The Stylized Rantings of Helen Caldicott

IndyMedia.Org ran a speech back in March featuring Helen Caldicott ranting and raving as only she can. Caldicott belongs to a special group of ranters and ravers because some of what she says makes a great deal of sense, but then she goes off on some nutball idea. At one point, for example, Caldicott completely misunderstood NASA releases about the space shuttle and was campaigning to stop shuttle launches on the grounds that just a small number of launches would completely destroy the ozone layer. Her latest speech contains many such gems.

The speech, delivered at an anti-war teach-in, starts off with completely nonsensical ravings about violence and evolution.

What is the attraction of killing? What evolutionary situation necessitated that the killing reflex be located in the human (male?s) brain? I believe it started when we were Troglodites [?]. The world was hostile in those days, full of saber-tooth tigers, mammoth elephants and roaring tribes. While women sat in caves breast-feeding and nurturing their young., the males quickly learned to protect their genes by aggression and killing. This innate instinct led to the survival of the fittest, where the human race eventually dominated and conquered nature –indeed we have.

. . .

It was then that I realized that when the scent of blood metaphorically enters the male nostril, it triggers the psychological imperative to kill ? a primitive autonomic reflex located in the male midbrain. This must be a relic of their Troglidaic [?] days.

What the hell is she talking about? She is so wrong on so many counts, it is difficult to know where to begin.

First, of course, it is incorrect to assume that women do not have any instincts or abilities which would lead them to kill. The idea that men went out hunting and killing while women sat around in caves all day is a vision closer to the Flintstones than the reality of the human evolutionary past.

Second, humans are a product of the “survival of the fittest” — it is not something invented by a bunch of violent cave men sitting around with nothing better to do. Moreover what allowed human beings to dominate the globe (at least from our point of view) was not innate aggression. If that’s all it took to dominate, there are certainly other species that are much superior to human beings on that count. Rather, what guaranteed human dominate was our extended levels of cooperation which allowed men and women to organize themselves into ever more complex social structure capable of carrying out increasingly complex tasks. In Caldicott’s vision it’s hard to see how agriculture would ever develop if males are too busy killing each other and women breast feeding to do much else.

Violence and killing is condoned by societies dominated by male values, while the 53% of the population made up by women also condones this psychotic behavior by their silence.

This, of course, is simply regurgitating centuries old stereotypes about men as inherently aggressive and women as inherently passive. Caldicott faces a problem in both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a majority of American women favored going to war. Better to pretend that their simply puppets of a society “dominated by male values” than dig down further.

Oddly enough, when Caldicott does urge women to action, she uses an imagery of violence,

Now 53% of us are women. We’ve had the majority and we’ve been absolute wimps. And it’s time we smacked their bottoms, removed them, and we took over. I’m not just joking — this isn’t funny. I am deadly serious.

Caldicott is still trapped by the increasingly irrelevant nuclear disarmament movement. With the end of the cold war, the likelihood of a huge exchange of nuclear weapons between Russia and the United States diminished and the nuclear disarmament movement seems to have all but disappeared. Caldicott is still trapped in that time period, though, and desperately needs to update her facts.

There is a huge fallout shelter in Virginia; all the members of Congress are allowed to go in the event of a nuclear war, except a nuclear war only takes a half hour to complete and they won’t have time to get there. It’s huge, full of hospitals and everything. Interestingly, congresspeople can’t take their wives, they can only take their secretaries.

Apparently Caldicott is unaware that, a) some Members of Congress are women — a very odd oversight given her trumpeting of women, and b) the fallout shelter she referred to can be visited by anyone since it was closed in the mid-1990s and turned into a tourist attraction. This is the shelter beneath the Greenbriar Hotel, and you can find information about touring it here. The existence of the shelter, which was exposed by a 1992 story in the Washington Post has been widely reported and the hotel featured on pretty much every television news magazine I can think of

What is most interesting about Caldicott’s speech, however, is less what she says than what she doesn’t say. She talks about violence-loving Christian fundamentalists in the White House and the intense destruction of warfare, but the reader living in a cave would hear Caldicott’s speech and think that Sept. 11 was simply the day that Cheney started “living in a fallout shelter.” Similarly she is big on talking about women as some amorphous group, but doesn’t venture a single word about the life of women under a dictatorship such as that of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

And Caldicott’s analysis of violence ultimately fails because she never comes to grip with the correct answer to why human beings were prepared by evolution to engage in violence. The answer, of course, is that sometimes violence and war are the solutions to the problems facing us. Certainly human beings have too frequently used violence and war and often for unjust reasons, but the view that violence and war are always and everywhere immoral is absurd.


Men: Natural Born Killers. Helen Caldicott, FrontPageMagazine.Com, March 17, 2003.

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