— Bernard Lown American cardiologist developer of the DC defibrillator and the cardioverter, as well as a recipient of the Nobel Pe... 1921
Context: The hope of a benevolent civilization was shattered in the blood-soaked trenches of the First World War. The "war to end all wars" claimed sixteen million lives, and left embers which kindled an even more catastrophic conflagration.
Over the sorry course of 5,000 years of endless conflicts, some limits had been set on human savagery. Moral safeguards proscribed killing unarmed civilians and health workers, poisoning drinking waters, spreading infection among children and the disabled, and burning defenseless cities. But the Second World War introduced total war, unprincipled in method, unlimited in violence, and indiscriminate in victims. The ovens of Auschwitz and the atomic incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki inscribed a still darker chapter in the chronicle of human brutality. The prolonged agony which left 50 million dead did not provide an enduring basis for an armistice to barbarism. On the contrary, arsenals soon burgeoned with genocidal weapons equivalent to many thousands of World War II's.
The advent of the nuclear age posed an unprecedented question: not whether war would exact yet more lives but whether war would preclude human existence altogether.