|Surviving Human Nature|
Nuclear Insanity is here to Stay
Gigantic threats to human existence are in the form of nuclear warheads attached to short and long range missiles.
All economic and environmental threats become insignificant when you consider the apocalypse that would be created by the use of atomic and hydrogen bombs. In 2017, Helfand et al expressed their increasing concern about the threat of war using nuclear weapons. ” After the end of the Cold War, the intense military rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States/North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was replaced by a much more cooperative relationship, and fears of war between the nuclear superpowers faded. Unfortunately, relations between Russia and the United States/NATO have deteriorated dramatically since then. In the Syrian and Ukrainian wars, the two have supported opposing sides, raising the possibility of open military conflict and fears that such conflict could escalate to nuclear war. Speaking in January, when the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced that its Doomsday Clock would remain at 3 minutes to midnight, former US Secretary of Defense William Perry stated, "The danger of a nuclear catastrophe today, in my judgment, is greater that it was during the Cold War...and yet our policies simply do not reflect those dangers." His assessment was echoed 2 months later by Igor Ivanov, Russian Foreign Minister from 1998 to 2004. Speaking in Brussels on March 18 2016, Ivanov warned that "The risk of confrontation with the use of nuclear weapons in Europe is higher than in the 1980s."
At the onset of 2015, the agreements to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons were clearly at risk. A new York Times editorial epitomized the risk:" There’s much more to the deeply troubled Russian-American relationship than Ukraine. Under the radar, tensions have also been brewing over compliance with a number of arms control treaties that for decades have been vital to keeping the peace between the two nuclear powers and setting an example for other countries.
My early life was dominated by three horrific preoccupations; the holocaust, the hydrogen bomb and the destruction of animals and their natural environments all over planet earth. By age ten, I knew in theory how to construct both fission and fusion bombs and knew how destructive they were. I would study civil defense maps showing the extent of destruction from hydrogen bombs of different strengths exploded above Canadian and US cities. Later, I took courses in nuclear physics and the medical management of radiation sickness. For many years, I belonged to organizations that protested the development of more nuclear bombs. If you asked me in 1970, I would have told you that I had little confidence in modern civilization and wanted to live away from urban centers and the madness prevalent in the world. For me, the natural world of coastal British Columbia was sane, rational and enduring. Here, I felt part of an ancient natural order that would continue even if humans departed. I could ignore, at least for awhile, the folly of self-destructive humans.
As a young man I was always reassured to know that Albert Einstein existed and joined millions of educated others in admiration of his intellect. In a review of Einstein's impact on human awareness, Brian Greene wrote:" Albert Einstein once said that there are only two things that might be infinite: the universe and human stupidity. And, he confessed, he wasn't sure about the universe. When we hear that, we chuckle. Or at least we smile. We do not take offense. The reason is that the name “Einstein” conjures an image of a warm-hearted, avuncular sage of an earlier era. We see the good-natured, wild-haired scientific genius whose iconic portraits—riding a bike, sticking out his tongue, staring at us with those penetrating eyes—are emblazoned in our collective cultural memory. Einstein has come to symbolize the purity an power of intellectual exploration."
Einstein revealed the stunning relationship of mass to energy in the famous formula, E=MC². The speed of light, C, is a large number so that a small amount of annihilated mass produces a large amount of energy. This equation explains the prodigious energy production of our sun and other stars. Einstein did not imagine man-made devices that suddenly convert mass to energy, creating gigantic explosions. The discovery of the neutron chain reaction in radioactive materials such as purified uranium suggested the possibility of a nuclear bomb. A physicist friend, Leo Szilard, had patented an atomic bomb design in 1934. He feared that Germany might construct nuclear weapons and encouraged Einstein to sign a letter to US President Roosevelt, warning him.
A second Einstein-Szilard letter was sent in March 1940 and led to the Manhattan Project in 1942, designed to produce nuclear bombs based on the fission of purified, radioactive uranium. Scientists from all over the US were recruited to purify bomb-grade uranium and to work out the details of a denotation system under the direction of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer. The scientists had been highly motivated to end the destruction inflicted on the world by Germany and Japan. Their work lead to the sustained proliferation of nuclear weapons in the US, Russia and six other countries. The US tested at least 1100 nuclear weapons and continues to maintain the second-largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons in the world. Sensible humans were alarmed by the persistent belligerence of the US and the Soviet Union and sought to limit or abolish nuclear weapons. I called this Nuclear Weapon Insanity and proposed an international institution for the politically insane that could arrest and contain politicians voting for nuclear weapons. In 2017 there is an increasingly urgent need for such an institution.