Jay Kerzner, M.D.**
One may ask: “Why should a doctor be talking about nuclear war? Isn't that out of his realm of expertise? Shouldn't that just be a subject for military and defense people, or government leaders?” The answer is that what is at issue in the nuclear arms race is human life and survival. And, while this means that the threat of nuclear war is everyone's concern, it means also that doctors have a particular contribution to make.
The nuclear weapons of today are capable of causing death and casualties of a magnitude unprecedented in history. The cost in human life is often obscured by jargon such as “counterforce exchange” and “surgical strike.” We read of generals and political leaders “playing out” scenarios of nuclear war on computers, which sounds like our kids playing “Space Invaders” or “Star Wars” on TV computer games. (One TV ad says “you can wipe out a planet with just the press of a button.”) And, most frightening of all, members of the present administration talk of fighting a limited, protracted, but winnable nuclear war—that is, actually using nuclear weapons; they talk of the so-called nuclear war fighting scenarios or Nuclear Utilization Theories (NUTS)—a prospect that since Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been regarded as unthinkable. Physicians in the anti-nuclear war movement, on the other hand, have been suggesting that we look at what these weapons actually do to people, that we move away from the abstractions and the jargon and the euphemisms and the computer scenarios, and look at the cost in human death and suffering. Since survival is inherent in “winning” or, to use the currently preferred term, “prevailing, ” in a nuclear war, we must take a hard look at the concept of survival in a nuclear war.
* This essay is based on remarks delivered at the Conference on Nuclear Weapons and Law held at Nova University Center for the Study of Law on February 5, 1983.
** Associate Professor of Cardiology, University of Miami School of Medicine; Member, National Board of Directors, Physicians for Social Responsibility.