Argument: two views of the Bomarc issue

PAUL SIMON August 25 1962

Argument: two views of the Bomarc issue

PAUL SIMON August 25 1962

Argument: two views of the Bomarc issue


Last month, in a Maclean's article, Paul Simon cast doubt on the wisdom of the government’s proposed use of nuclear warheads on Bomarc missiles. Simon argued that this might, in a war, increase nuclear devastation in Canada. Douglas S. Harkness, the minister of defense, has replied to Simon’s article. We print Col. Harkness' letter below, followed by Simon’s rebuttal.


In your July 14th issue an article appeared under the title, "For the Sake of Argument,” by a Mr. Paul Simon who, according to the editorial preamble, is an economist and student of defense. The article by Mr. Simon related to the Bomarc surface-to-air missile.

Certainly, 1 have no quarrel with the subject matter since all aspects of our national security should be of interest to each and every Canadian, nor do I object to constructive criticism and suggestions relating to any detail of our defense policy. However, I am concerned when an article appears in a magazine of the stature of Maclean's containing a number of serious factual inaccuracies which could be detected and corrected with a minimum of research by any competent “student of defense.” 1 should like to make clear that the general question of nuclear weapons is not the issue on this occasion. It is a matter of setting the record straight as to the facts, as I feel that to allow such statements to remain unrefuted can only result in confusing and misleading those who read the article by Mr. Simon in the first place.

Time and space do not allow reference to each and every one of the inaccuracies contained in this article. Suffice it to say that the conclusions drawn by Mr. Simon are based on a stated premise of his own that if an enemy bomber carrying a nuclear load were hit by a weapon armed with a nuclear warhead, the bomber’s load would be triggered off and a nuclear explosion would result in which the territory below would be devastated. This is simply not true, and in fact the exact opposite is the case. A hit on a bomber by a nuclear

tipped weapon would result in the bomber being literally “cooked'’ along wdth its nuclear load and the only damage on the ground below it would result from falling debris and a very small amount of fallout from the comparatively small yield nuclear warhead launched against the bomber.

There is one other statement in the article on which I might comment, even though anyone who has the most elementary knowledge of the safety rules for carrying weapons would consider it unnecessary. Mr. Simon contends that because certain aircraft of Strategic Air Command have crashed with nuclear bombs on board and no explosion has resulted, the same would be the case if an enemy aircraft similarly loaded crashed while flying over this continent. In order that modern high yield weapons, whether nuclear or conventional, can be handled and transported with safety, each must be fused before it can be detonated. Naturally all bombs carried in aircraft during peacetime are carried in the “safe” position and they would only be carried in the “ready” position during wartime while over enemy territory. Bombs carried in the “ready” position would in most cases explode if the bomber carrying them crashed.

Since the conclusions in Mr. Simon’s article are based on an incorrect premise, it follows that his article can only create the wrong impression wherever it is read. Referring again to his statement on the detonation of nuclear weapons by an airborne attacking missile, I feel 1 should refer you to an article published in the April 21, 1962 issue of Maclean’s by Mr. Peter C. Newman, pages 65 and 66. Mr. Newman makes some very appropriate and accurate comments on this subject and they are, of course, diametrically opposed to the statements made by Mr. Simon in your July 14, 1962, issue.

In one sense it is a credit to our way of life that this type of ill-informed writing on subjects of national interest can be given such widespread circulation by means of your magazine, and others like it. However, because of the needless alarm and genuine concern such articles provoke, 1 cannot escape the feeling their publication is unfortunate and, indeed, harmful. DOUGLAS S. HARKNESS,

Minister of National Defence

Paul Simon: “a novel theory, not previously tested”


Rather than reply in kind to the minister's scathing tone, for which he has acquired a national notoriety, I shall deal with the main points which he has so forcibly and erroneously made:

(a) The minister states that a hit on a bomber (carrying an H-bomb) by a nuclear-tipped weapon would result in the bomber being “cooked” along with its nuclear load, and seeks to create the utterly false impression that the enemy H-bomb would not explode at all. This is a novel theory, not previously tested, and, to my knowledge, unsupported by nuclear science. Indeed, it was Dr. Edward Teller who first suggested that an atomic bomb be used as the trigger for the H-bomb. This was successfully tested, and it is by now conventional knowledge, that an atomic bomb is itself set off by means of small conventional high-explosive charges behind two subcritical masses of isotopes, driving these together into one critical mass producing the fission-reaction which in turn sets off the fusion-reaction of the Hbomb. There are other means of triggering, such as the bellows type, using the principle of

atmospheric pressure, of which, I dare suppose, the potential enemy is all too well aware.

(b) At no time did 1 categorically contend that enemy H-bombs would not explode if the disabled bomber hit the ground. I simply suggest that we have a chance, although admittedly a less than even one, of inducing the enemy to delay the “cocking” of his bombs by pushing our Bomarc defense line high up north to Hudson Bay waters because the effects of an explosion in these regions would, to a considerable extent, be carried back to the other side of the Arctic roof by the prevailing winds. We would therefore force the enemy to consider at least, the advantage to himself in delaying the fusing process which, in turn, would be to our own advantage. But even if this did not succeed,

I suggest to the minister that if his novel nuclear theory is indeed a fact, the enemy knows about it, and will succeed in finding a way to frustrate any hopeful defense minister on the receiving end. The minister himself states that "bombs carried in the ‘ready’ position would in most cases explode if the bomber carrying them crashed.” How can he believe for a moment that such would not be the case if the bomber were hit in the air?

(c) The minister seeks to discredit me by referring to a previous article by Peter Newman. 1 am satisfied, however, that Mr. Newman’s article reflected information which he received from the minister's department or from other military sources and accepted in good faith. These tactics remind me of the defense lawyer who had a bad case but sought to sway the jury by inspiring a witness to declare that the accused was a good man.

I make the minister a simple proposal: Let him invite the House of Commons to form a special committee to investigate these vital matters; let this committee be empowered to call any witness, and publish any evidence. I assure the minister that I shall be ready to submit all research sources of reference, gathered during some 18 months’ study, the last 12 months of w'hich as a member of a special study group on defense under the auspices of the Toronto branch, Canadian Institute of International Affairs. Better still, 1 assure the minister that his novel theory will be adequately refuted by a most eminent U. S. nuclear scientist, now working to complete his book on the strategy of annihilation, whose views I sought before writing my article. My sole objective is to help bring about a strong and meaningful defense in the nuclear age. If the minister persists in believing that it is now strong and meaningful, or that it can become so only if we arm with nuclear warheads, I can only hope that he will find a reward at the hands of the prime minister similar to the one which his British colleague received recently at the hands of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. PAUL SIMON