The Wisdom of Foolishness

In a way, it’s foolish to devote most of my waking hours to defusing the nuclear threat. Don’t get me wrong, the risk is horrendous: My research indicates that a child born today has at least a 10% chance of being killed by a nuclear weapon. While only a fool would tackle a problem that so few people take seriously, sometimes foolishness pays off big time, as can be seen from a recent honor bestowed on earlier work of mine that also was initially seen as crazy.

Because most people think that the threat of a nuclear disaster evaporated with the end of the Cold War, I run the risk of being seen as a Cassandra. But her predictions were always right. Smitten by Cassandra’s beauty, Apollo gave her the gift of prophecy. But, when she spurned his advances, he cursed her – no one would believe her predictions.

As the wooden horse was being brought into Troy, Cassandra could forsee the destruction that it would bring, but her warnings went unheeded. Worse, her efforts to avert disaster gave the appearance of madness. In a twist that strengthens the analogy to nuclear weapons, the assumption that Cassandra was mad was reinforced by the Trojans’ belief that the wooden horse was a gift from the gods that would make them invulnerable. Confusing a mechanism of mass destruction with a divine gift is a mistake we cannot afford to make again today.

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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One Response to The Wisdom of Foolishness

  1. Fermi, Ford, and Edison are in good company now, with you in the National Inventors Hall of Fame!

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