Caldicott founded Physicians for Social Responsibility,
an organization of 23,000 doctors whose umbrella group
(International Physicians for the revention of Nuclear
War) won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. Our selection
is from her Phi Beta Kappa oration to the Harvard
Chapter in 1981. She is now the president of the Nuclear
Policy Research Institute in California.
article is abridged from Speak Out Against the
New Right edited by Herbert F. Vetter (Boston:
Beacon Press, 1982)
This beautiful planet of ours is terminally ill. Unless
we face it and do something about it, almost certainly
it will die along with us and the whales. It is important
to examine this terminally ill planet, which presently
is infected with lethal "macrobes," the
nuclear weapons, which are mestastisizing rapidly.
The nuclear age began in the late '30s and early '40s
when Einstein wrote to President Roosevelt telling
him that he thought Hitler was developing nuclear
weapons and that America should be doing the same
thing. This led to the Manhattan Project which was
funded by huge amounts of government money and through
which many scientists became involved in the challenge
of their lifetime.
A film shown on PBS, "The Day After Trinity,"
described the history of the experiment. It took the
scientists about three years to develop enough enriched
uranium and plutonium to make three bombs. Even after
it became apparent that Hitler, in fact, was not going
to make nuclear weapons, and even after VE day, when
Germany surrendered, they kept going. Some of the
scientists had a meeting to discuss whether they should
proceed, but because they were absolutely fascinated
by what they were doing, they decided it would be
better to make the bombs and use them to show mankind
how dreadful they were, and then they would never
be made again.
The first bomb was named Trinity and it was called
a "gadget." The "gadget" was hoisted
to the top of a tower in Almagordo Desert in July
1945. On a stormy night with lightning everywhere,
the "gadget" exploded. One scientist described
how he felt when it blew up. He said, "The noise
went on, and on, and on, like thunder, never stopping.
The desert suddenly became small."
They were not sure before they blew up the bomb that
the whole atmosphere would not go critical. They were
worried about this probability, so they redid their
calculations and the probability remained the same.
It was not extremely small. One technician was upset
to hear Enrico Fermi taking side bets as the "gadget"
was hoisted to the tower, that New Mexico would be
After the explosion, the radioactive cloud hovered
overhead for some time, worrying the scientists, because
if it did not blow away in the direction they had
prescribed, it could have killed them or injured them
severely. However, it did eventually blow away. That
night the scientists had a party.
The next bomb was blown up or tested over a human
population on August 6, 1945, at 8:15 in the morning.
In fact, the air force had been told to spare two
cities in Japan so that we could see the effects of
these weapons on human populations. The bomb was dropped
from a plane called the Enola Gay, which flew over
Hiroshima. Men looking up saw one parachute opening
and they were pleased because they thought the plane
had been shot down. Another parachute opened adjacent
to the first. Then there was a blinding flash and
tens of thousands of people were vaporized. People,
in fact, when they disappeared, left their shadows
on concrete sidewalks behind them. Children were seen
running along streets shedding skin from their bodies
like veils; a man was standing in a state of acute
clinical shock holding his eyeball in the palm of
his hand; and a woman lay lying in a gutter with her
back totally burnt with her baby suckling at her breast
as she lay dying.
Some people who escaped Hiroshima migrated then to
the only Christian center in Japan, Nagasaki, thinking
that it would never be bombed by the Americans. They
arrived three days later, just in time to receive
the second bomb. Many Japanese will say, if you visit
there, "We can sort of understand the first bomb,
but why the second?" One of the physicists who
celebrated at the party the night after Trinity, recounted
in "The Day After Trinity" how he felt after
the bomb in Hiroshima was used. He said, "I was
so nauseated that night I had to go to bed, and I
was profoundly depressed. We are scientists. We never
thought of human beings as matter."
I have heard talk of Russian expansionism, and I investigated
that thoroughly. I found that, according to the Pentagon,
America has 200 major bases in 45 nations in the world
and 20 major ports; the Soviet Union has none.
The world spends over $600 billion a year on the arms
race. That is over a million dollars a minute. Incidentally,
the cost of one third of one Trident submarine would
eradicate malaria in the world. Two-thirds of the
world's children are malnourished and starving. Over
half the scientists in this country work for the military-industrial
According to the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency,
there are enough weapons to target every town and
city with a population of ten thousand people or more.
Apparently the nuclear reactors are also targeted.
Inside each thousand megawatt nuclear reactor is as
much long-lived radiation as that released by 1,000
Hiroshima-sized bombs. Apparently the major airports,
the major oil refineries, and industry are also targeted.
Let me describe now a 20 megaton bomb dropping on
Boston, using a series of articles published in The
New England Journal Medicine. A 20 megaton bomb
is equal to 20 million tons of TNT. That is four times
the collective size of all the bombs dropped during
the Second World War. It is a small sun. It explodes
with the heat of the sun. It will do this to Boston:
It will carve out a crater about half a mile to a
mile wide and 300 hundred feet deep. Everything in
that volume will be converted to radioactive fallout.
Every human being within a radius of six miles from
the hypo-center will be vaporized, as will most buildings.
Concrete and steel will burn. Out to a radius of 20
miles, most people will be dead, or lethally injured
with tens of thousands of severe burn victims, when
there are only facilities for 2000 acute burn victims
in the whole of the United States of America. There
will be injuries such as compound fractures, ruptured
lungs from the overpressure, ruptured internal organs
and massive hemmorhage. What was left of the building
will be lying in what is left of the streets. Most
hospitals will be destroyed, most medical personnel
dead or injured. If one doctor works for two weeks,
18 hours a day, he or she will only be able to see
each patient once for a ten-minute period during that
time, meaning every patient would die. If you happen
just to glance at the blast from 35-40 miles away,
the flash would instantly burn the retina and blind
you. It will create a fire storm of 15,000 to 30,000
square miles, in which everything will spontaneously
ignite, creating a holocaust fanned by hurricane force
winds, so if you were in a fallout shelter, you would
be pressure-cooked and asphyxiated as the fire used
all the oxygen. The explosion will create an electromagnetic
pulse damaging all electronic equipment and all communications
What is the etiology or cause of the present situation,
our terminally ill planet? It is psychiatric. We are
causing the illness. We are very intelligent, but
we are motivated by our emotions. How did we let it
happen? One of the reasons we have let it happen,
according to Robert Lifton, is that we practice psychic
numbing. We block it out. We push it back into our
subconscious because we do not like to think about
it. Because if, in fact, we take this on emotionally,
it is as if I have told you just now that you have
a terminal illness. You, the planet, us. If you have
a cancer, you might die in a year. If you understand
this fact emotionally, you enter the stages of grief
which are, first, shock and disbelief. "She must
be mad. Anyway, one of her facts is wrong, so I will
discount the lot." The next stage is profound
depression. You would prefer to feel the pain of a
fractured arm than the pain of the depression, followed
by profound anger, followed perhaps eventually, by
adjustment. The human being would do anything to avoid
those feelings, so we practice psychic numbing and
avoid the feelings.
said, The splitting of the atom changed everything
save mans mode of thinking, thus we drift towards
What is the therapy for this planet, and for us? First,
as physicians, we must shatter people's psychic numbing.
It is inappropriate for any person on this planet
to be psychologically comfortable in this day and
age. As the psychic numbing is shattered, people will
enter the phases of the grieving reaction. This then
motivates individuals to become active in doing something
about the problem. The anger can be very profound.
It is therapeutic to do something, it feels better.
We must also deal with our own dark side and stop
projecting it like children onto other people and
stop blaming other people for things we ourselves
can fix and for which we are responsible.
We must also have a total commitment to save this
planet. Now, a marriage or a relationship with two
people wilI never work unless each partner is totally
committed to that marriage. If there is so much as
one toe out the door, saying if you don't do this
I will leave, the marriage will eventually disintegrate,
because neither partner will go through the pain and
humiliation of personal growth to reach the stage
where the relationship matures. Similarly, both superpowers
must be totally committed to saving this planet. For
nothing else really matters. War is no longer appropriate.
Even conventional war is no longer appropriate because
of nuclear reactors and huge nuclear radioactive waste
dumps everywhere that wouId produce, to a degree,
genetic suicide. These weapons are biologically inapplicable
and cannot be used. The only weapon we have at our
disposal in this day and age is the larynx.
This is the greatest challenge the human race has
ever had since we stood on our hind legs and developed
the opposing thumb to use weapons. Unless we mature
and stop behaving like children, we will not survive.
I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said, "God
Bless America," but every person on earth is
the son or daughter of God. We are together on a small,
fragile planet. We will either live together or we
will die together.
What is our responsibility toward evolution? To continue
this beautiful life process. If you take this on,
life becomes very precious. Even the things you dislike
most about your life become precious. Go outside and
look at a rose and smell it, or look at a baby to
know what I mean.
We are curators of all life on this planet. We hold
it in our hands. It is a beautiful planet, maybe the
only life in the whole universe, and I refuse to believe
we are silly enough to destroy it.