By Jim Hannah

Question: What do ancient sorcerers, necromancers, and conjurers have in common with present-day nuclear weapons proponents? Peter Lumsdaine, a member of Washington State’s Physicians for Social Responsibility, connected those seemingly distant dots during a July 6 lecture sponsored by PeaceWorks-KC.

Answer:  All four pursue the misguided and magical belief that they are conjuring up helpful servants, when in reality they are summoning up destructive demons.

Peter Lumsdaine—Photo by Jane Stoever

Lumsdaine expressed particular concern about the growing reliance on autonomous artificial intelligence to control nuclear weapons. He cited Tesla chief executive, Elon Musk, who called artificial intelligence “probably … our biggest existential threat,” through which “we are summoning the demon.” He also cited Future of Life Institute’s work on three interrelated existential threats facing humanity:

1)   Global environmental collapse

2)   Nuclear weapons and war

3)   The rise of artificial intelligence

Any of these three threats could end life as we know it; together they form a deadly triad. “The ultimate climate disaster would be a nuclear war,” Lumsdaine said. “People from the top level of the artificial intelligence community are speaking out with warnings about the dangers of artificial intelligence triggering nuclear war.”

“Turning the Clock Back from Midnight” was the topic of Lumsdaine’s lecture, a reference to The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock that on Jan. 25 was turned to two minutes to midnight, as close as it’s ever been in forecasting global cataclysm. “To call the world nuclear situation dire,” the Bulletin wrote, “is to understate the danger—and its immediacy.” 

“We have a long and challenging century ahead of us,” Lumsdaine said, noting that peace organizations have diminished in size in recent years. His own PSR chapter, he said, was near collapse 3-4 years ago, but has since been revived. North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and a renewed Cold War arms globally have increased public awareness of the existential threat opposed by nuclear weapons, he noted.  

The speaker reminded the audience of Daniel Ellsberg’s assessment that reliance on nuclear weapons is a “long-term, bi-partisan, institutional psychosis.” Ellsberg, he said, risked 115 years in prison for his 1971 release of the Pentagon Papers, top-secret Department of Defense records of US secret decisions related to the Vietnam War.

Veterans for Peace was cited among the many groups trying to sound the alarm against nuclear weapons. Veterans for Peace has renovated the historic ship, Golden Rule, that during the Ban the Bomb movements of the 1950s sailed into hydrogen bomb test sites to stop atmospheric nuclear tests.

Lumsdaine commended PeaceWorks-KC for its active resistance to the new nuclear weapons parts plant in Kansas City, and offered these suggestions going forward:

  1. a) Create strong regional organizations for greater impact.
  2. b) Raise funds to hire presenters and staff.
  3. c) Find ways to sustainably disrupt operations, such as strikes and sit-ins.
  4. d) Find common ground with groups with related interests, e.g., environmental groups, those empowering the poor, etc.
  5. e) Build intergenerational coalitions.

Noting the difficulty of rallying people around a message of fear, Lumsdaine urged “building on the slender threads of hope.”

“The challenge for every serious social issue we face,” he said,” is the difficulty of getting people to face into the massive threat of death and destruction.” The most effective approach he’d recently seen was an environmental conference that sustained a balance of extreme urgency and dire consequences, alongside hopeful change and empowerment.

—Jim Hannah serves on the PeaceWorks-KC Board of Directors.