Testimony on MAPA’s State Divestment Bills – Ira Helfand

Peace Advocate Summer 2021

Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony in support of S 1703 and H 2597

While we face many urgent problems today, two existential dangers—the climate crisis and the growing possibility of nuclear war—threaten the very survival of our civilization and possibly our species.

Experts like former Defense Secretary William Perry have stated repeatedly that we are closer to nuclear war today than we were during the worst moments of the Cold War.  The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have set their iconic Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been to nuclear war.  

At the same time, recent studies have underlined the magnitude of the destruction that nuclear weapons can cause.  We used to think that it would take a large scale war between the US and Russia to destroy the world.  Such a conflict remains a very real threat.  But we also now know that even a much more limited war, as might take place between smaller nuclear powers like India and Pakistan, would put enough soot into the upper atmosphere to cause world wide climate disruption, a catastrophic decline in global food production and a “nuclear famine” that would put billions of people at risk including tens of millions here in the United States.   Such a “limited” nuclear war would not mean the extinction of our species.  It would mean the end of modern civilization as we know it.  No civilization in history has ever withstood a shock of this magnitude and there is no reason to believe that the very fragile economic system which we all depend on to maintain ourselves would fare any better.

Yet there is almost no public attention to this issue.  During the Cold War, the urgent need to prevent nuclear war was on the top of everyone’s list of problems facing the world; today it is barely acknowledged. Rather than working to eliminate their nuclear arsenals, all nine nuclear weapons states, including the US, have ambitious plans to enhance their nuclear arsenals.  These plans are driven in no small part by the merchants of death, who manufacture these weapons.

By voting to divest Massachusetts pension funds from companies involved in the manufacture of nuclear weapons, the legislature would be sending a powerful message that this new arms race must be stopped. Rather we must adopt a fundamentally different nuclear policy based on the understanding that, far from making us safe, nuclear weapons are the greatest threat to our security and they must be eliminated.  

We have not survived the nuclear weapons era so far because of wise leadership, or sound military doctrine or infallible technology.  We are still here today because, as former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara famously declared, “We lucked out…it was luck that prevented nuclear war.”   It is unreasonable to assume that our luck will hold indefinitely.  If these weapons are not removed, then sooner or later, and perhaps it will be sooner, they will be used by design, accident or miscalculation.

Some may feel that this is a national issue, and not something that the State Legislature should concern itself with.  I would urge you to reconsider.  The Legislature’s highest responsibility is to protect the citizens of Massachusetts. The federal government is clearly failing to address this existential threat. The Legislature must do what it can to prevent this looming disaster.


Ira Helfand, MD
Greater Boston Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War

Immediate Past President, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, the recipient of The 1985 Nobel Peace Prize