Biographies & Memoirs

19. Military Intrusion in Science

The Military Mentality

IT SEEMS TO ME that the decisive point in the situation lies in the fact that the problem before us cannot be viewed as an isolated one. First of all, one may pose the following question: From now on institutions for learning and research will more and more have to be supported by grants from the state, since, for various reasons, private sources will not suffice. Is it at all reasonable that the distribution of the funds raised for these purposes from the taxpayer should be entrusted to the military? To this question every prudent person will certainly answer: “No!” For it is evident that the difficult task of the most beneficent distribution should be placed in the hands of people whose training and life’s work give proof that they know something about science and scholarship.

If reasonable people, nevertheless, favor military agencies for the distribution of a major part of the available funds, the reason for this lies in the fact that they subordinate cultural concerns to their general political outlook. We must then focus our attention on these practical political viewpoints, their origins and their implications. In doing so we shall soon recognize that the problem here under discussion is but one of many, and can only be fully estimated and properly adjudged when placed in a broader framework.

The tendencies we have mentioned are something new for America. They arose when, under the influence of the two World Wars and the consequent concentration of all forces on a military goal, a predominantly military mentality developed, which with the almost sudden victory became even more accentuated. The characteristic feature of this mentality is that people place the importance of what Bertrand Russell so tellingly terms “naked power” far above all other factors which affect the relations between peoples. The Germans, misled by Bismarck’s successes in particular, underwent just such a transformation of their mentality—in consequence of which they were entirely ruined in less than a hundred years.

I must frankly confess that the foreign policy of the United States since the termination of hostilities has reminded me, sometimes irresistibly, of the attitude of Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm II, and I know that, independent of me, this analogy has most painfully occurred to others as well. It is characteristic of the military mentality that non-human factors (atom bombs, strategic bases, weapons of all sorts, the possession of raw materials, etc.) are held essential, while the human being, his desires and thoughts—in short, the psychological factors—are considered as unimportant and secondary. Herein lies a certain resemblance to Marxism, at least insofar as its theoretical side alone is kept in view. The individual is degraded to a mere instrument; he becomes “human materiel.” The normal ends of human aspiration vanish with such a viewpoint. Instead, the military mentality raises “naked power” as a goal in itself—one of the strangest illusions to which men can succumb.

In our time the military mentality is still more dangerous than formerly because the offensive weapons have become much more powerful than the defensive ones. Therefore it leads, by necessity, to preventive war. The general insecurity that goes hand in hand with this results in the sacrifice of the citizen’s civil rights to the supposed welfare of the state. Political witch-hunting, controls of all sorts (e.g., control of teaching and research, of the press, and so forth) appear inevitable, and for this reason do not encounter that popular resistance, which, were it not for the military mentality, would provide a protection. A reappraisal of all values gradually takes place insofar as everything that does not clearly serve the Utopian ends is regarded and treated as inferior.

I see no other way out of prevailing conditions than a far-seeing, honest and courageous policy with the aim of establishing security on supranational foundations. Let us hope that men will be found, sufficient in number and moral force, to guide the nation on this path so long as a leading role is imposed on her by external circumstances. Then problems such as have been discussed here will cease to exist.

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