself into a police state tighter than any in history. "Sabotage is no longer a threat to be kept in mind," he says. "It is a fearful danger, and an attractive possibility for an aggressor."

For those Americans who hope the bomb will remain a U.S. monopoly, the authors have little encouragement. Physicists Frederick Seitz, of the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and Hans Bethe of Cornell University believe that almost any industrial nation can start producing bombs in about five years. Stolen "secrets" will not be necessary, for there is no essential secret.

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