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August 2, 1995

Physician Responsibility in the Nuclear Age

JAMA. 1995;274(5):416-419. doi:10.1001/jama.1995.03530050064034

"THE WORLD is moving inexorably toward the use of nuclear weapons."1 These ominous words, spoken in 1981, were a clarion call for a new world organization, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). The nuclear arms race was then about to swing into high gear, though nuclear armories were already burgeoning with enough megatonnage to destroy life on earth many times over. Before the decade was out, nuclear stockpiles equaled in their destructiveness 1 million Hiroshimas. Never before had humankind possessed the power to make this planet uninhabitable.

Rapidly advancing weapons technology increased the danger by spawning illusions of achieving nuclear superiority and even of the possibility of victory. In the mad calculus of the day, hope for survival was based on striking first and thereby gaining advantage by reducing an enemy's siloed missiles. Weapons were therefore poised at hair-trigger readiness for a preemptive first strike.

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