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April 1983

Gunpowder Altered the Physician's Wartime Role: Should Nuclear Weapons Change It Again?

Author Affiliations

From Michael Reese Hospital and Medical Center, Chicago. Adapted from an address read before the annual meeting of fellows of the Hastings Center-Institute of Society, Ethics, and the Life Sciences, Hastings-On-Hudson, NY, June 19, 1982.

Arch Intern Med. 1983;143(4):784-786. doi:10.1001/archinte.1983.00350040174025

The media are particularly attentive to the potential for destruction from nuclear war. The New York Times, Newsweek, the bulletins of the Federation of American Scientists and the Federation of Atomic Scientists, television documentaries, and the essays of Jonathan Schell and others have provided authoritative, knowledgeable, and articulate sources of information and opinion on that topic. It is enough to remind you of what you already know of the threat and to ask that you consider the concept that thermonuclear warfare is both qualitatively and quantitatively different from the kinds of conflicts that preceded it. The quantitative changes include vast, almost unimaginable destructiveness in small, easily delivered, precisely targeted packages. The qualitative differences from conventional warfare include long-term effects on the habitability of land, alteration of the atmosphere, and the likelihood of producing genetic aberrations.

Not only is the threat well defined in terms that most can understand, but the

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