Opinion: The man who saved the world

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The renowned physicist Richard L. Garwin, will be the featured speaker at a free and open to the public disarmament symposium and film showing at Norwalk Community College on Wednesday September 26, from 7 to 9:55 PM.

Dr. Garwin is not the man who saved the world.  That would be the star of the 52-minute film The Red Button, Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov, a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Union’s Air Defense Forces who died on May 19, 2017.   Colonel Stanislav was the duty officer at a Soviet monitoring center when computers warned that intercontinental ballistic missiles launched from the United States were headed toward Russia.  Had he responded differently the red button would have been pushed and none of us would be here to write or read letters to the editor.

So how much longer do we have?  That will be the subject matter of the symposium.  Can we prolong our stay on this planet?  Will we?  There is no one more capable of leading a discussion that addresses those questions than Richard L. Garwin.

In 1949 when he was 21, Professor Garwin received his Ph.D. under the direction of the Nobel Prize winning physicist Enrico Fermi who said Garwin “was the only genius he ever met.”  Subsequently Dr. Garwin taught physics at Columbia, Harvard, Cornell and the University of Chicago, did research on thermonuclear weapons at Los Alamos National Laboratory, was credited by Dr. Edward Teller with coming up with the first design for the hydrogen bomb, served on Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon’s Science Advisory Committees, did research that helped lead to the development of magnetic resonance imaging, served as a fellow at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research center, published more than 500 papers, co-authored a number of books, and was granted 47 patents.

On November 22, 2016 President Obama awarded Dr. Garwin the Presidential Medal of Freedom for “pioneering contributions to U.S. defense and intelligence technologies, low-temperature and nuclear physics, ……. And nuclear arms control and nonproliferation.”  Among the many other awards he has received are the:  Wright Prize for Inter-Disciplinary Scientific Achievement, American Association for the Advancement of Science Award, National Medal of Science, and LaGrande Medaille de l’Academie des Sciences.

There is a myth, said Garwin, an advocate of arms control and reduction, that more nuclear weapons will improve our security.  “What we want is less nuclear weapons and less cause for using them.”  (www.manhattanprojectvoices.org/oral-histories/richard-garwins-interview).  And in a paper prepared for the National Academy of Sciences he wrote: “Our own nuclear weapons can constitute a major threat to the United States—not primarily because of the risk of an accident here or in allied countries, but because they can provoke instability and the use of large numbers of weapons of enormous destructive power.” https://fas.org/rlg/nas-challenges.pdf


Paul Cantor

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