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Remembering Victor W. Sidel

January 31, 2018

Victor W. Sidel, MD, a founder and president of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), a former co-president of IPPNW, and one of the world’s foremost experts on the medical consequences of nuclear war, died on January 30, 2018. Dr. Sidel was Chair of the Department of Social Medicine at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx from 1969-1985. He then became Distinguished University Professor of Social Medicine at Montefiore and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. In 1985 he was elected President of the American Public Health Association.  He was the author of numerous books and articles about the human consequences of war, international health, and the impact of poverty and deprivation on health and well being, including War and Public Health and Terrorism and Public Health, both co-edited with long-time collaborator Barry Levy.

Vic Sidel started influencing my life years before I met him or would even recognize his name. The high school debate topic in 1965 was whether nuclear weapons should be controlled by an international organization. My debate team partner and I spent countless hours in the New York Public Library, compiling facts, expert opinions, and useful quotes on hundreds of 3×5 index cards. At some point we struck gold—a series of articles in a prominent medical journal about the effects of nuclear weapons. Not only did we have some powerful material for developing arguments in favor of nuclear arms control, but we came to dread the occasions when the luck of the draw forced us to make the case for the other side. How could anyone with half a conscience defend or even tolerate weapons that could incinerate entire cities of people in a matter of moments, we wondered.

Victor W. Sidel, of course, was one of the lead authors of those groundbreaking articles in the New England Journal of Medicine, and when we finally met in the 1980s, he became a mentor and a lifelong friend. For more than 25 years, Vic was the first person I called to make sure I had my facts and arguments straight. Vic demanded scientific accuracy, but more to the point, he knew instinctively that moral leadership on issues of peace, social justice, public health, and human rights required scientific accuracy. And he stood out as a moral leader and advocate for the best in humanity during a career that spanned some 60 years.

Vic was brilliant, determined, organized, fearless, and uncompromising in his stand against nuclear weapons, all forms of armed violence, and the injustices that are so often at the root of war. He was also an extraordinarily warm and gracious man, with a wonderful and mischievous sense of humor. He and his wife Ruth, from whom he was inseparable, welcomed delegations of IPPNW activists to their home whenever we came to the UN to lobby for nuclear disarmament or against trafficking in small arms and other weapons of war.

Tilman Ruff and I visited Vic last March, several months after Ruth’s untimely death and just a week or so before his family brought him to Colorado for what would be the last year of his full and remarkable life. We were able to tell him that the UN was on the verge of adopting a treaty banning nuclear weapons, and that his life’s work had created the foundation for this landmark achievement. My final memory of Vic is the look of joy on his face as we gave him that news. I’ve had the privilege of knowing Vic Sidel, working alongside him, and calling him my friend. He has my eternal love and respect.

  1. Colin Butler permalink
    February 3, 2018 11:55 am

    So sorry to hear of this, My condolences to his friends and family. Vic was very encouraging about one of my students, whose PhD linked climate change, health and conflict.

  2. Ime John permalink
    February 2, 2018 11:52 am

    I was shocked to read about the passing on of our indefatigable Professor Victor Sidel. I am lost with words on how to begin.
    From the 1991 Stockholm congress and his election as the Co-President at the 1993 world congress in Mexico. Professor Sidel stood to be engaging and productive in the pursuit of a world free from nuclear weapons.
    Deeply friendly across all races, creed and age. Victor Sidel will always participate in almost all activities of IPPNW including those of IANSA. The United Nations headquarters was his usual point to interact, contribute and encourage the younger generations to campaign for the abolition of nuclear weapons and eliminate the scourges of small arms and light weapons.
    A Liberian diplomat we invited to the Abuja African Regional conference in 2003 pleaded with me to extend his appreciation to Professor Sidel who facilitated the medical management of his wounds sustain during the bloody Liberian war. As a temporary Refugee he was treated free of charge at Montefiore Medical Center, Bronz, NY auspices of Professor Sidel.
    Another impressive occasion was at Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Herman gave me some books to take to Professor Sidel in New York. One of those books was the extensive work Professor Victor Sidel and Ruth Sidel documented in China.
    Professor Sidel was hospitable at his home and outside his home. I have had meals with him at his former University and elsewhere. A distinguished Scholar and estimable gentleman have left us.
    I will miss a Mentor and a Referee of many years. May his soul rest in Peace.
    Sad Ime
    This message and photos of myself and Late Prof. Sidel was inituially sent to John Loretz and Michael Christ few days ago.

  3. Daniel Deykin permalink
    February 1, 2018 4:14 pm

    I first met Vic when we were first year students at Harvard Medical School in 1957. We soon became fast friends. He was Best man at my wedding,and I was his when he married Ruth. He inducted me into PSR,and stood as my life-long guide for social justice For years we played bridge together in Brookline and Bethesda. We called each other every New Year’s Eve. Ruth and Vic were our closest friends. We were devastated first by his sudden illness,then Ruth’s death. My wife,Eva, died last November. Their memories are a precious consolation.
    Dan Deykin

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