Albert Schweitzer: Respect for Life Against Nuclear Death
by Rene Wadlow
Civilization is made up of four ideals: the ideal of the individual; the ideal of social and political organization; the ideal of spiritual and religious organization; the ideal of humanity as a whole. On the basis of these four ideals, thought tries conclusions with progress.
Albert Schweitzer The Philosophy of Civilization
Albert Schweitzer, whose birth anniversary we note on 14 January, was concerned with the ways that these four ideals of civilization are developed into a harmonious whole. Late in his life, when I knew him in the early 1960s, he was most concerned with the ideal of humanity as a whole.
He had come out strongly against nuclear weapons, weapons which were the opposite of respect for life which was the foundation of his ethical values. (1) "Man can hardly recognize the devils of his creation. Let me give you a definition of ethics. It is good to maintain and further life. It is bad to damage and destroy life. By having reverence for life, we enter into a spiritual relation with the world. By practicing respect for life, we become of the human family and our good, deep and alive."
Rene Wadlow and Albert Schweitzer
For Schweitzer, our sense of unity of the human family and our obligation to future generations was threatened as never before in the two World wars that he had seen. I had been active since the mid-1950s in efforts to ban testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere - a focus of anti-nuclear efforts at the time. I had also worked with the world citizen Norman Cousins who had visited Lambaréné and had written a lively book on his exchanges with Schweitzer.(2) Thus I was well by Schweitzer at his hospital in Lambarene; and we had useful discussions. I was working for the Ministry of Education at the time and was at the Protestant Secondary School which was a mile down the Ogowe River from the hospital.
It was Norman Cousins, active in disarmament efforts in the USA, who urged Schweitzer to speak out against nuclear weapons. Schweitzer had been awared the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian efforts in Africa. Thus he came into ever-greater contact with people working for peace. However, he was reluctant to make statements on issues on which he was not expert. As he said to Cousins «All my life, I have carefully stayed away from making pronouncements on public matters. Groups would come to me for statements or I would be asked to sign joint letters or the press would ask me for my views on certain political questions. And always I would feel forced to say no." However, he went on "The world needs a system of enforceable law to prevent aggression and deal with the threats to the peace, but the important thing to do is to make a start somewhere...I think maybe the place to take hold is with the matter of nuclear testing...If a ban on nuclear testing can be put into effect then perhaps the stage can be set for other and broader measures related to peace."
Schweitzer's 1958 appeal "Peace or Atomic War" was an important contribution to the growing protests against nuclear testing and their fallout of radiation. On 16 October 1963 The Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water (more commonly called the Partial Test Ban) came into force.
Today, we still need those other and broader measures related to peace and for a constant affirmation of respect for life.
1) See Albert Schweitzer. Peace or Atomic War (New York: Henry Holt, 1958)
2) See Norman Cousins; Dr Schweitzer of Lambarene (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960)
3) Also from Rene Wallow in Ovi magazine:
Albert Schweitzer: To say yes to life HERE
Albert Schweitzer: A Universal Ethic HERE
Albert Schweitzer: To turn our faces once again to civilization. HERE
Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens
1952 Nobel Peace Laureate
A Declaration of Conscience
"All my life I have carefully stayed away from making pronouncements on public matters. I have tried to relate myself to the problems of all humankind rather than tobecome involved in disputes between this or that group."
Since March 1, 1954 hydrogen bombs have been tested by the United States at the Pacific island of Bikini in the Marshallgroup and by Soviet Russia in Siberia. We know that testing of atomic weapons is something quite different from testing ofnon-atomic ones. Earlier, when a new type of giant gun had been tested, the matter ended with the detonation. After the explosion of a hydrogen bomb that is not the case. Something remains in the air, namely, an incalculable number ofradioactive particles, emitting radioactive rays. This was also the case with the uranium bombs dropped on Nagasaki andHiroshima and those which were subsequently tested. However, because these bombs were of smaller size and less effectiveness compared with the hydrogen bombs, not much attention was given to this fact.
Since radioactive rays of sufficient amount and strength have harmful effects on the human body, it must be consideredwhether the radiation resulting from the hydrogen explosions that have already taken place represents a danger which wouldincrease with new explosions.
In the course of the three-and-a-half years that have passed since then [the test explosions of the early hydrogen bombs]representatives of the physical and medical sciences have been studying the problem. Observations on the distribution,origin, and nature of radiation have been made. The processes through which the human body is harmfully affected have been analyzed. The material collected, although far from complete, allows us to draw the conclusion that radiation resulting from the explosions which have already taken place represents a danger to the human race - a danger not to be underrated -and that further explosions of atomic bombs will increase this danger to an alarming extent.
This conclusion has repeatedly been expressed, especially during the last few months. However, it has not, strange tosay, influenced public opinion to the extent that one might have expected. Individuals and peoples have not been aroused to give to this danger the attention which it unfortunately deserves. It must be demonstrated and made clear to them.
I raise my voice, together with those of others who have lately felt it their duty to act, through speaking and writing,in warning of the danger. My age and the generous understanding so many people have shown of my work permit me to hopethat my appeal may contribute to the preparing of the way for the insights so urgently needed.
My thanks go to the radio station in Oslo, the city of the Nobel Peace Prize, for making it possible for that which Ifeel I have to say to reach far-off places.
What is radioactivity?
Radioactivity consists of rays differing from those of light in being invisible and in being able to pass not onlythrough glass but also through thin metal discs and through layers of cell tissue in the human and animal bodies. Rays ofthis kind were first discovered in 1895 by the physicist Wilhelm Roentgen of Munich, and were named after him.
In 1896 the French physicist Henri Becquerel demonstrated that rays of this kind occur in nature. They are emitted fromuranium, an element known since 1786.
In 1898 Pierre Curie and his wife discovered in the mineral pitchblende, a uranium ore, the strongly radioactive elementradium.
The joy caused by the fact that such rays were at the disposal of humanity was at first unmixed. It appeared that theyinfluence the relatively rapidly growing and relatively rapidly decaying cells of malignant tumors and sarcomas. Ifexposed to these rays repeatedly for a longer period, some of the terrible neoplasms can be destroyed.
After a time it was found, however, that the destruction of cancer cells does not always mean the cure of cancer andalso, that the normal cells of the body may be seriously damaged if long exposed to radioactivity.
When Mme. Curie, after having handled uranium ore for four years, finally held the first gram of radium in her hand thereappeared abrasions in the skin which no treatment could cure. With the years she grew steadily sicker from a diseasecaused by radioactive rays which damaged her bone marrow and through this her blood. In 1934 death put an end to hersuffering.
Even so, for many years we were not aware of the grave risks involved in X-rays to those constantly exposed to them.Through operating X-ray apparatus thousands of doctors and nurses have incurred incurable diseases.
Radioactive rays are material things. Through them the radioactive element constantly and forcefully emits tiny particlesof itself. There are three kinds. They are named after the three first letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha, beta, gamma. The gamma rays are the hardest ones and have the strongest effect.
The reasons why elements emit radioactive rays is that they are in a continuous state of decaying. The radioactivity isthe energy liberated little by little. There are other elements besides uranium and radium which are radioactive. To theradiation from the elements in the earth is added some radiation from space. Fortunately, the air mass 400 kilometershigh, that surrounds our earth, protects us against this radiation. only a very small fraction of it reaches us.
We are, then, constantly being exposed to radioactive radiation coming from the earth and from space. It is so weak,however, that it does not hurt us. Stronger sources of radiation, as for instance X-ray machines and exposed radium, have,as we know, harmful effects if one is exposed to them for some time.
The radioactive rays are, as I said, invisible. How can we tell that they are there and how strong they are?
Thanks to the German physicist Hans Geiger, who died in 1945 as a victim to X-rays, we have an instrument which makesthat possible. This instrument is called the Geiger counter; it consists of a metal tube containing rarefied air. In itare two metal electrodes between which there is a high potential. Radioactive rays from the outside affect the tube andrelease a discharge between the two electrodes. The stronger the radiation the quicker the discharges follow one another.A small device connected to the tube makes the discharge audible. The Geiger counter performs a veritable drum-roll whenthe discharges are strong.
There are two kinds of atom bomb - uranium bombs and hydrogen bombs. The effect of a uranium bomb is due to a processwhich liberates energy through the fission of uranium. In the hydrogen bomb the liberation of energy is the result of thetransformation of hydrogen into helium.
It is interesting to note that this latter process is similar to that which takes place in the center of the sun,supplying it with the self-renewing energy which it emits in the form of light and heat.
In principle, the effect of both bombs is the same. But, according to various estimates the effect of one of the latesthydrogen bombs is 2,000 times stronger than the one which was dropped on Hiroshima.
To these two bombs has recently been added the cobalt bomb, a kind of super atom-bomb. It is a hydrogen bomb surroundedby a layer of cobalt. The effect of this bomb is estimated to be many times stronger than that of hydrogen bombs that havebeen made so far.
The explosion of an atom bomb creates an unconceivable large number of exceedingly small particles of radioactiveelements which decay like uranium or radium. Some of these particles decay very quickly, others more slowly, and some ofthem extraordinarily slowly. The strongest of these elements cease to exist only ten seconds after the detonation of thebomb. But in this short time they may have killed a great number of people in a circumference of several miles.
What remains are the less powerful elements. In our time it is with these we have to contend. It is of the danger arisingfrom the radioactive rays emitted by these elements that we must be aware.
Of these elements some exist for hours, some for weeks, or months, or years, or millions of years, undergoing continuousdecay. They float in the higher strata of air as clouds of radioactive dust. The heavy particles fall down first. Thelighter ones will stay in the air for a longer time or come down with rain or snow. How long it will take beforeeverything carried up in the air by the explosions which have taken place till now has disappeared no one can say with anycertainty. According to some estimates, this will be the case not earlier than thirty or forty years from now.
When I was a boy I witnessed how dust hurled into the air from the explosion in 1883 of the island Krakatoa in the Sundagroup was noticeable for two years afterwards to such an extent that sunsets were given extraordinary splendor by it.
What we can state with certainty, however, is that the radioactive clouds will constantly be carried by the winds aroundthe globe and that some of the dust, by its own weight, or by being brought down by rain, snow, mist, and dew, little bylittle, will fall down on the hard surface of the earth, into the rivers, and into the oceans.
Of what nature are these radioactive elements, particles of which were carried up in the air by the explosion of atombombs and which are now falling down again?
They are strange variants of the usual nonradioactive elements. They have the same chemical properties but a differentatomic weight. Their names are always accompanied by their atomic weights. The same element can occur in severalradioactive variants. Besides Iodine 131, which lives for sixteen days only, we have Iodine 129, which lives for200,000,000 years.
Dangerous elements of this kind are: Phosphorus 32, Calcium 45, Iodine 131, Iron 55, Bismuth 210, Plutonium 239, Cerium144, Strontium 89, Cesium 137. If the hydrogen bomb is covered by cobalt, Cobalt 60 must be added to the list.
Particularly dangerous are the elements combining long life with a relatively strong efficient radiation. Among themStrontium 90 takes the first place. It is present in very large amounts in the radioactive dust. Cobalt 60 must also bementioned as particularly dangerous.
The radioactivity in the air, increased through these elements, will not harm us from the outside, not being strongenough to penetrate the skin. It is another matter with respiration, through which radioactive elements can enter ourbodies. But the danger which has to be stressed above all the others is the one which arises from our drinking radioactivewater and our eating radioactive food as a consequence of the increased radioactivity in the air.
Following the explosions of Bikini and Siberia rain falling over Japan has, from time to time, been so radioactive thatthe water from it cannot be drunk. Not only that: Reports of radioactive rainfall are coming from all parts of the worldwhere analyses have recently been made. In several places the water has proved to be so radioactive that it was unfit fordrinking.
Well-water becomes radioactive to any considerable extent only after longer periods of heavy rainfall.
Wherever radioactive rainwater is found the soil is also radioactive - and in a higher degree. The soil is maderadioactive not only by the downpour, but also from radioactive dust falling on it. And with the soil the vegetation willalso have become radioactive. The radioactive elements deposited in the soil pass into the plants, where they are stored.This is of importance, for as a result of this process it may be the case that we are threatened by a considerable amountof radioactive elements.
The radioactive elements in grass, when eaten by animals whose meat is used for food, will be absorbed and stored in ourbodies.
In the case of cows grazing on contaminated soil, the absorption is effected when we drink their milk. In that way, smallchildren run an especially dangerous risk of absorbing radioactive elements.
When we eat contaminated cheese and fruits the radioactive elements stored in them are transferred to us.
What this storing of radioactive material implies is clearly demonstrated by the observations made when, on one occasion,the radioactivity of the Columbia River in North America was analyzed. The radioactivity was caused by the atomic plantsat Hanford, which produce plutonium for atomic bombs and which empty their waste water into the river. The radioactivity
of the river water was insignificant. But the radioactivity of the river plankton was 2,000 times higher, that of theducks eating plankton 40,000 times higher, that of the fish 15,000 times higher. In young swallows fed on insects caughtby their parents in the river the radioactivity was 500,000 times higher, and in the egg yolks of water birds more than1,000,000 times higher.
From official and unofficial sources we have been assured, time and time again, that the increase in radioactivity of theair does not exceed the amount which the human body can tolerate without any harmful effects. This is just evading theissue. Even if we are not directly affected by the radioactive material in the air, we are indirectly affected throughthat which has fallen down, is falling down, and will fall down. We are absorbing this through radioactive drinking waterand through animal and vegetable foodstuffs, to the same extent as radioactive elements are stord in the vegetation ofthe region in which we live. Unfortunately for us, nature hoards what is falling down from the air.
None of the radioactivity of the air, created by the explosion of atomic bombs, is so unimportant that it may not, in thelong run, become a danger to us through increasing the amount of radioactivity stored in our bodies.
What we absorb of radioactivity is not spread evenly in all cellular tissue. It is deposited in certain parts of ourbody, particularly in the bone tissue and also in the spleen and in the liver. From those sources the organs which areespecially sensitive to it are exposed to radiation. What the radiation lacks in strength is compensated for by time. Itworks day and night without interruption.
How does radiation affect the cells of an organ?
Through being ionized, that is to say, electrically charged. This change means that the chemical processes which make itpossible for the cells to do their job in our body no longer function as they should. They are no longer able to performthe tasks which are of vital importance to us. We must also bear in mind that a great number of the cells of an organ maydegenerate or die as a result of radiation.
What are the diseases caused by internal radiation? The same diseases that are known to be caused by external radiation.
They are mainly serious blood diseases. The cells of the red bone marrow, where the red and the white blood corpusclesare formed, are very sensitive to radioactive rays. It is these corpuscles, found in great numbers in the blood, whichmake it possible for it to play such an important part. If the cells in the bone marrow are damaged by radiation they willproduce too few or abnormal, degenerating blood corpuscles. Both cases lead to blood diseases and, frequently, to death.These were the diseases that killed the victims of X-rays and radium rays.
It was one of these diseases that attacked the Japanese fishermen who were surprised in their vessel by radioactive ashesfalling down 240 miles from Bikini after the explosion of an hydrogen bomb. With one exception, they were all saved, beingstrong and relatively mildly affected, through continuous blood transfusions.
In the cases cited the radiation came from the outside. It is unfortunately very probable that internal radiationaffecting the bone marrow and lasting for years will have the same effect, particularly since the radiation goes from thebone tissue to the bone marrow. As I have said, the radioactive elements are by preference stored in the bone tissue.
Not our own health only is threatened by internal radiation, but also that of our descendants. The fact is that the cellsof the reproductive organs are particularly vulnerable to radiation which in this case attacks the nucleus to such anextent that it can be seen in the microscope.
To the profound damage of these cells corresponds a profound damage to our descendants.
It consists in stillbirths and in the births of babies with mental or physical defects.
In this context also, we can point to the effects of radiation coming from the outside.
It is a fact - even if the statistical material being published in the press needs checking - that in Nagasaki, duringthe years following the dropping of the atom bomb, an exceptionally high occurrence of stillbirths and of deformedchildren was observed.
In order to establish the effect of radioactive radiation on posterity, comparative studies have been made between thedescendants of doctors who have been using X-ray apparatus over a period of years and descendants of doctors who have not.The material of this study comprises about 3,000 doctors in each group. A noticeable difference was found. Among thedescendants of radiologists a percentage of stillbirths of 1.403 was found, while the percentage among the nonradiologistswas 1.222.
In the first group 6.01 per cent of the children had congenital defects, while only 4.82 per cent in the second.
The number of healthy children in the first group was 80.42 per cent; the number in the other was significantly higher,viz. 83.23 per cent.
It must be remembered that even the weakest of internal radiation can have harmful effects on our descendants.
The total effect of the damage done to descendants of ancestors who have been exposed to radioactive rays will not, inaccordance with the laws of genetics, be apparent in the generations coming immediately after us. The full effects willappear only 100 or 200 years later.
As the matter stands we cannot at present cite cases of serious damage done by internal radiation. To the extent thatsuch radiation exists it is not sufficiently strong and has not lasted long enough to have caused the damage in question.We can only conclude from the harmful effects known to be caused by external radiation to those we must expect in thefuture from internal radiation.
If the effect of the latter is not as strong as that of the former, it may become so, through working little by littleand without interruption. The final result will be the same in both cases.
Their effects add up.
We must also remember that internal radiation, in contrast to that coming from the outside, does not have to penetratelayers of skin, tissues, and muscles to hit the organs. It works at close range and without any weakening of its force.
When we realize under what conditions the internal radiation is working, we cease to underrate it. Even if it is truethat, when speaking of the dangers of internal radiation, we can point to no actual case, only express our fear, that fearis so solidly founded on facts that it attains the weight of reality in determining our attitude. We are forced to regardevery increase in the existing danger through further creation of radioactive elements by atom bomb explosions as acatastrophe for the human race, a catastrophe that must be prevented.
There can be no question of doing anything else, if only for the reason that we cannot take the responsibility for theconsequences it might have for our descendants.
They are threatened by the greatest and most terrible danger.
That radioactive elements created by us are found in nature is an astounding event in the history of the earth and of thehuman race. To fail to consider its importance and its consequences would be a folly for which humanity would have to paya terrible price. We are committing a folly in thoughtlessness. It must not happen that we do not pull ourselves togetherbefore it is too late. We must muster the insight, the seriousness, and the courage to leave folly and to face reality.
This is at bottom what the statesmen of the nations producing atomic bombs are thinking, too. Through the reports theyare receiving they are sufficiently informed to form their own judgments, and we must also assume that they are alive totheir responsibility.
At any rate, America and Soviet Russia and Britain are telling one another again and again that they want nothing morethan to reach an agreement to end the testing of atomic weapons. At the same time, however, they declare that they cannotstop the tests as long as there is no such agreement.
Why do they not come to an agreement? The real reason is that in their own countries there is no public opinion askingfor it. Nor is there any such public opinion in other countries with the exception of Japan. This opinion has been forcedupon the Japanese people because, little by little, they will be hit in a most terrible way by the evil consequences ofall the tests.
An agreement of this kind presupposes reliability and trust. There must be guarantees preventing the agreement from beingsigned by anyone intending to win important tactical advantages foreseen only by him.
Public opinion in all nations concerned must inspire and accept the agreement.
When public opinion has been created in the countries concerned and among all nations -- an opinion informed of thedangers involved in going on with the tests and led by the reason which this information imposes --, then the statesmenmay reach an agreement to stop the experiments.
A public opinion of this kind stands in no need of plebiscites or of forming of committees to express itself. It worksthrough just being there.
The end of further experiments with atom bombs would be like the early sunrays of hope which suffering humanity is longing for.
Dr. Schweitzer - philosopher, humanitarian, medical missionary, musician, theologian - was awarded the 1952 Nobel PeacePrize. His acceptance speech mentioned only briefly the dangers of nuclear war.
Fondest of regards,
In 1957 Albert Schweitzer became convinced that he should join with such leaders as Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell,and Linus Pauling, in trying to inform and arouse public opinion on the dangers of nuclear armaments. From his hospital inthe forests of Equatorial Africa, he spoke out vigorously and prophetically against the dangers of nuclear weapons andtesting.
Two and a half years after Dr. Schweitzer gave his Nobel Peace Prize Lecture, leaders and scientists from many countries chose Dr. Schweitzer to be their voice against the nuclear danger and it was Norman Cousins who pressured him to do so. onApril 23, 1957, Dr. Schweitzer's statement, "Declaration of Conscience," was broadcast worldwide from The NRK (the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation Oslo), Norway, under the auspices of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee for theconsideration of the world's peoples.
Director IFLAC, Norway and Scandinavia
International Forum for the Literature and Culture of Peace
FRANCE: CANCER FEARS AS FALLOUT OF ATOM TESTS
Friday, 13 October 2006
PARIS (IPS) - New evidence is emerging of cancers caused by French nuclear testing in its South Pacific islands from the 1960s. Between 1966 and 1996 France carried out 192 nuclear tests in French Polynesia, a group of islands in the south Pacific. These included 42 atmospheric tests, in the face of opposition from local residents.
Need for Abolition of Atomic Weapons
Now, 40 years after the tests began, the French government has finally started to admit that Polynesian inhabitants may have been right to fear the consequences of radioactivity.
Marcel Jurien de La Gravière, representative of the French Commission on Nuclear Safety, announced in Papetee, capital of French Polynesia last week that a "coherent and continued medical examination" would be proposed for inhabitants most likely affected by the tests.
Such testing will be offered to some 2,000 persons, he said. Jurien de la Gravière admitted that six of the 192 tests had "affected in a significant manner some islands and atolls" in the region.
The French military carried out the six atmospheric nuclear tests between 1966 and 1974 on the islands Moruroa, Fangataufa, Magareva, Gambier, Tureia and Tahiti. These tests "represented a slight (health) risk", the ministry of defence now says.
Two of the Polynesian tests are particularly in question - the ones called Aldébaran (1966) and Phoebe (1971). According to new official figures these tests released far higher radiation than acknowledged so far. Up to 150,000 people inhabited the islands in the region at the time. Some 20,000 other people worked at nuclear test sites during the 30 years of testing.
The change in the French government's position comes after Florent de Vathaire, a researcher at the National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM, after its French name) reported that the nuclear tests closely correlate with the appearance of thyroid cancer typically associated with radioactivity.
Wide-Spread of Cancer Epidemic
Florent de Vathaire, head of the epidemiological cancer unit at INSERM found "a statistically significant relation" between the nuclear tests and the incidence of thyroid cancer. De Vathaire studied some 240 cases of thyroid cancer reported in the islands. on July 17 this year, de Vathaire presented his findings to the ministry of defence, and urged it to declassify military reports that he said confirm the findings.
"I would like to study the data contained in the classified documents, which would allow us to confirm in a more precise manner the nature of the health dangers represented by the tests," de Vathaire told IPS. Cancer victims and their relatives in the French Polynesia have made similar demands.
"So far, the French authorities have said that the nuclear bomb tests did not represent any danger," Patrice Bouveret, director of the Observatory of French Nuclear Weapons, an independent group, told IPS. "Now, the same authorities are saying that there was indeed a 'slight' risk."
But this admission too comes on the basis of reports by military officers, he said. "Nobody else has seen the original documents to verify such claims. If the victims would have these official reports, they could act legally and demand that justice be done." The questions are not confined to the south Pacific islands. France carried out 17 tests in Reggane region in the Algerian Sahara in 1961 and 1962, just before Algerian independence.
Health activists and affected people who have come together as the Association of Veterans of the French Nuclear Tests (AVEN) in French Polynesia and in the Algerian Sahara are fighting for declassification of the reports, and for recognition by the French authorities that the nuclear tests have caused a high number of cancers in these regions.
Jean-Paul Teissonière, legal counsellor of AVEN and of the Polynesian association Mururoa e Tatou has been lodging complaints against the French authorities since 2003. one aim is to obtain pensions from the French state for the victims and their relatives, he told IPS. "But in order to establish this causality link between the tests and the numerous illnesses we have to argue by presumption unless the authorities release the classified documents." (END)