If You Love This Planet, Dr. Helen Caldicott

Lynn Eden on how firestorms would greatly intensify the effects of nuclear war


Lynn Eden

Lynn Eden

Do Pentagon nuclear-war planners really take into account the destruction nuclear weapons would unleash? This week’s guest, Lynn Eden, has found that the devastating and far-reaching fire damage that would result from use of nuclear weapons is not considered by the U.S. military, which only pays attention to the more limited blast damage. Eden is the acting co-director (2008-09) of the Center for International Security and Cooperation, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University, where she is a senior research scholar. She is a co-chair of Pugwash USA. Her focus is on foreign and military policy, and science and technology in the nuclear realm. This program discusses Eden’s most recent book, Whole World on Fire: Organizations, Knowledge and Nuclear Weapons Devastation, which won the American Sociological Association’s 2004 Robert K. Merton Award for best book on science, knowledge and technology.

Dr. Caldicott has Eden expound upon the history and the more dysfunctional aspects of U.S. war planning and nuclear weapons targeting. Edens describes how much more destructive any nuclear blast on a U.S. (or Russian) city would be when firestorms are taken into account. Many U.S. and Russian cities have over 40 weapons targeted on them, a case of extreme “overkill”. This episode also looks at the Pentagon’s use of language regarding nuclear war casualties and the concept of “deterrence;” the number of U.S. and Russian weapons on alert and in storage; and the “football” that U.S. and Russian presidents would have to activate to launch nuclear weapons. Read Obama Gets Nuclear “Football”. Read more about the U.S. football here and see close-up photos here. Read about the Russian football or “cheget,” and how U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons-launch protocols differ in Changing the Nuclear Command.

The horrific damage that nuclear weapons can unleash, as explained in this episode, is well represented in Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors’ accounts in the Emmy-Award-winning 2007 documentary White Light Black Rain, now available on DVD. Dr. Caldicott and Eden explore how present-day nuclear weapons are much more powerful than those used on Japan. Our host refers to an article she co-wrote with former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, Still on Catastrophe’s Edge: In a flash, U.S. and Russia could hurl thousands of missiles at each other, which notes the redundancy of cities nuclear targeters select to bomb. Watch a still-relevant 2003 lecture by Dr. Caldicott at the Goldman School of Public Policy, U.C. Berkeley in which she covers the present nuclear alert situation, the medical effects of nuclear war, and other nuclear weapons topics.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Keith Davids carrying the football, foreground, containing nuclear codes, at the White House (2005 AP photo)

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Keith Davids carrying the "football," foreground, containing nuclear codes, at the White House (2005 AP photo)

Today, U.S.-Russian relations are on the mend, and President Obama has declared his commitment to eliminate all nuclear weapons (though he has absolved himself of some responsibility by saying total disarmament may not be achieved in his lifetime). However, for now the possibility of global nuclear war between the superpowers, by computer or human accident or by design, is still a real possibility at every moment. Read about just a few of the known False Alarms on the Nuclear Front. Nuclear weapons could also be launched by the smaller nuclear states, which would create a regional catastrophe and exacerbate global warming, as described in
Dr. Caldicott’s interview last year with Professor Alan Robock.

Eden describes how her research on the fire damage of nuclear war enabled her to discover a great deal about how organizations make decisions and solve problems, often with pronounced blind spots and tunnel-vision thinking. Dr. Caldicott notes that as the work of U.S. and Russian nuclear-war planners involves the very real possibility of global annihilation, what they do in secret and how they think “affects every person on earth. They are determining our future.” Don’t miss this episode to learn more about the still-urgent issue of preventing nuclear war.

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