October 31, 2008

Nobel Peace Prize winner reflects on Cold War efforts to prevent nuclear war

A Nobel Laureate visited campus Tuesday discussing his prize in a category U of C professors have yet to attain. Bernard Lown, winner of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize, reflected on his Cold War anti-nuclear efforts.

Co-founder of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), Lown is a cardiologist also recognized for his role in developing the emergency heart defibrillator.

What drives him to juggle his peace activism along with his duties as a physician?

“Hardheaded optimism,”Lown said, emphasizing “the enormous potential of science” to solve humanity’s diverse problems.

Lown spoke on the importance of activism in every sphere, citing his own realization that “even physicians have something to contribute to the nuclear debate.” The idea struck him when he and his colleagues published a speculative paper on the effects of a hypothetical nuclear strike on the Boston area. The U.S. military later contacted the authors for “recon,” Lown said.

Lown’s fight against nuclear proliferation led him to seek a Russian counterpart, another doctor who could help him bridge the gap between their countries, then embroiled in the Cold War. He found an ally in Yevgeny Chazov, a prominent Russian cardiologist.

Often facing distrust from both the United States and Russia, they sought to draw attention to the problems of nuclear accumulation. Lown and Chazov were awarded the Peace Prize in 1985.

Lown emphasized the role that students played in his early struggles to establish his organization.

“Dynamism from Harvard Medical School students enabled us to succeed,” he said, describing the students’ defiance of authority and exhaustive work to prepare the first IPPNW conference.

“Students are always integral,” Lown said.

Lown’s newest book, Prescription for Survival: A Doctor’s Journey to End Nuclear Madness, was published in July. He is a former professor of cardiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.