Thursday, 21 May 2009

Herb York (1921-2009): On Pugwash History and a NWFW

Herb York has died. I would like to share some of his insights: about the imperative of a nuclear weapons free world, and about the Pugwash history.

While a great deal of appropriate attention has gone to the recent ‘revival’ of the notion of a nuclear weapons free world, it is important to note that people like Herb York and others in Pugwash have been out there for decades, paving the way for the many very senior and very important recent voices calling for an eventual end to these horrendous weapons. Here is a quote from York…(from 1971!):

“[O]ur final goal must remain the ideal of general and complete disarmament….Any reasonable extrapolation of history tells us that if we keep all those weapons around they will be used. While no one can say how to get from the present situation all the way to total nuclear disarmament, it is clear that throwing weapons away heads us in the right direction and building more weapons, be they MIRVs, ABMs, or SS-9s, heads us in the wrong direction. We have fussed too much and too long about fine structure. We must begin to focus on directions rather than details.” Herb York, “A Little Arms Control Can be a Dangerous Thing,” War/Peace Report, August/September 1971, pp. 3 - 7

I had the chance to interact with Herb through Student Pugwash. I found him one of the most charming, friendly, and thought-provoking people I have met. My first encounter with him was at my first-ever (senior) Pugwash Conference, in Cambridge, Mass, in 1989, when as a student working on my master’s thesis, I was simply dumbfounded to be in a room with Herb and Dick Garwin talking about technical aspects of nuclear weapons as they related to arms control. I guess Jo Rotblat was there, but it was Herb who made the biggest impact on me: a former weapons lab director--a man with security clearances up the wazoo, who knew the science inside and out--was talking about disarmament! I was hooked…

Following are excerpts from an interview I conducted with Herb York, 28 April 1998.

About the impact of Pugwash:
“The important thing that Pugwash did is it enabled people to meet each other at a time when there were no other good places to do that, particularly East and West. So what matters about Pugwash is not whether they got a certain idea and it doesn’t matter whether or not this idea was adopted. But what matters is that, by example, the fact that Primakov was a member of the Pugwash group and while at Pugwash John Holdren, who is now a member of the White House science advisory committee and Catherine Kelleher, who has been a defense official, were all at the same meetings. That’s what Pugwash did. It got people like them together at a time when there was no other good way for people like them to get together. … And then with others who had other different kinds of connections, like the Kapitsa father and son. The Arbatov father and son. One of the most important of those combinations was Primakov with…Shalheveth Freier….For something like five or six years immediately after the Six-Day War, the primary contact between Moscow and Jerusalem or Tel Aviv was Primakov and Freier meeting either in Pugwash meetings or using that as an alibi for meeting. They were entirely secret, these meetings. They
were fully sanctioned…by both governments. They were the primary way of getting certain detailed messages back and forth.
So the number one thing that Pugwash did was provide a venue. Now the remarkable thing about that was that a lot of people might try to do that. And anybody can identify former officials and invite them to come, but the trick that Pugwash succeeded at was inviting future officials. That’s the trick. That’s the hard part. Primakov wasn’t ex-foreign minister, he became foreign minister.”

“[T]he concrete thing…where [Pugwash was] instrumental in moving immediately to policy was in connection to the ABM Treaty of SALT I. And there it was important. and there one of the important communication channels involved Ruina and Murray Gell-Mann on our side and Millionshchikov and Artsimovich … on their side. They seriously discussed questions of ABM.”
About the Pugwash/Rotblat Nobel Peace Prize:

“I thought it was reasonable [that Pugwash received the Nobel Peace Prize]. I thought that they were a likely candidate for some time….And no surprise that within Pugwash Rotblat got it. I mean, Rotblat does stand out….Without him, it probably would’ve collapsed. It’s just simply his determination that kept it going during some otherwise dry years. …Rotblat is very bossy and very opinionated and that’s what enabled him to keep Pugwash together. And it’s not just that he was like that when he was 90, he was like that when he was 70, 60. It’s not just the rigidity of old age. He’s a terribly rigid person, but he has this dedicated purpose to rid the world of nuclear weapons somehow or the nuclear threat. And it’s the kind of
thing that just seizes his whole life. He has dedicated himself to it and the result of that dedication is he kept Pugwash going. …Pugwash would’ve somehow fallen apart years ago or otherwise gotten off the track except for Rotblat’s determination.”

Advice to young people:
“It’s a question of odds and the biggest thing is opportunity. Opportunities do come along, the problem is to, when you see one, ditch everything else and take it if it’s a good one. …That often takes, especially if you’re young and have a family…that can be not only gutsy but can even be harmful...if you’ve got other responsibilities. But opportunity comes to everybody and what you have to do is be ready to seize it, no matter what else you’re doing. …give up everything else that’s career-related. That’s where the talent comes in. Opportunities are related to talent in the sense that you have come to somebody else’s attention because of some talent, even if it’s just for comity, some talent. But the real trick is to then recognize the opportunity and do something about it.”


Please click here for the New York Times obituary (web version, 24 May 2009).

Please click here for the Physics Today obituary (21 May 2009).

Please click here for an obituary from the LA Times (21 May 2009).

Please click here for the obituary from the San Francisco Chronicle (22 May 2009).

Bruce Larkin's website contains (with Herb's permission) the full text of Race to Oblivion: A Participant's View of the Arms Race (1970). Click here for the link.

Here is "Reminiscences from a Career in Science, National Security, and the University: Conversation with Herb York," by Harry Kreisler, 6 February 1988. Click here for the link.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Toshiyuki Toyoda (1920 - 2009)


Michiji Konuma (Pugwash Japan)

Toshiyuki Toyoda, a Japanese physicist and a Pugwashite, died on 15 May 2009 in Tokyo at the age of 89. He worked for Pugwash as a Council member from 1975 to 1987. He helped Hideki Yukawa and Sin-itiro Tomonaga organizing the 25th Pugwash Symposium "A New Design towards Complete Nuclear Disarmament" and organized the 56th Pugwash Symposium "Peace and Security in the Asia-Pacific Region". He attended 26 Pugwash meetings in total from the 7th Conference held at Stowe, USA in 1961 to the 45th Annual Conference held at Hiroshima, Japan in 1995.

For many years Toyoda was a member of the Board of Sponsors for Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. He worked on theoretical nuclear and elementary particle physics. He was Professor Emeritus of Nagoya University. He served as Director of the Peace Research Institute of Meiji Gakuin University, Tokyo.

Toyoda published many articles and books on physics and on issues concerning nuclear weapons including "Criticism on Nuclear Strategy". The funeral ceremony will be held in Tokyo on 21 May 2009.

Picture is the cover of the book edited by William Epstein and Toyshiyuki Toyada following the 1975 Kyoto Pugwash Workshop, August 28 to September 1 1975. The symposium dealt with the subject ‘A New Design Towards Complete Nuclear Disarmament: The Social Function of Scientists and Engineers.’ Spokesman Books, 1977.

You can read an interesting article here by Prof. Toyoda, "Scientists Look at Peace and Security", Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol 40, No. 2, February 1984, pp 16 - 19. The article outlines the post War movement among scientists in Japan, and mentions the role of leading Japanese Pugwashites, such as Hideki Yukawa and Sin-itiro Tomonaga. Toyoda concludes the article by saying,

"The role of conscientious scientists in Japan is...becoming more important than ever."

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Manifesto in Many Languages

I just found this wonderful video of the Manifesto being read in many languages on YouTube. The link at the end is for a group that created a theatrical version of Faust (I think) based on Joseph Rotblat.

(The link to 'signing the manifesto' is a bit odd, and not a Pugwash-authorized activity...)