BuzzFlash Interviews Dr. Helen Caldicott
April 23, 2002
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW WITH DR. HELEN CALDICOTT, FOUNDER OF THE MODERN ANTI-NUCLEAR MOVEMENT
Amidst the smoke and fog of the Bush administration's permanent "war on terror," the looming potential for a nuclear disaster has been swept under the rug.
BuzzFlash was honored to recently interview Dr. Helen Caldicott. The world's leading spokesperson for the antinuclear movement, Dr. Helen Caldicott is the founder of the Nobel Prize winning Physicians for Social Responsibility, and herself a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. Both the Smithsonian Institute and Ladies Home Journal named her one of the most Influential Women of the Twentieth Century, and she has honorary degrees from nineteen universities. She divides her time between Australia and the United States, where she has devoted the last thirty years to an international campaign to educate the public about the medical hazards of the nuclear age.
Dr. Caldicott's latest book, "The New Nuclear Danger: George Bush's Military-Industrial Complex," is available as a BuzzFlash Premium.
* * *
BUZZFLASH: You have a new book, Dr. Caldicott, The New Nuclear Danger: George Bush's Military-Industrial Complex. You are quoted as saying, "Never, in the almost three decades that I have been campaigning against the use of nuclear weapons and nuclear power have I felt that the world is in so much danger." Can you explain why you think this is such a critical time in terms of the potential for nuclear destruction?
HELEN CALDICOTT: Yes, well, I was very worried during the Reagan era with the people in charge then. And we knew that we were on hair-trigger alert with thousands of weapons in Russia and America, ready to go off with half an hour's notice. Then, during the Clinton era, nothing changed. Clinton tried to get rid of nuclear weapons, but the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the military prevailed, so there's still two-and-a-half thousand hydrogen bombs in America on hair-trigger alert, and two-and-a-half thousand in Russia on hair-trigger alert, facing each other, even though the Cold War's over and they're best friends. Now after September 11th or on that date, the early warning system in America went onto the highest state of alert, just before the button gets pressed by George Bush. I don't know how long we stayed on a high state of alert, but I would think for quite a long time. That means there would have been planes circling in the air with hydrogen bombs, and the men in the missile silos ready to press the buttons.
And it would have been the same in Russia. The Russian early warning system has declined, so it's only operative eight hours a day, because their satellites are rusty and they've worn out. But their weapons still work. Now, added onto that, is the fact that most of us don't know that we're on hair-trigger alert and that we could have had a nuclear war on or after September 11th. We nearly had an accidental nuclear war in 1995, where Yeltsin nearly pressed the button. And those situations occur not infrequently.
We have the nuclear cowboys in charge now in the White House that just released their nuclear posture paper that says, for the first time in history, America will actually use nuclear weapons on non-nuclear nations if she so desires. So that lowers the threshold, too.
As well as that, the Middle East is blowing up like we've never seen it before. And that, of course, inflames the passions of many people around the world who care deeply about the Middle East. Israel's got at least 200 hydrogen bombs, and if necessary, I think she would use one or two, although it could be suicidal.
There are a million men facing each other in Pakistan and India, and they're nuclear armed as well. So that's a very volatile situation also.
George Bush is going around saying that the U.S. can fight sixty countries -- sixty more countries if necessary -- because they might have a terrorist. They are talking about using "backup nuclear weapons." And, in fact, Cheney is preparing the groundwork to go into Iraq, even though Iraq has had no relationship at all, apparently, with the terrorist attacks in America. Iraq could get upset. She could launch SCUD missiles towards Israel, and then God knows what would happen then. So you can see that the world has the flame lit. It's laced with nuclear weapons, laced with enormous conventional weapons, and it's more unstable, I think, than I've ever seen it in my life.
BUZZFLASH: Now you also argue that much of the current posturing or, I should say, Bush administration eagerness to build up both the nuclear arsenal and to threaten the use of nuclear weapons, is, in part, due to the nuclear industry urging this. You mention Lockheed-Martin and that Congress passed $300 million in additional funding for nuclear weapons. To what degree do you think this is somewhat industry-driven -- the arms industry -- and to what extent is it a reflection of what you call the Bush nuclear cowboy philosophy?
HELEN CALDICOTT: This is a corporate administration -- no doubt about that. We've seen that with their energy policy -- the Enron influence. The Petroleum Institute influenced the energy policy -- it was written by the energy corporations, even though global warming is occurring, and we're in serious trouble. If you look at the environmental appointees, they all come from the industry
But specifically, in the military area, Lockheed-Martin has an enormous influence in this administration. Many of the appointees are actually former employees of Lockheed-Martin. Lynne Cheney, Cheney's wife, sat on the board of Lockheed-Martin for twenty years and was handsomely paid. Cheney helped Halliburton become the 22nd largest Pentagon contractor.
And Lockheed-Martin has a role to play at almost every level of Star Wars. Lockheed-Martin helped to resource the expansion of NATO, and also to remove the restrictions on weapons sales to countries in Latin America that violate human rights. So Lockheed-Martin, through the Heritage Foundation, too, I may say, which pushes for Star Wars and everything else, and the Center for Security Policy, which is also influenced by Lockheed-Martin, and they push Star Wars, has an enormous influence in the media, in the Congress, in the administration, and every level of legislation and the media, and influence upon the American people.
BUZZFLASH: What about the Heritage Foundation?
HELEN CALDICOTT: The Heritage Foundation is funded by corporations like Hertz Rent-A-Car, Holiday Inn, Coors Beer, Ocean Spray Cranberries, and Reader's Digest. But Lockheed-Martin sits on the board. And the Heritage Foundation is a major force that is pushing for Star Wars in a most effective fashion, both in the media, in the administration, in the Congress, and at the Pentagon level. And the Heritage Foundation, as you know, every time we turn the television on, there's a spokesperson from the Heritage Foundation. The Heritage Foundation really is an advertising arm or body for the corporations. They call themselves a think tank, but they're not a think tank. They're advertising, really, the products that the corporations make and influencing foreign policy. I mean, I think the State Department has little say now in foreign policy. It's really run by the Pentagon and Rumsfeld, et al, and the corporations. I can't see any of the State Department's people playing a role here. Where are the wise and sagacious people that this country once really fostered here and around the world?
BUZZFLASH: When it comes to our nuclear policy, the administration has successfully overshadowed everything with the threat of terrorism, and put a damper on discussion of any other issues. And nuclear policy is one of those issues that seems to have gone underground, even though there were press reports and, for whatever reason, someone leaked this Pentagon nuclear posture review. It really didn't provoke much discussion beyond a day or two. It was just sort of a blip in the anti-terror efforts. And now the Middle East crisis. What do you think is going to awaken Americans or the world at large to what you call the new nuclear danger?
HELEN CALDICOTT: Well, I suppose, if India or Pakistan set off a couple of bombs, that would wake them up. If a terrorist decided to attack one of your 103 nuclear reactors, you could contaminate an area the size of Pennsylvania so that people could never live there again, and produce an epidemic of cancers, leukemias and congenital diseases. That would wake people up. If it gets so bad in the Middle East that Israel decides to use one of her 200 nuclear weapons, that would wake people up. And if the international situation becomes so tenuous and fragile that, in fact, the early warning system was set off by mistake, by human error, by human fallibility, by anxiety, by computer error, and there was a nuclear holocaust. Of course, no one will be around to comment upon that situation later.
But I have to tell you that, having studied this issue for thirty years now, and as a physician, I think I've never seen the world in a more dangerous position, particularly if the media is ignoring the problem. You see, the issue of terrorism is underlined by the nuclear issue. You can't get away from that. And instead of using wise, sagacious policy to hunt out the terrorists, using all the intelligence agencies in the world, and bringing them to justice in the international court of justice, America went and bombed people with the most dreadful weapons in Afghanistan, and killed up to 5,000 people, most of them civilians. And terror begets terror; vengeance begets vengeance. And as someone once said, "in the dark time, the eye begins to see."
I think we're in a very, very, very dangerous situation and we must grow up emotionally and spiritually, so that we don't kill each other. We have to stop killing because killing will almost automatically, in the nuclear age, I believe, with Star Wars happening, and the building of more exotic nuclear weapons, create a nuclear holocaust.
BUZZFLASH: What are your thoughts on the Bush fiasco antiballistic missile system, particularly in relation to -- and you mentioned it earlier -- the ability of small groups of terrorists, even at this point, to build a small nuclear bomb, and, just carry it in a suitcase into Manhattan. I mean, the antiballistic missile system seems to give the appearance -- or the Bush administration would tout -- of increasing security, when it seems to be going over the target, so to speak.
HELEN CALDICOTT: Well, first of all, it will never work. And all reputable scientists worth their salt say that there is no way you can hit a missile with a missile. It's impossible to do. They're cooking the experiments now at the moment that they're conducting "tests" over the Pacific.
But what it will do is create a much more destabilized world, because Bush has already announced, I suppose through Cheney, that he will violate the Antiballistic Missile Treaty in June. The Antiballistic Missile Treaty is the underpinning or cornerstone of all other arms control, that is to say, nuclear arms control treaties. So that allows other countries to say, well, if you're doing it, we'll do it. We'll build nuclear weapons. Russia and America have said that if you build an antiballistic missile system, we'll just build thousands more nuclear weapons and missiles and saturate it. And that's the way to do it, so it will create a massive vertical nuclear arms race like we've never seen before. But it will also create a lateral nuclear arms race, as other countries who are currently non-nuclear say you're building an antiballistic missile system just to protect yourself? You've got nuclear weapons? Why shouldn't we? So we'll build nuclear weapons too. And even Australia is murmuring such things at the moment.
So we're entering an extraordinarily destabilizing era. And as well as that, America is about to militarize space. And it's going to have anti-satellite weapons knock out other people's satellites. The whole global economy now and communication systems depend on satellites. But they're building anti-satellite weapons as we speak. They're attempting to build laser-beam weapons that will orbit the earth that can literally vaporize cities at the speed of light. And probably -- I think inevitably -- they'll put nuclear weapons in space as well, because the antiballistic missile system won't work. So in their back pocket, they'll have nuclear weapons, which actually will knock out satellites on their way from one country to another.
BUZZFLASH: You spoke of the new American policy on the possibility of strategic use of smaller nuclear weapons. How does that destabilize the situation?
HELEN CALDICOTT: Well, it crosses the firewall between conventional and nuclear weapons, so that the Pentagon views some nuclear weapons as just, sort of like conventional weapons, only slightly bigger. And in fact, that's the way quite a lot of the Pentagon spokespeople are speaking. Then they have removed the inhibitions to use nuclear weapons. Once one nuclear weapon is used in hostility in the world, it could trigger a global thermonuclear holocaust -- the nuclear winter and the end of most life on the planet. Once one is used, it could trigger the whole thing, so tenuous and fragile is the early warning system in Russia, America, China, France, Britain and Israel.
BUZZFLASH: Well, what do you think is going on in the mind of the Bush administration and the people who are proposing the option for the strategic use of smaller nuclear weapons that would preclude them from understanding that this could lead and trigger very quickly, if not immediately, to a nuclear holocaust. Is it just the hubris? Arrogance? What are they missing?
HELEN CALDICOTT: I think there are many levels. I think there is psychic numbing and denial. I researched the nuclear weapons labs. And they talk about nuclear weapons almost as people. And when a man designs a new weapon and tests it in the desert, he actually sleeps with the mechanism of the bomb the night before the test. He talks about giving birth to the bomb. He talked about having labor pains. And he talks about postnatal depression after the weapon is exploded.
I think we haven't explored the psyche of these men's minds adequately enough, because the cause of the nuclear disease, which infects the planet, is the psyche of these men. And the rest of us seem to be onlookers. I think others are truly, in a way, pathological. They hate so much, and they project their hatred onto other people, using this enormous power that we've harnessed -- the energy inside the sun. But they seem to see that as sort of normal and okay. I won't name them, but there are people in the Pentagon who are the leading hawks, who would -- who talk quite normally about using nuclear weapons, as if it's an everyday thing. And those people were actually associated with the Reagan administration, too. And then you've got the right-wing Christians actually who are hoping for Armageddon and Revelation -- the end times, they call them. And they say when that happens that, you know, they'll rise up and meet Jesus in the sky. And some of those people are present in the administration. Not as many as there were in the Reagan era, but there's some.
And I think we haven't really adequately examined the psychology well enough. And somehow, people are too afraid to go into that area. But that's the etiology of a nuclear disease. Like, you know, you might have a rash that is itchy. But unless I can diagnose that you have Hodgkin's disease, and the rash is a symptom of your Hodgkin's disease, then I can't cure you. Instead of talking about numbers of nuclear weapons, and hair-trigger systems, and early warning systems, and wars here, there and everywhere, we have to look at the actual cause of the disease or we can't cure it. And it's in men's minds. And if those men in the Pentagon and the White House are not adequately wise enough to: A) not use nuclear weapons; B) to work with Russia to eliminate nuclear weapons in the world; and C) think that they could use nuclear weapons without disastrous results, they should be removed from office as a public health measure to protect the people of the planet. They're not appropriate, in the nuclear age, to have any power or control at all.
BUZZFLASH: If you were in the administration at this point, or let's say you were in the White House and you were President of the United States, what policies would you adopt the first day you assumed office in regards to nuclear policy?
HELEN CALDICOTT: I would just say I would make an appointment with Putin, and I would either fly to Russia or invite him to the White House, and have several days of discussion with my top people about how to actually, for the first time in the nuclear age, abolish nuclear weapons. Now you can't get rid of the plutonium that lasts a half a million years, but how to decommission the weapons bilaterally, multilaterally, in a civilized, concerted fashion. And that would be at the top of my agenda.
If I found I had people in the Pentagon who opposed those policies, they would not be in the Pentagon for much longer. There are many people in the Pentagon though, as you may know, who are deeply concerned about nuclear weapons. I would use the most sagacious people in the Pentagon as consultants. I would use the wise people in the State Department, of whom there are many. I would tap the universities around the country. And you have wonderful people in conflict resolution. And I would use those people to the best of my ability. I would call in France and Britain, and China and Israel, and say what I was going to do. All of those countries except Israel have said if Russia and America disarm, they will too. Israel would need its arm twisted a bit behind its back, but it would comply too.
I would then transfer the expertise of the Pentagon to the United Nations and work in harmony with the family of man -- men and women -- to create peace throughout the world. And police it properly using the United Nations peacekeeping forces. And never do anything that violates the U.N. Charter. I'd develop humility and help the American people to know that it's such a powerful country, and it has the ability to help to save the planet. Redistribute wealth around the world. Educate the women and provide them with free contraceptives to stop the overpopulation of the planet. Deal with children of the world. Educate them. Stop global warming. Have alternative energy mechanisms so that we stop producing CO2. Help to save the ozone layer. Plant millions of trees, so our children have a future. Save the species of the world that are being destroyed at a hundred a day. I mean, need I go on? There's so much to be done, and it's so easy - so easy to be done. It's so simple.
BUZZFLASH: At BuzzFlash, we recently read an article (Friday, March 29th, from the Associated Press) that nuclear power plants -- the industry in the United States -- are starting to take the name "nuclear" out of their plants. And that this is apparently an industry PR trend -- to try to make the plants seem safer. Are we maybe going to see nuclear bombs called energy-efficient bombs?
HELEN CALDICOTT: Well, Reagan called the MX "the peacekeeper," didn't
BUZZFLASH: And I believe the Vice President, Cheney, a few months back, said it's time to start the nuclear power industry up again. He claimed that there was a sensationalistic fear of nuclear power plants. And we should be looking to them for a new generation of power.
HELEN CALDICOTT: I think he once talked about 410 new nuclear reactors in the country. And Cheney -- I don't understand Cheney at all. He's one of the most frightening people I think I've ever read about in my life. And then there's Rumsfeld, who Henry Kissinger called the most ruthless man he's ever known, including global potentates. And so Rumsfeld -- he consistently doesn't tell the truth to the American people, but he charms the media. And it seems nobody has the courage to take him on and question him in a potent, critical way. And he worries me enormously as well. Cheney tends to live underground at the moment.
BUZZFLASH: Except when he's fundraising.
HELEN CALDICOTT: Except when he's fundraising. He's so -- his secret government, which is not answerable to the Congress. So I think it's time we woke up and realized that we're in enormous danger, and that this is a wonderful democracy. And let's stop being paralyzed by fear. But let's use democracy to help not just to save this country, but the planet.
BUZZFLASH: Let me just ask a final question, which is about the book itself. What will a reader find in this book?
HELEN CALDICOTT: It's pretty comprehensive. I wrote a post-September 11th introduction, talking about what could and should have happened, I believe. And what has happened in Afghanistan, and the sort of weapons they used -- the bombs that explode with such force and negative pressure, it literally sucks people's eyeballs out of their cavities, and ruptures lungs. Over 5,000 civilians have been killed, and as I said in my book, body parts are body parts, whether they're black and a white hand holding each other, being found in the street of New York, or they're a child with its head blown off in Afghanistan. And I talk a lot about dropping bombs from 40,000 feet in the air - about unmanned drone predators shooting hellfire missiles by computer control. The book itself talks a lot about corporate control of this administration and the Pentagon. It talks about the nuclear weapons labs, the language they use, a new Manhattan Project, and all the extraordinary experiments they're doing to create more powerful weapons and maybe pure fusion bombs.
It talks about the nuclear weapons in Iraq. How the incidents of childhood cancer in those areas has gone up six times. How the pediatricians can't treat their patients because of the sanctions. They can't get chemotherapeutic agents, antibiotics, or radiotherapy instruments. And the incidents of congenital malformations have at least doubled, and that will continue on for the rest of time. I talk about the five layers of Star Wars, how each layer supposedly "works," and the militarization of space. I go through the medical implications of nuclear war yet again, and nuclear winter. And then I talk about the Bush administration and have an analysis of the major people in the Bush administration -- how they think and what they're doing. So it's fairly comprehensive. It's pretty dense -- an encyclopedia, if you will, of what is currently happening. And I think it's somewhat timely.
BUZZFLASH: Well, at the end of this bleak interview, is there any cause for hope?
HELEN CALDICOTT: My hope is always that I know from treating people on their deathbeds, or as their children are dying, the beauty of the human soul. And people that have lived rather wicked lives repent on their deathbeds. And you see the beauty of them. And I know as a physician that that's there all the time. And if I and others can get around to inspire enough people in this country, which is full of wonderful people, I know that people will have the courage of their convictions and of the beauty of their soul, and rise up and do the right thing. And it's really this country now that is deciding the fate of the earth. And I think the aphorism "In a dark time, the eye begins to see" - I think that's going to happen. And we have a lot of work to do.
We nearly ended the nuclear war. We did end the nuclear arms race in the eighties, but we didn't complete our work and abolish nuclear weapons. I'm now setting up an institute called the Nuclear Policy Research Institute. And it's going to be located in California to take on the Heritage Foundation full frontal in the media, so they stop lying -- or at least we catch them in their lies -- and teach the truth. So to create a mass movement through the media. And if you want to look that up, you can go to nuclearcommonsense.org, the website.
And if you have some major money you would like to contribute to saving the planet in this very fragile time, we would be very grateful for that. And as soon as I get some money, we'll be on television, taking on Rumsfeld.
* * *
Dr. Caldicott's latest book, "The New Nuclear Danger: George Bush's Military-Industrial Complex," is available as a BuzzFlash Premium.
|DAILY BUZZ||FIFTH COLUMNIST||CARTOONS||SOUTHERN STYLE|
|MEDIA LINKS||LINK ARCHIVES||EMAIL BUZZFLASH||ABOUT|
otherwise noted, all original