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Receiving a BA Degree

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Ending pacifism by joining the army
Freeman Dyson Scientist
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It was Laval who made it impossible, because when the French surrendered in 1940, Laval, who had been more or less a pacifist, took over the French government, and he was a clearly evil character and he was just exploiting the situation for his own aggrandisement, and he made pacifism impossible. Because it was clear when France was occupied by the Germans that there were only two alternatives: either you were a collaborator and you joined Laval; or you were a resister and you went and fought with the Maquis, and there was no middle way - and that pacifism just didn't work under those circumstances. And so it was obvious to me that if England were ever occupied, I mean if our pacifism was put into practice and the German soldiers came to England, it was clear the same thing would happen; there would be only collaborators and resisters and we would obviously have to be resisters and so you had better then shape up and join the Army. So that's what I did essentially. In 1940 I joined the Officers Training Corps, which was the organisation of schoolboys training for the Army, which until then I had refused to have any part in.

Born in England in 1923, Freeman Dyson moved to Cornell University after graduating from Cambridge University with a BA in Mathematics. He subsequently became a professor and worked on nuclear reactors, solid state physics, ferromagnetism, astrophysics and biology. He has published several books and, among other honours, has been awarded the Heineman Prize and the Royal Society's Hughes Medal.

Listeners: Sam Schweber

Silvan Sam Schweber is the Koret Professor of the History of Ideas and Professor of Physics at Brandeis University, and a Faculty Associate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. He is the author of a history of the development of quantum electro mechanics, "QED and the men who made it", and has recently completed a biography of Hans Bethe and the history of nuclear weapons development, "In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist" (Princeton University Press, 2000).

Tags: WWII, 1940, France, Maquis, UK, British Army, Pierre Laval

Duration: 1 minute, 27 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008