1 December, 1982 Editor, Nature 4 Little Essex Street London WC2R 3LF ENGLAND
Nature has from time to time criticizedindividual scientists and groups of scientists for their activities in behalf of peace and disarmament, especially in respect to nuclear weapons. But even this background left us unprepared for the tone and content of Vera Rich’s article (28 October, p. 769). Basing herself on an article by E. Teller published in Reader’s Digest, she endeavours to represent nuclear war as somehow survivable and thus perhaps not so different from pre-Hiroshima warfare. She speaks of a “swift return to quasi-normality after nuclear bombardment”. Referring to Teller’s Reader’s Digest article she writes that “[He] attempts to refute some of the more fantastic myths of what nuclear war would entail. [He quotes] instances from Hiroshima and Nagasaki: ‘bridges open … a day after the blast, trains ran on the second day, streetcars … on the third’.”
Her terminology “fantastic myths” betrays her own outlook. It betrays also a failure to understand some indisputable and obvious aspects of the situation. Now, unlike in the days of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, huge numbers of nuclear bombs could saturate a whole country. This is the age of the new word “overkill”. Hiroshima and Nagasaki, hit by what would be very small bombs, could receive aid from elsewhere. Now there would be no elsewhere. The utter destruction which would ensue would permit no return to Rich’s “quasi-normality”.
Rather than taking as authoritative an article published by a single American physicist in Reader’s Digest, we would rely upon the resolution adopted virtually unanimously by the (U.S.) National Academy of Sciences (regrettably never published in Nature) on April 27, 1982. We cite only two of its findings: “science offers no prospect of effective defense against nuclear war and mutual destruction,” … “a general nuclear war could kill hundreds of millions and destroy civilization as we know it”.
Unanimous endorsement for the entire resolution came in June, 1982, from the Executive Committee of the American Physical Society and also from the Academy of Sciences of the Royal Society of Canada.
Eminent physicians have made it Absolutely clear that the health care delivery systems would be destroyed by a nuclear bombardment. Death would be widespread. Those who survived the explosion, would suffer horribly until their brief post-bomb existence ended.
This was agreed unanimously and documented scientifically by a panel led on the U.S. side of Professor Lowns of Harvard and on the Soviet side by Academician Chazov, Deputy Minister of Health of the U.S.S.R. The panel was televised nationally by the Soviet television network and in the U.S. by the Public Broadcasting System. Information concerning transcripts is available from the Public Broadcasting System, 609 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10017, U.S.A.
Derek Manchester (Prof. of Physics) Lynn Trainor (Prof. of Physics) Metta Spencer (Prof. of Sociology) Ed Barbeau (Prof. of Mathematics) Eric Fawcett (Prof. of Physics) Terry Gardner (Prof. of Mathematics) Brydon Gombay (Writer), Lee Lorch (Prof. of Mathematics) Science for Peace.