Sample B21 from The New Republic, 145: 19 (November 6, 1961) P.16"The Cult of the Motor" by Gerald W. Johnson Pp. 10-11 "How Much Fallout..." by James Deakin A part of the XML version of the Brown Corpus2,029 words 150 (7.4%) quotes 12 symbolsB21

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The New Republic, 145: 19 (November 6, 1961)

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All false gods resemble Moloch , at least in the early phases of their careers , so it would be unreasonable to expect any form of idol-worship to become widespread without the accompaniment of human sacrifice . But there is reason in all things , and in this country the heathenish cult of the motor-car is exceeding all bounds in its demands . The annual butchery of 40,000 American men , women and children to satiate its blood-lust is excessive ; ; a quota of 25,000 a year would be more than sufficient .

No other popular idol is accorded even that much grace . If the railroads , for example , regularly slaughtered 25,000 passengers each year , the high priests of the cult would have cause to tremble for their personal safety , for such a holocaust would excite demands for the hanging of every railroad president in the United States . But by comparison with the railroad , the motor car is a relatively new object of popular worship , so it is too much to hope that it may be brought within the bounds of civilized usage quickly and easily .

Yet it is plainly time to make a start , and to be effective the first move should be highly dramatic , without being fanatical . Here , then , is what Swift would have called a modest proposal by way of a beginning . From next New Year's Day let us keep careful account of each successive fatality on the highways , publicizing it on all media of communication . To avoid suspicion of bigotry , let the hand of vengeance be stayed until the meat-wagon has picked up the twenty-five thousandth corpse ; ; but let the twenty-five thousand and first butchery be the signal for the arrest of the 50 state highway commissioners .

Then let the whole lot be hanged in a public mass execution on July 4 , 1963 . The scene , of course , should be nine miles northwest of Centralia , Illinois , the geographical center of population according to the census . A special grandstand , protected by awnings from the midsummer sun of Illinois , should be erected for occupancy by honored guests , who should include the ambassadors of all those new African nations as yet not quite convinced that the United States is thoroughly civilized . The band should play the Rogues' March as a processional , switching to `` Hail Columbia , Happy Land '' ! ! As the trap is sprung .

Independence Day is the appropriate date as a symbolical reminder of the American article of faith that governments are instituted among men to secure to them certain inalienable rights , the first of which is life , and when any government becomes subversive of that end , it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it . The highway system is an agency of government , and when it grinds up 40,000 Americans every year the government is destroying its own taxpayers , which is obviously a silly thing for any government to do .

Hanging the responsible officials would not abolish the government , but would emphasize its accountability for the lives of its individual citizens , which would certainly alter it , and definitely for the better . Moreover , the salubrious effects would not be exclusively political , but at least partially , and perhaps primarily social . It would challenge sharply not the cult of the motor car itself but some of its ancillary beliefs and practices -- for instance , the doctrine that the fulfillment of life consists in proceeding from hither to yon , not for any advantage to be gained by arrival but merely to avoid the cardinal sin of stasis , or , as it is generally termed , staying put .

True , the adherents of staying put are now reduced to a minor , even a miniscule sect , and their credo , `` Home-keeping hearts are happiest '' , is as disreputable as Socinianism . Nonetheless , although few in number they are a stubborn crew , as tenacious of life as the Hardshell Baptists , which suggests that there is some kind of vital principle embodied in their faith . Perhaps there is more truth than we are wont to admit in the conviction of that ornament of Tarheelia , Robert Ruark's grandfather , who was persuaded that the great curse of the modern world is `` all this gallivantin' '' .

In any event , the yearly sacrifice of 40,000 victims is a hecatomb too large to be justified by the most ardent faith . Somehow our contemporary Moloch must be induced to see reason . Since appeals to morality , to humanity , and to sanity have had such small effect , perhaps our last recourse is the deterrent example . If we make it established custom that whenever butchery on the highways grows excessive , say beyond 25,000 per annum , then somebody is going to hang , it follows that the more eminent the victim , the more impressive the lesson . To hang 50 Governors might be preferable except that they are not directly related to the highways ; ; so , all things considered , the highway commissioners would seem to be elected . As the new clouds of radioactive fallout spread silently and invisibly around the earth , the Soviet Union stands guilty of a monstrous crime against the human race . But the guilt is shared by the United States , Britain and France , the other members of the atomic club . Until Moscow resumed nuclear testing last September 1 , the US and UK had released more than twice as much radiation into the atmosphere as the Russians , and the fallout from the earlier blasts is still coming down . As it descends , the concentration of radioactivity builds up in the human body ; ; for a dose of radiation is not like a flu virus which causes temporary discomfort and then dies . The effect of radiation is cumulative over the years -- and on to succeeding generations . So , while we properly inveigh against the new poisoning , history is not likely to justify the pose of righteousness which some in the West were so quick to assume when Mr. Khrushchev made his cynical and irresponsible threat . Shock , dismay and foreboding for future generations were legitimate reactions ; ; a holier-than-thou sermon was not .

On October 19 , after the Soviets had detonated at least 20 nuclear devices , Ambassador Stevenson warned the UN General Assembly that this country , in `` self protection '' , might have to resume above-ground tests . More recently , the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission , Dr. Glenn T. Seaborg , `` admitted '' to a news conference in Las Vegas , Nevada , that the US might fall behind Russia ( he apparently meant in weapons development ) if the Soviets continue to test in the atmosphere while we abstain . The trial balloons are afloat .

All of which makes it more imperative than ever that the biological and genetic effects of fallout be understood . But for the average citizen , unfortunately , this is one of science's worst-marked channels , full of tricky currents and unknown depths . The scientists , in and out of government , do not agree on some of the most vital points , at least publicly . On the one hand , the Public Health Service declared as recently as October 26 that present radiation levels resulting from the Soviet shots `` do not warrant undue public concern '' or any action to limit the intake of radioactive substances by individuals or large population groups anywhere in the Aj . But the PHS conceded that the new radioactive particles `` will add to the risk of genetic effects in succeeding generations , and possibly to the risk of health damage to some people in the United States '' . Then it added : `` It is not possible to determine how extensive these ill effects will be -- nor how many people will be affected '' .

Having hedged its bets in this way , PHS apparently decided it would be possible to make some sort of determination after all : `` At present radiation levels , and even at somewhat higher levels , the additional risk is slight and very few people will be affected '' . Then , to conclude on an indeterminate note : `` Nevertheless , if fallout increased substantially , or remained high for a long time , it would become far more important as a potential health hazard in this country and throughout the world '' .

Dr. Linus Pauling , a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry , has been less ambiguous , whether you choose to agree with him or not . After declaring , in an article last month in Frontier Magazine , that the Russian testing `` carries with it the possibility of the most tragic consequences of any action in the history of the world '' , he gave this estimate of the biologic and genetic consequences if the new Soviet shots totaled 200 megatons :

The damage to human germ plasm would be such that in the next few generations 160,000 children around the world would be born with gross physical or mental defects . Long-lived carbon-14 from the fusion process would cause four million embryonic , neonatal or childhood deaths and stillbirths over the next 20 generations , and between 200,000 and one million human beings now living would have their lives cut short by radiation-produced diseases such as leukemia . Most of these would be in the Northern Hemisphere , where the fallout is concentrating . Pauling's estimate of 200 megatons yield from the present series of Russian tests will probably turn out to be too high , but a total of 100 megatons is a distinct possibility .

The lack of scientific unanimity on the effects of radiation is due in part to insufficient data covering large population groups , from which agreed-on generalizations could be drawn . But more than one conscientious researcher has been inhibited from completely frank discussion of the available evidence by the less excusable fact that fallout has been made a political issue as well as a scientific problem . Its dangerous effects have been downgraded to the public by some who believe national security requires further testing . An illustration of this attitude is found in John A. McCone's letter to Dr. Thomas Lauritsen , reported in a note elsewhere in this issue of The New Republic .

To this day the Atomic Energy Commission shies away from discussing the health aspects of fallout . A recent study on radiation exposure by the AEC's division of biology and medicine stated : `` The question of the biological effect of ( radiation ) doses is not considered '' herein . Of course , the AEC is in a bind now . If it comes down too hard on the potential dangers of fallout , it will box the President on resuming atmospheric tests . So the Commission's announcements of the new Soviet shots have been confined to one or two bleak sentences , with the fission yield usually left vague .

Now , of course , that the Russians are the nuclear villains , radiation is a nastier word than it was in the mid , when the US was testing in the atmosphere . The prevailing official attitude then seemed to be that fallout , if not exactly good for you , might not be much worse than a bad cold . After a nuclear blast , one bureaucrat suggested in those halcyon days , about all you had to do was haul out the broom and sweep off your sidewalks and roof . Things aren't that simple anymore . Yet if Washington gets too indignant about Soviet fallout , it will have to do a lot of fast footwork if America decides it too must start pushing up the radiation count .

How much fallout will we get ? ?

As of October 25 , the AEC had reported 24 shots in the new Soviet series , 12 of them in a megaton range , including a super bomb with a yield of 30 to 50 megatons ( the equivalent of 30 million to 50 million tons of TNT ) ; ; and President Kennedy indicated there were one or two more than those reported .

Assuming the lower figure for the big blast and one shot estimated by the Japanese at 10 megatons , a conservative computation is that the 24 announced tests produced a total yield of at least 60 megatons . Some government scientists say privately that the figure probably is closer to 80 megatons , and that the full 50-megaton bomb that Khrushchev mentioned may still be detonated .

If the new Soviet series has followed the general pattern of previous Russian tests , the shots were roughly half fission and half fusion , meaning a fission yield of 30 to 40 megatons thus far . To this must be added the 90 to 92 megatons of fission yield produced between the dawn of the atomic age in 1945 and the informal three-power test moratorium that began in November , 1958 .