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A Passion for Nukes

For the last few weeks, I’ve been auditing a seminar titled “EE190: Nuclear Weapons, Risk and Hope” that Stanford Professor Emeritus Martin Hellman has been teaching this quarter.

This is a subject that Marty is most passionate about – see, among other references, his website on Defusing the Nuclear Threat. Coincidentally, Marty and I had lunch a couple of weeks ago on the day he was going to hold the first class in the seminar – so I tagged along. I had recently re-watched Thirteen Days – one of my all-time favorite movies – where the US and the Soviet Union were on the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis. I’m glad I have attended these seminar sessions of Marty’s – in the process learning much more about both the history, the technology and the issues surrounding atomic weapons.

Earlier this month, an obituary in the New York Times caught my eye – Tsutomu Yamaguchi died on Monday, January 4, 2010, at age 93. According to the Times, Yamaguchi was “the only official survivor of both atomic blasts to hit Japan in World War II.” He was present both at Hiroshima and Nagasaki when the atomic bombs went off. Can you imagine? I couldn’t.

On Monday afternoon, I attended the lecture “Working Toward a World Without Nuclear Weapons: Sidney Drell and George Shultz in Conversation with Philip Taubman” held by CISAC at Stanford. It was especially interesting to me to hear George Shultz’s description of the meeting in Reykjavik between President Reagan and Secretary-General Mikhail Gorbachev in which they talked about eliminating nuclear weapons.

Yesterday, I happened across this NPR story about the book The Last Train from Hiroshima: The Survivors Look Back by Charles Pellegrino. NPR included the first chapter from the book – which begins by describing in minute details what actually took place during the first few seconds following the Hiroshima detonation. It’s very powerful in its description of that day – but still is something very hard to imagine beyond the sheer devastation that resulted.

Let’s hope, for all of our sakes, that – through the work of Hellman, Pellegrino and so many more who are trying to get us back to a nuclear zero world – that this is not something we ever have to experience ever again.

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