I don’t actually recall this myself, but my parents clearly remember the tremendous boom of artillery occasionally echoing throughout the Northeast Kingdom when I was a boy. We aren’t talking about hunters and buckshot, mind you. This article is about big fucking guns, a strange and brilliant man and the international arms trade. ‘Cause, you know, what else am I supposed to do with a rainy Monday?
By all reports, Gerald Bull was a devoted but unremarkable student in his early college years. A hard worker, he gained the respect of some professors despite his limited academic success. These connections led to Bull’s acceptance at University of Toronto’s new Institute of Aerodynamics in 1948. Bull’s focus was on wind tunnels, and his hard work soon began to pay off.
Bull was noticed by the Canadian Armament and Research Development Establishment (CARDE), where he made a proposal — turned down as too expensive — for a wind tunnel. It was during this time that he was first introduced to the field of artillery and weaponry. After finishing his doctorate in 1951, Bull returned to work at CARDE, again on artillery. In the mid-’50s, CARDE was visited by a US military team, including the director of US Army Research and Development, Lieutenant General Arthur Trudeau. Trudeau saw potential in Bull’s ideas, and began using these ideas for US military development.
While working for CARDE, Bull purchased a large plot of land that straddled the United States/Quebec border, in the towns of North Troy, Vermont (where I grew up) and Highwater, Quebec. Bull donated this land to McGill University, to be used for a new ballistics lab, under the direction of former British Army man Robert Stacy. Tests were begun with 5-7″ guns, capable of firing projectiles great distances. A gun designed by Bull and test-fired on the island of Barbados as part of the High-Altitude Research Program (HARP) in 1962 was able to shoot a 330-pound object more than 10,000 feet, achieving an altitude of 215,000 feet. A joint US-Canada project soon began testing guns that were more than 110 feet long.
In the late ’60s, Bull severed his ties with McGill University and set up the Space Research Corporation (SRC) on the land in Vermont and Quebec. The company was incorporated in both countries, and Bull began to branch out around the world. SRC took on projects for China, Chile, Taiwan, Israel and South Africa. This is when things began to get hazy. It is often claimed that the work being licensed through South Africa was actually connected to the CIA, who were supporting South Africa as allies against the Soviet Union.
What is clear is that my parents got somewhat accustomed to the explosions, which used to wake my brother and me from our naps. We used to take walks to the end of the Long Trail, known as Journey’s End, about 3 or 4 miles from the house I grew up in, and we would be bordering SRC land. The first house my parents lived in when they moved to North Troy was owned by an SRC employee who was then living in South Africa. My mom reports that no one really knew what was going on at SRC, but it was clear enough that it was weapons related.
The Northeast Kingdom is known as a place where privacy is a social norm, and no one asked too many questions. At least not until 1977, when the US government adopted new arms trade restrictions and Bull ended up serving time for illegal deals with South Africa. After being sued and fined back in Quebec, Bull moved to Brussels, where he continued his work, taking jobs for China and Iraq. In 1988, Bull took on the infamous Project Babylon, for which he was hired by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to construct superguns, and to work on SCUD missile development.
It was not too long after this, in March 1990, a few months before the Gulf War began, that Gerald Bull was shot outside his apartment in Brussels. Reports differ, of course, but it is most commonly assumed that the action was carried out by Mossad, Israel’s Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations. Other suspects are the CIA, Iraq or Iran, but no one knows for sure. This video takes the tack that Mossad was responsible:
Whatever the actual case, it makes for a bizarre and fine tale, especially as contrasted with the seemingly serene Northeast Kingdom landscape.