Jeffrey LewisNeutron Letter Bombs

I was reading back issues of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists as part of a student-led effort on China’s development of the neutron bomb.  I was particularly struck by an article by Harold Agnew entitled, “A Primer on Enhanced Radiation Weapons.”

Agnew’s article is a model of clarity.  It is marred only by the slightest hint of condescension. For example: “I fee confident that had the facts been properly explained initially, even those who oppose nuclear weapons would have had to concur in stating that it is better to have this type of tactial fusion nuclear weapon than the conventional pure fission bomb …” If only you understood clearly, you would agree with me.

But compared to many things written by physicists, it is downright polite.

Still, one reader responded with one of the coldest takedowns I have seen in a letter to the editor:

In Appreciation

I want to thank Harold Agnew for clearing up some of my misconceptions about the so-called enhanced radiation bombs in his article “A Primer on Enhanced Radiation Weapons” (Bulletin, Dec. 1977).

All this time I was unde the impression that once our side uses neutron bombs on the battlefield the enemy would retaliate with the other kind of nuclear bomb — the one that produces “collateral effects” extending past the distances where neutron radiation is an effective “kill mechanism.”

I suppose that this is a technical problem our enemies will have to solve for themselves.

Frederick L. Musante, Jr.

Fairfield, Conn.


As far as I can tell there is only one Frederick L. Musante, Jr. in Connecticut –and he is still around.  (Indeed, he was probably only about 27 or 28 at the time.)  He was a reporter and is now a novelist.

Over the years, he’s fired off a new letters to the New York Times concerning apologiesTimothy McVeigh’s execution, the misuse of anecdotes in debating education reform, and the predictive power of science fiction.  But not, so far as I can tell, anything about arms control again.

Still, if  you only write one letter …


  1. Moe_DeLaun (History)

    Wow is right; even in this era the ancient Celtic insights about the power of bards hold true. For writers this is real immortality…

    The special lethality of enhanced-radiation weapons make them more akin to biological weapons in that they specifically target biology. Firestorms created by mass airstrikes, months-long artillery duels, deliberate torching of oilfields — these are all conventionally-created mass destructions that “level mountains and lay waste to entire regions.” They also leave nasty residues, but nothing like the ecological damage nuclear weapons leave.

    It’s important to distinguish the biologically deadly from the explosively ruinous. Bikini Atoll has fully recovered ecologically from the American nuclear tests, but is as uninhabitable by humans as Gruinard Island off the coast of Scotland. (The British tested anthrax weapons there during WWII and that landmass is now permanently removed from the Earth’s human-habitable surface.)

    In a tremendous irony, the Korean DMZ is the greatest sanctuary for rare Asian wildlife, largely due to its being off-limits to humans for 60 years. Consider its fate if Douglas MacArthur had been allowed to follow through on his plan to salt the ground along the Yalu and DMZ with Cobalt-60…