Welcoming Remarks for Teaching the Nuclear Age

This will be an intense but very exciting institute, as all of our institutes are. I liken them to intellectual Superbowls, and have taken to numbering my files for them with Roman numerals. So this is XXIV for me personally.

This morning, another analogy occurred to me for these very intense intellectual feasts, and that is a data dump. The telemetry on satellites, especially those with sensitive information — spy satellites and what have you — have the capability of storing up all of the data they’re gathering until they get to a point above presumably a secret receiving station. Then, in a highly intense, very short, hyper-energetic burst, they can dump all of the data that’s been collected down to the receiving station. That’s sort of what these 24-hour periods are.

My first duty is to thank the people who made this possible. First and foremost, the Annenberg Foundation, our core sponsor; and indeed I personally would like to dedicate this weekend to the memory of Lenore Annenberg, who recently passed away; also, the American Academy of Diplomacy and the staff of FPRI’s Wachman Center; and finally Troy Wade and the Atomic Test Museum. We are deeply grateful that you have agreed to host us, even though you may not have been sure exactly what you were getting into. Not only has the Museum provided for us the most fitting site for a conference on the nuclear age, it of course also gave us an excuse to visit Las Vegas.

My airplane reading yesterday was a short history of Las Vegas I checked out of Penn’s library. I learned from it that the Flamingo, the first glitzy casino hotel in Las Vegas itself as opposed to outside of town, the one that was built by the mobster Bugsy Siegel, opened its doors in December 1946, the same month I was born. So my lifetime and that of the strip coincide exactly.

I already knew of another coincidence. That is that my birth date coincided with another event even more relevant to our topic. It was in December 1946 that the U.S. plan for UN control of atomic energy was at last voted on and vetoed by Andrei Gromyko. The U.S. plan called for all nations to share their atomic secrets and fissionable material under inspection by a UN agency, to ensure that nuclear energy, atomic power, would always be used for peaceful purposes. But the Soviets insisted that the U.S. unilaterally disarm before they would agree to any regime. And the Soviet Union flatly prohibited or refused to permit any inspections on their own soil. As a result, the nuclear arms race was also born the same month as I was.

For all of us whose lives coincided with the Cold War, our hope was that someday the balance of terror and perhaps all nuclear weapons would disappear. Thanks perhaps to defensive technologies like SDI combined with agreements to build down offensive forces until the threat had been eliminated, or perhaps through the collapse of the Soviet Union or some other end to the Cold War.

Well, the Cold War ended, and the Soviet Union is gone. But alas, the nukes are still with us. The risk of humanity’s blowing up the world may have been sharply reduced, but the risk that nukes may get used again has increased with proliferation and the advent of militant non-state terrorist movements that are presumably undeterrable.

So even though students today are not made to crawl under their desks in air raid drills, we still need to raise up a nuclear-literate generation. Indeed, as much as when we were the students. To help us do that, we’ve assembled an outstanding roster of experts, beginning with Jeremy Bernstein

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