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So Says

Dr. Bernard Lown

June 15, 1986|MARC COOPER and GREG GOLDIN | Marc Cooper and Greg Goldin are Los Angeles writers

Dr. Bernard Lown, 65, a Harvard University cardiologist, invented the lifesaving heart defibrillator and introduced use of the heart drug lidocaine. With Soviet physician Yevgeny I. Chazov, he founded International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which received the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize.

Q: What inspired you and Dr. Chazov to found an international movement of doctors favoring disarmament? A: We are told enormous distortions and lies concerning the arms race and the Russians, and the next morning we wake to face another dose of them. In any other area, the public would reject it. But on this issue the American public is impervious to what has happened before. You scratch any American, professor or garbage-truck driver, and they'll give you the same exact answer on the issue of the arms race: "You can't trust the Russians." This attitude has become a state religion in the United States. As long as this mentality prevails, we cannot move toward disarmament.

By 1978 we had to face this truth: We had more missiles than ever. There was SALT I, the ABM treaty, SALT II--yet we were more threatened than ever. I asked myself, what is it that we must learn from the previous decade? We must begin a dialogue with the Soviets, and bring that dialogue to public comprehension.

I had dealt with Dr. Chazov for about 15 years, so I decided to write him a letter. The letter said: "Look, here's the problem: You and I have been concerned with the issue of sudden death. Sudden cardiac death is not what's threatening us, but sudden nuclear death. You and I have got to get together." I went to Moscow in April of 1980 to pursue further discussion. He thought it was an enormously charged political issue. He said: "We're going to be attacked; it's going to be tough; they're going to try to divide us. You're a scientist; you're a doctor; you've reached world fame. Why do you need such an attack?" I said, "I don't need it, but our children and grandchildren need it." He came back the next day and said, "OK, let's work together on it." Q: What has your group accomplished? A: We have set ourselves the goal to change the policies of both governments. We have succeeded in regard to the Soviet Union. We have brought an enormous amount of information to the Soviet Union on the nuclear issue. Before our public dialogue commenced, no Russian dared say the Soviet Union was now vulnerable to nuclear incineration. Along came Chazov, and what did he do? He stated that nuclear war would destroy the Soviet Union, that there was no defense. There was no cure. So what do you opt for? Prevention. Q: There was no awareness in the Soviet Union of the sort that has fueled the U.S. anti-nuclear movement? A: It did exist subliminally, but not the way it did in the United States. In the Soviet Union, I would say it began in February, 1981, when Chazov went on "Studio 9," a popular TV program, and for 40 minutes talked about the mutual nuclear threat. That sent shock waves throughout the Soviet Union. The last Saturday in December, 1985, I was on Soviet television. (TV commentator Valentin) Zorin was interviewing me and Chazov. It was a one-hour program; it was watched by 150 million people. This is something that we have been able to do in the Soviet Union over and over, but not in the United States. Not on a national network, for long, intelligent discussions about all the facts. Q: It costs the Soviets little to have you on TV. What about achieving progress on concrete disarmament measures? A: We began in 1982 to urge a comprehensive nuclear test ban, a moratorium. Here we have had negotiations for 25 years, more than 7,000 sessions, and what has happened? We have more arms. Obviously, the process has failed. So we have said we want deeds. We want reciprocating initiatives. What should be the first initiative? That should be a comprehensive test ban. And the Russians at first resisted the idea. But on July 29, 1985, they decreed a unilateral testing moratorium and invited the United States to join--an invitation the United States ignored. Q: The Soviet moratorium was set to expire Dec. 31. Is it true you had a hand in persuading Gorbachev to extend it? A: On Dec. 18, I met with Gorbachev for three hours. At that meeting I argued for an extension. He was a little startled. My argument was that the American people needed more time to compel the U.S. government to join the ban. Gorbachev said, "If it hadn't happened in the first six months, why would it happen later?"

And I answered, "Because you people, the Soviets, are inept." He said, "What do you mean?"

"You know nothing about propaganda," I said. "Propaganda is American. We call it public relations."

So he laughed. He said: "This is the first time anybody accused us of being poor propagandists. But you're right."

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