Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Physicians and the Nuclear Threat

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Physicians and the Nuclear Threat

Article excerpt

Physicians and the nuclear threat

In December 1980, six physicians, three from the Soviet Union and three from the United States, met in Geneva to establish the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), and in December 1985 we travelled to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

I believe that this extraordinary achievement and recognition relates to the cogency and the urgency of the issue being addressed by these physicians. It is also due to the fact, as the Nobel Committee pointed out, that the IPPNW has been "spreading authoritative information by creating an awareness of the catastrophic consequences of atomic warfare".

We have resisted being sidetracked onto other issues, no matter how morally compelling. Combating the nuclear threat has been our exclusive preoccupation, since we are dedicated to the proposition that to ensure the conditions of life we must prevent the conditions of death. Ultimately, we believe people must come to terms with the fact that the struggle is not between different national destinies or between opposing ideologies, but rather between catastrophe and survival. All nations share a linked destiny--nuclear weapons are their common enemy.

IPPNW has emphasized a number of critical conclusions.

Firstly, that no public health hazard ever faced by humankind equals the threat of nuclear war. Never before has man possessed the destructive resources to make this planet uninhabitable.

Secondly, that modern medicine has nothing to offer, not even a token benefit, in the event of nuclear war.

Thirdly, while no national interest would justify nuclear war, sober appraisals suggest that we have created a technology which is increasingly out of human control. Ultimately the bomb, the robot and the computer pre-empt man's decision-making role and take command.

Fourthly, even if war is prevented, the arms race is exacting an enormous economic, psychological and moral toll.

The current global economic crisis results largely from the mortgaging of scarce world resources to the military. One might use the metaphor of a metronome. Listen to a metronome set at a rate of sixty beats per minute, imagine the sound of a pulse every second. Every two seconds the pulse coveys the message that a child has died of a disease that could have been prevented by immunization, by providing adequate food and a safe water supply. …

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