Geophysicists at War—1939–45
Despite the successful conclusion of the “War to end all wars” and the subsequent formation of the League of Nations, the implementation of the Treaty of Versailles proved unworkable because its basic premises were not based on a practical understanding of human nature and the need for adequate natural resources at the national level. With a revitalized Germany behind him by the late 1930s, Hitler was busy expanding his “Lebensraum” and being imitated by the leaders of Japan and Italy. Such actions rapidly upset the stability of the “Versailles World Order” concept. In view of this drift toward a new geo-war, Professor Richard M. Field noted in his presidential address to the American Geophysical Union on 30 April 1941:1
From the dawn of history this method of conquest and colonization has led to the rise and fall of “master races” and imperial governments, equally aided and abetted by organized science and organized religion and organized trade…. Much as we may wish it otherwise, the true history of the rise of civilization is the history of organized science in which, until quite recently, the most important facts were either unmentioned or misinterpreted by historians. That is why “we learn from history that we do not learn from history.”
This lack of historical understanding and a diplomatic inability to resolve the associated geopolitical problems then brought on a series of conflicts that would involve practically all of the world’s geophysicists.
Looking back to 1940, one finds that this was
Figures & Tables
Scientists have long been trained to build on the successes or failures of their predecessors, their teachers, and their fellows largely through scientific associations and their publications. Such societies range from small, local ones to huge organizations with membership drawn from over 100 countries. The oldest and most prestigious for geophysicists is the Royal Society, given both its name and charter by Britain’s King Charles II back in 1660. The Royal Astronomical Society, chartered in 1820, has also had a marked interest in geophysical matters, even to the extent of publishing a Geophysical Journal, because the earth is very much a part of the planetary system. Within the United States, the prestigious National Academy of Sciences (NAS) was started as an ally of government at the initiative of President Abraham Lincoln who asked the scientific community in 1863 for technical assistance with the war effort. Geophysical societies per se did not appear until the early 1900s. As a result of the great San Francisco earthquake, the Seismological Society of America (SSA) was formed in 1906. The International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG) came into being in 1911, while its U.S. interface, the American Geophysical Union (AGU), was finally organized in 1919. The field of exploration geophysics lagged even further, with the Society of Exploration Geophysicists not being incorporated until 1930.
Long before the advent of scientific societies, perceptive men had been contending with the physical forces of nature. Aristotle (384–322 BC) compiled the first known geophysical treatise, the Meteorologica, less than half of which pertained to weather matters—the remainder dealt with oceanography, astronomy, and meteors (also called shooting stars). Formal seismic instrumentation appeared as early as A.D. 132 when Chang Heng set up a seismoscope in China that not only indicated that an earthquake had occurred but also the direction of the first motion. However, man’s formal knowledge of the physics of the earth did not change much from the time of Aristotle until late in the European Renaissance, when the fertile mind of Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) initiated new thinking on this subject, as he did in so many others. Early in the 16th century, he studied, for example, the tides of the Euxine (Black) and Caspian Seas, as well as the mechanics and inherent dangers of rock slippage along a geological fault near Florence, Italy. He also deduced that Alpine rocks were at one time submerged for he found embedded sea shell fossils.