Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mahdi



In the Islamic world, the Mahdi is defined as the Guided One or Redeemer, with some serious and major differences of opinion between the Shi’a and Sunni Muslim sects. 

Shi’ites claim the Mahdi is their 12th Imam, who “…will arise at some point before the Day of Judgment, institute a kingdom of justice, and will in the last days fight alongside of the returned Jesus against the Dajjal, the Antichrist.” The Sunnis dispute this concept, despite its belief by most Muslims.  Those Sunnis, who believe in the existence of the Mahdi, believe that the Mahdi will be an ordinary man, born to an ordinary woman.  The leadership of the Islamic Supreme Council of America strongly believes in the coming of the Mahdi during the 21st century. 

After the death of Muhammad in 632, a number of individuals attempted to gain personal benefits with claims of being the Mahdi.  The first known historical reference was in 686.  The latest is Iraqi al-Sadr (Hujjat al-islam Muqtada al-Sadr), who, while not claiming to be the Mahdi, is claiming that his militia is the Mahdi’s militia defending against the United States whose purpose in invading Iraq is to find and kill the Mahdi when he appears in Iraq.  His supporters believe al-Sadr to be the son of the Mahdi, a belief that al-Sadr accepts by his silence.  In support of his follower’s belief, al-Sadr has stated that his militia “belongs to the Mahdi” and has named it the “Al-Mahdi Army,” a force that he claims he cannot control or disband because it is not his militia, but belongs to the Mahdi and whose purpose is to protect the Mahdi.  In the meantime, the “Al-Mahdi Army” has caused much bloodshed and personal assassinations and much material damage during the past five years and continues to do so into 2007.

The inability of the Shi’a and Sunni sects to share the legacy of Muhammad over the centuries since his death has perpetuated a religious war, which has grown into a massive power struggle to determine who will rule Iraq.  Both sects have determined that the solution to the problem of power and rule is to eliminate the opposition by killing off all who oppose their views and woe be unto the innocents who fail to support them.  As a result, present day suicide bombings, financed by the Fattah, Hamas, similar terrorist organizations and countries such as Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran, are a common every day occurrence.  Families of the bombers are routinely compensated with cash awards for their contribution to the carnage.   Sect militia, dedicated to destroying non-conforming civilians and opposing militia, operate indiscriminately.  It is a rare day that the military or the police don’t find Iraqis ritually killed with one shot to the back of the head or systematically tortured to death.  Yet, others are killed by simply throwing them off tall buildings or other structures.  Beheadings are frequent.  Almost all bodies, when found, are bound hand and foot.  It must be admitted that these sects are operating democratically – they will kill anyone, Iraqi or non-Iraqi, local civilian or outsider.        

Muhammad died almost 1400 years ago.  Did the indiscriminate violence immediately follow his death?  If not, when did it start?  Was the violence a gradual escalation or were there periods of war-like behavior that trended to the extreme violence of today?  The available historical records show little to answer these questions directly, but during the final quarter of the 19th century, a new Mahdi appeared on the scene in what is now Sudan. 

In 1844, Muhammad Ahmad Ibn As-sayyid ‘abd Allah was born in Nubia and remained in Sudan devoting his entire life to religious studies and the more mystic interpretation of Islam.  By 1870, he had attracted a small number of disciples who joined him on Aba Island 8in the White Nile south of Khartoum.  At the time, Sudan was a dependency of Egypt, which was a province of the Ottoman Empire.  The native population of the Sudan was oppressed and highly discontent.  The political situation was extremely dangerous.  Muhammad Ahmad took advantage of the discontent and, convinced that the ruling class had deserted Islam, revealed to his followers in 1881 “that God had appointed him to purify Islam,” and he publicly assumed the title of al-Mahdi. 

By the end of 1883, the small band of followers armed with sticks and spears, had grown to an army, and had destroyed three Egyptian armies capturing “an enormous booty of money, bullion, jewels and military supplies, including Krupp artillery and Remington rifles.  Through his military operations and intelligent and subtle propaganda, he made himself master of almost all the territory formerly occupied by the Egyptian government.  He created an Islamic state extending from the Red Sea to Central Africa. 

In early 1884, the khedive of Egypt appointed General Charles Gordon as governor-general of the Sudan.  Gordon reached Khartoum in February and successfully evacuated about 2,000 women, children, sick and wounded before the Mahdist forces laid siege to the town in March.  A British relief force arrived at Khartoum in January 1885 two days after the city had fallen and its inhabitants, including Gordon, were slaughtered.  Records show that the Mahdi had issued express orders against the killing of Gordon, something the British public refused to believe.  The British relief force engaged the Mahdist forces, but eventually retreated downriver.  The Mahdi abandoned Khartoum and made neighboring Omdurman his administrative capital.

At the age of 41, Muhammad Ahmed died in June 1885 of what appeared to be typhus.  One of four caliphs, Abdullah al-Taashi, assumed the leadership.     

It wasn’t until 1898, ten years later, that the British government decided to reconquer Sudan.  A force of 25,800, in- cluding 8,000 British regulars and 17,000 Sudanese and Egyptian troops, armed with Maxim machine guns, artillery and a flotilla of gunboats in support, led by British General Sir Horatio Kitchener advanced on Omdurman.  The British light cavalry regiment, the 21st Lancers led the advance.  Riding with the cavalry was Winston Churchill who had just completed a tour reporting on the Boer War and was now riding with Kitchener.  In the ensuing battle, the Ansar force of 50,000 had 23,000 casualties and 5,000 captured.  The Kitchener force had 430 casualties.

After Omdurman a force of approximately 25,000 Mahdists moved southward pursued by the British.  In October 1899, the Khalifa decided to make a stand with a force of 10,000.  The battle of Umm Diwaykarat ended with 1,000 Khalifa casualties and 3,000 captured, including the sons of the Khalifa and Emir Yuni.  The British suffered 26 casualties.              

The remnants of the Mhadists continued to resist for a short while under Osman Digna, who was captured in January 1900.  The last territories of Darfur were captured in 1916. 

“In the century since the Mahdist uprising, the neo-Mahdist movement and the Ansar, supporters of Mahdism from the west, have persisted as a political force in Sudan.  Many groups, from the Baqqara cattle nomads to the largely sedentary tribes on the White Nile, supported this movement.  The Ansar were hierarchically organized under the control of Muhammad Ahmad’s successors, who have all been members of the Mahdi family (known as the ashraf). The ambitions and varying political perspectives of different members of the family have led to internal conflicts, and it appeared that Sadiq al Mahdi, putative leader of the Ansar since the early 1970s, did not enjoy the unanimous support of all Mahdists.  Mahdist family political goals and ambitions seemed to have taken precedence over the movement’s original religious mission.  The modern days Ansar were thus loyal more to the political descendants of the Mahdi than to the religious message of Mahdism.” 

Thus, we have in today’s political world in Sudan, the western province of Darfur under repeated attacks of internal forces bent on genocide with the support of the existing Sudanese government and its disinterest in protecting the residents of Darfur despite many toothless overtures by the United Nations.          

Bibliography

Churchill, Winston Spencer.  River War: An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan.  London.
                Longmans & Green, 1899.

Gazda, Daniel.  Mahdi Uprising 1881-1899.  Warsaw, 2004.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahdi
                                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Omdurman
                                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Umm_Diwaykarat


“Khartoum, Siege of.”  Encyclop√¶dia Britannica 2006 Ultimate Reference Suite CD.

 Al-Mahdi Army / Active Religious Seminary.  www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/al-sadr.htm

July 2007
LFC
   

Pacific Wildlife



One of the more fascinating experiences of living on the Pacific Ocean islands and aboard ship was the wild life, both in the sea and in the air.

The Midway Islands, which are now an official bird sanctuary under the management and care of the Department of the Interior, was a major bird habitat long before World War II and before Charles Lindberg mapped the pending island hopping of the clipper flying boats of Pan American Airways from the United States to the Orient. 

During my visits to Midway, I learned a number of lessons about the islands and the bird life.  First, and foremost, always wear some form of hat or suffer the consequences.  With untold thousands, if not tens of thousands, of birds on or above the island, if you don’t wear a hat they will get you, sooner or later.  It was impossible to live there and not be splattered.  During all of the waking hours, the air was filled with noisy flying birds of all sizes and color, doing what comes naturally.

Most notable were the albatross, more popularly known as the gooney bird because of their comical antics. There were hundreds of varieties of terns and many other species, most having colorful and beautiful plumage.  The air over the islands, the lagoon and the reefs was always teeming with bird life.  With a prevailing wind blowing over the island some birds would float in the air, using the wind to maintain height and position.  One bird that I recall, but do not remember its name, was about the size of a pigeon, was all white, and had a very long slender red tail feather which it appeared to use for navigation.  In some strange way this bird was able to depress the tail feather and fly backwards. 

Seagulls of all varieties abounded.  They were as much a thief on Midway as we find them at the New Jersey shore.  Leave your food unprotected and they would sweep in and steal it.  Of course, anyone who left food out in the open was being foolish to start with.  In no time at all it could become inedible.  Many of these birds were great fishermen.  They would swoop onto the surface of the lagoon and fly up with a fish on almost every pass.  The gooney birds did most of their fishing in the ocean.  The gulls fished where they pleased.  I think if they were able to get into our quarters to steal food, they would have done so. 

One of the most impressive birds was the Frigate Bird, known locally as the Pirate Bird.  It floated high above the island on thermal updrafts, floating in circular and figure eight patterns, with very little movement of its wings.  It gave all the indications of a bird on patrol.  It was black, with very long wings
and a forked tail.  I don’t remember ever seeing one on land and assume that they stayed at sea when they chose to land.  Neither do I ever recall this bird fishing for food.  What I recall of its eating habits supports the local name.  It would float in the air above the island and watch for other birds fishing and feeding in the lagoon.  When it decided to eat, it would dive at the feeding birds, frightening them into dropping their food.  The Frigate Bird would pick the food from the air and return to its high patrol to seek out its next victim.  There were times when the victim bird refused to drop the food and maneuvered desperately to evade the pirate.  On rare occasions, this was successful mostly because the maneuvering brought it very close to the surface of the lagoon where the Frigate was not comfortable.  More often, the Frigate’s dive caused more than one bird to drop its food and the pirate had a choice of menu. 

The albatross was something else, a large bird, beautiful and graceful in the air, but the clumsiest and most klutzy creature on this earth when on the ground.  When a goony decided to fly, it would face into the wind on a long stretch of ground and run frantically to develop flying speed, while vigorously flapping its very long wings.  The wind at the time of take off had much to do with the length of the gooney’s run.  There were occasions when either there was insufficient wind or the bird had not allowed itself an adequate run to permit flight.  In such instances, the bird ended in a comical upset, usually skidding on its breast and the bottom of its beak, while dragging one of its wings behind it.  The gooney is a big bird, yet I never saw one injured in a takeoff or landing mishap.  Clumsy as it was on the ground, in the air the gooney was magnificent, floating gracefully and effortlessly in long sweeps above ground and water.  Unlike the Frigate, the gooney had no fear of flying close to the ground.  When it chose to rise, it took little effort to gain altitude with those tremendous wings. 

Landing, however, was another matter.  The gooney would sweep over its planned landing site, returning to
land into the wind with a long approach, keeping just above the ground as it lost speed and was about to touch.  Then it would extend its legs, change its body position to a more vertical stance so that its wings were able to oppose the oncoming wind, and frantically flap its wings to reduce speed.  As it slowed, it would touch the ground with its legs and fall flat on its face, often rolling on the ground before coming to a complete stop.  It would then get up, shake itself, sometimes flap its wings, and waddle off to meet friends or mate.  There were good landings on occasion, but they were the exception.  I believe the wind had much to do with a successful landing.  How these very heavy birds weren’t injured during landings was always a wonder to me. 

During patrols to the west of Midway to and beyond a small-uninhabited island called Kurie, we were always on the lookout for unauthorized vessels, primarily Japanese submarines.  When American submarines went out to hunt Japanese vessels, they were provided with codebooks that had the proper identification signals for a safe return to Midway.  These codes were changed every fifteen minutes.  Approaching ships were also required to approach the island on specific courses.  This information was also changed periodically, but not as frequently.  All patrol planes carried a copy of the signal book. 

There were occasions when the return of an American or allied vessel would be delayed beyond the dates of the existing codebooks.  The reasons for delay could be many, including battle damage.  In such instances, they would not have proper, current recognition codes.  Special provisions were made to permit such vessels safe entry.  It would be a tragedy for a ship to survive combat and be sunk by defending forces from Midway due to a lack of proper recognition codes, but it was possible.

The seas around Midway teem with life, including whales, which raised another problem.  Whales swimming underwater can cause a submarine alert.  Many did, causing Midway to scramble flights to intercept the possible menace.  Daylight flights were more likely to identify a swimming whale correctly, but night flights were a different story.  There were occasional depth charge attacks against what were believed to be intruding Japanese submarines, but the possibility that the intruder was a feeding whale has to be considered.  The seas west of Midway were not a safe place for man or beast.

When aboard ship there were other specimens of sea life to view.  The most interesting were the porpoise and the flying fish.  It’s a fact of life at sea that regardless of the speed of the ship, you will always find one or more porpoises at the prow staying just ahead of the ship, leaping and diving, and leading the ship on its journey.  Why?  I don’t know, that’s a question for someone else to answer, but they are always there.  Other porpoises may swim with the ship on the flanks changing position and leader.

The flying fish, which really don’t fly, are very common in tropical waters.  During my tours in the South Pacific, there always were flying fish.  Why call them flying fish if they don’t fly?  A valid question.  These fish are very small, less than a foot in length, and have small “wings” which appear to be an outgrowth of fins.  What happens to make them fly?  They swim very close to the surface of the ocean and appear to follow the ship with their porpoise companions.  The prow wave raised by the ship or the swells naturally found on the sea cause peaks and valleys on the surface of the water.  As the fish move through the seas, they sometimes break out of the leading face of a swell and are briefly airborne until they penetrate the rear slope of the next swell.  During their brief passage between swells, their paper-thin wings cause them to glide and so they appear to be flying.

There is much more to the birds and fish in the Pacific.  It is an interesting subject and there are many sources available for a reader: books, public television and the Internet, for example.


April 2004





Tuesday, October 28, 2014

No Copying Allowed



During the past three years or so, I have been stripping my files of junk and other items that appeared to be
 ‘good stuff’ when collected many years ago but now have questionable value.  More often than not, I find myself asking the question “why did I ever keep this?”  On occasion, however, I uncover something that still interests me and probably may interest the casual reader.  Such is this item.

After the war ended and I was back to earning a living, I came across an article in Astounding Science-Fiction, a magazine edited by the most capable John W. Campbell, Jr.  In an editorial, he speculates on what might occur if a post-WW-II device suddenly appeared in the skies over a military base during the 1920s and the military investigate with the hopes of identifying and using the advanced technology. 

An interesting side issue of this article is that it describes a technical problem of about thirty year’s difference (1920s vs. 1950s) and, in so doing, describes post-war technology which, in turn, has matured into the Third Millennium, a period of an additional fifty years or so.  Obviously, the reader must keep in mind that as advanced as the 1950s technology appears to the 1920s observers; the technological differences are merely a hill when compared to the mountainous changes of the past fifty years.  With that charge, on to John Campbell and his editorial:

“The proposition involving the science-fiction hero who captures an enemy device, brings it home, copies it and puts it into production is being abandoned in modern stories.  But the actual difficulty of such a problem is always interesting and worthy of consideration.  Only recently has Earth’s own technology reached the point where such copying is not possible; today it is definitely impossible in a large field of devices. 

“Let’s first consider t5his situation:  Time: About 1920.  Place:  An American Army Air Base.  Action: High overhead a small airplane tears across the sky with a high, thin whistle.  Ground observers, after tracking it for a minute or so – during which time it has passed out of sight – report incredulously that it was doing between nine hundred and fifty and one thousand miles per hour.  It circles back , slows abruptly as the whistle dies out, and makes a hot, deadstick landing.  Investigators reach the cornfield where it land- ed, and find it ninety percent intact – and one hundred percent impossible.  Swept-back wings, no tail, automatic control equipment of incredibly advanced design, are all understandable in so far as function intended goes. But the metal alloys used make no sense to the metallurgists when they go to work on them.  The ‘engine,’ moreover, is simply, starkly insane.  The only indication of anything that might remotely be considered an engine is a single, open tube – really open; open at both ends.  But the empty fuel tank had tubes leading into some sort of small jets in that pipe.  The athodyd being unheard of in 1920, the thing is senseless.  Filling the fuel tanks simply causes a hot fire that must be extinguished quickly to prevent burning out the tube.  The fact that this is a guided missile intended for launching from a four-hundred-mile-an-hour bomber makes the situation a little difficult for the 1920 technologists; the athodyd won’t start functioning below two hundred fifty m.p.h., and nothing on Earth could reach that speed in 1920.

“Meanwhile, the Signal Corps experts are going equally chittery trying to figure out the controls.  First off, the plane’s markings were clearly an advanced United States Army design.  Many equipment parts bore United States Army Signal Corps markings and serial numbers.  [If you are wondering why the Signal Corps was involved with aircraft, the original contract to purchase aircraft from the Wright Brothers was signed by the Signal Corps].  But the equipment inside is not only of advanced design, it’s of meaningless design.  The idea of printed circuits is fascinating, but understandable if not reproducible.  Pentode amplifiers the size of a peanut are fascinating, not reproducible, and only vaguely understandable.  For one thing, the filament isn’t used at all; an indirectly heated cathode is a new item to them.  However, the items that really stop them are several varieties of gadgets, all about the same size, but of violently different characteristics.  There are units one eighth inch in diameter by about three fourths long that have resistance varying from one hundred to ten million ohms.  Incredible, but true.  Others have infinite resistance and are condensers of capacity so high for their tiny size as to be unbelievable.  Still others have three leads, and, opened, seem to be crystal detectors – understandable – but are amplifiers, which doesn’t make sense.  They also turn out to be nonreproducible.  They are simple mechanical structures, using the very unusual element germanium, in the crystals.  But the chemical expert’s best purified germanium won’t work when a reproduction is tried.  (You’ve got to have the right amount of the right impurity introduced in the right way.  Techniques in the 20s weren’t up to it).

“Furthermore, there’s a tube that’s obviously a triode oscillator, but the frequency involved is so high as to be detectable only when using crystal detectors from the plane’s own equipment.  The circuit, too, doesn’t make sense to the radio engineers, though the physicists from the Bureau of Standards finally figured it out.  (It’s a tuned-line oscillator operating at about four-hundred megacycles.  The physicists had to go back to Hertz’s original work with tuned-rod oscillators to get a glimpse of what went on.)  They can’t reproduce the tube, and no tube they can make will oscillate in the circuit used. 

“Finally, there’s another group of equipments they’ve simply agreed to forget.  It seems to center around a permanent magnet of fantastic power which embraces a copper block drilled with holes of odd sizes, having a central electron-emitting rod through it.  The magnetron is bad enough – obviously beyond reproduction, since the cathode can’t be duplicated, the magnet can’t be duplicated, and the metal-to-glass seals are beyond any available technique.  But the associated equipment is worse.  There is a collection of rectangular pipes made of heavy silver-plated copper.  The pipes contain nothing, carry nothing, and appear totally meaningless.  This time the physicists are completely stumped.  (Wave-guide theory is a recent development; without some basic leads, and understanding of the order of frequencies involved, they’d never get there.)  And worst of all, the physicists find that several bits of the equipment contain radioactive material.        
They know about radium, uranium, thorium, et cetera.  But – this is highly radioactive, and it’s cobalt.  But cobalt isn’t radioactive!  But this is, and it is cobalt.  (It’s the transmit-receive tube; the radio-cobalt is used to keep it ready to ionize easily and instantly.)  They also find radioactive emanations from much of the plane’s material, with faint indications that half the elements in the chemical table are radioactive – which is arrant nonsense!  (The guided missile had been flown through the fringes of the atomic bomb test gathering report data.) 

“In summary, the aerodynamicists report that the tailless monstrosity is interesting, but the principles of it’s design are confusing.  The engine group report the ‘engine,’ so-called, can’t be the engine.  It was thought for a while that it might be a rocket, but since both ends are, and always were, wide open, it can’t possibly be a rocket.  The radio experts of the Signal Corps agree that some of the equipment is an immeasurably advanced type of radio apparatus, but the design is so advanced that it is futile to study it.  It can’t br reproduced, and involves principles evidently several centuries ahead of the knowledge of 1920 – so advanced that the missing, intermediate steps are too many to be bridged.  The mystery electronic equipment, called Equipment Group X, remains simply mysterious, save that, in some way, it involves a receiver operating on an unknown, but very high frequency.  (By which they meant not the ten thousand megacycle input but the ‘low’ frequency intermediate frequency amplifier, operating at only thirty megacycles.  Having no means of generating thirty megacycles at that time, they could only say it was higher than the highest available.  And they didn’t, of course, recognize the ten kilomegacycle RF head as a receiver at5 all.) 

“The physicists would be inclined to ascribe it to Mars, Venus or any other non-terrestrial planet, if it weren’t for the obvious Signal Corps markings.  Since terrestrial cobalt isn’t radioactive, and the cobalt in this ship is –

“But anyway, the reports can only be tucked in the ‘File and Forget’ division.  About the only thing they can lift out of that piece of marvelous equipment is the secret of making good, small, high-resistance electronic resisters.  The chemists and the physicists did crack that one, and it’s the answer to an electronicist’s prayers; the tiny resistors are not wound with sub-microscopic resistance wire, as was at first believed – they’re little ceramic tubes filled with a composition of clay and graphite which is such an extremely bad conductor that it does the job beautifully.  By varying the composition, resistors of a standard size can range from one ohm to one hundred million.

“At that, our 1920 group was really lucky.  Suppose the item that fell through a time-fault had carried an atomic warhead.  If it didn’t go off, it would have presented the physicists with two of the most dangerous, utterly inexplicable lumps of matter imaginable.  Pure U-235 or pure plutonium – that would have driven the chemists mad! – before they’d even discovered synthetic radioactivity.  They would have been certain to kill themselves by bringing those two masses too close to each other, though out of the bomb mechanism, they wouldn’t have exploded. 

“But – write your own ticket, in your own special field.  Let 1920, or 1910, or 1890 try to understand the functioning of any one of your modern gadgets.  Even though, in those years, first-rate scientists with a full understanding of scientific methodology, and with fairly complete laboratory equipments, were available!”

The cited John Campbell editorial was prepared for publication in the October 1, 1948 issue of Astounding Science Fiction and relates a “what if” scenario based on an improbable time-warp that delivered a atom bomb testing athodyd from the post-war period to the 1920s.  While technically entertaining, even John Campbell would admit it was a “what if” plot, extremely unlikely to happen.

Not so entertaining was an incident involving John Campbell that occurred during the war and almost closed the publication and threatened worse to John and the staff.

In January 1990, Analog Magazine published an article, “Sixty Astounding Years,” authored by Michael F. Flynn and William R. Warren, reprinting a January 1930 article introducing Astounding Stories magazine.  Pulp magazines with stories on science fiction were popular during the pre-war period and while they carried science fiction stories and articles there were as many, if not more, properly termed fantasy or horror.  The time was ripe for a true science fiction magazine and Astounding Stories was born.  The January 1930
Introduction included:

“What are astounding stories?

                “Well, if you lived in Europe in 1490, and someone told you the Earth was round and moved         around the Sun – that would have been an astounding story.

                “Or if you lived in 1840, and were told that some day men a thousand miles apart would be able to              talk to each other through a little wire – or without any wire at all – that would have been another.

                “Or if in 1900, they predicted ocean-crossing airplanes and submarines, world-girdling Zeppelins,   sixty-story buildings, radio, metal that can be made to resist gravity and float in the air – those        would have been other astounding stories.             
      
“Today, time has gone by, and all these things are commonplace.  That is the only real difference between the astounding and the commonplace – Time.

“Tomorrow more astounding things are going to happen.  Your children, or their children, are going to take a trip to the Moon.  They will be able to render themselves invisible – a problem that has already been partly solved.  They will be able to disintegrate their bodies in New York and reintegrate them in China – and in a matter of seconds.

“Astounding?  Indeed, yes.

“Impossible?  Well television would have been impossible, almost unthinkable, ten years ago.”

And so, the new Astounding Stories was born in January 1930.  Ditching the then popular large magazine size, Astounding Stories was published in a size approximating the size of the current Reader’s Digest and became very popular, drawing top authors to its fold.  Then, in 1944, a problem, related by the authors in Analog Magazine, January 1990:

“It was on or about March 10, 1944, when Counter Intelligence Corps agent Arthur E. Riley knocked on the doors of Astounding Science Fiction’s Editor John W. Campbell., Jr., and demanded to know what the hell was going on.  The March 1944 issue of Astounding had just hit the stands with the story, “Deadline,” by Cleve Cartmill.  Although set on an ostensibly alien planet, involving an ostensibly alien war, the story had contained some rather disquieting lines.  To wit:
                ‘They get it (U-235) out of uranium ores by new atomic isotope separation methods; they now       have quantities measured in pounds…They could end the war overnight with controlled U-235        bombs…So far they haven’t worked out any way to control the explosion…’

NOTE:  The atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, August 6, 1945 after being tested in the United States on July 16, 1945 at Alamogordo, New Mexico.

“That was a bit too close to the mark.  Only a few people in the country were supposed to know about isotope separation and the atomic bomb effort, and Military Intelligence could figure out no way that a pulp magazine could learn of it except through a security leak.  Curiously, one of the CIC’s main concerns was that the information contained in the story would leak into the Manhattan Project, since only a few people there had the big picture.

“Finally, everyone admitted that the ‘leak’ was knowledge available to ‘anyone with a smattering of science and a fertile imagination.’  Although one security officer suggested revoking Astounding’s postal privileges tantamount to shutting the magazine down – cooler heads prevailed and the incident was soon forgotten, except in the folklore of science fiction.”

In my essay, “Interesting Science Facts,” additional information from the 1930 and 1990 articles has been included as well as many pages of negative declarations by well-known individuals on atomic energy and a multitude of other programs, including radio, airplanes, missiles, warships and many others.

If I had to pick statements or actions from among the many made during my lifetime that directly affected my personal life, I would choose three:

  • American Army officer, William (Billy) Mitchell, outspoken advocate of air power, when he demonstrated the ability of aerial bombing to sink battleships.  (1921-1922)
  • American Admiral Clark Woodward, when he declared, “As far as sinking a ship with a bomb is concerned, you just can’t do it.”  (1939)
  • Japanese aviator reporting, “Tora, Tora, Tora,” and the successful destruction of the United States Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.

As to the future, astounding stories yet to be told:

                Space travel                                          Manufacturing in space
               
                Computer intelligence                         Direct mind – computer links

                Cheap power                                        Telepathy

And many more not even imagined.

October 2004