In the New Mexico desert during World War II, young Polish physicist Joseph Rotblat worked on the Manhattan Project that built the first atomic bomb. Ever since, he has campaigned tirelessly and often controversially to keep the genie of mass destruction from escaping again.
On Friday, Rotblat and the loose association of maverick scientists he heads divided the million-dollar 1995 Nobel Peace Prize.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee saluted the 86-year-old Rotblat, a British subject since 1946, and the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs for their efforts “to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics and in the longer run to eliminate such arms.”
Francis Sejersted, chairman of the prize committee, also condemned France and China for continuing to test nuclear weapons.
“One of the reasons for the prize is a sort of protest against testing of nuclear weapons and nuclear arms in general,” Sejersted told reporters in Oslo, Norway.
Said the silver-haired Rotblat, a professor emeritus of physics at the University of London: “I hope the recognition will help other scientists to recognize their social responsibility.”
Rotblat fled to England as a refugee after losing his wife in the Holocaust. He worked on developing the atomic bomb with American scientists at Los Alamos, N.M., but quit the project late in the war, believing that defeat-bound Germany had scrapped its own atomic plans.
“I felt there was no need to make a bomb. The only reason I started in 1939 was to stop Hitler using it against us,” Rotblat told reporters here Friday, saying he was “devastated” when the United States dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “The whole idea of making the bomb by us was that it should not be used.”
For nearly 20 years after becoming the only scientist to walk away from the Manhattan Project, Rotblat was barred from entering the United States, Adam Rotfeld, director of a Swedish peace research institute, told reporters in Stockholm on Friday.
Rotblat became one of the earliest, most outspoken and most dogged supporters of nuclear disarmament. In 1955, he was one of 11 prominent signatories of a joint manifesto - initiated by British scientistphilosopher Bertrand Russell and American physicist Albert Einstein - urging scientists to help abolish wars and the means of mass destruction.
The Pugwash conferences that Rotblat now heads emerged from the manifesto, which declares that science, by its nature, knows no national boundaries.
“I see this honor not for me personally but rather for the small group of scientists who have been working for 40 years to try to save the world, often against the world’s wish,” Rotblat told reporters here.
The first conference, in 1957, drew 22 scientists: from the United States, Britain and France on one side of the Cold War divide and, on the other, from the Soviet Union, China and Poland.
Delegates from Communist countries attended with the support of their governments; Western scientists sometimes went against their government’s wishes. American scientists risked censure for meeting and sharing expert views with Russian counterparts.
By their very nature, Pugwash conferences, named after the Nova Scotia fishing village where the first one was held, offered a Cold War meeting ground for scientists from countries that were not officially on speaking terms.
Scientists are invited as individuals, never as representatives of governments or institutions, to Pugwash conferences now held annually around the world.
Ways of effectively monitoring arms control agreements, in particular, emerged from the conferences. At a Pugwash session in the 1960s, a joint U.S.-Soviet proposal on seismic monitoring facilitated negotiations to ban some nuclear tests.
Since the collapse of communism, Pugwash scientists - admitted by invitation only - have begun focusing on global issues such as population, the environment and control of biological, chemical and conventional weapons.
xxxx Another view Though the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs has has been respected for years by arms control professionals, fervent anti-communists during the 1950s and ardent Cold Warriors afterward have not shared this view: “Fellow traveler is a loaded term,” said Frank J. Gaffney Jr., a former Reagan administration official who now directs the Center for Security Policy, a non-profit Washington group. “But these are people who in the darkest days of the Cold War were used shamelessly as vehicles for Soviet propaganda.” “You have to give them the benefit of the doubt and think they were simply dupes,” he added. “But it’s inconceivable in light of what we know about Soviet propaganda that this operation could be seen as anything other than, at the very least, an unwitting tool of the Kremlin, if not worse.” “And to be giving them this incredible windfall, to say nothing of honor, at the very moment when their past is so clearly discredited, and their present is so irrelevant, is a peculiar outcome indeed,” Gaffney said. - From wire reports