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Roy W. Menninger's Message
The dinner at
which you will read these brief comments is more than a celebration. It is a
testimony to the dedication and intense commitment of a few of our medical
colleagues who recognized the terrible threat of atomic war in the late 1950’s.
As the pioneers of PSR, they found the voice to speak out about the previously
unacknowledged medical consequences of an atomic explosion, citing the
consequences of a hypothetical bomb dropped on Boston. This was new. This was here. This was
dramatic. At a time of official “reassuring talk” about an inane civilian
defense strategy of “duck and cover” and rudimentary shelters built with doors
and shovels, it brought a shocking recognition of the profoundly human
dimension of atomic war.
Bernie Lown was one
of these pioneers. My most vivid exchange with Bernie occurred in Alma Ata, Kazakhstan in
May 1990, when a group of American physicians traveled to the Russian atomic
test grounds in support of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty—an ironic undertaking
since our own government was unwilling to support our position. As the IPPNW
Paterfamilias and the Majordomo of the event, Bernie was due to address a large
aggregation of international of physicians (and others) from all over the
world, but in his rumpled coat and disheveled tie he looked like a used car
salesman, not a doctor. At the last minute, as he was about to mount the stage,
I persuaded him to wear the classic white coat that I had brought for the
occasion, so that, as the leader of the venture, he would be visibly and undeniably
a physician. Fortunately, he didn’t hesitate. I think that universal mark of
his profession made him more articulate and persuasive than ever. He gave a
PSR has grown from
its modest beginning around Bernie’s kitchen table in Boston into an organization of authority and
influence, and with the oncoming generation of physicians, it will provide the
leadership to address this persistent, undiminished threat to our future. And
we need that leadership. Time has shown us that reason, undeniable logic, and
common sense are not enough to banish this mortal terror from the world. It
takes dedicated persistence, articulate reiteration, repeated reminders, and
endless entreaties to push our leaders to recognize the obvious: that nuclear
weapons are bad for human health and survival. I urge our successors to
continue this fight. They can make the difference.
Roy W. Menninger, MD