A Country Worth Defending

 

Robert R. Wilson

 

In 1969 the physicist Robert Wilson testified before the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy in defense of the new particle accelerator being built at Fermilab. With the US steeped in cold war fervor and in the midst of the Vietnam War, a senator asked Wilson whether the new accelerator would have any connection to national security interests. Wilson’s response? “No.” He then goes on to give several eloquent responses to the senator’s prompts and explains why pure science is something to be pursued for its own sake.

 

SENATOR PASTORE. Is there anything connected in the hopes of this accelerator that in any way involves the security of the country?

DR. WILSON. No, sir; I do not believe so.

SENATOR PASTORE. Nothing at all?

DR. WILSON. Nothing at all.

SENATOR PASTORE. It has no value in that respect?

DR. WILSON. It only has to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture. It has to do with those things.

It has nothing to do with the military. I am sorry.

SENATOR PASTORE. Don’t be sorry for it.

DR. WILSON. I am not, but I cannot in honesty say it has any such application.

SENATOR PASTORE. Is there anything here that projects us in a position of being competitive with the Russians, with regard to this race?

DR. WILSON. Only from a long-range point of view, of a developing technology. Otherwise, it has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things that we really venerate and honor in our country and are patriotic about.

In that sense, this new knowledge has all to do with honor and country but it has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to help make it worth defending.

The rest of the transcript is available here.

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