George Arbatov, a member of the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee, rolled his hound-dog eyes upward and said the world has survived the last 35 years only through "sheer luck."
Robert J. Lifton, an American psychiatrist from Yale, peered over his spectacles to observe that people have made it through those years only by "living a double life," by using "psychic numbing" to blot out the reality that megadeath is just around the corner at all times.
Prof. George kistiakowsky, who dealt with the politics of building The Bomb as President Eisenhower's science adviser in the '50s, grimly said the world and its people are unlikely to make it into the 21st century without a nuclear disaster.
The scene was Airlie House, a quiet lodge in the serene Virginia countryside light years from the saber-rattling of the Pentagon and the Kremlin, a short drive from the ground zero of downtown Washington.
The timing was just about as unlikely. Soviet-American relations, escalating from Afghanistan to talk of limited nuclear wars to massive increases in defense budgets, seemed as tense as any time since the height of the Cold War.
But at Airlie House, Soviet and American doctors were talking about what their governments won't talk about -- nuclear war. The occasion was the first annual conference of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, with more than 75 doctors from nine nations agreeing that preventive medicine was the only cure for the nuclear-arms disease.
Russian doctors said the disease has become too complex for political leaders to grasp. American psychiatrists said the "wonderful complexity" of the human brain would make it simple for president or missileman, premier or Soviet submarine captain, to turn the doomsday keys.
They agreed on almost everthing -- except, ocsasionally, what Soviet psychiatrist M. E. Vartanyan called "the chicken and the egg." In this case the chicken and the egg was not a question of which came first but who will stop first.
The doctors met with the intention of keeping politics out of their conference while trying nevertheless to give it some political meaning. That was not always easy.
When asked if public opinion could sway Soviet Leaders the way the American doctors clearly hoped to sway American politicians, Arbatov answered that Soviet leaders did not need swaying. Arbatov is a humorous man -- a man who grinned as he got off lines like "physicians of the world unite!" -- but he did not sound like he was joking.
E. I. Chazov, Soviet Premier Leonid I. Brezhnev's physician, said doctors should not play politics. When he made his keynote speech, he said the world could conquer malaria for one-third the cost of a Trident submarine.
When a reporter jokingly asked Chazov why he used the Trident as an example, he jokingly replied, "Oh, please write it Typhoon." The Typhoon is the Soviet equivalent of the new U.S. submarine. But then he felt compelled to add that on the Trident and the Typhoon he knew the answer to the riddle of the chicken and the egg.
"If your government starts building another thing," Chazov said, "we shall respond accordingly."
So it went, with Arbatov telling the conference that the Soviet Union felt the bomb at Hiroshima was aimed at Russia as much as Japan and the chicken then followed the egg which followed the chicken.
Still, the doctors were doing more than their governments were doing. They talked for three days at Airlie House -- one day in public before rolling television cameras, two more days in private as they groped for a way past dialectics and differences to get at their common ground.
That common ground was that The Bomb was more than the world could handle, an ailment for which the healers would never find a cure.
They planned a press conference this morning to issue resolutions and the sorts of things the conferences issue.
Although it was meant in anything but that way, the first annual conference of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War seemed like a nostalgic return to the '50s, the symbolic final signal that the not-so-good-old-days of missile gaps and accelerating arms races are back again. And with them ban-the-bomb conferences.
But the disease was so threatening, said Dr. Eric Chivian, an MIT psychiatrist who helped organize the meeting, he needed to try to do something if for no other reason than to relieve his own anxiety.