Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1985 by Yevgeny Chazov, USSR Cardiological Institute, cofounder of IPPNW.
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Tragedy and Triumph of Reason
Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Colleagues,
Did you ever ponder upon the fact that the ﬁrst active opponents of nuclear weapons were those who created it – Einstein, Szilard, Bohr, Joliot-Curie, Kurchatov, were instrumental in the creation of the chain reaction capable of solving mankind’s energy problems, the same chain reaction is the basis of the weapon of genocide – the atom bomb.
The atom bomb was created by the reason of these men, but that same reason rebelled against it. I am convinced that those who once saw a nuclear explosion or imagined the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, will forever maintain the mental picture of burned bodies, of dead and wounded slowly dying of radiation disease. Prompted by a sense of responsibility, Einstein addressed the following warning to his colleagues: “Since we, scientists, face the tragic lot of further increasing the murderous effectiveness of the means of destruction, it is our most solemn and noble duty to prevent the use of these weapons for the cruel ends they were designed to achieve”.
Unfortunately, this appeal, like the warnings voiced by many leading scientists, has not reached the public conscience or the conscience of political and state ﬁgures. Nuclear arsenals on our planet have been increasing with every year, with every day. (at the time, ten new nuclear warheads per day)
Put forward by some state and military ﬁgures, the theory of preserving peace through “deterrence” led to the situation where ‘nuclear’ might transcended the limits of human perception. Indeed, no one in this audience can really imagine one million Hiroshimas – a statistic designed to depict ﬁguratively the destructive power of nuclear weapons stockpiled today.
Keep in mind that when the ﬁrst A-bomb was developed as a defense against Nazism; moral objections and conscience of scientists and many others involved, were lulled by assurances that everything would be over after production of a few bombs.
Is not the same rationale applied today when they speak about the research objectives of the space militarization program? Can we not discern that it is an attempt to gradually make us accept the idea of weapons over our heads, in outer space?
The minds of honest scientists, of all men, cannot be reconciled with turning the vicinity of our planet, so far weapons-free, into an arena of military competition. The “space shield” will mean one more step toward nuclear catastrophe, not only because it would create the temptation to affect a ﬁrst strike with impunity, but because any defense will inevitably lead to the creation of the means to overcome it. Thus the spiral of the arms race – nuclear, conventional, laser and other – will again soar steeply, undermining strategic stability.
The peril from space should not be underestimated. In the late 1940s humanity entered the military-nuclear era, which for the ﬁrst time in history confronted human civilization with the threat of total annihilation. Can we allow the 1980s to become the starting point of the military nuclear-space era which would lead the present-day brinkmanship to utmost unsteadiness? It is time we say a decisive “NO” to the arms race in space and stop it on Earth.
We do not fully know the material basis of the brains functioning… However, we do know (such is, unfortunately, the nature of human consciousness) that most people, absorbed by anxieties of everyday life and with solving their daily problems tend to forget the global problems of life on Earth which concern all of us, all inhabitants of our beautiful Planet – ﬁrst of all the problem of the nuclear arms race and the threat of nuclear war. Many people, even if they think about it, regard it as some kind of a fairy tale.
Five years ago, (1980)… soothing voices of state ﬁgures and military leaders, were heard from parliaments and congresses, TV screens and periodicals creating and disseminating nuclear illusions to the effect that; nuclear war is just another war; that a limited nuclear war is possible; that nuclear war is not only survivable but also winnable. One could even hear assertions that there are things more important than peace.
We, Soviet physicians, know what a devastating war is like, not from history textbooks but from our own experience, we together with all our people have an imbibed hatred to war – we were troubled by the indifference demonstrated by many towards these irresponsible statements justifying the nuclear arms race. It was necessary to arouse the indifferent and turn them into active opponents of nuclear weapons. It was not simply our obligation as honest men; it was our professional duty.
As Hippocrates said: the physician must inform the patient about every thing that threatens his life…. we, participants in our movement of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, appealed to the reason of humankind by drawing the real picture, without coloring the truth, of what would happen to our Earth if nuclear war is unleashed. In a way, it was a heroic deed on the part of tens of thousands of physicians from many countries of the world, adhering to different political and religious views and belonging to various nationalities, to raise their voice to defend life on Earth.
At the end of that year 1980 a meeting was held in Geneva, when six physicians, three American and three Soviet (Ilyin, Kuzin and myself, Lown, Muller and Chivian) , met to decide jointly what physicians should do to prevent the “ﬁnal epidemic” – nuclear war. In the course of a two-day discussion the representatives of two countries that so often confront each other, were unanimous in supporting the creation of a broad-based international movement called “International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War” (IPPNW). Despite our differences we came to the conclusion that physicians cannot and indeed have no right to stay silent and remain at the sidelines when the preservation of life and health of hundreds of millions is at stake.
Our movement, has grown rapidly: the small group of Soviet and American physicians grew to become a multinational army of 145,000, who devote their free time to research on the possible consequences of nuclear war and to explain the data obtained to governments, politicians, scientists, the public and international organizations.
Over a million and a quarter physicians have signed the Amsterdam congress appeal against the nuclear arms race. We suggested the inclusion in the Hippocratic Oath, a commitment to ﬁght against the danger of a nuclear war (such an amendment has already been ofﬁcially made to the Soviet physicians’ oath). A “Message to My Patients” is distributed in hospitals, clinics and physicians’ ofﬁces to help prevent nuclear war.
IPPNW is aware of the fact that wars start not from bombs dropped or shots ﬁred – they start in the minds of people and are the result of political decisions. That is why our congresses regularly address world leaders, particularly of the USSR and the USA, calling upon them to do the utmost to exclude the very possibility of a nuclear war and to reverse the nuclear arms race. The messages received by us from these and other leaders show that the voice of physicians is being heeded.
We are aware that to eradicate nuclear illusions and impart hatred of war to the peoples, ones information should be based, on solid scientiﬁc data. Our studies conﬁrmed by the authoritative expert group of the World Health Organization have demonstrated to the whole world that not only would nuclear war spell the end of civilization, it would also prejudice the existence of life on Earth. My conscience, and I am sure the same applies to many of my colleagues in IPPNW, was staggered primarily by the total number of victims in nuclear war.
The human mind ﬁnds it difﬁcult to comprehend the ﬁgure of 2,000 million (two thousand million or 2 billion) victims. As they say, one death is death, but a million deaths are statistics. For physicians, life is the aim of our work and each death is a tragedy.
Victims: 2,000,000,000 (two billion)
The truth is at two billion the critical point has long been passed: medicine will be unable to render even minimal assistance to the victims of a nuclear conﬂict – the wounded, the burned, the sick – including the population of the country which unleashes a nuclear war. Even rough estimates show it would require efforts of at least 30 million physicians, 100 million nurses and technical personnel. In the world today there are around 3.5 million physicians and about 7.5 million nurses. Treatment of a few hundred patients suffering from burns as a result of a major ﬁre can rapidly exhaust the burn cure resources of a large city. Where, then, can the resources be found to treat thousands and millions of casualties? Physicians and hospitals will face an insoluble problem, even if we discount the appalling conditions of “nuclear winter” which is bound to cap the catastrophe. Besides, in a nuclear war many physicians and nurses will be killed and many hospitals destroyed.
Our data produced a sobering effect the world over on a broad range of public, political and religious ﬁgures and common men who had underestimated the scale of a nuclear catastrophe.
Of course a lot of people are still under a delusion, however, as Cicero put it, “Each man can err, but only fools persist in their errors”.
Every morning tens of thousands of newly-born babies in Europe and America, in Asia and Africa for the ﬁrst time see the sky and the sun, enjoy their mothers’ loving care. But will they live to see the twenty-ﬁrst century? There is a nuclear bomb in stock for each of them.
Back in 1951 French author André Maurois aptly expressed the aspirations of all honest men on Earth. “Are we really deprived of all hope? Will the wretched human race destroy itself together with the planet that harbored it? I believe the catastrophe can be avoided… Salvation of the humankind is in its own hands… The strength of our convictions, the promptness of our decisions will disarm those who threaten the future of humanity… Will the globe live or die – that is the choice we face. Either we join hands, or we exterminate each other in an atomic war”.
IPPNW Congresses envisages a ban on tests of nuclear weapons, a moratorium on nuclear explosions; a nuclear weapons freeze and the subsequent reduction and eventual liquidation of nuclear weapons; the non-proliferation of the arms race to outer space, no ﬁrst use of nuclear weapons and the creation of an atmosphere of trust and cooperation.
It is not a political declaration of either communists or capitalists – it is what is demanded by reason, by people the world over, who want to live.
Today we are talking not just about warring sides but about humanity at large. Any reasonable man ﬁnds it hard to believe that while hunger, diseases, social inequality, economic underdevelopment and illiteracy are in existence, hundreds of billions of dollars are wasted to feed the insatiable monster – the arms race.
In medicine close peaceful cooperation and joint studies by Soviet and American scientists contributed to accelerated study of heart disease and facilitated introduction of new methods of diagnosis and therapy. It is a vital necessity to continue and extend this cooperation.
What we need is cooperation, not confrontation. Therefore, I was deeply satisﬁed with the Soviet-American arrangement arrived at during the recent meeting in Geneva between General Secretary Gorbachev and President Reagan, to extend exchanges and contact in the ﬁeld of medicine. We are ready for such cooperation.
Today is a meaningful and festive day for over 140,000 physicians from 41 nations, those who united in the movement of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. And not only for them but for all honest men and women dedicated to maintaining life on Earth. The Nobel Prize awarded to our movement is not only a recognition of physicians’ services in denouncing the nuclear illusions and promoting a true perception of nuclear weapons and effects of their use, but also a symbol of international trust and belief in the inﬁnite value and uniqueness of the human mind.
As Ibsen wrote in Peer Gynt “Only he who has nothing to lose in life can risk it”. Nuclear war, would lead to the extinction of life on Earth and possibly in the Universe. Can we take such a risk? In medicine when we deal with a critical patient, we mobilize all our energies and knowledge, sacriﬁce part of our hearts and enlist the cooperation of our most experienced colleagues.
Today we face a seriously ill humanity, torn apart by distrust and fear. To save it we must arouse the conscience of the world’s peoples, cultivate hatred for nuclear weapons, repudiate egoism and chauvinism, and create a favorable atmosphere of trust.
In the nuclear age, we are all interdependent.
The Earth is our only common home which we cannot abandon.
The new suicidal situation calls for the new thinking.
We must convince those who take political decisions.
by Yevgeny Chazov, USSR Cardiological Institute, cofounder of IPPNW.
These words have been added to the Hippocratic oath in Soviet countries… “As a physician of the twentieth century, I recognize that nuclear weapons have presented my profession with a challenge of unprecedented proportions, and that a nuclear war would be the ﬁnal epidemic for humankind. I will do all in my power to work for the prevention of nuclear war.”