Dr. Caldicott in SF lecture &
WALL news & commentary
“Who are the real terrorists in the world? Russia and America,” said Helen Caldicott, Australian medical doctor and the leading activist against nuclear weapons.
She talked of the terror of missiles armed with nearly 15,000 nuclear bombs in the two countries on hair-trigger alert and ready to fire on each other; war set off by a deranged leader, human blunder, computer error or hacking, or an international crisis; infernos from coast to coast; people vaporized into black, radioactive clouds; an ice age that ends nearly all life on earth.
The world has come so close to nuclear war so many times, “I don’t know how we’re still here,” she said in a San Francisco lecture before a packed Koret Auditorium in the main San Francisco Public Library.
During that talk, on August 13, and in a broadcast on KGO-radio one week earlier, Dr. Caldicott pleaded for the abolition of nuclear weapons, as she had been doing for 45 years.
She wants the people of the U.S. and Russia to insist that their leaders reach a bilateral agreement to get rid of all their nuclear bombs — most of the world’s supply. Only then will other nuclear nations do so, she says.
The meeting was cosponsored by the San Francisco Public Library and the budding Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament, made up of 15 pro-peace groups. Its objective: getting Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty back on track. The article mandated early negotiation for a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons.
One of the groups is the San Francisco-based War and Law League (WALL), which initiated the event as its biennial general meeting and organized the coalition. These are the other 14 groups:
American Friends Service Committee; Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists; Code Pink; Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose; East Bay Peace Action; Ecumenical Peace Institute/CALC; Mt. Diablo Peace and Justice; Physicians for Social Responsibility, SF Bay Area Chapter; Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish Nonviolence; Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment; Veterans for Peace, Chapter 69; Western States Legal Foundation; Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, SF and East Bay Chapters; and World Beyond War.
Triggering nuclear war
Caldicott cited these examples of events or errors that brought the world close to nuclear war: A solar storm affected magnetic fields and led a satellite to indicate that Russia had launched atomic bombs on the U.S. An American weather satellite over Norway had the Russians thinking that the U.S. had launched such bombs on them. Someone plugged a war-games tape into a Pentagon computer, giving the illusion of a Russian attack. Then there was the Cuban missile crisis.
“Any sort of international anxiety could trigger a nuclear war. We’re at a time of high international tension right now…. Putin’s probably paranoid. Why not?—being threatened by the United States with missiles right at his border…. Trump’s a nutter, but at least he’s saying we should make friends with Putin. Of course we should make friends with Putin.” But she noted that Donald Trump also was reported to have asked, “If we have nuclear weapons, why don’t we use them?”
(Making use of our most monstrous weapons against both military and civilian targets, notwithstanding international law to the contrary, seems to have been U.S. policy since the presidency of Harry Truman — editor.)
“America’s official policy now is to start and win a nuclear war. It hasn’t changed, even under Obama, who is spineless,” Caldicott commented. “If he were like FDR, he would have inspired the Americans … and said to the Pentagon, ‘No!’ ”
Statistics and images: We will get at most five minutes’ notice. Each bomb arrives at 20 times the speed of sound, so you won’t hear it. It will explode with 10 or 20 times the heat inside the center of the Sun. It will dig a hole three-fourths of a mile wide and 800 feet deep, and all of us in the buildings and the earth below are ejected into the mushroom cloud into the stratosphere, out to about five miles.
In Hiroshima, a woman had been running with a baby. She was converted into a charcoal statue. People were walking with skin falling off their bodies, eyes melted; they looked at the bombs. Winds of 500 miles an hour sucked people out of buildings. Pieces of glass traveling at 100 miles an hour decapitated people.
The Russian bombs are big, many times bigger than those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Every town in the U.S. of 50,000 population or more is targeted. The whole San Francisco Bay Area would burn, and so would the entire country, coast to coast, north to south.
Dr. Caldicott came to the U.S. in 1978, when “Better dead than Red” was a popular slogan. She organized 23,000 doctors in Physicians for Social Responsibility, and in the five years that she served as its president, “We educated 80 percent of Americans to be opposed to the nuclear war concept. We had a million people in Central Park [in New York City], the biggest rally ever.”
“Every morning,” she urged each of her listeners, “decide what you’re going to do today to save the planet.”
“A short time ago, an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima and destroyed its usefulness to the enemy. That bomb has more power than 20,000 tons of TNT.”
Seventy-one years after President Harry Truman made that announcement — ignoring the hundreds of thousands of children, women, and civilian men whose lives his bomb destroyed — Dr. Helen Caldicott appeared on KGO-radio in San Francisco to plead for nuclear peace.
John Rothmann’s first question in a half-hour interview was what it was like to meet with President Reagan. Dr. Caldicott had met the President’s pro-peace daughter, Patti Davis, who said, “I think you might be the person who can change my father’s mind” (as quoted by Rothmann). Patti sat quietly as Reagan and Caldicott talked for an hour and a quarter (said Caldicott ).
Caldicott quoted Reagan as saying, early in their meeting, “I too am scared of nuclear war, but … I believe in building more bombs.” Caldicott had just written the book Missile Envy and was full of facts and figures.
“Almost every single thing he said to me was wrong or inaccurate, so I would interrupt him and correct him…. I held his hand about half the time to reassure him…. I came out saying he had impending Alzheimer’s, and that was the correct diagnosis.
“I thought I’d made no difference to him, but shortly after I’d spent the time with him, he started to say, ‘Nuclear war must never be fought and can never be won.’ And that was partly because of the work of Physicians for Social Responsibility.”
The group, which Caldicott activated as president, was presenting televised symposiums in various U.S. cities, showing the effects of nuclear war. “Clearly he’d seen that, and he started to change…. Gorbachev saw it as well. We were on Soviet television.”
Meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, “Reagan and Gorbachev agreed — and it was the most amazing situation — to abolish nuclear weapons bilaterally. But then Reagan got stuck up on Star Wars, which Gorbachev knew would never work. But Reagan was obstinate, and so was Gorbachev.”
Asked about the importance of a president, she pointed out that an officer carrying a suitcase walks behind the president. “It’s called ‘the football,’ and inside the football are the codes to start a nuclear war. The president has only three minutes to decide whether to launch…. He’s the one, or she, to decide whether or not to exterminate life on the planet.”
The legality of giving a president the equipment to violate the Constitution — which assigns the authority to initiate war solely to Congress — did not come up.
Getting rid of the bombs
“Can nuclear weapons be abolished?” Rothmann asked. “Of course they can,” Caldicott replied. “We built them. We can abolish them.”
The U.S. and Russia have 93 percent of the world’s 16,000 or more nuclear weapons, she added, and only those two countries can destroy all creation.
The interviewer asked what to do about others who have nuclear weapons or try to obtain them. Answer: “You have no moral authority as the United States, who first deployed those dreadful weapons. If you decide to abolish nuclear weapons bilaterally with Russia, only then will you be able to say to North Korea, to India, to Pakistan, to Israel, ‘OK, you abolish nuclear weapons too.’ ”
But she pointed out that the U.S. was moving in the opposite direction, having “decided to spend $1 trillion replacing and rebuilding every single nuclear missile, hydrogen bomb, submarine, aircraft carrier, and airplane.”
Rothmann asked what to do about “rogue nations” and terrorists? She said, “North Korea could blow up a city. I’m talking about the end of life on earth.
“ … A thousand bombs dropping on a hundred cities would create such a huge firestorm and America would burn from coast to coast, north to south. The radioactive smoke would rise into the stratosphere, blocking out the sun for up to ten years, inducing a short ice age where everything and everyone would freeze to death in the dark….
“We are on the edge of destruction…. There is nothing else, even global warming, that is as important as this… Nobody in the presidential election has even talked about this.”
In the 80s, “we mobilized 80 percent [of the American people] to oppose nuclear weapons and nuclear war.” She blamed the current mass media for ignoring what should be the number-one issue.
Men like William J. Perry, former secretary of defense, and General James Cartwright and others say “we’re closer to nuclear war than we were at the height of the cold war,” Caldicott said.
launching of nuclear bombs need not be the decision of a rational person. “They
could be launched by hacking, by computer error, by a president developing a
brain tumor or becoming psychotic. We’re in the hands of fallible human
(For background, see “Nuclear foe Helen Caldicott to speak in SF on disarming as USA enhances its arsenal,” this site, May 25, 2016. See also, “Our two-faced policy on nuclear weapons,” this site, June 29, 2012.)
August 15, 2016