Nuclear Weapons and the University of California

Most of us would agree that the primary purpose of a university is to educate students to be compassionate and decent human beings who play a meaningful role in improving society. This is a serious challenge under any circumstances, but particularly in the Nuclear Age when our most destructive technologies are capable of destroying civilization and eliminating the human species.

I believe that a university has a responsibility to educate not only in the classroom, but also to teach by example. A University should teach values of honesty, integrity and compassion. It should not be a tool for propaganda, nor should it send a message to its students that it is acceptable to use powerful weaponry to threaten the annihilation of whole populations. None of us would tolerate holding up genocidal behavior as a model for innocent and open minds.

The involvement of the University of California in the management and oversight of the US nuclear weapons laboratories deserves our consideration. By the University accepting this role – indeed, by seeking it – a message is sent to students that making weapons of mass destruction is a legitimate function of a University. In fact, that’s what the University of California does when it manages the US nuclear weapons laboratories. It legitimizes the worst weapons of mass destruction. As a prestigious public institution, it provides a figleaf of respectability to the labs and the scientists who work in them.

Most of the great nuclear scientists of the 20th century were appalled by the nuclear arms race, which brought into focus the possibility of nuclear annihilation. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki no one can claim ignorance of what nuclear weapons do. At best, they are cowardly weapons that kill indiscriminately. At worst, they will end the human presence on our planet.

Those who lead the UC system have a responsibility to the students, to society and to the future. It is time to say No to the University’s involvement in designing and developing nuclear weapons. The University is in a pivotal position. If it challenges its role in the making of nuclear weapons, it will challenge its students and the society at large to rethink the legitimacy of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons do not make us safer. In fact, reliance on nuclear weapons almost certainly assures that they will proliferate and eventually be used, by accident or design. Should this happen, any US nuclear weapons used will come with a tag that should say, “Made at the University of California.”

I disagree with those who argue that the UC is performing a “national service” by managing the nation’s nuclear weapons laboratories. Quite the opposite: It is prolonging reliance on nuclear weapons. Nor do I agree with those who say that it will be worse if the labs are managed by private enterprise. Already the University is in partnership with Bechtel and other defense contractors in its management of the labs.

The University has not prevented a nuclear arms race nor brought sanity to a world security system based upon Mutually Assured Destruction. To this can now be added the Mutually Assured Delusions of those who hold that nuclear arsenals can be maintained indefinitely without resulting in catastrophe.

Albert Einstein said, “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”

A University is a place where thinking should change. I call upon the Regents of the University of California to educate their students on the extreme dangers of nuclear weapons and the role their University plays in designing and developing these weapons. I call upon the Regents to take a principled stand and help lead us out of the Nuclear Age by severing their relations with the weapons laboratories – institutions that have helped push the human species to the brink of catastrophe.

The motto of the University of California is “Let there be light.” I don’t think the founders of the University had in mind the light of nuclear detonations in which the UC played a central role. I think they had in mind the light of truth and the beauty of education for a better world.

DAVID KRIEGER is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. He is a leader in the global effort to abolish nuclear weapons.


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David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org). 

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