Remember the neutron bomb? I do — this new kind of nuke that would kill people but leave structures intact. It’s odd how, when you put it so starkly, a common reaction is revulsion — there seems to be something particularly ghastly about the thought of a sudden mushroom cloud, then everybody drops dead while the material world stays intact.
Physicist Samuel Cohen was known as the “Father of the Neutron Bomb.” His feelings about it were far from revulsion:
“Until the day he died, physicist Samuel Cohen declared that his invention, the neutron bomb, was a “moral” and “sane” weapon that would kill enemy combatants, while sparing civilians and cities.
“According to his memoir, Shame: Confessions of the Father of the Neutron Bomb, he hit upon his idea during a 1951 visit to Seoul, where he witnessed the devastation of the Korean War: ‘The question I asked of myself was something like: If we’re going to go on fighting these damned fool wars in the future, shelling and bombing cities to smithereens and wrecking the lives of their surviving inhabitants, might there be some kind of nuclear weapon that could avoid all this?’”
Though it Seems Crazy Now, the Neutron Bomb Was Intended to be Humane, Gizmodo (Sept. 19, 2014). (This piece provides a great history of the bomb.)
Presidents Nixon and Ford had the neutron bomb on the political agenda, Carter tanked it, Reagan revived it, and Pres. Bush Sr.finally dumped it for good. Along the way, it provoked massive public protests in the USA and especially in Europe.
“This, then, was the final insult. After the neutron bomb had been maligned and misunderstood, it was misapplied, and became just another profligate military boondoggle. Cohen made no secret of his dissatisfaction. His rants were not calculated to make friends or influence people, and he was forced into an early retirement in 1985.
“Stocks of American neutron bombs were retained for a couple more years, but George Bush Senior finally made a policy decision to eliminate all battlefield nuclear weapons, and thus “the most moral weapon ever invented” was scrapped without benefiting anyone other than the defense contractors who built it.
“Cohen was left wondering about the real motives of people who mold military policy. He ran across a book from the Pentagon library titled The Sexual Cycle of Human Warfare by a former British colonel named Normal Walter. Although Walter was not trained as a scientist, his view of warfare was basically sociobiological. He argued that in our evolutionary past, inter-tribal conflicts enabled elders to discipline younger, competitive males and reduce their numbers. According to this theory, war became institutionalized by older males who wanted to maximize the number of single females by culling the number of younger males.
“The hypothesis was unprovable, but Cohen certainly saw that warfare satisfied an emotional need. In his words, ‘We just plain like to fight wars. We adore the military, and over the decades countless millions of young Americans have entered the services to fight. They were more than willing, and their parents accepted it. It’s in the genes.’”
From Charles Platt’s The Profits of Fear – an Overview and Postscript to Shame.
Anthony Burgess, author of A Clockwork Orange, wrote this:
“The Sexual Cycle of Human Warfare by Major Norman Walter … is shamefully neglected. Indeed, I doubt if more than a handful of people know it or know of it. And yet its thesis is original and highly suggestive. It is, briefly, that war is a psychobiological phenomenon, not a political one, and that it can best be studied in terms of such genetic phenomena as hybridization, exogamy and the like. Nature explodes the human group with the aim of genetic recombination. Soldiers never know why they’re fighting (‘We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here’ was a song of the First World War) and politicians think they know. But the real motives for war lie at the biological level. War, like sex, is ineradicable from human society because is very close to sex.”
The Bible offers its own war and sex story — a kind of backdoor validation of this sociobiological theory of war. It begins with a matter-of-fact, “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle” — as if that’s the most natural thing: hey it’s Spring, the sap is rising, let’s go to war! Only this time, the king didn’t go with his troops. Instead,
“David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.”
2 Samuel 11: 1 ESV
And thus began not only a war, but the whole Bathsheba affair, by which David committed himself and his descendants to perpetual war:
“Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.”
2 Samuel 12:10 ESV
War forever — because “We just plain like to fight wars… It’s in the genes.”