Helen Caldicott at HRMS

`You are physicians to our dying planet'

A physician grandmother with a ribald sense of humor gave a chilling vision of terror -- and a plan for the end of nuclear proliferation -- in a talk Monday in Hood River.

Dr. Helen Caldicott revealed "my plan for ending nuclear weapons in five years," to a crowd of about 200 people at Hood River Middle School.

"You are the physicians to our dying planet," said Caldicott, an Australian pediatrician. She said her plan requires "absolute total dedication -- that's all."

Yet on Monday her concerns were also focused on current events. She issued warnings of the danger of nuclear war resulting from the current violence in the Middle East.

"That's the underlying foundation of the incredibly dangerous situation that it is," she said. "We would have a nuclear war tonight and that would be the end of it. But Dan Rather and Peter Jennings aren't talking about it."

"As I see it, the Jews have been abused for generations, and people who are abused are likely to perpetuate abuse," she said. "In a Jungian way they (the Israeli government) are acting out that abuse. And the Palestinians remind me of my grandchildren, in a childlike way, but what they are doing is killing each other. It's a bloodbath."

Dr. Caldicott is the founder of the Nobel Prize-winning Physicians for Social Responsibility, and is herself a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. Her new book is The New Nuclear Danger (New Press.) Caldicott currently divides her time between Australia and the United States, where she has devoted the last 30 years to an international campaign to educate the public about the medical hazards of the nuclear age.

On Monday she also touched on two other trouble spots in the world, Afghanistan and Venezuela.

Caldicott claimed that the bombing of Afghanistan had nothing to do with stopping terrorism but was about paving the way for construction of an oil pipeline across south Asia.

She also criticized the recent near-ouster of "the democratically-elected president of Venezuela (Hugo Chavez) as an American-backed maneuver for the Caribbean nation's oil reserves motivated in part because Chavez "likes Cuba and wants free health care for his people -- he's a Socialist! Can you imagine, wanting free health care for your citizens?"

Caldicott said she reads several papers cover to cover every day -- and, from the podium, she read and commented at length from the New York Times.

"It's all there, you just have to read between the lines. It isn't always in the big headlines," she said.

After claiming that President George W. Bush "is not really the president," and making remarks questioning standard Christian theology, one couple got up and left the hall. It was only a few minutes into Caldicott's talk.

"I'm provocative on purpose," Caldicott said. "If half of you hate what I say and half of you love it I've done my job, which is to promote critical thinking."

She called herself "a true conservative."

"I'm for conserving life on the planet. It's a radical notion to destroy life on the planet," Caldicott said.

Shortly after Sept. 11, she was set to make a speech in an East Coast city.

"I was there to promote my book. What could I say at that time? I knew there would be a lot of Christians there so I got out the Bible and I read the words of Jesus," she said.

"I said that He told us to love thine enemy, to do good to those who hate you," Caldicott said. "If we don't do that we are going to destroy the planet."

About the American nuclear stockpile, she said, "Most Americans don't know the bombs are there. That's why we're in a lot of danger now."

Caldicott wove moments of humor into the talk, saying that she has to help pay for her own book tour.

"I never saved any money for my old age because I never thought I'd get old," she said. She told of her granddaughter asking her, "when you die, can I have those shoes?"

But Caldicott never let comic relief detract from her realistic concerns.

Nuclear shield testing is "all cooked," she said. "The thing won't ever work, and they (scientists) know it.

She referred to weapons termed "nuclear-tipped" as "a terrible euphemism."

"There are hydrogen bombs in those things larger than the one at Hiroshima," she said.

"Albert Einstein said that splitting the atom changed everything, except man's way of thinking," Caldicott said.

The audience went silent during her chilling depiction of what would happen if a nuclear weapon hit the Columbia Gorge (and she believes this would be likely because of the proximity to the Hanford Atomic Reservation): everyone within five miles vaporized, horrific winds ensuing, six months of contamination, outbreaks of disease, and nuclear winter caused by a black cloud covering the earth.

"It would only take one bomb exploding in the Middle East or on the Indian-Pakistani border," she said.

Caldicott insisted that her plan can work for ridding the earth of nuclear power in five years.

"I need a million dollars a year for five years, which is not nearly so much money as (conservative think tank) Heritage Foundation," said Caldicott.

The key is to become "a ubiquitous presence in the media." Whenever the Heritage Foundation speaks, I'll be right there, too." She plans this year to establish, in the Bay Area -- "just 13 hours from home" -- a Nuclear Policy Research Institute.

"At present, there is a total vacuum of truth in media," she charged. "I also need a very good webmaster and someone to write lots of fantastic op-ed pieces on nuclear winter and the medical effects of nuclear energy.

"Second, we need to close down the power plants," she said. "It will be easy to inform the American people. There's always a way of getting people involved.

"And when I'm done, I'll be able to retire and drink mint juleps on my veranda."

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