This Beautiful Planet

HELEN CALDICOTT

Dr. 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.


This 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 incinerated.

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 complex.

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 equipment.

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.

Einstein said, “The splitting of the atom changed everything save man’s mode of thinking, thus we drift towards unparalleled catastophe.”

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.


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