Page 3, 24th July 1987

24th July 1987
Page 3
Page 3, 24th July 1987 — Russian roulette of nuclear computers

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Russian roulette of nuclear computers

Joanna Moorhead talks to a couple who have abandoned their work in the nuclear weapons industry.

IMAGINE, if you can, that you are an engineer working on the nuclear weapons of the nineties.

You are highly paid, highly trained and highly thought of.

You have a spouse and several children to support, a large house, mortgage and two cars.

Life is, to put it mildly, pretty comfortable.

But then you begin to have doubts. You are no longer as sure as you were that nuclear weapons are peace-keeping. You begin to feel, more and more strongly, that the technology has

developed a life of its own, and that the whole thing is terrifyingly out of control.

So what are you going to do about it? You're increasingly unhappy with your job by this stage, but is there an alternative? You only know how to do one thing, and that is build nuclear weapons. Even if you could get another job, it certainly wouldn't pay anything like as well as your present one. And then you think of your spouse and children and house and mortgage and cars . . .

You're trapped. Trapped doing a job you believe is dangerous, frightening and immoral.

That isn't quite the whole truth, of course. You might, just might, choose to opt out of the nuclear industry altogether, and to give up your large salary and drastically down-grade your standard of living as a result. But who would really choose to do that?

Robert Aldridge did. He worked for Lockheed in the United States on the Trident submarine programme. In his time he had helped perfect the Polaris launching device and set up underground tests in the Nevada desert.

He was highly-skilled and well-paid: a design specialist with a group of engineers working under him. The doubts came slowly. It began to disturb him to think he was helping to create a weapons system with the ability to wipe out a quarter of Russia's population. He started to feel uneasy, too, about the secrecy and deceit surrounding the nuclear industry.

Finally, he decided to follow his conscience and leave.

It wasn't an easy decision to make. Robert Aldridge has a wife and ten children.

Fourteen years on, his decision to leave the weapons industry still dominates his life. He spends his days researching, writing and speaking about the follies of the nuclear arms trade.

Currently on a visit to Britain organised by the Franciscans for Justice and Peace, Robert and his wife Janet have been meeting people in this country who work in the weapons industry and who perhaps wonder, as he once did, what they are doing.

"We feel it is important to talk with these people as a couple. After all, giving up your job and income involves your whole family," explains Janet.

Her husband believes that many people who are employed making nuclear weapons realise the error of their ways and would like to leave the industry.

They must realise, he claims, that the proliferation of more and more complex devices is plunging the world closer and closer to a catastrophic nuclear error.

"The systems are getting more and more dependent on complicated computers. Automation means mistakes and more likely to be made without being noticed . . . and it's only going to take one mistake to start the nuclear ball rolling," he says.

Most experts now believe that the onset of nuclear war is likely to be the result of computer error rather than human design, says Robert Aldridge. "People are starting to leave the Star Wars programme because they realise this. Star Wars is a very, very complicated project. The probability is that eventually the weapons will be accidentally used.

"You just can't go on playing Russian roulette forever. Eventually, you're going to shoot yourself".

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