Guest columnist Cynthia Loring MacBain: ‘To be or not to be’

By Cynthia Loring MacBain

Published: 01-24-2023 5:14 PM

The report of the time at which the Doomsday Clock is currently set was announced Tuesday (Jan. 24). Anticipating what that “time” will be brings back memories of the Cuban Missile Crisis. My baby was just four months old.

I had seen the movie “On the Beach,” in which people in Australia wait helplessly for the radioactivity which will drift south from a nuclear war in the Northern Hemisphere. One scene is imbedded in my memory: a young couple is in their bedroom, preparing to take the suicide pills the government has distributed. They agonize over whether to kill their sleeping baby first, or take the medication at the same time, which risked the baby lingering in pain and terror without the comfort of its parents.

After the intention of the USSR to put missiles in Cuba was reported along with President Kennedy’s threat of a nuclear attack, I went to four different stores to avoid questions, buying a bottle of liquid in each. Enough to kill my baby.

As the Soviet ships sailed closer and closer to the Cuban shores with their nuclear missiles, I pushed my baby in his carriage up and down the streets of our small town, bargaining with whatever power there might be, that if he saved us this time, I would dedicate my life to working for peace. The Soviet ships turned around. I have been a peace activist ever since.

In the 1980s, a nationwide Campaign for a U.S./USSR Nuclear Weapons Freeze energized doctors in the U.S. and USSR, who worked together to convince Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev that no one would win a nuclear war, and indeed, nuclear war was the existential health threat the world faced. They succeeded; Reagan and Gorbachev made some steps to freeze and safeguard their stockpiles. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the physicians for their achievement.

President George H.W. Bush continued working with the leaders of the USSR. Recently, however, presidents have instead moved to “modernize” our nuclear arsenal, ignoring a UN Treaty to abolish nuclear weapons already signed by nations who are excluded from the “Nuclear Club.” It seems that leaders of nations with nuclear arsenals continue to be infected by the “Might is Right” philosophy that history has proven over and over may win temporarily, but in the nuclear age, is an existential threat to the future of life on earth.

The physicians who were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize continue as the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (, guided by the motto “If you can’t cure it, you must prevent it.” They have recently published a report called “Nuclear Starvation.” Their work, substantiated by work of Distinguished Professor Alan Robock at Rutgers University, shows how even a limited nuclear war, escalating from a conflict between such nations such as India and Pakistan, would send enough soot and smoke into the stratosphere to cause a “nuclear winter” lasting at least a decade, during which no crops would grow, and humans and livestock would compete for the crops that would be left. Unfortunately for our survival as a species, the news media has ignored it.

“To be or not to be, that is the question,” was a metaphor when Shakespeare wrote it. For us, whether we are “to be” or we are “not to be” is literal and immediate. If we choose “to be,” we must employ all our rights and tools as citizens — our printed and broadcast and social media and our right to demonstrate — in order to drive our government to take the lead in ridding the world of nuclear weapons. If we do this, we and our children and future generations will continue “to be,” and we can convert those technologies to repair the environment we have damaged. Or if we chose with our inaction “not to be,” we must then drive these same leaders to stockpile suicide pills, because slow death by radiation or starvation will be inevitable. The Doomsday Clock is ticking.

Cynthia Loring MacBain, a peace activist and grandmother of five, lives in Southampton.]]>

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