Web Letters

Web Letters


Washington, DC


We publish below a sampling of recent reader mail concerning dirty bombs and Chernobyl, WMDs in Iraq, free expression in the Peace Corps and Senator Robert Byrd.


Washington, DC

While Paul Webster should be applauded for highlighting the neglect of follow-up research on the victims of Chernobyl in his June 8 Nation web article, his introduction may leave readers confused about important distinctions between nuclear weapons, radiological or “dirty” bombs, and reactor accidents.

When Chernobyl reactor number four ran out of control on April 26, 1986, a series of two explosions took place. The first was a steam explosion that blew the top off the reactor, and the second, which came two minutes later, may very well have been an explosion of the reactor fuel itself, that is, a low-grade nuclear explosion. But whatever its cause, the power plant accident was qualitatively different from a “massive nuclear explosion,” and it generated a much smaller explosive yield.

The article also states, “You could call it the dirtiest bomb of all,” but Chernobyl is on a vastly different scale from that of a radiological weapon. A plausible radiological bomb would release, at most, thousands of times less radiation than Chernobyl and would more likely release a million times less.

With much public debate swirling around the threat of “dirty” bombs and “loose nukes,” it is crucial to make clear distinctions between these types of events to avoid unnecessarily inflaming public fear.

Federation of American Scientists
Strategic Security Project


Moscow, Russia

Although I thank the Federation of American Scientists for its praise for my work, I must say I am surprised the FAS seems to be downplaying the significance of the Chernobyl nuclear explosion.



Brookline, NH

Bush’s current frantic search for WMDs is virtually admitting he lied to the American people when he used WMDS as a pretext for war.

If he really had sufficient evidence for their existence before invading Iraq, he should present that evidence now. Why search for more evidence now if he really had sufficient evidence before the war? There’s no need to search for further evidence if you already have sufficient evidence.

This is an obvious ploy to fool the American people a second time about WMD. If he finds WMD tomorrow, he’ll claim: “There’s your evidence.” But finding weapons now won’t show he had sufficient evidence before sending our troops to die.

If the media and Congress had any integrity, they’d push for the evidence he supposedly had before the war. Trying to use after-the-fact evidence to justify this war is clearly admitting he didn’t have sufficient before-the-fact evidence and thus was lying to the American people.

If Bush really had sufficient evidence for WMD before the war, he could have simply given it to the inspectors in Iraq, and Saddam would have been proven a big liar. Who’s the big liar here?


Studio City, CA

I would like to see a story about why Saddam didn’t use WMDs. The two mantras of the Bush Administration leading up to the invasion were “he has WMDs” and “he is a madman.” So, if that’s the case, and he is being invaded by the most powerful force in the history of the planet, why didn’t he use them? How are they going to spin this fact? He wanted to make Bush look bad? He actually is a humanitarian? Go for it.



Annapolis, MD

One of the strengths of the Peace Corps program is that it is apolitical. Asking PC members to refrain from political demonstrations is not infringing their First Amendment rights.

Those rights, and the right to be a PC member, also entail responsibilities. When you become a member of PC, you voluntarily agree to behave in a way that is for the greater good of the entire organization. This includes not just political activity but personal behavior that is not offensive to the host country. You know what you’re signing on for. Your choice. If you don’t agree with the rules, don’t sign up.


Louisville, KY

I am a returned Peace Corps volunteer from 1968-70, Bolivia. It was very clear to me back then, as now, that the oath and duty of Peace Corps Volunteers clearly precluded our “rights” to take political positions. During training we were clearly advised about this and made aware that we lost our First Amendment rights when we went on a “work visa” to a foreign country. We had no rights to use embassy facilities, and we were not allowed to participate in international politics of any kind.

We were and are fully funded by the federal government, the US taxpayers, and it is our duty to refrain from political action, either for or against the US government, or for or against any foreign government. We are to be nonpolitical, fully committed to doing our service for the people of another host country.

Volunteers who choose to demonstrate or become involved in politics should be immediately removed from the host country. Any such action to demonstrate is an abuse of taxpayer money and a failure to fulfill the stated purposes of the Peace Corps.



Park Rapids, MN

My thanks for your publishing the speeches of Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia cannot remain unexpressed.

It is remarkable that this man has traversed such varied territory of thought and action during his long service in our nation’s Senate. The road is long from segregationist views decades ago to today’s enlightened worldview that bespeaks the mind and soul of a sterling statesman, but Senator Byrd has traversed that long road with grace and brilliance across the decades of his pilgrimage.

One marvels that this sturdy octogenarian day after day flags not, nor retreats under fire, as he calls this Bush Administration to account for its unilateral pre-emptive war against Iraq, a war that has the potential to unravel large segments of international law.

Has the timeliness of our nation’s tradition ever been more eloquently expressed? Have quotations from the classical tradition in ancient Rome and Athens ever been more aptly employed? I think not. May the clarity and energy of his vision catch fire among us all. And may the Senate and the House learn from him and act accordingly.


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