May 14, 1993

Nuclear Weapons

The USA and the USSR each built massive numbers of nuclear weapons because the other nation was building them. Neither country had any intention of ever using them except to retaliate.

Last year, I watched a rerun of an interview, made over 10 years ago, with George Kistiakowski. He was the explosives chemist who developed the trigger for the first, and subsequent, atomic bombs. He was science advisor to three presidents, starting with Eisenhower. Kistiakowski cheered at the first atomic explosion, and didn't bat an eye over the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet, he was horrified when he learned of the number of hydrogen bombs targeted for cities in the USSR. He called it "a terrible overkill"; which is like referring to a magnitude 8.5 earthquake as "a slight shudder". I was also horrified. It was the same feeling that I had when I saw my 8 month old daughter crawling on a second story window ledge.

The world was shaken by the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernoble. Yet, both of these disasters released a piddling amount of radiation compared to what could be released in a nuclear war. The bombs now in existence are measured in megatons, and they are thousands of times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Japan in WWII. There now exist sixty to one hundred thousand of these weapons, each capable of unimaginable destruction and lethal radiation release. If just a fraction of these went off, they could destroy almost all life on earth.

Most of these enormous instruments of destruction are in the hands of the U.S. and Russian military. Giving a loaded machine gun to an eight year old is civilized and sensible, by comparison. Things could always be worse: they could be in the hands of the Iraqui military.

The last president who seemed to be aware of the collective ineptitude of the military was Dwight Eisenhower. He warned the public about the power in the hands of the military-industrial complex. If anything, they now have more power.

Is there anyone we could trust with this awesome responsibility? I haven't seen anyone in either party, nor the leader of any nation, whom I would trust.

THE ONLY SENSIBLE SOLUTION IS TO GET RID OF THESE WEAPONS FOREVER. Anything less means that all of us will continue to live right inside the crater of a dormant volcano.

I'm not naive enough to think, if we got rid of the stockpiles, that an atomic bomb would never ever be built. But a few nuclear bombs is of a very different order of magnitude from the many thousands of multi-megaton hydrogen bombs now possessed by the nuclear powers.

I am continually amazed at the apparent lack of a sense of proportion on the part of the people who are concerned about the state of the planet. They worry about global warming, preserving the coastline and the destruction of forests, and high level verbal abstractions, such as freedom, democracy, communism etc. We worry about poverty and drugs, while a nuclear arsenal exists that can decimate the entire earth and all of the people on it in an instant.

The only analogy that I can think of is where a jet airliner has lost all of its engines and controls. As it is plummeting to earth, a woman turns to her husband and says "Oh, John, I just remembered that I forgot to turn off the coffee pot at home!"


There is now, for the first time, a real possibility of world nuclear disarmament, complete with verification. Compared to this, every other problem is trivial and a mere distraction from the important problem of the survival of mankind --including you, me, and our children and grandchildren.

Why do I think that it must be done now? It is because, if it's possible to change the governments of most of Eastern Europe, anything is possible. It would be relatively easy to convince our government and the Russian government to eliminate nuclear weapons forever and to open both countries to anyone who wishes to look -no more nuclear weapons anywhere. The other nuclear powers might be persuaded to go along -particularly if their population threatened to revolt if they didn't. The members of the new (USSR) commonwealth seem eager to have done with the whole nuclear arms business. If ever there was an opportunity to get rid of almost all nuclear weapons, that time is NOW. Our nuclear arsenal is as great of a threat to the world as is the Russian's. It alone could destroy all sentient life on earth.

About 4,000 years ago, the Egyptians used and abused their slaves to build the pyramids. These marvels of engineering were built to house dead bodies, which makes them monuments to idiocy. In our century, we harnessed the atom and then proceeded to build tens of thousands of hydrogen bombs, making it the greatest monument to human insanity ever to exist. We can only hope that now, finally, some sanity might prevail.

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