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EDITORIAL© 2000 ISAST LEONARDO, Vol. 33, No. 2, pp. 83–84, 2000 83 Only Bombs Are Intelligent? In 1997 I was asked to contribute to a special section of the magazine Zentralblatt für Didaktik der Mathematik, one of the most important publications in the field of mathematical education. The section was devoted to “Mathematics, Peace and Ethics” [1], and the magazine was published in 1998. The special section began with an article by the section editor, Ubiratan D’Ambrosio, a Brazilian mathematician from the University of São Paolo. The title of his article was “Mathematics and Peace: Our Responsibilities.” In his introduction, D’Ambrosio wrote: I am concerned with peace in its several dimensions: inner peace, social peace, environmental peace and military peace. This paper addresses the global responsibilities of mathematicians and mathematics educators in the quest for peace. Our responsibility includes the uses society makes of our intellectual production and the influence we have in the behaviour of our students. I do not think we have to accept that it is normal to solve regional conflicts by military means and that isolated war can be tolerated. Although isolated, the violence and violation of human dignity going on in these conflicts are abhorrent. Besides, history has shown us that there is a high possibility of a larger involvement of nations and that the escalation of these regional conflicts may result in World War III. These words were written 2 years ago. No one could have known or imagined what would take place. My article in the special section dealt with the “Mathematics of War,” and my point of reference was the Gulf War. I cited several newspaper articles written then, in 1991, in Italy (but it was the same all over the world): “In mathematical terms, war is becoming more and more electronically controlled and, as a result, it is moving away from the battlefield—in other words, it keeps troops, photographers, TV operators and journalists at a distance from the enemy.” (La Repubblica, 2 February 1991); “Bombing with surgical precision, following the fine ray of a laser, with sophisticated technology, with the circumspection and precision of Science.” (L’Unità, 25 January 1991). Of course, none of the journalists who wrote those articles could have imagined that a war would break out, a few years later, in the heart of Europe. Massacres, deportations, a war involving 20 European countries. For a few days, people spoke about a “military action”; then we all began to use the right expression: “war in the heart of Europe.” In March 1999, Roberto Benigni won an Oscar for his film La vita è bella (Life Is Beautiful ) and there was much discussion in the press about whether such a film could be blamed for making us forget the tragedy of the concentration camps and the deportation trains in Europe. Did anyone imagine that it might happen again a little over a month later? When you read these words, the situation will certainly have changed compared with what it is like today in May 1999. I don’t know what the future holds for us; I don’t think anyone knows, not even the leading war strategists. My reason for writing this note is linked to what D’Ambrosio said. The responsibility concerns everyone, not just mathematicians. In fact, it makes no sense to ask what their opinions are, what they think should be done; it is no use asking mathematicians and chemists or, for that matter, dancers and art critics. No one has more insight into the truth than anyone else, so there is no point in asking scientists or artists what they think about war. But perhaps there is one question worth asking: Do we believe that artists produce art, mathematicians mathematics, scientists science and soldiers war? Each one of us deals with our own specific field and therefore should not waste time in discussion? Even seeing that our weapons of defense are so powerful? In recent years, much has been said about globalization and complexity. Now, in May 1999, we are faced by an enormously complex problem that is extremely difficult to solve while at the same time safeguarding all the people...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1530-9282
Print ISSN
0024-094X
Pages
pp. 83-84
Launched on MUSE
2017-01-04
Open Access
No
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