Einstein –“The splitting of the atom changed everything save man’s mode of thinking, thus we drift towards unparalleled catastrophe.”
This subject has perplexed me ever since I was a young girl and read “On The Beach” when I lived in Melbourne. It became obvious to me that unless men could restrain themselves and not fight and kill each other that sooner or later these hideous weapons which were pioneered by Einstein and Oppenheimer would be used.
In fact it amazes me that to this day we are still living and breathing on this beautiful planet of ours.
In 2002 I wrote a book called The New Nuclear Danger and as a physician I analysed the history of near misses and close encounters with the nuclear arsenals of the two superpowers – Russia and the US and it became difficult to understand why we had not yet experienced a nuclear holocaust.
What most people fail to comprehend is the fact that both the US and Russia each still maintain almost 1000 hydrogen bombs on missiles that would take 10 to 30 minutes to hit their assigned targets in either country plus other major cities in China, Europe, Canada, Australia and the UK. These deadly arsenals are basically under computer control although if an early-warning satellite detects a missile launch from either country, radios back to the command post , thence to the Kremlin or the White House, Putin or Obama would have only three minutes to decide whether to launch their nuclear arsenals before they lose them in the impending attack. Over 1000 people hack into the Pentagon computers every day.
If you have ever closely observed Obama he is always followed by an officer carrying a suit case called the “football” which carries the codes to launch a nuclear holocaust.
In 1995 Yeltsin, at the time a hardened alcoholic was notified that the US had launched a first strike nuclear attack. He was seated in front of his computer with military officers standing over his shoulder telling him to press the button, but just seconds before the three minute elapsed the missile veered off course and the computer was closed. The US had in fact launched a weather satellite from Norway, the Pentagon had notified the Kremlin that this was to take place but the Kremlin misplaced the warning. We were literally seconds from annihilation.
Such situations occur not infrequently but they usually slide under the radar with little international reporting or notice.
There are others – in 2008 a pilot inadvertently flew six nuclear missiles on a B52 bomber from Minot to Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana without his knowledge. As a result 2 top Air Force officials were fired.
This year, 2013, there was a disconcerting event at Malmstrom Airforce Base, home of the 341st Missile Wing in Montana when a team of officers failed a “surety” inspection which revealed a potential vulnerability in the force to ensure that no nuclear weapon is accidentally, inadvertently or deliberately armed or launched without presidential authority. In 2010 and in 2008 two other failed safety and security inspections occurred at the same base. The 341st Missile wing is one of three nuclear missile wings in the US, each containing 150 Minutemen-3 intercontinental ballistic missiles, each missile armed with three hydrogen bombs.
And in March this year at the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base in Nevada the deputy commander said there was “rot” in the force and 17 officers were removed from launch duty control.
Each missile silo is staffed by two young men aged 18 to 21 trained like Pavlovian dogs to follow computer generated orders to launch a nuclear war. Each is armed with a pistol to shoot the other if one shows signs of deviant behavior.
The US is the only country to have ever used nuclear weapons and it also led the nuclear arms race while Russia blindly and stupidly copied and followed. Now the Cold war is over but the fact that two countries are now trading partners and friends has made little difference in the minds of the Pentagon, the US politicians and the powerful military industrial complex.
In June 2013 the Pentagon released its Nuclear Deployment Strategy which calls for the ability to initiate a first strike nuclear war or “launch under attack”, to maintain its nuclear triad of sea, air and land based weapons and to maintain 200 nuclear armed gravity B61 bombs in Turkey, Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. The B61 is to be “upgraded” with a $10 billion makeover, and the US plans to spend $80 billion over the next decade to “modernize” its nuclear force.
Of the 17,000 nuclear weapons in the world, Russia and the US own 94%, while Israel, Pakistan, India, France, China and Britain possess the rest.
Meanwhile the world is becoming seriously unstable as the US uses drones to kill so-called insurgents and civilians in Mali, Pakistan, Yemen Iraq and Afghanistan instigating ever more traumatised people with burning hatred towards the west, while civil wars rage in Africa, Syria, Turkey, Egypt and elsewhere.
Japan, South Korea, France, Canada, Australia and the US are avidly marketing their nuclear wares – uranium, enrichment facilities and nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, China, and many developing countries claiming that these countries are “stable” and they would never make nuclear weapons from their nuclear waste.
However each 1000 megawatt nuclear power plant manufactures 250 kilograms of plutonium a year a radioactive element with a half-life of 24,400 years and perfect for the manufacture of atomic bombs – just 5 kilos is sufficient. So in essence the west in its stupidity is exporting nuclear weapons factories which will remain so in perpetuity.
I give this background as a platform to expound my theories on international peace. As the world becomes more and more unstable, as lateral proliferation of nuclear weapons proceeds apace around the world, as arms manufacturers sell their weapons to friend and foe in as many countries as they can, and as international tension and anxiety reign supreme, it is not difficult to imagine that an episode such as India – Pakistan nuclear confrontation, or another 9/11 when no-one knew what was happening causing the Air Force to automatically upgrade from the lowest state of nuclear alert –DEFCON 5 to DEFCON 2 preparing for launch, or during any other unexplained crisis, an accidental nuclear war could be initiated by either of the two superpowers, because their weapons are continuously maintained in a constant state of alert and “launch on warning”.
Now the medical and ecological consequences of a limited nuclear war between India and Pakistan, or a full scale event between Russia and America are relevant to this presentation.
Recent work by the eminent meteorologists Alan Robock, Owen Toon and Richard Turco postulating the former scenario where only 100 Hiroshima sized bombs were used, revealed that so much dust, smoke and soot would be injected into the stratosphere by the firestorms in the decimated cities that it would block out the sun for some years inducing “nuclear autumn”, causing crops to fail and millions to die of starvation over several years.
Whereas a nuclear war by Russia and the US would induce firestorms in hundreds of cities incinerating everything even in the middle of winter, and a dense cloud of black radioactive smoke and soot would envelope the earth blocking out the sun for some ten years, as temperatures plummet below zero inducing a short ice-age and humans and most organisms would freeze to death in the dark.
It seems that most politicians are unaware of these facts, although the Pentagon well understands these consequences as does the Kremlin, but the nuclear and conventional arms races proceed apace as everyone is locked into a constant state of psychic numbing as we careen towards the cliff of annihilation like lemmings rushing to their slaughter.
It becomes apparent to me that unless we stop killing each other and involving our countries in nationalistically sanctioned mass murder we will eventually and inevitably destroy ourselves.
In medicine, unless we can define the cause or aetiology of a disease, like polio, small pox etc, we cannot prevent or cure it. So what is the aetiology of killing. Why do we glorify war? Why is there a killer on a horse in many town squares in Europe? Why do men heroically rush off to battle only to return either in a coffin, or mentally and/or physically traumatized for the rest of their lives? What is the fascination with violence in entertainment, video games, the media, and in society in general?
What is nationalism about except, I would posit, primitive tribalism which I saw exemplified as I crossed the US in a Greyhound bus several days after 9/11 and the country was swathed in flags and God bless America signs at each turn.
As Einstein said “It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder”.
What makes men kill?
Is it a primitive sociobiological instinct that arose in an evolutionary fashion when we were troglodytes so that strong men would protect the women against marauding tribes and sabre tooth tigers as they breastfed their babies in their caves?
Much recent work has been done on the effect of hormone receptors in the brain and their influence on human behavior which I will not elaborate on today. However I plan to write a book about the aetiology of killing and war.
When I interviewed John Pilger for my radio program “If You Love This Planet” he made the statement that all wars were about territorial imperative which I found difficult to believe, however on reflection this is often true.
Is it a fact that in developmental terms we are an evolutionary aberrant and that we are destined to destroy ourselves and many millions of species that co-habit the planet with us?
Are we capable of maturing psychologically and emotionally fast enough to save ourselves?
I believe we are, but it will take extraordinary leadership and inspiration plus possibly a terrible shock, like the use of one or several nuclear weapons to wake us up, but even then I’m not sure.
As we watch global warming envelop our planet there seems to be little desire on the part of politicians or the populace at large to put an end to it by deciding to cease the mining and export of coal, but ending deforestation and fracking, by setting up efficient mass transport and by converting the whole country – Australia to solar and wind power and solar powered cars. Australia could become the energy superpower of the world and by example lead the way to a safe and secure energy future. Such a scenario is eminently feasible – see a study called Carbon Free Nuclear Free by Arjun Makhijani 2007, a roadmap for a safe energy future available in paperback from Amazon.
I once asked the famous astronomer Carl Sagan who was a friend of mine, if he thought there was other life in the universe, and he paused and thought for some minutes before he said “no”, and when asked why he said ”if any other life forms had reached our stage of evolution they would have destroyed themselves”.
It seems that we need to surmount a rapid evolutionary hurdle before the human race wakes up and decides to stop killing each other, to alter the way we live, to value the wonder of nature and evolution and to decide once and for all that we are indeed capable of such actions and that we will do it.
It might take a few wonderful inspirational leaders in the face of impending catastrophe to lead the way. What we all have to realise is that the earth is in the intensive care unit, critically ill, and because of impending doom we are all now physicians to our beloved planet and that we must devote the same sort of dedication and selflessness that doctors exhibit at 3am worrying not about their exhaustion but only about the survival of their patients.
Australia is in a unique position to lead the way. We are much admired in the US while we stupidly allow America to base their drones, marines, ships and weapons on Australian soil as they move their main military operations to the Pacific to take on China if necessary. When Prime Minister David Lange in New Zealand said “no” to American nuclear ships entering New Zealand harbours he received thousands of messages from grateful Americans. Why can’t we as Australia say no to the Americans’ fascination and dedication to potential mass slaughter by telling them that we will not host 34 of their military bases and that we will not be party to their nuclear and killing addiction. At the moment we are enablers of this addiction. They are our friends and it is therefore our responsibility to discipline them as one would with a beloved alcoholic father.
The only way to induce nuclear disarmament is for the US to take the lead and do the moral thing, only then will Russia follow. And only then with the two superpowers have the moral authority to encourage the other the nuclear nations to disarm by example. As the old adage states “see not the mote in the other person’s eye look instead in your own eye”.
Can we do it? Of course we can if we love this planet, our children and our grandchildren.