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RADIOACTIVITY AND TRANSMUTATION
Hitherto in the chemical changes, from which the world derives its chief supplies of energy, such as the combustion of fuel, different elements, such as carbon and oxygen, combine together but do not suffer any intrinsic or fundamental alteration. The compound formed, carbon dioxide, can be decomposed by the chemist to give back again the original carbon and the oxygen, not entirely different elements. In other cases, the decomposition of certain compounds may give rise to the evolution of energy. Examples are to be found in all the modern high explosives, such as gun-cotton, nitroglycerine (dynamite), picric acid (lyddite), and trinitro toluene (T.N.T.). But in no case, except in the radioactive elements, has a veritable transmutation of one element into others been observed.
We have obtained evidence, in consequence of these new discoveries, that in the atoms of matter exists a store of energy beyond comparison greater than any over which we have obtained control. In the slow changes of the radioactive elements there is known to be an evolution of energy nearly a million times as great as has ever been obtained from a similar weight of matter before. The energy is there, but the knowledge of how to liberate it at will and apply it to useful ends is not
The problem will be solved when we have learned how to transmute one kind of element into another at will, and not before. It may well take science many years, possibly even centuries, to learn how to do this, but already the quarry is in full view and, by numerous routes, investigators are starting off in hot pursuit. We need only recall the past history of the progress of science to be assured that, whether it takes years or centuries, artificial transmutation and the rendering available of a supply of energy as much
beyond that of fuel as the latter is beyond brute energy will be eventually effected.
It is unlikely, but not impossible, that such a discovery might be made almost at once. A magnificent scientific achievement it would be, but, all the same, I trust it will not be made until it is clearly understood what is involved. Let us suppose that it became possible to extract the energy, which now oozes out, so to speak, from radioactive materials over a period of thousands of millions of years, in as short a time as we pleased. From a pound weight of such substances one would get about as much energy as would be obtained by burning 150 tons of coal. How splendid! Or a pound weight could be made to do the work of 150 tons of dynamite. Ah! there's the rub. Imagine, if you can, what the present war would be like if such an explosive had actually been discovered instead of being still in the keeping of the future. Yet it is a discovery that conceivably might be made to-morrow, in time for its development and perfection for the use or destruction, let us say, of the next generation, and which, it is pretty certain, will be made by science sooner or later. Surely it will not need this last actual demonstration to convince the world that it is doomed, if it fools with the achievements of science as it has fooled too long in the past. Physical force, the slave of science, is it to be the master or the servant of man? The cold logic of science shows, without the possibility of escape, that this question if not faced now can have only one miserable end.
From time immemorial man has boasted and gloried in his physical prowess. He was a rude animal, whose turbulent experience has preserved, as a religion, this pride in force as the ultimate arbiter. Christianity for two thousand years has inculcated the opposite creed, but, while largely
SCIENCE AND WAR
adopted by civilised peoples as the ostensible principle of their internal private relationships, it has never been adopted by any nation in its international relationships. The principle of force as ultimate arbiter in international quarrels remained unchallenged through the nineteenth century, though a strong, if politically impotent, revulsion against it grew in this country, through the development of a stronger public conscience, as it appeared to us, through satiety in conquest and physical deterioration, as our enemies preferred to believe.
But do not make the fatal mistake of supposing that what always has been, necessarily always will be. When man rose to the intellectual stature at which he could command the waterfall to do his will, kindle a fire and marshal the chaos of motion we call heat into the rhythmic working movement of a fuel-fed engine, irrigate the desert and make two grains of corn grow where one grew before, he broke with his past, for good or evil, once for all. The physical factors of life till the nineteenth century had been practically stereotyped. But now a new factor is at work in the world which alters its whole economy, and in light of which everything old, whether appertaining to peace or war, to the body, the brain or the soul, awaits its turn to be reexamined, and, if found wanting, discarded.
Science multiplied man's physical powers ten thousand-fold, and increased his capacity both of construction and destruction in like ratio. He spent the vast increase of wealth, which had accrued to him from the peaceful applications of science, in preparing, like his ancestors, for war. The war has come. As to its results, there is nothing in history that can give the slightest clue. The principle of force as the ultimate arbiter is now undergoing its re-examination. It has survived nineteen centuries
of Christianity. Is it to be perpetuated or destroyed by science?
Some thought science had already made war impossible. As it has not, it may be concluded that no future development of science, however world-shattering, will of itself have that effect. Others thought that the sensitive and elaborate ramifications of international commerce and credit would effectually prevent war, or quench it quickly if it broke out, relying, as it seems, on a cobweb to stop the rush of a tiger. Everyone of us will carry to our graves some real knowledge of what modern war is and means. Future generations, let us hope at least, will know as little about it as we ourselves knew a couple of years ago. They will read about it in books, as we read, and it will mean as little in comparison to them as the Napoleonic Wars meant to us. It is our duty, therefore, to spend our lives and brains thinking this thing out for ourselves. It must not be left for our successors to relearn all over again.
We are faced with a new factor of unlimited possibilities of development. Science will not stand still, even though the foreshadowed release of interatomic energy be delayed for centuries. The increasing horrors and the certain ruin of war both to victor and vanquished will not stop it, though it must make it of necessity less frequent. The more deeply we ponder on this as a practical question we shall find, I think, that the first step is to narrow the issue and to ask whether, and if so how, wars, such as this war that is now being waged, can be prevented from ever occurring again. Then we come to grips with a practical problem. For consider the absolute stupidity and wantonness of the present war. We are fighting Germany as we would fight a homicidal maniac who has suddenly started to run
amok, and we have to kill the maniac or he will kill us. There is no great question of irreconcilable principle involved, I mean in the sense that there was in the great American Civil War, or that was at issue when contending religions - as the Cross and the Crescent-came to death - grips. Before the war the Germans were our friends and equals. We intermarried without social stigma or disability. There are some nationalities - the Jews are an example - which do not mix with any other even after centuries of life together. There are others- the negro race of the United States offer an example-with whom, rather than mix, a nation will break every law, human and divine. Again there are others—the British Empire affords as good and as perplexing examples as any against whom, for fear of being cheapened economically and socially, preventive measures are taken to forbid or hamper their free immigration into our territories.
These are a few examples of what for comparison I will describe as racial causes of war. I indicate them merely to show how very far from practical politics any attempt to banish war and the thought of war from the world at one step is likely for long to remain, unless we are content to solve the simpler problem first.
But the present war does not come within their category. Let us take Germany at her own valuation, as a virile and expanding people, denied a place in the sun, hemmed in on all sides by decadent and stagnant populations in possession of the fairest parts of the earth. Individually her people were peculiarly capable of fighting for their own hands according to the recognised, if lax, standards of private law and commercial morality, and so they had already peacefully penetrated far and wide into the