Aron Bernstein: In Memoriam (Jonathan King)

As the ranks of MITs nuclear disarmament ranks thinned, with the passing away of Herman Feshbach, Vicki Weisskopf, and Phillip Morrison, Aron informally took over the effort to keep nuclear disarmament a live issue. For many years Aron held monthly meetings in his bright 4th floor office, sitting behind his oversized desk, with two computer monitors always open. The office had a collection of mildly uncomfortable chairs for the guests.

Aron was always upbeat, positive, welcoming. During this period, he began to focus on the need to educate undergraduate students, who showed little interest or engagement. We began to switch from inviting seminar speakers to showing films, initially documentaries. Though these were excellent and compelling, the attendance from undergrads remained distressingly low, despite campus wide publicity.

At some point Aron decided the documentaries were also too academic, and we should move over to Hollywood. We decided to try to show Dr. Strangelove in the very popular student Friday night movie series. It took six months, but Aron finally persuaded the Lecture Series Committee which oversaw the program, to include Dr. Strangelove in its program. In those days the Friday night series was always packed, regardless of what was shown, as it was on this Friday eve. After the film ended we had arranged to hold a panel discussion, and invited the audience to stay and join. Indeed, a few hundred did. Aron started reviewing the destructive efforts of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. From the absence of any change of expression on the students faces, I could tell something was wrong. We paused and asked the students how many of them knew what had taken place at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A sprinkling of hands maybe ten were raised. That was a chilling moment for we advocates.

From later investigation we learned that most high school U.S. history classes don’t get to the end of WWII in their curriculum. And of course, very few science and engineering majors in college take history courses.

After that we shrunk further our ambitions. Aron decided on concentrating on making sure there was some small cadre of students who knew the history, and began offering his IAP course. This led to the development of the Nuclear Weapons Education Project which Bob Redwine is keeping alive, and which I hope you will all support.

One of my pet peeves was the yearly failure of Science Magazine to report accurately on the Congressional Federal Budget. Rather than reporting the actual enormous sums annually voted for weapons and war spending, Science only reported the increases and decreases in the R&D accounts. Aron joined me in writing letters to the editors complaining, which were rejected.

We did manage to publish on the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Scientists Strike for Peace an editorial “Mobilize for Peace”. It’s a decent reference capturing Aron’s advocacy for Peace and Disarmament.

Aron was also elected to the Faculty Newsletter Editorial Board and regularly contributed articles to the Faculty Newsletter on the pentagon budget and nuclear weapons programs. There are very few faculty newsletters at U.S. colleges and universities, and the FNL may be the only one that covers these desperately important issues. We have dedicated a section of the FNL website to continuing this work and Susan has generously provided a fund to support it.

Jackie and I had the benefit of Susan’s excellent dinners, and would hear of Aron and Susan’s regular hikes in the White Mountains. We were always approving, and mildly envious. The accounts didn’t get us to the White Mountains, but we did begin taking regular walks in Mt. Auburn Cemetery, for which we are grateful to their beneficent influence.

We miss him, but hope to carry on with his legacy.