[FOUNTAIN]Patriotism perverts science

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[FOUNTAIN]Patriotism perverts science

The principle behind the atomic bomb was first discovered in Germany during the days of Hitler. Chemist Otto Hahn reported that slowly bombarding uranium with neutrons creates an enormous amount of energy along with nuclear fission. However, he refused Nazi orders to create an atomic bomb. Hahn poured his energy into developing a peaceful nuclear reactor. After Germany lost the war, Hahn was confined in a P.O.W. camp by allied forces. The chief of the camp was nervous that Hahn might commit suicide at the news that an atomic bomb had been dropped.
Hungarian scientist Leo Szilard had a unique love for his home country. When Hitler invaded Hungary, Szilard voluntarily joined the Manhattan Project. On July 16, 1945, a truck driver who was crossing the Nevada desert reported, “All of a sudden a thousand suns rose above the ground and disappeared.” When Szilard learned the power of atomic bombs, he opposed them. Szilard told his fellow scientist Enrico Fermi, “Today will be written as the saddest day in history.”
“Is science a friend or enemy of mankind?” This is the question British chemist Max Ferdinand Perutz asked the world. Fritz Haber is the person who synthesized ammonia from nitrogen and set mankind free from the fright of hunger by developing nitrogenous fertilizer. However, this German was also the person who developed poison gas, which put the allied forces in great fear during the First World War. After Germany lost the war, he was obsessed by research to extract gold from sea water in hopes of helping his country pay war compensation. Haber also met a miserable death after the Nazis branded him a “Jewish scientist.”
Recently a supporter of Professor Hwang Woo-suk shocked the country by burning himself to death. It is a tragedy caused by the combination of science and crooked beliefs. Science can be misused the moment it leaves the lab. Politicians and generals have repeatedly made weapons by melting ploughshares. “There is no boundary in science, but a scientist has a mother land!” This remark by Dr. Hwang sounds splendid. But under the Nazis, Germans fervently studied eugenics. Tragedy was caused by science and reckless patriotism.
In a private girls high school in Hiroshima Japan, there is a statue of three girls. It is a memorial to the people who died in the atomic attack. Einstein’s “E=mc2” formula is carved on the chest of one of the girls. It wordlessly warns how humanity should approach science. Now the stem cell debate has become a social issue. We should first calm down. Whenever science becomes an idol, it can turn into a deadly weapon.


by Lee Chul-ho

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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