APS News

UCSD Physicist Wants Nuclear Weapons Taken Off the Table

Jorge Hirsch (center) tries in vain to gain access to the White House.
Jorge Hirsch (center) tries in vain to gain access to the White House.
In September 2005, Jorge Hirsch, a physicist at the University of California San Diego, began circulating a petition opposing US policies that would allow the use of nuclear weapons against Iran. Since September over 700 US physicists have signed the petition. Over 1000 non-US physicists, and over 1000 non-physicists have signed as well.

Hirsch also brought the issue to the attention of the APS and urged the Council to make a statement. (See story Council Statement Registers Concern Over Potential Nuclear Weapons Use.)

Hirsch has continued his activism against possible preemptive use of nuclear weapons. He led a small protest in front of the White House on April 26.

According to news reports, President Bush has said that all options are on the table in dealing with Iran; he has not ruled out a preemptive nuclear strike.

On April 17, Hirsch wrote a letter to President Bush asking him to take the nuclear option off the table. Thirteen eminent physicists, including five Nobel laureates and three past APS presidents, joined Hirsch in signing the letter.

Hirsch read the letter aloud in Lafayette Park in front of the White House on April 26. A small group of people gathered to listen.

At the protest, Hirsch said that physicists, as members of the profession that built nuclear weapons, are in a unique position to understand the devastation they can cause.

“We are physicists. We know about these weapons,” he said.

Hirsch then read aloud his letter to President Bush, which says, in part, “Nuclear weapons are unique among weapons of mass destruction… Using or even merely threatening to use a nuclear weapon preemptively against a nonnuclear adversary tells the 182 non-nuclear weapon countries signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that their adherence to the treaty offers them no protection against a nuclear attack by a nuclear nation. Many are thus likely to abandon the treaty. It is gravely irresponsible for the US as the greatest superpower to consider courses of action that could eventually lead to widespread destruction of life on the planet. We urge you to announce publicly that the US is taking the nuclear option off the table in the case of all non-nuclear adversaries.”

The entire letter and the list of those signing it can be found at http://physics.ucsd.edu/petition/physicistsletter.html.

Hirsch also read the APS Council statement as part of the protest.

After reading the letter over a bullhorn in front of the White House, Hirsch attempted to deliver the letter to President Bush, but guards at the White House gate did not allow him to do so. He said he would not give up, and planned to appear at Lafayette Park every Wednesday until his message is heard.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff