APS News

Letters to the Editor

Politicizing Ukraine

In the April 2015 issue of APS News, George Gamota wrote a letter to support scientists in Ukraine. I completely support this. However I would like to express complete disagreement with the highly politicized form of his comment. In my opinion, APS News is the wrong place to express politicized statements and therefore I will point out only two of the most obvious factual errors.

The sentence “Soon the peaceful protests turned ugly and violent when the president’s Special Forces ‘Berkut’ contingent kidnapped, tortured, and killed over 100 innocent bystanders during the Kyiv ‘EuroMaidan’ protests” directly blames Berkut as a major force that resulted in more than hundreds of deaths. This never was proved. On June 11, 2015, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power expressed dissatisfaction with the investigation results. In particular, she said “Investigations into serious crimes such as the violence in the Maidan and in Odesa have been sluggish, opaque, and marred by serious errors — suggesting not only a lack of competence, but also a lack of will to hold the perpetrators accountable.” It clearly states that we do not know who is behind this crime.

In addition, the statement that “Donetsk State University, one of several universities evacuated from Donbas, has been reorganized in Vinnitsa, some 300 miles from Donetsk, where faculty, their families and over 1,000 students are temporarily living” is not accurate. In reality the university was split into two parts — one moved to Vinnitsa while another has stayed in Donetsk. I actually believe that professors and students left in Donetsk need help as well as their colleagues in the government-controlled Ukraine.

Valeri Lebedev
Batavia, Illinois

Homeland Security Theater

It was with a mixture of amusement, sadness, and dismay that I read the May 2015 APS News front page article “Nuclear Needles in Cargo Haystacks,” describing equipment being developed to detect nuclear weapons in cargo containers at U.S. ports. Unfortunately, cargo containers are but one — and perhaps the least likely — of numerous means for smuggling nuclear materials. To be really effective the system described in the article would need to scan every car, bus, truck, motorcycle, and bicycle crossing the Mexican or Canadian border, every railroad car, every airplane, and every boat and private yacht coming into the U.S. And let us not forget those tunnels under the U.S.-Mexican border, which provide such a reliable supply route for drug smugglers.

This approach is one example of a much larger problem which might be characterized as “homeland security theater.” Such efforts serve to deceive people into thinking they are being protected, while their main function is to enrich weapons contractors and their political supporters and allies from the many billions that it would cost to build and operate such systems. It also diverts attention and funding from much more honest attempts to understand and deal with this issue.

Those interested in a carefully thought-out examination of the nuclear weapons problem might consult a recent book [1] which focuses on controlling or eliminating fissile materials themselves to eliminate the threat of nuclear war and terrorism.

Alfred Cavallo
Princeton, New Jersey

1. Unmaking the Bomb: A Fissile Material Approach to Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation, H. Feiveson, A. Glaser, Z. Mian, F. von Hippel, (MIT Press, 2015).


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