“it’s more dangerous now than it was at
the height of the Cold War”
With the world's attention currently transfixed by the possible consequences of a nuclear power reactor meltdown down at Fukushima in Japan - try to imagine for a moment what even the most limited kind of nuclear war would be like. We can't, because the consequences are unimaginably terrible. Unless, of course, you are a politician, or a boffin in the Pentagon, in which case "megadeaths" might come trippingly enough from the tongue.
The Australian activist Doctor Helen Caldicott has spent almost her entire adult life speaking out to alert communities around the world about the appalling perils of nuclear weapons and nuclear power (which produces plutonium that arms such doomsday weapons).
Named by the Smithsonian Institute as one of the most influential women of the twentieth century, Dr Caldicott was born in Melbourne. She gained her medical degree from the University of Adelaide in 1961, and founded the Cystic Fibrosis Clinic at the Adelaide Children's Hospital in 1975. She later moved to the United States where she was an instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, but resigned in 1980 to work full-time on the prevention of nuclear war and stopping environmental destruction.
She has received 19 honorary doctoral degrees, and among her many prizes and awards are the Lannan Foundation's 2003 Prize for Cultural Freedom. She was personally nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Linus Pauling - himself a Nobel Laureate. In this speech delivered in Los Angeles in October 2008, in the dying days of the Bush administration, she reminds her audience that the nuclear risk to humanity posed by the Cold War has by no means passed, and in fact is worse than ever. She also pours scorn on the US anti-missile “Star Wars” programme initiated more than two decades ago by the Reagan administration, saying it heightens international tensions - and will never work. And while President Obama has worked for a new missile reduction programme, humanity will for the foreseeable future still live under the threat of nuclear annihilation. It is the gun we aim at our own temple, as an entire race, and our finger sweats on the trigger.
‘There is no possible physical way that missile defence will ever work. I mean, just briefly, Russia’s missiles are MIRVed. MIRVing means Multiple Independent Re-Entry Vehicles. So they might have eight bombs on one missile. They launch the rocket, the missile goes into space, the “bus” continues - these are Pentagon terms - with its “passengers”, which are the hydrogen bombs, and then out of that single target come eight more targets.
And so America launches an anti-ballistic missile, with a “kill vehicle” that homes in only on the specks of light and reflection of light as these bombs hurtle through space. One missile will never hit eight - A. B, you can confuse the kill vehicle by putting balloons amongst the hydrogen bombs and then the kill vehicle doesn’t even know what’s going on... add lots of what they call chaff, or aluminium pieces, and it’s totally confused.
And every test they’ve done, with only one target, and one kill vehicle, and the target sending out radio signals saying “here I am, here I am” - never worked! None of them have ever worked. None of them. But they have spent 110 billion dollars of your money on this aimless, stupid, ridiculous project, which is provocative because Russia says, “oh yeah, you’re building a missile defence system, well we’ll just super-saturate it and build more missiles.” So does China.
The psychology behind this is aimless but it’s stupid. I don’t understand the men in the White House at the moment... I don’t understand some of the men in the Pentagon, and I do think there’s a bell-shaped curve of men. On one end are beautiful, lovely men like every one of you here who would never hurt a fly. In the middle are men who would go from nought to 100 miles an hour in three seconds and that’s why they want these crazy cars. Who would play video games... you walk through airports and you see them all the time... and who would go to war and who would many of them come back absolutely devastated, as we’re seeing. And then on the other end I think there’s a small minority of men whose reptilian mid-brain has a toxic reaction to testosterone....
I know that a couple of miles from here is an ammunition base almost certainly housing nuclear weapons. Did you know that? Did you? Well they say you’re not allowed to know on account of national security, but in fact they’re your weapons. You paid for them. This is your democracy and you have an absolute right to know. Do you know they drive nuclear weapons around in Winnebagos? On the highways, with submachine guns on the dashboard? Do you know the ships coming in to San Diego, the nuclear-powered ships, have nuclear weapons on board? Probably transporting them from the ships to the ammunition depot. Find out what is going on at that depot. Insist. Demand, and the military has no right to keep you in ignorance. Because they’re your weapons and it’s your life.
Do you know what would happen if one of them exploded? I’ll tell you. By accident. They’re a thing called “broken arrows”... they drop them sometimes... they have accidents with them, their safety catches go off. Just near here, right here in Los Angeles, it would explode with the heat inside the centre of the sun and dig a hole three-quarters of a mile wide and eight hundred feet deep, turning millions of tons of rock into radioactive fallout. Then five miles... and you are within that radius... five miles in all directions, every person is vaporized.
In Hiroshima, which was a tiny little firecracker of a bomb, a little boy was reaching up to catch a red dragonfly on his hand against the blue sky, and there was a blinding flash - and he disappeared. And if you go to the Hiroshima museum there’s a shadow on the pavement of that little boy. Never before have we been about to vaporize our fellow human beings. A woman was running with her baby and she and the baby have been converted to a charcoal statue.
Twenty miles from here in all directions radius, everyone’s lethally burnt. Winds of 500 miles an hour - a hurricane’s a hundred - suck people out of buildings turning them into missiles travelling at a hundred miles an hour... shards of glass like pop corn fly through the air, decapitating people. Then the whole area would be engulfed in a firestorm and there’s a lot to burn in houses now... plastic and wood... and the fire would consume everything, a raging firestorm, so if you are in a shelter you would be asphyxiated.
And then if all bombs are used in the arsenal, a huge cloud of toxic black smoke would rise up and cover the earth with a cloud so thick it blots out the sun for maybe four or five years creating a nuclear winter, and the end of most life on earth, except for cockroaches...
Of the 30,000 hydrogen bombs in the world, Russia and America own 97 percent of them, so who are the real rogue nations? Russia’s got you targeted with 40 H-Bombs on New York alone. And almost certainly LA would have 40 to 60 H-Bombs. Because Russia’s got two and a half thousand weapons she can launch and land in half an hour, and such a redundancy as there are only 240 cities in the northern hemisphere. Such a redundancy everything’s targeted - universities, factories, everything that you hold most dear.
And you have five and a half thousand hydrogen bombs to drop on Russia, and since the Cold War ended, you have now targeted China. Fancy that, for god’s sake.
And America’s got a policy, which you might not know, to fight and win a nuclear war against Russia. How do you win it? You send over a missile, you decapitate Moscow and kill Putin so he can’t press his button. Then quickly you launch all your missiles and land two hydrogen bombs on each missile silo and you kill the missiles. Millions of people dying, this is called collateral damage, it’s really irrelevant to the Pentagon.
Now the Russians are a little paranoid, and they’ve got a missile called the Dead Hand, and if Putin is decapitated they launch the Dead Hand which sends a signal to all their missiles to launch, with no human input.
That’s the situation we live in, right this minute.
And the Russian early warning systems have ceased to work, because they haven’t afforded to be able to keep them up. And they are clinically paranoid. You don’t threaten clinically paranoid patients because they’ll do something really dangerous.
On 9-11 you got to the second highest stage of nuclear alert. Five - four - three - two, and the last one is they turn the keys in the locks and off they go. Why? Because no-one knew what was happening.
As the international situation becomes more and more anxiety-making, and fear prevails, ecologically, economically, so we enter a period of an unknown territory... with these bombs it’s more dangerous now than it was at the height of the Cold War when we were all so frightened... we’ve forgotten, it’s the elephant in the sitting room that’s never talked about.’
Utterly compelling, chilling video map of nuclear tests conducted worldwide since 1945, created by Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto:
Dr Caldicott's speech is from my book, "Speeches of War and Peace", published by New Holland Publishers.
THE DOCUMENT DOCTOR