As the nation appears to be on the brink of nuclear war, Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) is reprinting its 50-year-old message in the New England Journal of Medicine. It claims that the existence of nuclear weapons is an “existential threat to humanity,” and that there is an urgent need to abolish them.
It is of course true that nuclear weapons effects are devastating. However, the “nuclear winter” theory that Physicians for Social Responsibility still cites was debunked and discredited long ago, as explained by Michael Crichton in a 2003 lecture at Caltech.
The group’s prediction of millions of casualties from blast, fire, and radiation assumes that no protective measures whatever are taken.
Physicians for Social Responsibility boasts that its efforts to publicize these effects had a “profound effect” and “led to the end of the arms race.” Actually, the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction likely kept the peace between two rational, equally strong adversaries. But the MAD theory is unlikely to deter North Korea or Iran, and the arms race—by nations other than the U.S.—continues at a feverish pace. Russia and China are upgrading and expanding their arsenals, and unsecured Russian warheads might already be in terrorist hands. Iran is said to have hundreds of underground missile bases.
What Physicians for Social Responsibility probably can claim responsibility for is the destruction of the American civil defense program, including the marking and stocking of public fallout shelters and the maintenance of radiation monitoring instruments. PSR members ridiculed people learning to save their lives by a “duck and cover” drill. They persuaded Americans that resistance is futile, and that they should, in the event of an attack, simply “kiss their children goodbye.”
Additionally, the false idea that radiation kills at the tiniest dose would cause panic and paralyze attempts to rescue the injured or do essential work.
In fact, protective measures were developed and thoroughly tested by American scientists and engineers—whose work is widely applied elsewhere in the world.
“Millions could be saved by basic knowledge alone,” stated Physicians for Civil Defense president Jane M. Orient, M.D. “The blood of millions will be on the hands of those who kept people ignorant, misinformed, and unprepared.”
Fortunately, the knowledge is still available to those who choose to seek it. “Perhaps the New England Journal of Medicine article at this dangerous time will cause increased awareness,” states Orient.
Physicians for Civil Defense distributes information to help to save lives in the event of war or other disaster.