August 9, 2009

by Bob Gould, M.D., President, SF Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility

My Mom passed away last week at the age of 86, after a three-year battle with metastatic colon cancer. Over the last two months, our family and close friends were able to share our love with her and help her have a “soft landing.” Through all the sadness we felt losing her, what was striking was how fortunate we were being able to participate so intimately in her passing, to have the time and opportunity to be able to organically share and process the memories of someone so close—in our own variation of what has been the collective experience of humanity grappling with life and personal loss through the eons.

In this past week encompassing the 64th Anniversary of the atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I couldn’t help but think about how our experience of having the ability to share and process profound personal grief differs so fundamentally from the Japanese Hibakusha survivors who were wrenched so suddenly from the daily rhythms of life, loss and collective history by the supreme violence of nuclear war that literally vaporized their families and communities with no warning, allowing no such personal and communal closure with such awesome loss. And how, despite the hopes for fundamental change raised by new political leadership in our own nation, the forces arrayed for future global nuclear annihilation remain as influential and powerful as ever.

Early this year, PSR and our colleagues in IPPNW sent a “Medical Appeal for a World Without Nuclear Weapons” signed by numerous leaders in medicine and public health to Presidents Obama and Medvedev stating that the time was ripe to negotiate a Nuclear Weapons Convention and take dramatic steps to fulfill our treaty obligations to move towards complete nuclear disarmament. President Obama echoed these sentiments in his extraordinary speech in Prague, stating “To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge others to do the same,” … “We will seek to include all nuclear weapons states in this endeavor.”

These were powerful and welcome words from our President, followed by the tentative START agreement reached with Medvedev calling for reductions in the U.S. and Russian strategic arsenals. Unfortunately, left off the table were other critical components necessary for comprehensive moves towards nuclear disarmament, including ending destabilizing missile “defense” programs such as those targeted for deployment in Poland and the Czech republic, and taking nuclear missiles off “alert” status so as to avoid the dangers of accidental nuclear war.

These initial, limited moves towards setting a disarmament agenda have been met with vigorous attacks from the Right, as exemplified by the report “U.S Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century: Getting It Right” released in July by the New Deterrent Working Group, in coordination with prominent editorials and op-eds in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere. The basic message has been that nuclear weapons remain at the core of U.S. security and that the U.S. must continue to maintain and strengthen its nuclear arsenal and avoid any substantive negotiations with the Russians, including the minimal proposed START cuts.

These throwback recommendations, so redolent of the “Team B” report of the late 1970s that kicked-off the dangerous nuclear weapons policies of the Reagan Administration, have unfortunately been reflected in recent Congressional efforts to constrain the disarmament moves by Obama. Under an amendment inserted in the fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill, President Obama would be required to certify that a new U.S.-Russian treaty includes no limits on U.S. deployments of missile defenses, “space capabilities” or sophisticated conventional weaponry. In addition, the president would have to certify that his fiscal 2011 budget request for the National Nuclear Security Administration “sufficiently” funds nuclear stockpile maintenance programs as well as efforts to “modernize and refurbish the nuclear weapons complex.”

In other words, at a time when we are in the midst of the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression, with burgeoning unemployment and projected deficits looming on the order of $10 trillion, coupled with the imperative need to provide the funding for universal healthcare and preventing/mitigating the disastrous effects of climate change, we are called on to continue to commit our increasingly scarce and precious resources to building a new generation of nuclear weapons that can destroy human life more quickly in the name of “security.”

We know we can do better. As outlined by the 2006 “Weapons of Terror” report issued by the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission (chaired by former International Atomic Energy Agency Chief Hans Blix), as well as the 2008 report “Towards True Security” by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Federation of American Scientists, and Natural Resources Defense Council, there are very simple, mutually reinforcing steps that would allow significant nuclear stockpile reduction to the level of 1000 warheads per nuclear power—and that would provide the basis for moving to PSR/IPPNW’s goal of complete abolition of nuclear weapons. On this Nagasaki day, let us all commit to redoubling our efforts to fight against the forces of rightwing realpolitik and reclaim a vision of the world that will permit no repetition of the awful events of August 1945, so that we can get on with our work of saving our planet for renewed cycles of life and remembrance for all those fortunate to follow in our wake.