An ambassador for peace and security

An ambassador for peace and security

Dr. Robert Dodge speaks on the nuclear crisis

By Michael Sullivan 06/30/2011

Dr. Robert Dodge is a familiar name in Ventura. If you haven’t made visited his family practice in Midtown, then perhaps you have read one of his op-ed pieces against the proliferation of nuclear weapons or joined him in one of the many local protests against war.

Though Dodge has worked in private practice as a family physician in Ventura for 30 years, he was born and raised in Denver, Colo. He graduated from George Washington High School in Denver and then received his B.A. from the University of Colorado in molecular, cellular and developmental biology. He went on to the University of California, Irvine, Medical School and finally made his home in Ventura as he completed his family medicine residency at Ventura County Medical Center.

His love of all aspects of medical practice and a desire to be closely involved in the health and lives of his patients led him to become a family physician. He said that family medicine allows a unique opportunity to be involved with entire families. While his love of medicine has kept his daily life busy, his passion to ban the use of nuclear weapons and his opposition to war have led to a near lifelong commitment to educating the public about potential health risks and seeking peaceful resolutions to conflicts instead of war.

“Physicians have a responsibility to make it totally clear that there is nothing the medical profession can do to alleviate the suffering due to the vastness and scale of nuclear war’s potential devastation,” Dodge said. “The fact that we have survived and are alive today is not a matter of deterrence but rather due to luck. Luck is not a security policy.”

Dodge spoke with the VCReporter this week about his work in educating the public and seeking an end to the threat of nuclear war. He will be speaking on nuclear arms security issues in Ventura at the Foster Library this Sunday.

VCReporter: You went on a speaking tour in New England this past spring representing Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR). Tell me about your involvement with PSR and Beyond War and what they do.
Robert Dodge: PSR is the American affiliate of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize for their work on identifying strontium 90 in human baby teeth. This was a result of atmospheric and above-ground nuclear testing, and resulted in the 1963 Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty between the U.S. and then-USSR, ending atmospheric testing of nuclear bombs. It has been a goal of PSR ever since to achieve a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) to eliminate all nuclear testing, making it more difficult for nations to develop or modernize nuclear weapons.

Today, PSR is the medical voice educating the public on the most significant public health threats we face. As a physician, I have a responsibility to inform the public of these risks.

I have been involved with PSR since the 1980s. I have served as our local Ventura County Chapter president from the mid-1980s to the present. I have sat on the board of PSR-LA over the last decade and as a Peace and Security Ambassador for them to lecture and write on issues of nuclear weapons, health and environmental effects, costs, policy and abolition. For PSR National, I was a delegate and one of two U.S. physicians at last summer’s U.N. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Conference. This spring, I participated in a speaking tour in New Hampshire speaking for PSR on the health effects of nuclear war along with retired US Air Force Col. Richard Klass, who spoke on behalf of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. In addition to the educational speaking tour, we met with both U.S. Senators staff in an effort to build support for the CTBT. This is the logical next step in arms control after last year’s new START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty).

Beyond War was started in the 1980s and revitalized after 9/11. For me, Beyond War makes the critical connection that, in the nuclear age, war itself is obsolete in resolving conflict. Beyond War recognizes that any war has the potential of escalating to a nuclear conflict and therefore threatens all life as we know it. It acknowledges that while conflict is inevitable, war is optional. Their focus is on identifying existing best practices in resolving conflict without war. I sit on the international board of Beyond War and head the Nuclear Weapons Abolition Team. I also serve as the co-leader of the Ventura Beyond War Team.

Why did you get involved in organizations that were trying to ban the use of nuclear weapons? How many years have you been doing so?
I have been actively involved in the peace movement since my college days during the war in Vietnam. Later, in residency, after learning of the devastating health effects of nuclear explosions, I became much more concerned and worked with other local doctors to start our own PSR chapter. Following the birth of my first son, David, in 1982, I realized as a father and physician, I had a responsibility to do everything in my power to work to protect his world and that of future generations. I have continued this work ever since, and I now focus more specifically on efforts to abolish nuclear weapons and indeed war itself as a means of resolving conflict. Nuclear weapons represent the greatest existential threat to our world and future. I have been involved with PSR and Beyond War since the early 1980s.

As a doctor, what medical problems have you personally encountered due to exposure to radiation?
Fortunately, my exposure to deleterious health effects of radiation is limited mainly to the study of history and the science of radiation effects. I do see the powerful effects of radiation in following patients who have undergone radiation therapy for their varied health conditions and cancers. Through my travels and speaking, I have also made the acquaintance of many hibakusha (survivors of the Japanese nuclear explosions).

What is the difference between exposure to nuclear weapons and nuclear power in terms of health issues? The disaster in Japan is still fairly fresh on everyone’s mind.

Nuclear power plants are “controlled” nuclear bombs as long as they are controlled. Unfortunately, as the recent disasters in Fukushima, Japan, have again demonstrated, there is never a guarantee of control. Radiation exposures from any source, nuclear weapon or nuclear power, if not controlled, have the potential for life-threatening radioisotope exposure and the health effects therein. Radioisotopes like iodine 131, strontium 90, cesium 137 and plutonium 239, irrespective of their source, are taken up by the body as though they were life-giving elements and are quickly bound to tissues where they promote their cancer-causing effects.

The recent Fukushima reactor disaster resulted in the release of each of these and many other isotopes and has reminded [us] of the potential threats we face. It will take generations before this disaster is stabilized.

Many years ago, when the war in Iraq had just begun, I saw a bumper sticker on the back of an old pickup truck that read, “Nuke ‘em. We need their oil.” Of course, such a statement was appalling, but ignorance and blatant disregard for human life seem to be too prevalent in this society at times. How can we change that?
Albert Einstein said, “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”

We must change our thinking if we are to protect this world for our children and future generations. Beyond War works to change our thinking and identify ways of resolving inevitable conflict without resorting to war.

So many of us care about this issue, but many of us feel, as individuals, we can’t do much to change what is happening. What advice do you have for anyone who wants to ban the use of nuclear weapons and even nuclear power? Although your focus is against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, many are concerned about the dangers of nuclear power as well.
Ultimately, it is a fallacy to believe that individuals cannot make a difference. We all have our spheres of influence and the opportunity to speak up. Ultimately, only concerned individuals working together have brought about social change, from Martin Luther King to Gandhi to Nelson Mandela. Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed individuals can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

People need to identify their passion. I invite anyone who is concerned about these issues to join us. Each individual brings their own concerns and skill sets to the issue. Nuclear power and nuclear weapons share many of the same dangers and are by no means unrelated.    

Dodge will feature a presentation on “Nuclear Arms Security Issues: Military and Medical Perspectives and the Prospects for World Peace” this Sunday, July 3, at 3 p.m. at Foster Library’s Topping Room, 651 E. Main St., in Ventura.

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