Saturday, May 6, 2017

Against Nuclear War and Social Injustice

 The mission of Physicians for Social Responsibility is to help protect the public against threats to global survival, specifically nuclear warfare and proliferation, global warming, and toxic degradation of the environment. It offers testimony to Congress and delivers professional and public education. It is a national network with 50,000 members and e-activists, and it is the U.S. affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, winner of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize. It is not necessary to be a physician to be a member or a supporter of this excellent organization.

One of the Sacramento chapter’s major functions is the Annual High School Scholarship Essay Contest. This was the 13th consecutive year that the contest was held, a period during which over $150,000 has been handed out.

The contest consists of responding to a prompt in an essay of 500 or fewer words. Each year a different prompt is used and the essays of past contest winners are posted on the PSR/Sacramento website at

This year’s prompt was the following statement by Franklin Roosevelt: “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”

I was one of the five judges who ranked the ten finalists. The awards presentation was held last Sunday evening at a banquet at Sacramento’s Double Tree by Hilton Hotel.

In an introductory speech, incoming President Dr. Harry Wang (who follows outgoing president Bill Durston) spoke about the origins of the organization. He explained that during the early phase of America’s plunge into nuclear armament, the US government asked the medical profession for help in developing strategies to survive and to recover from nuclear war. The medical profession declined to collaborate and to become an enabler of nuclear war. Instead, it stated that its position was unequivocal opposition to all nuclear armament.

The high school finalists then proceeded to present their papers to the audience. Here are a few passages:

“On February 26, 2015, Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma brought a snowball onto the Senate floor, claiming that the unseasonably cold temperatures disproved the existence of climate change once and for all....The question shouldn’t be, “why does Senator Inhofe deny established science?” but “Why did 500,000 American voters know that the Senator denies established science and vote for him anyway?”

 “The recent presidential election has revealed the overwhelming prevalence of bigotry in the United States that many thought no longer existed. (It is necessary to teach) that superficial differences ultimately mask fundamental similarities. Ethnicity, religion, gender, and sexuality are all part of a person, but they do not define a person.”

“Words have power. They can persuade and galvanize, but they can also vilify and manipulate. The deluge of information overwhelms an individual with conflicting ideologies, facts, and fiction masquerading as facts. An uneducated mind is a vulnerable one.”

Each finalist was asked a question. These high school seniors’ answers were intelligent and well thought-out. For example, I asked one of them the following:

“As an antidote to electoral apathy, countries such as Australia and the Netherlands have made voting mandatory, i. e. imposed a (minor) fine for not voting. Thus, voter participation in Holland sometimes exceeds 90%, whereas in the US it is often below 50%. Would you favor this for the US? Why or why not?”

The student suggested that rather than be punitive, we might try positive incentives to vote, such as a small tax deduction or a minor monetary reward...

All of this put me in a contemplative and positive mood regarding the future of the country and of the world.

On the one hand, several Western societies have recently committed some serious blunders, including electing to the most powerful position in the world a man who suffers from mental disability. 

However, these young award recipients reminded me that there is also good reason to be hopeful. Here is some of what I said in my concluding remarks:

No political action group is more important today than the PSR, especially with the current saber rattling by the boy who leads North Korea and our own man-boy leader. It’s scary, when two mentally unstable heads of state face off, and they both have nukes.

Clearly, we now live in a “nervous” world. North America and Europe are moving rightward, towards nativism, isolationism, nationalism, authoritarianism, selfishness. Nor is this limited to the Western world. Russia, the Philippines, the Middle East and much of the Third World also seem to be regressing, if not economically, at least politically. Democracy is under pressure everywhere. This is sad for someone like me, who grew up during the decades following World War Two, an age of optimism.

However, the students who wrote these essays give me great hope for the future. They show that we have a vibrant, intelligent and dedicated generation coming up, one that will not permit the triumph of evil, apathy and regression.

I am a follower of the Austrian philosopher Karl Popper. I believe, as he did, that in the end, knowledge, science and reason will prevail over ignorance, greed and prejudice. This is so because of human nature. These students are evidence of it. They thirst for and respect true knowledge, and they know that all human action must ultimately be based thereupon in order to succeed. There is no other way, and they know it.
© Tom Kando 2017;All Rights Reserved
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