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Nuclear Threat Still With Us

Editorial published in the Asheville Citizen Times, August 8, 2014 by Terry Clark.


Few of us spend any time thinking about nuclear weapons. I will explain why you may decide to do so. Early August is a time for reflection about nuclear weapons. On the morning of August 6th, 1945, an American B-29 bomber, the “Enola Gay” dropped the first atomic bomb, named “Little Boy” on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. It killed 50,000 to 80,000 instantly. Two days later, August 8th,the US dropped a second bomb, “Fat Man” on Nagasaki. It killed 40,000 people instantly.

Subsequently we witnessed 40 years of an arms race which reached a combined US and USSR total of 50,000 weapons. It was characterized by the customary dehumanizing comments about an enemy, such as   “Commies vs. Imperialists”.

In the 1980’s there was a tremendous amount of citizen activism. People said they did not want their children annihilated by nuclear war.  A “sister cities” program was developed which helped defuse dehumanizing rhetoric. This public activism contributed momentum to international treaties reducing nuclear weapons to 17,000.

A lot of people think we have the biggest and best nuclear weapons and would prevail in a nuclear war. No one will prevail. The planet would likely be destroyed. As far as being our best weapons this has been refuted by retired General Colin Powell who has stated there is no military use of nuclear weapons.
Recent research by The International Physicians of Nuclear War including the US affiliate, Physicians for Social Responsibility shows that detonation of less than 1 % of the world’s nuclear weapons in a nuclear war, between India and Pakistan, would kill one to two billion people due to the initial blast and environmental changes leading to crop failures and famine.
Some claim that the weapons have deterred others from launching a nuclear attack upon us. Yet, even if deterrence is needed, we don’t need thousands of weapons.

The detonation of nuclear weapons is risked by miscalculations, accidents, outdated technology, terrorism and psychological unstable people.
There have been a number of close calls.  One example is the little publicized  “Goldsboro Incident” when in 1961, a B-52 bomber carrying two nuclear weapons, broke apart over Goldsboro, North Carolina  and dropped the bombs to earth. Fortunately neither detonated.

Air Force launch officers serving at missile silos in Montana and North Dakota are entrusted to safeguard and launch Nuclear Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles if so ordered. One would think that the US Air Force would do an excellent job at this important task. In fact, in the past two years, fifty-one US Air Force launch officers have been relieved of duty because of cheating on launch policy exams and carelessness in following safety protocol.

These risks are unacceptable.  If we do not remove these weapons from our world; it is inevitable they will eventually be used.  Alarmingly, the US and Russia have never moved weapons off “high alert/launch on warning”. Both countries continue to maintain brinkmanship “first strike policy” claiming the right of first strike if they believe they are under threat of attack. Thus we have thousands of weapons on “high alert”.
The US plans to spend 3 trillion dollars over the next thirty years on modernization and maintenance of nuclear weapons. The beneficiaries of this expenditure are weapons contractors and the politicians who receive their generous donations. This association is difficult to counter, yet remember that politicians need votes to stay in office. Stay informed of their position on nuclear weapons and vote for those who are sensible.

We must wake up to the untenable risks of nuclear weapons. They are vulnerable to accidents, misjudgment or terrorist use. We need to hold the future of our children and grandchildren foremost in our hearts for a source of motivation.

I recommend you watch a recently released humorous yet powerful U-tube video by John Oliver on this topic.

Terry Clark, M.D.
Western North Carolina Chapter
Physicians for Social Responsibility

Mission Statement

PREVENTING WHAT WE CANNOT CURE: Physicians for Social Responsibility is the medical and public health voice working to prevent the use or spread of nuclear weapons and to slow, stop and reverse global warming and the toxic degradation of the environment.