Interview with Helen Caldicott
Conducted by Lawrence Wittner (State University of New York at Albany) East Hampton, LI, New York,
February 27, 1999
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My major goal during my activist years in Australia was “to stop French testing. I would have liked to stop testing period. But certainly we succeeded in stopping testing above-ground, and so the fallout ended. And that was a victory. I saw for the first time in my life a democracy actually function. And then the next goal was to stop uranium mining. And indeed that occurred for about five years, until we got a very bad prime minister called Bob Hawke. . . . And he allowed three mines to go ahead. It’s like being a little bit pregnant. So the work there succeeded, surprisingly. I was very young, very naive, didn’t really know what I was doing, but it worked.” She had very good cooperation from the Australian unions over the uranium mining issue. “They were more concerned about their testicles than their jobs.”
Once arriving in the USA, decided to revive PSR “because I was a physician. . . . I was doing this paper for the Newman journal on nuclear power. And this young doctor came in and said: `I want some papers on nuclear power.’ And I turned to him and said: `This is a medical problem. Let’s start a medical group.’ And a week later we had a meeting in my study. There were about eight people, and one person was the former secretary or treasurer, I think, of the old PSR, which had died, and he said: `It’s still incorporated in the state of Massachusetts. It would be easier if, rather than going through the whole cumbersome process of incorporation, why don’t we call it what the old group used to be called, Physicians for Social Responsibility.’ The group had died; it had been dead for about 8 years. And that was a fateful decision on my part. What happened was that the fellows who started it, who were not democratic at all, who fought and bickered amongst themselves — that’s why the thing collapsed — because they’re sort of professors at heart, and older than me and the younger ones, we thought to do the right thing would be to ask them to be on the board of advisors. We called them the old guard. And at first Lown had me sitting down in front of him . . . in his house, sort of on the floor. He was sitting in a chair, telling me that I was fringy and leftwing, and I didn’t know what I was doing and dealing with nuclear power was ridiculous and weapons was the thing and really being very derogatory. But what happened was as we became more and more and more successful. . . . We had several reasons for success. One was that we put an ad in the New England Journal a Day [ ? ] — after Three Mile Island melted down, just was serendipity — we got 500 new members in a flash. Then I traveled the country speaking, at grand rounds all over the country, and recruited almost single-handed, not quite, 23,000 physicians. And I used to say that if we got 10,000 doctors we’ll save the world, because we’re so powerful and so credible. And I also traveled all over the world, starting groups in many countries around the world. . . . Medical groups. And, then, as it became more powerful, these fellows — Lown, Geiger, Seidel — came in and started taking credit for the work that we’d done. And the organization was a wonderful, young, vibrant, dynamic, argumentative, creative group. I’d never worked with such extraordinarily positive energy. When these older fellows came in they started using Roberts Rules of Order to suppress debate and to control, and really in a way to disassemble what we had created. The other thing that happened was that I had a wonderful agent called Pat Kingsley, who owned a group called PMK, in Hollywood. She ran a lot of the film stars. And she heard me speak and worked for me for free. And she got me in Vogue, and Family Circle, and Lady’s Home Journal, and “Sixty Minutes”. . . . And so, because of the incredible exposure that we got through that mechanism, talking about the medical effects of nuclear war, we really turned the country upside down.
And because of PSR, we spawned all the other groups, like Lawyers, and Educators, and Real Estate Agents, and Morticians, and Psychologists. And so we created a stratification of groups throughout society and reached to all levels. And then all the churches — I got to speak to almost every church in the country. I don’t mean their national meetings. Presbyterians. I spoke to 30,000 Methodist women, who rushed back and said to their ministers: “What are we doing about nuclear war?” And the ministers said: “What do you mean?” And that got the Methodist bishops to write a very excellent pastoral letter on nuclear war. The work we did with the Catholics led to the Catholic bishops’ pastoral letter. I worked with Bernardin and others. So did other members of PSR. I spoke to the Southern Baptists, who are very conservative. But all I needed to do was quote Jesus to them, and they didn’t have a reply. So it was really easy talking to the churches. . . . All levels of society were affected.
Then what happened was, as these old guard came back — and I didn’t really write all the truth in my book, and I don’t know if you want to know that or not . . . . This guy Jack Geiger, he wanted to be on the board — we’d just had an election, there wasn’t room — he gave a good speech in that film The Last Epidemic . . . . And I respected Jack, so I said: `OK, I’ll be ex officio member of the board as president; you can take my seat.’ He never thanked me, and I thought that was a bit strange. Then he moved in and started manipulating the board, with Roberts Rules of Order, which is so stultifying. And then as I traveled, and I was away continuously — I was hardly ever there except for board meetings and EC meetings — I could feel something going on behind my back. And what he was doing was delegitimizing me behind my back, using various arguments. `Her facts aren’t right,’ which was never right. I found out when people criticized me because my facts were wrong they hadn’t read what I’d read. I’ve got a photographic memory; I’m not dumb. And why would I say incorrect things? I’d lose my credibility. But sometimes I was so tired, traveling to two or three cities a day, that I would sometimes generalize, and not go from A, B, C, D, I’d go from A to Z without explaining intermediate steps, and people would get confused. Or: `She’s too emotional!’ Now that was usually because people had emotional reactions to the data I produced, which was horrifying. And then, of course, they always blame the bearer of bad tidings. And so he started working to delegitimize my authority.
Finally, things came to an impasse, and I rang Bob Scrivener at Rockefeller, who was very supportive. And I said: `Bob, you know, we’ve got a problem.’ He said: `Look, I’ve got a good group; a management consulting group who can come in and make a diagnosis of an organization such as yours.’ He said: `It’s $28,000.’ I said: `I can’t afford it.’ He said: `I’ll give you the money.’ So I thought: `Great!’ So I had to really work hard with the board and the EC to persuade them — especially Geiger, he didn’t want that to happen. So what happened is that they came in — and I don’t think they were very bright — and they interviewed everyone. Apparently Jack said to them, I heard later . . . `I’ve got the numbers.’ So they took me out for lunch in a Japanese restaurant in Washington, and with tears rolling down her face, this woman Susan . . . said to me: `You don’t need to deal with the likes of Jack Geiger. The peace movement needs you too badly. And you should leave.’ By that time I was under attack bi-frontally, from Lown . . . and Geiger, and I was sick. I couldn’t swallow, I had dysphagia [?], I was losing weight, I had gastritis, I was so tired. I was travelling all the time, doing this work, and instead of being supported by my colleagues, I was undermined. I mean I expected to be attacked by the CIA, and I’m sure I was — you know I had eight death threats and I expected all that — but I never expected my colleagues to go in for me. Well, when she came out with this I was so distressed that we had a board meeting on an island in Boston harbor and I remember sitting there waiting for the ferry, and I was talking to myself, saying: `I can’t believe this is happening.’ And I resigned. But what I should have done was to go to my membership and say — because they all adored me, and I adored them — `I’m in trouble’ or `There’s trouble brewing on the board, Geiger’s being difficult, it’s either me or him.’ And I would have won. I didn’t, you see, because I was worn down. [Ed. note: this apparently occurred in 1983.]
At the time, PSR had been infiltrated by the FBI. We got the documents, but they’re all blacked out, except for the `ands’ and the `buts’ and the [ifs?]. So I don’t know who it was to this day, but I rang John Stockwell, who had just left the CIA, and I explained to him what happened. And he said: `Look, it was a classical operation, but you’ll never know.’ Now the truth is we were undoing the most formidable organization in the world, the military-industrial complex. We were undoing it. And I’m sure they talked about killing me, because I was a terrific threat. But you see I would have been turned into a martyr, like Silkwood, only bigger. And that wouldn’t have been good for their cause. So they did the next best thing — sort of a Guatemalan operation, or a Chilean operation — they psychologically got to me. . . . Now I don’t know who Geiger is. . . .”
Wittner: “Do you think they were behind Geiger and the old boys?”
Caldicott: “Yes, I think they might have been. You probably don’t want to put this in the book, because you could litigate. And I was careful not to, either. But I have to say, that every time I talked about nuclear disarmament, he would not let that be passed by the EC. There were a lot of strange things going on. And I didn’t trust him. So if he didn’t allow that, who the hell was he working for? What was he in it for? Why was he so powerful? Why was he doing the things he was doing?
Now, at the same time, Lown — who had me sitting at his feet previously, saying I didn’t know what I was doing — he saw the writing on the wall, that we were an amazingly powerful national, if not international force. I mean I could go into the Congress and go into Tip O’Neill’s office, and he would come off the House floor and say: `What can I do for you, Dr. No?’ I mean it was amazing! He [Lown] invited me to a lunch at his house in West Newton. And he had brought up a PR person from New York, and I thought: `What’s this all about?’ And he proposed forming an International Physicians group. Now it had already been formed, I’d done it, working like mad, democratically, in each country. And he said: `No, it’s going to take a long time.’ Now that was when they were going to deploy cruise missiles in West Germany, which would have meant the end of arms control, because they were unverifiable, and Pershing IIs, which would have meant launch on warning, because they could hit Moscow in six minutes. And I jumped up and down and said: `Look, there isn’t time. We don’t have a long time. This is urgent!’ And we were really winning. So at that meeting it was decided — I can’t remember who else was there, a couple of other doctors — to form International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. One of the guys there was Jim Muller [?], who was a cardiologist who trained with Lown, and he rang me the next week and took me to the Harvard Club for lunch. . . . And he said to me: `Lown doesn’t think you’re an appropriate person to be on this committee, in this organization.’ And I was so devastated, and so tired, and so sick, and so worn down by the Geiger stuff that, instead of marching into Lown’s lab and saying `How dare you? This is the work I’ve done and you will not take it over! Piss off!’ I didn’t. And, I also was still a little girl in a way, I was still intimidated by older men, older professors. I suppose I had a bit of a father complex. And medicine is hierarchical.
So then I found out he then employed or got a lobbyist in . . . Oslo, a Norwegian woman doctor, who used to ride her bike almost every day down to the Nobel committee who lobbied for two years for the Nobel Prize. And then he had jamborees, once a year he’d have a big meeting. He’d have flowers, and children singing, and orchestras, and he’d stand up and give these flourishing speeches. I never was asked to speak; yet I was the leader of the whole thing. . . .
In England, I was very close to the people who started the group, Medical Campaign Against the Nuclear War. Claire Ryall [?], who really started the thing, . . . said he moved into England, used up all the funds, and the funds came from Cadbury’s Chocolates and another wonderful English group . . . he used up all their funds for that year’s meeting [in Oxford or Cambridge] . . . . And towards the end he said: `You’re just fringy.’ And he pushed them out, they didn’t play a role. He just used them, used up all their money, and took all the notoriety. Instead of bringing the groups together from West Germany, and Belgium, where they were deploying missiles, and Holland, and saying: `What’s happening with you? And what’s the politics in the country? How can we help? What can we do together?’ he just used people, he squashed them, but got all the glory himself. And two years later, he got the gong hung round his neck. And I got a form letter, asking me to come to the ceremony. . . .
I never thought of the Nobel Prize, no one deserved it, we hadn’t eradicated one weapon, not one. We were on the path to doing it. He virtually destroyed the other national groups. Yeah, they struggled on, and they’re still struggling on. But they’re nothing compared to what they could have been, and the potential they had.
And with those two events, I became quite depressed. I had nightmares about two years later. And I’m sure that there were evil forces behind the PSR thing. I think Lown was just a huge ego. . . .
I don’t know what his psychological background is. Maybe his mother told him he’s going to be a Nobel laureate. . . . He claims he’s a Nobel laureate, but he’s not, because the organization won the prize. [Ed. note: 1985?] But you know I was nominated that year by Linus Pauling. And I thought to myself: `The Nobel Committee will do its research. They’ll know.’ No. They’re an all-male committee, they’re rather conservative, and they didn’t. So I have a lot of feelings about it.
What also upset me was that everyone loved me and I loved them and they were like my chickees, all these doctors, yet when I was so distressed no one stood behind me, no one took on these two characters who were quite powerful. They were scared of them. And I think they were put off by my rage and by my intense grief. They didn’t know how to handle it. And the truth is that there are few leaders, and most people are sheep. . . . And so they follow. And they like leaders to be on a pedestal. And when you fall off your pedestal and show your feet of clay, they get very upset. And it’s taken me . . . `till this time — thirteen years — to get my energy back to the same level that it was in those days, when I just flew.
It wasn’t so much personal, it was that I’d lost the organization I created to save the world. And I know had I stayed that at least half the bombs that we have today would be eradicated, or probably more. We were on such a roll. And even though they moved into Star Wars, which was more difficult to explain than first strike nuclear war, we still could have won.
So it was a clever, manipulative thing that they did. And I’m lucky I was so young I had time to rise from the ashes, and now I’m on to it again. Big time. In fact, I’ve organized a symposium in Washington on Monday, March 8, and I’ve got a symposium going in Australia the following week, and I’m also running for parliament in Australia. So I’ve got lots of energy. Very creative, again. I know I can do anything. As long as no one does me in. I’m sort of naive and I trust everyone. I liked Jack. It took me a long time to realize what was happening.
I’m sure a lot of it was sexism, and a lot of it was jealousy, `cause I was very powerful. A lot of it was `cause they couldn’t do what I did. They used the hysterical/emotional terminology which men tend to use with women to put them down. And what used to annoy me was I went to brief the Washington Post’s staff, and they rushed me off. Ben Bradlee said to take me off. And they put me on to the front page of the Style [section] — how old I was, how many children I had, nice string of pearls. They would never do that to Henry Kissinger. They put him on the front page of the Post, and me in the Style section. That really pisses me off. And it happens to this day.
Randy Forsberg and I led the Freeze. We were never on the front page of the New York Times. And when we attached the Freeze to the Mondale campaign — which was a stupid thing to do, because he was a dumb man — we gave him the election on a silver plate. If he’d put me on the television with him and we’d done the beebee thing — you know, dropped the beebees (each beebee represents one Hiroshima bomb and we had thousands, this is the arsenal today) — just that sensual response would have blown them out of the water. He failed. I mean, he was good in the domestic debate, but he blew it with the international debate with Reagan. The press wrote our obituary. They said the Freeze is supported by all members of society — gay/lesbians from Brooklyn, grandmothers, doctors, the whole thing — but it’s not a good idea. Not ever did they write an analysis. They wrote an editorial; that’s all.
So I was so distressed by that . . . I went to Joan Kroc. I said: `Joan, I need some money to investigate why this happened.’ So she gave me some money, and we did a document that was done by . . . — it’s in the book, political consultants — to find out why. They looked at five years of nightly news, they interviewed many journalists, they interviewed Senators and Congresspeople, and the like. So the Senators and Congresspeople said: `These people are absolutely uncompromising; you’ve got to compromise. B, the media said: `Well, when I heard something, I just turned to the Roladex and rang Kissinger and said: `What do you think?’ And you see, the architects of the arms race are the arms controllers, or vice versa. So they didn’t like us, for this was an initiative which came from the grassroots, which was accurate. But they didn’t like us, for it destroyed their game, their testosterone game. So the media never really gave us any credibility, God damn them. And I was so furious when I found that. You can mobilize millions of people, which we did –millions, 80 percent of Americans supported the Freeze, when I started everyone supported nuclear weapons. I mean that was the American revolution! . . . This was a true revolution. Yet the bloody press would not cover it, because they’re in the pockets of the military-industrial complex. And the revolving door syndrome. . . . I still am furious. And when I got that report I thought: `What do you do? You mobilize millions of people and you still get nowhere.’ . . . I could kill them, and I’m a pacifist! . . . It is a democracy in that we did mobilize the people, and I was on all the television. But yet and all, the New York Times — `all the news that’s fit to print’ — this wasn’t fit to print!
I went and briefed the New York Times journalists, and it was like they had pokers up their bum, they were so stiff they could hardly walk, with their own self-importance. It’s very serious, because the fate of the earth hinges on what the media do. . . .
The bombs are still on a high state of alert. Nothing has changed, in fact it’s actually more dangerous now than when I went to see Reagan. . . .
In retrospect, I think I did influence him. I didn’t for years. But I actually do think I did. . . . When I left the meeting, I was so devastated that I went back to the sexy Hilton Hotel with dark lights and sexy music and hot tubs, and I felt like saying to people: `Do you know what I’ve just seen?’ It’s like seeing the Wizard of Oz, there’s nothing behind the curtain. Stupidly, I said I wouldn’t talk to the media, but finally I did and it was published. But I think because he saw me — because his daughter wanted me to, because he thought she was a Communist so he thought he’d better look fair and hear her point of view. And I don’t what he thought I was! I think that as he moved towards Gorbachev — and in fact he did do some noble things towards the end, although that meeting in Reykjavik was an absolute disaster. Do you remember Schultz being interviewed afterwards? He was like a man who’d seen a vision of God. He said: `We did this. And we did this. And then we agreed to this.’ He went on for about half an hour like that. And then he said: `But we couldn’t agree on Star Wars.’ And it was Reagan who killed it. No, it was Gorbachev. No, both! Reagan decided he wanted Star Wars, and Gorbachev said: `That’s it!’ So it turned Schultz into a great statesman — and Shevardnadze — and, of course, Gorbachev was always a great statesman. But Reagan, I think, got to like Gorbachev and realized the Russians weren’t all evil, and . . . I just have quite a strong feeling, through the rich spectroscope, that in fact I did influence him to look at it in a different way. But I didn’t for years! He was a nice old fellow. He would have made a nice chicken farmer! He knew no figures, no data, no technology, no policy decisions, no CIA reports — he was just really out of it. But adamantly convinced that he was right — that he Communists were evil. And he quoted to me from the Reader’s Digest that people who worked for the nuclear weapons freeze were either KGB dupes or Soviet agents. He had this sort of little note he’d put in his inside pocket, and he pulled it out with this sort of juvenile, backwards writing he had. He read to me, and I said: `That’s from John Barron’s piece last month in Reader’s Digest.’ He said: `No, it’s from my intelligence files.’
At one point, Patty said: `I know that what Dr. Caldicott’s saying is right, daddy, because I’ve got a 1982 Pentagon document to prove it.’ And without even taking a breath he said: `That’s a forgery!’ I spent more time with him during his eight years in the presidency than any other person, including Don Regan, his best friend: an hour and a quarter. `Cause no one got close to him, no one spent much time with him. He was Chauncey Gardener [of Being Needed?]. . . . I used to call him `the pied piper of Armageddon.’ `Cause he’d say: `Look, I just have to take you back to the past. I just have to press this little red button.’ And everyone would say: `Yeah!’ It was unbelievable how mesmeric he was.”
She didn’t do her horrors-of-nuclear war rap with Reagan, but “I talked about children fearing they had no future, and they’re going to die. And I read letters from little girls. He wasn’t convinced by that at all. He said: `They’ve got the wrong teachers.'” Even so, “I think I got under his skin. . . . Intuition is a very powerful thing, and in the last few years I’ve thought I actually did. . . . It was scary, too, because the next morning I got up and I rang Patty. It was about ten o’clock in the morning, and I said: `Are they up yet?’ She said: `No, I’ve just been down to the family quarters and there’s not a sign of movement.’ So ten o’clock in the morning and he’s not up, and his working day ended at four o`clock in the afternoon. It was terrifying, really terrifying. That this country could elect such a person! It was [ ? ]. . . .
I worked as a Mondale surrogate. I was going to three cities a day for about two weeks — God, I worked hard. He could have won. Stupid idiot! The Democrats are usually more conservative on weapons than the Republicans.”
Wittner: In his memoirs, Reagan claimed that you violated a pre–meeting agreement about not revealing what happened.
Caldicott: “That’s interesting. What happened was I decided before I went in that, if I felt I could continue to have an influence on him and see him more, I wouldn’t say anything to the press. If I thought it was hopeless, I was going to go to the press. He was very clever, actually, because just before the end, he turned to me and in that very confidential way he had said: `I’m not going to talk to the media about this.’ And my immediate response was: `Well, I won’t, either.’ I went out and thought: `What a stupid thing to have said.’ So the media were all over me, like a rash, and I wouldn’t talk to anyone. After about a week, a guy rang and he said: `This is totally off the record. I promise I won’t print anything.’ And so I talked to him. And guess what? He printed it. I was just [deuced?]. So I wrote to Reagan, and I apologized. And I’ve got a letter from him, in that writing, saying — it’s actually a nice letter — `Don’t worry, in my day the press were gentlemen; now you can’t trust them. Don’t worry about it.’ . . . So what he said [in his memoirs] isn’t true. . . .
I also found a guy called Tom Halstead, who worked in the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and I persuaded him to become an executive director [of PSR]. And a couple of the doctors were worried, and one of them thought he was from the CIA. I said to him once: `Tom, this guy thinks you’re from the CIA.’ And Tom said: `I refuse to answer that question.’ There was another woman who came, who worked for me, named Jane Wales. She was a friend of Halstead’s. She had worked in the White House. She helped to get the Panama Canal Treaty through for Carter. And he really persuaded me to persuade her to come up and work for us. She did. And it was during her tenure that I left. She was very smooth, a very smooth operator, and I never really knew what was going on with her. When I went to Australia, moved back, she came to visit me. She stayed with me for about a week, or ten days. And my feeling was, and she’s a friend of mine, but I don’t mind saying this, I think she was checking up on me. `What’s she up to next?’ The truth is that I was up to nothing, for quite a long time. I had to recover. And I lost my marriage, of course. But it’s made me stronger. I can handle the CIA now, standing on my little finger.
Well, they did come to see me during the thing. I had a lawyer who organized [ ? ]. And they couldn’t understand how I wasn’t a Communist! And I said to them: `Do you have children?’ And they said: `Yes.’ And I said: `I’m doing it for your children.’ Their eyes just sort of went like this. It was beyond their comprehension. Really strange, paranoid. Really, real clinical paranoia. Which persists still at the upper levels of the Pentagon, which means we’re still on a hairtrigger alert. Even though now we’re friends with . . . Russia’s collapsing! They’ve got a dodo heading the whole thing. It’s so pathetic. They’ve got no money, so they’ve got the missiles. And what we’re doing is goading them to be on hairtrigger alert because that’s all they’ve got. So we’re enlarging NATO. What a stupid thing to do! . . . It’s much more dangerous than it was during Reagan’s presidency. That’s Clinton’s legacy. Bush, in retrospect — and I didn’t like Bush at all — actually did some terrific things, not all the way but at least he did some good things. This guy [Clinton] is boneless; if you took an x-ray of his spine you wouldn’t see any image, because he just doesn’t have a spine. It’s very serious. He’s got a penis; we know that. . . . .
I had a meeting with Trudeau — that’s in the book, you can look that up. He was pretty resistant until I said to him: `Well, what about your little boys? He had three little boys. He came around. He led the five-continent, six-nation peace initiative . . . . I know that was because of me. And Margo Kidder got me in to see him. She told me as we walked in: `You know what this is called? This is called “whoring for peace.” She was having an affair with him. . . . He was smitten by her. . . . He pulled her behind the door and gave her a kiss, just before we had lunch. . . . And the foreign policy guy with Trudeau — Trudeau’s a very charming and vain, intelligent man — the foreign policy guy was sort of snorting as I was talking about NATO and Pershings and first use, as if I didn’t know what I was talking about. And I interrupted him and I said: `You know, you two, do you know what you remind me of? You’re talking like typical men.’ And Trudeau laughed, and the other guy just froze. . . .
I debated with generals a lot. And one of them really attacked me on the floor of the TV studio. I was being interviewed, and he was talking about — in a very gentlemanly way — killing the Russians and blowing up the world. And I was talking about the children. And he turned to me, and he said, `You should go to Russia,’ with such incredible animosity. And I thought I won’t try to be nice [and replied]: `I fucking want my kids to live!’ And he nearly started to attack me. The producer had to come out from the studio and separate us. . . .
I met with some German politicians, Social Democrats. I met with Chirac, before he became prime minister, and he gave me a signed Picasso peace dove. And he said if he gets into power, he’s going to shut down all the nuclear reactors.
I spoke at a big rally with Tony Benn and Michael Foot. They were magnificent orators. We were going to see [Harold] Wilson, but we never got to see Wilson. I certainly worked closely with our [Australia’s?] deputy prime minister Jim Cairns, and had an influence with him. That’s all in the book. . . .
I met with governors in various states. I’ve got keys to cities all over the country. . . .
I went to a huge gathering of women — an international conference with women — in 1987? — and there were 6,000 women from all over the world. Gorbachev was there, the only man in the whole area except for Shevardnadze. And he gave a speech, and he started saying women have it easy here, equality, and othodox shit, and then he started to say but they have to do all the work, the men drink the vodka, and read the papers [ ? ]. . . . Great, a bit of glasnost! And then he started talking about nuclear war, and you could just feel that was the seat of his soul. It was most profound. At the end, two children went up, and American and a Russian child, and gave him a crystal globe of the world. And I watched him closely. He turned away, and he had to get his handkerchief out to wipe his eyes. He was crying.”
Wittner: “Why do you think he was crying?”
Caldicott: “Because he’d seen three American physicians — and I wasn’t one of them — on Soviet TV, uncensored [ ? ], talking about the medical effects of nuclear war. And . . . Gorbachev realized that Russian flesh burns at the same temperature as American flesh. That’s why the Cold War came to an end. It’s got nothing to do with money, or outspending, or all this crap. It’s because he understood. And then, I went up to him, at the end, but Petra Kelley buttonholed him. She was attacking him about Eastern Germany or something. She attacked everyone! She was brilliant. I mean it’s so sad she’s dead. She was like my sister. But I later met Shevardnadze, and thanked him for all the work he’d been doing. . . . I actually met him [Gorbachev] later at a big fundraising dinner in San Francisco, surrounded by the trappings of capitalism, and I went up to him and I said: `Thank you for saving the world.’ His lovely big brown eyes, you know. He said: `Thank you.’. . .
Wittner: What about govt efforts to deflect or to ruin you?
Caldicott: “I had eight death threats that I know of, but some were from mad people. And I used to run off stage sometimes when people showed up with funny lumps in their pockets. I used to stand before a podium and think: `Does wood deflect bullets?’ I used to think: `If I’m killed now, I know I’m doing the right thing.’ So I always prepared to die. There were only eight that I knew of, but I’m sure there were more. I’m sure that they talked behind closed doors of getting rid of me, because they do that to people. No, I think the whole PSR thing was orchestrated. And the tragedy is that we actually could have achieved our goal. We could have. Now I don’t have physicians around me. Do you know what happened after I left? They got into lead in the water. . . . They’re still being funded well. And they do some good work about isotopes, and this and that, but it’s all sort of boring. It hasn’t got the vibrancy it had and the leadership qualities.
So I work with this group [in Easthampton, LI], which is fantastic. A young attorney, who just graduated from law school at Vermont . . . and he’s brilliant. And we’re making big trouble here. But it’s only here with DOE, and Brookhaven, and Millstone. But I’d like to move across the country, just do the whole thing. [ ? ] reactors. Y2K presents an opportunity for virtual nuclear disarmament — decoupling and dealerting — and closing the reactors down in June. . . .
Things are worse now by orders of magnitude. Sometimes I wake up — you know, my government wants to open up a hundred uranium mines — and I think I just can’t believe they keep making more of this waste. And the bombs are still there. What are we doing to evolution? . . .
He [Bernard Lown]’s stepped out of IPPNW. He did it for long enough, he had total control, got the Nobel prize, and he’s into other things now. . . . He did it [took control of things] in a rotten, stinking way. To decimate me was not an appropriate thing to do. . . . He was really quite cruel. . . .
I think after we had a million people in Central Park, they [govt officials] did an end run around us and they called for Star Wars. . . . It was hard enough to teach about first strike and what that meant . . . but to teach about Star Wars, and transit phases, and lift-up phases, and infrared satellites, and burnup, and terminal phases . . . was very difficult. And Reagan said: `Well, you can get more people than that to a rock concert!’ But they definitely did an end run around us. So I think the whole time that we were on the offensive they were plotting behind our backs and also being on the offensive, too. I don’t ever think that they were on the defensive.
But they also knew we were right! I remember when I went to see General Benny L. Davis, who was the head of the Strategic Air Command, in Omaha, and his office was just jam-packed full of missiles. I mean talk about missile-envy. He was a nasty old man. And he hated the Russians, and all this sort of paranoia. And apparently the generals were pacing up and down outside: `What is this woman doing to our general?’ I was in there far too long. And finally I said to him: `Do you have grandchildren?’ His face just fell, and he said: `Yes.’ I said: `How old are they?’ I think he said: `Two and six months.’ And I got him. That’s all I needed to say. Because he knew. So at every stage their arguments were fallacious.
But there was such power with GE, and [ ? ], and Westinghouse, and all of them, plotting. I remember in the Boston Globe business section referring to Rte 128 as America’s death highway. I really let them have it between the eyeballs. And they knew I was right. In fact, it was always easier to debate nuclear war with generals and the like than it was to debate nuclear power. Because the nuclear power people are really nasty and they lie. And what they do will kill people, and is killing people. But with nuclear war they really knew that what they were doing — or could do — was evil, even though they would do it if they had to. And they still will do it, if they have to.
I also believe we brought an end to the Cold War. I think it was us. Because of the Gorbachev factor and because we got 80 percent of Americans totally, adamantly supporting nuclear disarmament. But, unfortunately, Randy Forsberg . . . brilliantly constructed the Freeze, but I never called for the Freeze. I wanted disarmament. . . . You see the Freeze was an easier compromise for people to grab because they were scared of the Russians and they were scared of being seen as rabidly Communist. And so the Freeze was big, it was bilateral, but . . . it wasn’t nearly good enough. So they all grabbed on to the Freeze. So I wasn’t really a leader of the Freeze movement at all, although I created it in my wake, and it was Randy’s idea. But I never really supported it. I wanted disarmament! . . . The book where that’s discussed is called Turnabout, the study that we did. . . . You can get that from WAND. . . . The analysis of why the Freeze failed. But I really do know that we helped to bring about the end of the Cold War — our influence on Gorbachev and the world. . . .
I’ll never forget going to a secret viewing of War Game, when it had just come out. And old Casey was sitting two seats up from me. And he went to sleep. The old bastard. How dare you go to sleep when we’re seeing what could actually happen and you’re responsible for this? It’s unbelievable! . . .
Schultz: “He turned into a statesman.” Weinberg: “Weinberg was no good. Nasty little man. . . .”
“I shouldn’t emphasize the PSR stuff too much, because we did achieve an enormous, an enormous amount. I think the movement was extraordinarily powerful and successful, full of brave, noble people. I think that what happened was, when the Berlin Wall came down, everyone was so exhausted and burned out — you can’t imagine how hard people worked — that they packed their bags and went home and said: `Thank God that’s over!’ And assumed it was over. I used to say afterwards — a couple of years after, `cause I went through a divorce, and I didn’t even know what was going on during that period — in fact, I was going through the divorce when the Berlin Wall came down, so I didn’t even have a reaction to that . . . . It was only a few years later I started to think: `Gee, nothing’s changed. The emperor’s got no clothes.’ There’s no Cold War . . . and now we’ve got the nuclear stockpile stewardship thing, and we’ve got Star Wars, and we’ve got America dominating space with nuclear weapons. It’s madder than it ever was before. But I don’t think the movement failed per se, I think they were actually exhausted, and had every right to have a rest.
And now we’ve got to revivify it again, and the truth is that there are still millions of people out there who know and if they knew what was going on now would be shocked to their back teeth. And that’s what I want to do now. . . .
The doctors never gave me money. They’re tight as ticks. . . . Foundations really loved us. . . .
It was Bertrand Russell’s three volumes of his autobiography, in 1971, that really inspired me. That’s really what got me going, `cause he was so incredibly honest and intelligent, so deeply committed. So I sort of imagined I walked in his footsteps a little bit, or he was one of my mentors, anyway. . . .
I went to see Randy [Forsberg] in the mid-1970s, in Brookline . . . and I really didn’t know much about nuclear war, just nuclear power. And she told me that nuclear war could happen in half an hour. That was it! My eyeballs fell out. I had no idea. She was very intelligent, very influential. And she never got the credit that the bloody guys at the Kennedy School got.
And you know what they did to me, those guys at the Kennedy School? . . . They would say that the worst thing about the nuclear freeze movement is Helen Caldicott. She’s the worst thing. And then they would take my ideas, and then write scholarly papers about them, and use them. And they prated around, little jumped-up jerks they were — always hoping that if there’s an election, they’ll get to be in the administration. So they had to play their cards close to their chest. When a good idea comes along, you don’t give credit to the person who develops it, you use it. But always holding back, still arms controllers, who were really the architects of the arms race. Even Paul Warnke, even the best of them, are still right in the middle of it. Yeah, I worked with a guy, Bill Colby, who I found out later had murdered lots of people in Vietnam. But he was good on this, so I sort of worked with anyone who wanted to work on it. I took dirty money, clean money, whatever there came along, used it.
. . . WAND, Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament, . . . started in 1980. I used to think it would be easier to recruit women than doctors, because they were so passionate. So often I’d give a speech and man would say to me: `You weren’t right, you know; it’s 352 cruise missiles, not 351.’ And it was that fact that discredited my whole speech. And the women would say: `That’s the sort of thinking that’s going to kill us all!’ And I thought: `Right, let’s get the women involved.’ But they were more reluctant, because their husbands would say: `You’re stupid, you know.’ They’d go to a meeting, and come back all fired up, and they’d be put down. And their relationship was more important to them than what they needed to do for their kids. Anyway, WAND became very powerful, and it became in fact the most important lobbying group in Congress during the `80s on nuclear weapons. . . . WAND became an extremely important group. It’s now moved on to call itself Women’s Action for New Directions, and it’s trying to get women into parliament. Now that’s all good, except it’s lost the focus which I consider still to be imperative.
I was raising about $3 million a year.
Eighty percent of the [nuclear disarmament] movement was composed of women. And usually you would find in an organization that the women would do all the work and be creative and the men would climb in on their backs and take credit for what they did. That was quite common. Not universal, but very common. . . . They’re able to assess a lot of things all together, the way you have to. You’re stirring the soup, you’ve got a baby on your hip, you’re on the phone organizing a revolution, you’re looking out to your husband making love at night, you’re washing the diapers — you can do everything, just because we’ve got those sort of brains that can coordinate a lot of data, and we’re very practical as well. As well as being totally committed to life. So it’s a different sort of brain. And it’s very much influenced by estrogen. And progesterone. When you’ve been through menopause, you know that. And testosterone produces an entirely different midset. And we know that when we give that to female patients with cancer they become much more aggressive. And you can see it in animals, too, in animal experiments. So to deny the differences is just being silly, because they’re very potent. And if you look at wars and killing, it’s always the men who are there killing. That’s why I call the book Missile Envy. But I think we have to explore that dynamic much more deeply, because unless you can find the etiology of a disease, you can’t cure it. And this is a disease of one particular species. Yeah, kangaroos fight each other unto death to breed, because they become the most potent male with the best genes.
I had a theory from a woman recently whose husband left her. She said: `Men are polygamous. Basically, they’re polygamous.’ And that most male species are. We’ve got a bird like that in Australia that’s just two huge testicles, and it just reproduces like mad, and has little grey females everywhere. Because that’s the biological imperative. That’s how evolution occurred. We’re just an animal. That’s the truth. Look at men. I used to watch my husband. He’d go like that, and watch a woman under his lidded eyes. And if you have to suppress that and it’s all for Christian puritanism — or whatever it is — that you only have one wife or one woman — then the energy of the testosterone has to come out in aberrant ways. And that comes out, I think, in fighting, and guns, and things that resemble penises. I mean I’m being a little bit too literal now, but the energy comes out, instead of making love and having orgasm where you feel all nice and that settles you down for a few hours `till you’re ready again. I thought: `That’s an interesting theory.’ So I presented it to an audience in California rather hesitantly, and you could see the men going . . . `Ah!’ And their wives were going like this. It was as if they were released. And guess what? They were all talking about it on the footpath afterwards. Not nuclear stockpile stewardship. They were saying: `Guess what she said?’ Even to admit it, and say: `Yeah, we are polygamous.’ It’s not a good thing to go everywhere like Clinton, and we wreck marriages and wreck our kids. But at least admit it! And sexual energy is a lovely energy. It’s beautiful. And women are more monogamous, because we have one egg a month, we take nine months to make a baby, and then we’ve got to breast-feed it and do all the rest. So we are much more stable, in that sense.
I remember when I first spoke in Houston, in 1979 I think, and Margaret Mead was in the audience. It was just before she died. I said: `Women are the civilizers. And the world needs us.’ And she stood up — she came up with a staff and a long brown cloak — and she said: `Women are the civilizers. We used to stay in the caves and feed the babies and look after the men. And they used to go out and hunt the sabre-toothed tigers and procreate.’ And she said: `Really, we’re the ones who have a huge role to play.’ And we haven’t played our role. We haven’t exerted the power of our wisdom and knowledge and authority in society, and said to the men: `Look, we know you’re like this, and we understand, and that’s who you are, and we love you for it. But we’ve got to take over. Because you’re screwing it up and you’re going to kill us all.” Which is deviant. It really is. It’s a deviant energy coming out in aberrant ways, which even if you just admitted it, would, I think, release a lot of men. Because they’re so closed up.
And I know it to be true partly — this can’t explain everything — because of the reaction in the audiences of the men when I talk. They’re delighted, and tremendously relieved, that someone should see what even they fail to recognize because they’re scared, because society said: `God wouldn’t like it. Jesus wouldn’t.’ All of that silly stuff. And unless we look at the etiology, we’re going to blow ourselves up. Absolutely. Clearly. And destroy the earth.”
Wittner: “You don’t see any possibility that that’s just a gender role? That it’s culture, that it’s nurture rather than nature?”
Caldicott: “No, no. Well, it’s nature, and its nurturing because we nurture.”
Wittner: “I mean that it’s culturally determined that men play the warrior role.”
Caldicott: “You mean it’s genetic, or phenotype and genotype? The hormones are dependent upon the genes you get. But I know because I see patients with indeterminate sexuality — women who have adreno-genital syndrome, with a big clitoris, and they often chop it off at birth. It’s because the adrenal gland can’t metabolize cortizone and it goes off in an aberrant pathway and makes testosterone. So they’re hairy, they’re tremendous at sports — often the people who win in the Olympics are women with adreno-genital syndrome. And the women are furious, because if they get their clitoris chopped off they can never have an orgasm. And you see men who have cirrhosis of the liver who can’t metabolize estrogen, and get hairless, they’re soft, their testicles atrophy, and they’re gentle. So — it’s physiological. We say to little boys: `Here’s your gun.’ We enhance that. But it’s definitely physiological. There’s no doubt about it. Talk to any endocrinologist. It’s just obvious. So to deny that is stupid. Then we have to go from there and say: `Why do men kill?’ And they all kill. Just look at them. All over the world.
Wittner: “Some don’t.”
Caldicott: “I’m talking about it in a geneticist way. The people who kill are men, mostly. There are a few women who are Nazis. And I’m not wanting to put you down. And I’m not sexist. And it’s nothing to do with liking or not liking men or `I’m glad I’m a woman’ — it’s nothing to do with that. I’m looking at it from a diagnostic, clinical perspective. And if we don’t understand the etiology, the cause of the pathology . . . we’ll never cure ourselves. And I think it would be liberating for men to say: `Yeah, we’re polygamous.'”
Wittner: “That might be true, but whether that’s going to stop war. . . .”
Caldicott: “Well, you don’t know, do you? Unless you try. You know, Germaine Greer’s just written another book, but she’s off on the wrong track. It’s all this man-hating stuff. That’s silly!”
Wittner: “What do you think it will take to ban the Bomb? . . .”
Caldicott: “There’s a very big movement now, globally, Abolition 2000. And I think that’s very potent. I’ve always not had much time for NGOs, I thought they’d been impotent. But lately I’ve thought they’ve had more power. And there are six countries who have signed on to abolition: Spain, Argentina, Ireland. . . . But there’s a movement more and more in the United Nations, because people are getting very annoyed with America, because it’s America that’s holding up the abolition movement. And they’re so hypocritical. And America runs the United Nations. There’s another huge area that we need to look at, and we don’t have time. It’s an aberrant country, this country. And I say that advisedly and guardedly in terms of the nuclear weapons thing. `We’re the most powerful country in the world!’ . . . Why don’t they be the most powerful country in the world, get rid of the weapons, utilize the money they’re spending — the people’s tax money — to provide birth control for all the women in the world, educate the women in the world, which would stop the overpopulation problem, give all the kids decent nutrition so they don’t grow up mentally retarded, fill this country up with solar collectors so we have solar power. . . . There are so many obvious, simple ways to go to save the planet and save the other species. . . .
People need to be educated again. It was Jefferson who said: `An informed democracy will behave in a responsible fashion.’ This democracy is not informed. The world isn’t.
Women have to take their rightful place. Fifty-three percent of the earth’s population are women, and we play virtually no role. It’s time that changed. There should be a law mandating that 53 percent of the Congress and all parliaments of the world are women. Because that would make a difference. The magic number is 30 percent; below that women behave as men in an organization, above that they start legislating milk for children, and day care centers, and care for old people, and that sort of thing, because that’s our natural tendency. So we start asserting who we really are.
The other thing I think that’s necessary, unfortunately, is another leader, with the sort of energy I’ve had, who will devote their life to going around inspiring, educating, and stimulating people. I only realized that after I sort of left, that there aren’t a lot of leaders. And that’s a sad thing. Most people are sort of scared to step out in front and say things. You know, I’ve often spoken at women’s colleges, and they come up to me afterwards — eighteen year old girls — and they say: `You’ve just said everything I’ve ever believed.’ And I say: `Well, why don’t you say it?’ So there’s a fear, and I don’t understand the fear. But there need to be people like Russell. And Pauling. . . . Gorbachev. But let’s talk about some women, who will take the bull by the horns, so to speak, and inspire. Or an FDR. Notice, again, there are no women in this. . . . Who will just say: `The emperor’s got no clothes. This has got to stop! We’re going to blow up the world.’
And that can be done. I don’t care who owns the media, I don’t care who owns the Congress, and the corporations. This is a working democracy, and I found that out myself. It was a democratic vacuum which could be filled, and was filled. And it worked. It was so exciting, so exciting.
. . . I don’t want you to misinterpret those things I’ve said about testosterone because I don’t want that to sound angry, or upset, because I’m not angry at all. . . .”