Prevention When There is No Cure

Doctors Link Stethoscopes Against Nuclear Arms Race

We used to hold each other's populations hostage. If you bomb us, we told the Russians, we'll bomb you. They promised the same and Mutally Assured Destruction oddly assured peace.

But in the past few years both American and Russian leaders have adopted a new game plan: limited nuclear warfare. Last fall, vice-president George Bush told the Los Angeles Times that he believed there was such a thing as "a winner" in a nuclear exchange.

In a limited nuclear war victory, the United States may lose a few cities and "x" per cent of the population. But as long as we have more powerful weapons, we can hurt the Russians more. Perhaps Boston was one city sacrificed in the new war of nuclear possibilities. One 20-megaton bomb explodes over the State House. The Prudential Tower, the Federal Reserve Building and all the other familiar landmarks crack like matchsticks under the explosion's force, leaving nothing but rubble in a four mile radious swathe around the epicenter. The flash of light that preceeds the blast destroys Cambridge instantly.

Fired spurred on by winds of up to 180 miles per hour rage out of control, cooking to death even those who have sought refuge in bomb shelters. Death is slow and painful for most survivors, as John Hersey describes in his book, "Hiroshima."

There were about 20 men...all in exactly the same nightmarish state: their faces wholly burned, their eyes sockets were hollow, the fluid from their melted eyes had run down their cheeks...their mouths were swollen, pus-covered wounds, which they could not bear to stretch enough to admit the spout of a teapot...

Radioactivity spoils most food and water for weeks or months. Confusion everywhere. Most health care facilities--destroyed. Eighty per cent of the doctors are dead, many of the rest seriously injured. Of metropolitan Boston's 3 million inhabitants, 2.2 are killed immediately, almost everyone else is burned or in shock.

This is the reality of limited nuclear war--a reality that people world-wide must confront, understand and prevent, according to the Boston-based group. International Pyysicians for the Prevention of Nuclear Warfare [IPPNW]. Founded by three Harvard professors and one MIT staff pyschiatrist two years ago. IPPNW members were brought together by a shared concern with the growing acceptability of "limited" nuclear war.


"There is no such thing as limited nuclear war," Dr. Bernard Lown, professor of Cardiology at the School of Public Health, says. An IPPNW founder and the organization's president, Lown adds, "Nuclear war can only be an enormous collective act of suicide.

There is no way any country could cope with the aftermath of a nuclear exchange, even if it could be left "limited," Lown says. In normal conditions, 20 to 30 burn victims would saturate Boston's health care facilities. Even the 200 intensive burn care beds in the United States couldn't support a fraction of Boston's burned, assuming that there was any way for rescue workers to enter the radioactive ruins to get them into the hospitals in the first place. "People would be left to die," he states.

Lown, who founded the national group, Physicians for Social Responsibility in the early '60s, explains that his concern in the past few years with the intensification of the arms race led him and three other doctors, Dr. Herbert L. Abrams, chairman of the Radiology Department and the Medical School. Dr. James E. Muller, assistant professor of Medicine, and Dr. Eric Chivian '64, an MIT staff pyschiatrist, to found an organization which would united doctors from around the world to prevent "the end of civilization."

The arms race has grown too large for an anti-nuclear movement in one country alone to succeed, Lown insists, saying. "We have to get the Russians involved. We need medical journals, medical societies, and key doctors involved." Professional ties between the Soviet Union and the U.S. in the field of cardiology facilitated the IPPNW's goal of organizing doctors with similar nuclear fears in the two countries. Dr. Eugene I. Chazov, director general of the National Cardiological Research Center and Leonid Brezhnev's personal physician--a "critically important physician in the Soviet regime"--possessed enough influence in the USSR's political and medical realms to draw in to the project key Soviet doctors, Lown says.

Members of the IPPNW around the world feel that the nuclear arms race is especially dangerous right now for a number of changing conditions. The first is the sheer multiplication in the number of weapons. The world now has a growing stockpile of 50,000 nuclear weapons with a combined 15 million tons of TNT--"one million times greater than the bombs at Hiroshima," Lown emphasizes, adding that technological advances in the accuracy of nuclear weapons have been responsible for dangerous changes in government policy. Increases in targeting accuracy lead to policies of pre-emption, Lown says, citing as an example for President Jimmy Carter's Presidential Directive 59, which effectively recognized the policy of limited nuclear warfare.

Lown believes that the general public does not understand the full implications of the government's policy shift. "As long as there was deterrence, there was time to respond," he says. It now takes 30 minutes for a missile set off by the U.S. or the USSR to hit the other, but if the two countries have pre-emptive policies. "Any suspicion of an attack leaves little time to think through the nature of an attack."

The loss of detente is another issue which concerns the IPPNW, although Lown emphasizes that the group tries to avoid politics as much as possible. Fear and competition between America and the USSR have escalated the arms race--a fact that the IPPNW would like to reverse by education as to the final consequences of such escalation. "In 1972 we had a chance to outlaw MIRVs. The Russians, who did not have them, wanted to ban them, but we didn't. Now we have to build MX missiles because their MIRVs are threatening us." Lown says, stressing that this spiral could continue indefinately.

In addition, the growth of the two superpowers' nuclear stockpiles makes it difficult for both the U.S. and the USSR to persuade other countries not to acquire their own, Lown says, adding that many nations now want their own bomb for status and "a national macho image." Six contries now have nuclear bombs--U.S. USSR, China, India, Great Britain, and France, South Africa and Israel are suspected of having tested bombs, and Pakistan, Iraq and Libya and Argentina are waiting in the wings.

How likely is the event of a nuclear exchange? Everett I. Mendelsohn, professor of History of Science, says that "Anyone who looks seriously at the issue is deeply frightened, adding that he attributes more widespread knowledge about nuclear war to the IPPNW. Mendelsohn reocunts that at a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Scientists, Richard Garwin, professor of Policy Studies at the Kennedy School of Government and a member of the Defense Department Advisory Council predicted the likelihood of a limited nuclear exchange. "Garwin said he believed the probability of a small scale nuclear exchange by the year 2000 was 100 per cent and for a large scale, 50 per cent. Among people studying the issue carefully, that's how we feel too." Mendelsohn adds.

The possibility of nuclear war is especially relevant to young people, Muller, IPPNW's secretary, asserts. There is a finite, but real chance of a nuclear exchange every year, he says, adding that no one is sure what it is. But if one assumes it is a one per cent chance. "In the 50 years life expectancy left to Harvard undergraduates, that makes a 40 per cent chance of war in their lifetime."

Lown envisions several scenarios which could provoke a nuclear attack. A crisis in the Middle East leading to the polarization of the U.S. and the USSR...a deliberate act of any government with nuclear capabilities...or simple error.

In 1977 alone, 1365 American military personnel with access to nuclear weapons were removed for drug addiction, including LSD, Lown says, quoting information readily available in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

On some levels, the problem of nuclear war is already bothering people, Muller says, adding that the primary purpose of IPPNW is to help "move this fear from the subconscious to the conscious level." He compares those who deny the threat of nuclear warfare to cardiology patients who refuse to face that their chest pains are more than indigestion--all the way to the hospital.

It is people's silence that has permitted nuclear weapons to increase, he stresses, saying. "People must stand up and reject them."

IPPNW held their first congress in Airlie, Va. this March to begin piercing that silence. The 90 participants from 10 countries, including the U.S., the USSR, Great Britain and Japan, has six days of discussion centering on the medical and other effects of nuclear warfare, and how they, as doctors, could prevent a disaster with no cures.

During the conference, the doctors drafted letters to both President Ronald Reagan and Brezhnev voicing IPPWN's concerns. Chazov, the organization's main Soviet link, co-chaired the conference with Lown, and joined the American doctors in calling "limited" nuclear war an illusion and criticizing those "military, public fuctionaries and even scientists" who perpetuate the illusion.


Boston civil defense plans call for the city's population--in the event of a nuclear attack--to get in their cars and head north. But, Lown asks, "Why not east or south or west? They're all insane. We're resorting now to civil evacuation. But if an attack came in the winter, who'd follow insanity and go to the woods of New Hampshire? If we evacuate our cities, an adversary would think we were planning a pre-emptive strike, so we would have to wait until the last minute. And you can't tell where the radioactive cloud could go. It would depend on the wind patterns...Drowning is more humane advice than incineration."

"People have to image that it is themselves and their children...this is the penultimate image that must compel social action against the nuclear arms race."