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Two Views of the Pledge
by Britta Fischer
In a recent exchange of letters Charlie Schwartz, a founder of national SESPA, and Herb Fox, a principal organizer of Boston SESPA/Science for the People dealt with the following pledge circulated by SESPA at scientists’ meetings, including the American Physical Society meeting held in January in Chicago.
I pledge that I will not participate in war research on weapons production. I further pledge to counsel my students and urge my colleagues to do the same.
Herb offered some critical comments on the political implications saying that the pledge-taking in itself is “neither radical political activity nor . . . a threat to the establishment” since (1) it is an individual act requiring no organized social or political effort (2) it removes the critical scientist from the place where resistance is needed and (3) perpetuates the myth that the scientist “has control over the work he does or what it will be used for.”
Pledge-taking actually reinforces a moral elitism by asking scientists to do what one could not reasonably expect of other workers. “Do you ask a steel worker whose product will be used as the armorplate of a tank to take a pledge thet he will not participate in weapons production? Is it fair to ask him that? Is it not necessary to ask him and the physicist and the student-everyone-to organize to redirect society so that society can redirect science?”
In his response Charlie emphasized some of the positive aspects of the pledge, acknowledging that radical scientists would probably already be engaged in more forceful political action. However he feels that there are many students and professors in the sciences who have never thought about the choice between war work and work that is beneficial to humanity. For those who still believe in the neutrality of science the pledge could serve as a means to raise their consciousness and “as a recruiting device to get more scientists involved and together.”
These two viewpoints are presented here as a stimulus for a discussion to which you are invited to contribute. Please write us your opinion.