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Profile: Charles Towne

Charles Towne was a participant or observer in the following events:

Dr. Marvin Goldberger.Dr. Marvin Goldberger. [Source: Teises Institutas]One consequence of the Pentagon Papers’ publication (see March 1971) is a heavy social and academic backlash against scientists on the Jason Project. The “Jasons,” as they are sometimes called, are mostly physicists and other “hard” scientists from various universities who have worked as ad hoc consultants to the Pentagon since the Soviets launched their Sputnik satellite in October 1958. Though most of the Jasons are strongly opposed to the Vietnam War, and the Pentagon documents tell of the Jasons’ ideas for “a real alternative to further escalation of the ineffective air war against North Vietnam,” the public focuses on the Jasons’ association with the government’s war effort. After the Papers’ publication, Mildred Goldberger, wife of scientist Marvin Goldberger, recalls that the Jasons’ “name was mud.” Jack Ruina, the head of the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA), which often worked with some of the Jasons, says that the Jasons became “the devil” in many eyes. Some of the scientists are publicly labeled “war criminals” and “baby killers,” some have their offices burgled and their homes vandalized, and many face serious questions about their motives and commitment to pure, objective science. Some of the scientists repudiate the Jasons’ work on behalf of the war effort; longtime member Goldberger tells one group of demonstrators, “Jason made a terrible mistake. They should have told [former Defense Secretary Robert] McNamara to go to hell and not have become involved at all.” Others refuse to discuss Vietnam and their work with the Jason Project in their seminars and classes; one, Murray Gell-Mann, is forcibly removed from a Paris university lecture hall after refusing to defend his work with the Jasons to his audience. Physicist Charles Towne accuses the universities of curtailing the Jasons’ freedom of speech. Some of the scientists are falsely accused of helping produce plastic fragmentation bombs and laser-guided shells; some of them are compared to the Nazi scientists who developed nerve gas for use in the concentration camps. A November 1974 article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists will sum up the debate: “The scientists became, to some extent, prisoners of the group they joined…. At what point should they have quit?” The decisions they faced were, the article will assert, “delicate and difficult.” (Finkbeiner 2006, pp. 102-113)

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