Olivia Fermi : On The Neutron Trail – Positioning Change and Global
Presented Thursday, January 19th, 2012 at the Italian Cultural Institute
Olivia Fermi brings to our attention a fascinating array of anecdotes
which make the history of the nuclear disarmament movement come alive.
The presentation reflects Ms. Fermi’s research into the legacy of her
grandfather, Enrico Fermi, one of the greatest physicists of the 20th
Century and a father of the atomic bomb.
A successful photographer, process facilitator and now speaker in her
own right, it remains fitting for Ms. Fermi to present the story which
begins with her grandfather’s part in the discovery of nuclear fission,
the process by which nuclear energy is released. Enrico Fermi worked
directly under Robert Oppenheimer in the infamous and secret Manhattan
Project which created the first atomic bomb. Though her grandfather died
in 1955, the nuclear disarmament movement and the nuclear arms race was
just getting going.
Scientists and some politicians were the first to begin to educate the
public on the dangers of nuclear warfare, that an atomic bomb can end
life on earth; the public was quick to realize that protest was one way
to influence government military policy and make change.
While the nuclear disarmament protests did not stop the creation and
testing of nuclear bombs for sometime, they eventually lead to treaties
which would reduce the weapons and their testing. And when the Neutron
bomb was created, to kill people but not destroy buildings, European
governments would not accept the bomb’s American promotion. And since
the Comprehensive 1996 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, there has been only 8
more tests, even though it has not been signed and ratified by all
United Nations member states.
Notably, amongst the statistics and her fast-paced depiction of nuclear
weapons history, Ms. Fermi informs us of stories that have not made it
into high school textbooks.
Twenty times from 1945 to the end of the Cold War there are documented
incidents where accidental nuclear war was imminent.
In 1957, after the United Kingdom (UK) developed their own atomic bomb,
the peace sign was born from the UK-based Campaign for Nuclear
Disarmament (CND). Few people know that the peace sign, with the circle
representing the earth, is so interlinked with the nuclear disarmament
Dr. Suess, the noted children’s author, wrote “The Butter Battle Book” –
a story about two hostile cultures living on different sides of a wall
which was a satire of the insensibility of arms races in general.
The nuclear physicist who left the Manhattan Project as soon as the
German threat was gone, quit because he believed scientists are
responsible for the consequences of their work. He was subsequently
barred from the United States until 1951. Much of the remainder of his
life’s work, until his death in 2005, was within the context of a
campaign for nuclear disarmament and the use of nuclear energy for
peaceful purposes. His name was Jozef Rotblat.
The “Cold War Warriors”, including George Schultz and Henry Kissinger,
have called for a world free of nuclear weapons on Jan 4th, 2007, which
represents a complete turn-around from their positions when the Soviet
Union was intact.
Olivia Fermi is a convincing and determined speaker. is one which echoes that of her grandmother’s work in environmental activism. For all of us she hopes that we will experience a rekindling in our belief in the nuclear disarmament movement and power of citizens behind it. Her optimistic tone, that with change lies opportunity, keeps us hopeful that with monumental work, and dialogue, there will be positive outcomes to global issues like the proliferation of nuclear