The Sweet Smell of Nuclear Weapons

“When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.” J. Robert Oppenheimer

I can understand how seductive it must have been for this somewhat geeky Jewish kid from New York – that describes me pretty well too – to envision becoming a national hero. Because Oppenheimer did succumb to the sweet perfume of the atom bomb, we must grapple with the fallout and chart a new path for human survival. First we have to overcome society’s mistaken complacency that, because we have not had a nuclear disaster in 65 years, we need not worry about one much farther into the future. (A child born today has an expected lifetime of 78 years, and even that is not an adequate time horizon for the end of civilization.)

I’ve debunked the myth of nuclear optimism elsewhere so it’s time to get moving. My updated home page and a new one on creating pockets of nuclear awareness lay out a new approach that  just might succeed. As Stanford alumna and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said in a letter encouraging Stanford’s student body to participate, “there is nothing to be lost and much –  potentially the whole world –  to be gained.” I’ve attached a scan of her letter, and while it’s addressed to Stanford students, her conclusion is universally applicable.

About Martin Hellman

I am a professor at Stanford University, best known for my invention of public key cryptography -- the technology that protects the secure part of the Internet, such as electronic banking. But, for almost 30 years, my primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic. My latest project is a book with the audacious subtitle "Creating True Love at Home & Peace on the Planet." Its soon to open website explains: https://anewmap.com.
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