European Confrontation Spoils Jason’s Summer Vacation

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European Confrontation Spoils Jason’s Summer Vacation

By A.W.

‘Science for the People’ Vol. 4, No. 6, November 1972, p. 9

The following documents, sent to us by our brothers and sisters in Europe, depict a series of actions this summer centering on the contributions of noted U.S. physicists to the work of the Jason Division, the Institute for Defense Analysis’ prime Pentagon advisory committee. At institutes and summer schools in France and Italy, members of the Jason Division have been subjected by their peers to intense questioning about their warmaking activities. First on June 13 at the College de France, Murray Gell-Mann was ushered from the lecture halls after refusing to answer questions concerning his involvement with the Indochina war. Slightly more than a month later, on July 27, the Cargese Summer School in Theoretical Physics was closed prematurely when Sidney Drelllikewise refused to discuss his warmaking activities with Jason. Then in August at the Varenna Summer School in the History of Physics, participants prepared and signed a statement condemning scientists who have willingly involved themselves in the waging of the Indochina war and called for the immediate end to the bombing. And in September as this magazine goes to press, European physicists are demanding that there be discussion of the role of science in the military- industrial complex when they convene in Trieste for a meeting on the “Development of the Physical Conception of Nature” where Eugene Wigner and John Wheeler of Jason will be in attendance.

The European physicists have made clear that they do not subscribe to the traditional dichotomy between physics and politics—a basic tenet of U.S. science. In view of the vast quantity of scientific resources being directed by the U.S. government to the suppression of the liberation struggle in Indochina, statements of scientific neutrality are seen as meaningless. Thus the European students and scientists are convinced that they can no longer separate their attitudes on such political issues from their professional activities, and are demanding that such issues be honestly and openly faced within the scientific community. Though their actions this summer have centered on the direct involvement of U.S. scientists in the Jason Division, the documents here indicate that such actions are merely a starting point for a broader analysis of the relationship of scientists to political forces. Those few who willingly contribute their energies to the destruction of the Indochinese people can be easily isolated and denounced, but those who unwillingly or unwittingly contribute—the vast majority of scientists—are beset with more difficult problems. How can scientists become a socially productive and truly progressive force?

In a sense, the actions in Europe this summer are reminiscent of the events of March 4, 1969—the research stoppage at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)—when students and faculty here in the U.S. stopped to consider the relationship of science to the Vietnam war, and to discuss their role in the military-university-industrial complex. March 4 was the starting point for a much broader understanding of the social function of science in the capitalist world. From these beginnings, too, has come a better understanding of the source of frustration and alienation of the scientific and technical work force; and consequently, the demand for a radical change in society. As the March 4 Buttons correctly advertised:


Of course the movement has some way to go. We still do not understand how the system produces people like Murray Gell-Mann, of unquestioned intellect, people who speak of the beauty and wonder of science, of the need for a humane rationality, and who with great zest lend their talents to the most uncivilized acts of genocidal barbarism. Are such acts merely the result of a moral, intellectual, and human perversity? Or do their roots lie within the ideology and practice of science in our present social and economic system? These and many other questions must be answered as we stand with our European colleagues in denunciation of the Indochina war and those who perpetrate it.

As a footnote to the following documents it is of interest to note that the Varenna Statement on Vietnam was also circulated in the U.S. among participants of the Batavia high-energy physics conference this September. It received only 21 signatures of a possible 700-800, and most of these signatures were of European scientists. What explains the contrast between the attitude of the U.S. physicists and that of their European counterparts? Perhaps the elite of the Jason Division have such influence that all others fear to criticize them, even indirectly. Perhaps most of these physicists themselves serve on government and war advisory committees. Perhaps these physicists simply hide under an intellectual cloak of political innocence. Whatever the answer may be, it can only mean more work and dedication on the part of those scientific and technical people opposed to the Indochina war. We can all take heart in the initiatives of the New York Regional Anti-War Faculty and Student Group that protested the war research of the Jason Division by occupying the Columbia physics building last April (see Science for the People, vol. IV, no. 5, Sept., 1972), and in the initiatives this summer of our sisters and brothers across the ocean.

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