Helen Caldicott on the Nuclear Race: Reagan Was the "Pied Piper of Armageddon"

June 07, 2004

Note: This is a rush transcript:

AMY GOODMAN: We go first to Helen Caldecott in Sydney, Australia; welcome to Democracy Now! Dr. Caldicott.

HELEN CALDICOTT: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s very good to have you with us. Dr. Caldicott has founded a new organization called the Nuclear Policy Research Institute. Can you talk about your meeting with President Reagan, and about those years of the Reagan Presidency, as it relates to nuclear weapons?

HELEN CALDICOTT: Yes. I was extremely concerned throughout those years that we were getting closer and closer to nuclear war. One of the reasons I left my practice at the Harvard Medical School treating cystic fibrosis children because I felt that all the worlds children were at risk. He spent more money than all past presidents combined on weapons. He spent $3 trillion dollars during his time in office. He was a very, very much a military president, and was keen on nuclear weapons and what happened was that I was asked to give a speech at the Playboy mansion with a group of film stars a along with Paul Newman. I did that because there was a book in playboy, "With Enough Shovels" by Robert Scherer about the civil defense program and TK Jones from FEMA said if there is enough shovels to go around, we were all going to make it. I gave rather an emotional talk and said that we are the only life in the universe that thinks, imagine looking at the stars and ponder what that responsibility means. Up came a tall, thin woman with long black hair and she said, I’m Patty Davis. She said, I think you’re the only person on earth who can change my father’s mind about nuclear war, will you come and see him. I did a quick think and I said, yes, I will come and see him but I don’t want anybody else there. I don’t want Ed Meese or Baker or Deaver. I want him alone. So, two days later, she said, we have an hour at the end of the working day. I said, what time is that. She said 4:00. We met in a French restaurant and we had lunch. We were swept into the southern corridor in the secret service car. We entered the downstairs library of the white house in which there were books. We waited for some time and in came the president. I was quite nervous. He was, too. He was a little dithery. I shook his hand and said, how do you do, Mr. President. He didn’t know there was a table at the back of the room and I said, you sit there and I’ll sit there. Patti was present but said nothing. I introduced myself by saying you probably don’t know who I am. He said, yes, I do, you are an Australian. You were on the beach when you were a young girl and your scared of nuclear war. I said yes, that’s right. He said, well, I, too, am scared of nuclear war, but I want to prevent it by building more nuclear bombs, so we were off to a great start. I just finished my book, "Missile Envy," so I was stock full of facts and figures. He would make a statement, which was wrong, and everything he said was incorrect and inaccurate, so I would stop him when he said what he said and correct him and you remember he used to get flustered his cheeks would flush, we would call that in medicine Mylar Flush, and I would hold his hand to reassure him and he we would go on to the next topic. I reported this in my autobiography, "A Desperate Passion." We met for an hour and a quarter. I was I spent half the time actually holding his hand. We really established a doctor-patient relationship, with me being his doctor. Halfway through the interview, he said, look, I took some notes before I came down. He pulled some handwritten notes out of his top pocket and read to me that the people who worked for the nuclear weapons freeze (which at that time was 80% of the U.S. population supported the freeze) were either K.G.B. duped or Soviet Agents. I said, that’s from last month’s "Reader’s Digest." John Barron’s piece and he said, no that’s from my Intelligence files. Patty reassured me later that that was virtually one and the same thing. He virtually never read a book or very few although he stopped to read the "Reader’s Digest" every month, all his life. At one point, she said that I know that what Dr. Caldicott is saying is correct, because I have a 1989 Pentagon document to prove it, and without looking at it, he said that’s a forgery. I think it was one of the most shocking experiences of my life. I decided if there was no point — if I was not going to meet with him again and I could have no influence, but I would talk to the press, who were hungry to hear exactly what this man was about. I spent more time with him alone than any other person during his eight years of office. And during the interview he leaned over to me and said look, I’m not going to talk to anyone about this. I said, fortuitously, I wouldn’t, either. Then eventually, a journalist said to me, look, I just want some background and I naively gave the background and the piece was printed. I wrote and apologized to him and he wrote me a nice letter back saying that I’m used to it. He said they are not gentlemen and they don’t follow the rules and obligations of journalists, which was very sweet. I thought he was a sweet old man. He was not appropriate at all to be the president of the United States. I guess that clinically I estimated his IQ as one does with a patient to make sure that they take their medicines on time and the like. I don’t think my clinical assessment was that he did not have Alzheimer’s at the time nor was it impending clinically. I spoke to a lot of people who knew him in Hollywood and said he was the most boring man they ever knew, but he was always like that, so, I don’t think it was anything different. So, I used to call him the Pied Piper of Armageddon because people followed him wherever he went. He would tell people he would take them down the path. So, he was a sort of father figure who engendered confidence and much affection within the American populist to their detriment and to the detriment of the world. However, I thought I had no influence at all, but through the retrospective work, I now think that maybe I did, because when he met with Gorbachev, they were momentous meets that two men in this human race has ever had, they almost agreed to eliminate nuclear weapons between Russia and America. Gorbachev and Reagan got hung up on star wars. After that, he and Gorbachev worked together and Shevardnadze and Schultz turned into great statesmen and I think together they helped to bring about the end of the cold war, which was a magnificent achievement and I credit both of them for that. And since the cold war ended, nothing has changed. America and Russia still target with each other with 3,500 hydrogen bombs. Nothing has changed except the animosity has disappeared, and the two countries are friends, but they still hold the world as nuclear hostage ready to blow us up at any second of any day.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Helen Caldicott, speaking to us from Sydney, Australia. When she met president rag in the oval office, she was head of physicians for social responsibility. She has established a new organization called Nuclear Policy Research Institute. Her new book is "The New Nuclear Danger." this is Democracy Now!