October 11, 2011

In honor of PSR’s 50th anniversary, Dr. Victor W. Sidel, co-founder of PSR and IPPNW, gave two inspiring talks in the Bay Area October 5th and 6th. Dr. Sidel’s presentation at UCSF and at an evening salon focused on the human, ecological, and economic costs of war. He discussed the direct impact of war on health as well as what he calls “destruction without detonation:” the adverse effects of war on medical care and public health services, damage to the environment, the creation of refugees and displaced persons, violation of human rights, and the promotion of violence. He highlighted the way that war diverts both human and financial resources, particularly how money is diverted to the military that then cannot be spent on social services. In addition, Dr. Sidel gave a historical summary of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the development of the hydrogen bomb, and the role of PSR and IPPNW. He gave an overview of nuclear weapons today and the risk of “nuclear winter” and “nuclear cooling” from regional war. Finally, Dr. Sidel spoke about how we can create a world without war and without nuclear weapons.

At the UCSF talk, people in the audience expressed surprise in learning about the specific economic effect of the current wars and accompanying diversion of money away from important sectors. Some commented on the need to let the general public know these details. One audience member asked Dr. Sidel how he has been able to keep active in the field for so long without disillusionment. He said his work with others and the fact that people still care are what give him hope.

Dr. Michael Geschwind, SF Bay Area PSR Steering Committee member said Dr. Sidel had been a mentor to both himself and SF Bay Area PSR President Dr. Bob Gould, as they had trained as medical students under him. Dr. Geschwind said, “The impact of Dr. Sidel’s words have not diminished over time. I’m always impressed by his tireless dedication to thinking about the effects of militarism and war on human health and beyond. He is the one who showed me that, as doctors, one of the biggest threats to human health are nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction, and militarism in general, both directly from a health perspective and indirectly from an economic perspective.”

At the evening salon in San Francisco, Dr. Sidel presented the history of PSR, rooting it in the history of nuclear weapons issues.  Herb Abrams, a co-founder of PSR with Dr. Sidel 50 years ago, attended the event as well. Discussion at the salon focused on how to reach younger physicians and medical students. There was general agreement about the importance of connecting issues of nuclear weapons to issues of our time that are currently motivating people, in particular the national and global economic crises. Dr. Bob Gould said, “We discussed what we are hearing from our students, that it’s difficult to engage younger people on nuclear weapons, which has been our central issue for 50 years. They are telling us that focusing on social justice issues is the key to making nuclear weapons issues relevant to their generation. We need to talk to medical students about how spending billions of dollars on our military and supplemental budgets has a direct impact on what coverage our patients have and what health care resources they can access.”