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Special Communication
August 5, 1998

Medicine and Nuclear War: From Hiroshima to Mutual Assured Destruction to Abolition 2000

Author Affiliations

From the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (Drs Forrow and Sidel), and the Division of General Medicine and Primary Care, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, (Dr Forrow), Boston, Mass; and the Department of Epidemiology and Social Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY (Dr Sidel).

JAMA. 1998;280(5):456-461. doi:10.1001/jama.280.5.456

To determine how physicians might participate in the prevention of nuclear war in the post–Cold War era, we review, from a medical perspective, the history of the nuclear weapons era since Hiroshima and the status of today's nuclear arsenals and dangers. In the 1950s, physicians were active partners in governmental civil defense planning. Since 1962, physicians have stressed prevention of nuclear war as the only effective medical intervention. Public advocacy by physicians helped end both atmospheric nuclear testing in the 1960s and superpower plans for fighting a nuclear war in the 1980s. Today's dangers include nuclear arms proliferation, an increasing risk of nuclear terrorism, and the 35,000 warheads that remain in superpower nuclear arsenals, many still on hair-trigger alert. Physicians have recently joined with military and political leaders and over 1000 citizens' organizations in calling for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. Global medical collaboration in support of a verifiable and enforceable Nuclear Weapons Convention would be a major contribution to safeguarding health in the 21st century.

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