Halting the Spread of Bio-Warfare Weapons
FREEDOM: How did the move to UCLA change things for you?
COUSINS: My predominant interest all these years has been in the need to do everything possible toward making this planet safe and fit for human habitation. It was in this sense that the Saturday Review played a partor at least, was credited by President Kennedy with having played a partin the attempt to put a ban on atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. People have asked me since coming here, have I turned my back on that basic concern? The answer is: Certainly not. I have changed my base, but I have not changed my concern.
Certain ironies are perhaps more apparent to me now, looking at this problem from the perspective of medical school, than when I was working as an editor. Here at the medical school I am aware each day of the dominant efforts of those who have been attempting to combat disease. They study disease; they try to develop new ways of combating disease through new antibiotics or other meanscreating, in effect, a battleground against disease. But the irony is that all these men and womennot just at UCLA, but in medical laboratories throughout the countryare fighting a rear guard action. Even as we are straining to eliminate disease germs, the United States government is stockpiling disease germs; and so is the Soviet Union, Im sure.
The kind of disease germs that are being bred in laboratories, supported by the American taxpayer, will not yield to any known antibiotics. In short, government is now attempting to create disease on a scale thats unimaginable.
The same thing is true, as I say, of the Soviet Union and other governments. Any government which is engaged in producing disease germs with such virulence on such a scale cannot have the respect of its people, or anyone for that matter. It is necessary, it seems to me, for the citizens in the United States to know exactly what is happening.
I dont know if the American people recognize yet that these weapons have nothing to do with security. When these bombs start flying and the disease germs are releasedlet loose on the worldAmerican security will not be served. These weapons have nothing to do with security. And adding to the existing stockpiles actually decreases our security, because if these weapons are used they will spread around the world and there is no defense against them. All this is being done as part of an arms race in which it is more important to convince others that you have no limitations, you accept no limitations, on what you are doing.
We are faced with a profound moral issue. That issue is whether the government is to be the sole judge of what is required to make our planet safe and fit for human habitation. So long as the United States and the Soviet Union careen wildly down the road toward mass, mutual suicide, we cannot in truth say that a situation of control does exist. Indeed, the essential issue in our time, it seems to me, has to do with the pursuit of force versus the control of force.
I havent changed my mind about any of this. Nothing that Ive said is especially new, but perhaps Ive developed a new perspective on it from the standpoint of a medical school. Looking out at the world from inside a medical school makes it look a little different because the paradoxes become much more obvious.
FREEDOM: How do we bring this problem under control?
COUSINS: I think the problem is that the American people really dont know about this or understand it or really comprehend the threat to their security represented by what the government is doing.
Young people are worried about the nuclear power plants, but the United States government and its war program, its bomb program, are producing three hundred times more nuclear wastes than are being produced by all the nuclear energy installations. And that is where the focus of our attention ought to be.
In the 1950s, I brought to the United States some Polish Catholic women who had been used as experimental guinea pigs against their will by Nazi doctors. They knew what was happening to them, of course. Some of them died, but we brought over some of the survivors for medical treatment. Now I read that the government of the United States has been testing poison gasses on its own people. How do you think I feel?
I am indignant. I believe that some action should be taken. I believe the parties who are responsible for this have been acting in the worst tradition, in violation of every American tradition. I believe that we ought to find out, whether under the Freedom of Information Act or any other way, exactly how these decisions were made and who made those decisions. And I believe they should be brought to court. These are criminal actions.
FREEDOM: What can we do on an international level to bring an end to the nuclear arms race and the stockpiling of bio-warfare weapons?
COUSINS: Obviously, there is no point in having the United States discontinue everything it is doing if the Soviet Union and other countries are going to continue, and that is why I believe that the attempt to write up effective agreements should be pursued. President Kennedys agreementthe treaty against atmospheric testing of nuclear weaponshas worked fairly well. Weve got instrumentation that can enable us to detect violations, and in the SALT negotiations we have other means for detecting violations. I trust that we are going to get SALT back on the track.
You see, we are involved in sort of a macho-madness where each side is trying to outspend the other side, each side is trying to build more bombs than the other side, and no one is asking at what cost and what will happen if we continue to do this. No one is asking really whether this has anything to do with security, because it doesnt. It represents a form of collective insanity, and it is time the American people knew about it and made responsible judgments.
I spoke before about the chemical-biological warfare development. One has to examine all the implications of preparation for chemical-biological warfare. You just dont manufacture these canisters, or whatever it is that contains these pathogenic organisms. They have to be tested, and under the Freedom of Information Act it was discovered that the government of the United States has been testing some of these weapons on the American people, themselves.
It is not going to be enough simply to have agreements that are going to put a lid on the arms race or that weve got to start cutting back. We have got to start eliminating a lot of these weapons which, if used, would jeopardize life everywhereand which, as I say, have nothing to do with security.
You know, the arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States is like two men at opposite ends of a lifeboat. These men are enemies, and each man is drilling a hole in each end of his boat, for the purpose of hurting the other fellow, and the competition is to see who can drill the largest hole. That is what were doing with the Soviet Union. All the worlds people are now in a lifeboat and have only a single life support system. One planet. Apparently, we are trying to see how fast we can go down, or whether we can get the other side to go down faster than we can.
But if one goes down, all go down.
FREEDOM: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
COUSINS: So long as it is possible to talk; so long as it is possible in a free society to share your apprehensions and your dreams with other people; so long as it is possible not only to criticize, but to praise; so long as it is possible to talk about the need for world law among nations and get people to respond, I cannot be pessimistic.