Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Portraits From Memory, "Chapter" Thirty-One

“Man’s Peril,” pages 233-238

Forget for a moment our tribal loyalties, whether to country or race or ideology, and instead focus on our shared humanity. This common humanity is under great threat. How can we prevent a military calamity that could do untold damage to everyone?

A war involving hydrogen bombs not only would destroy great cities, but the radioactive fallout and consequent disease will make those who are temporarily spared death in the initial blast and inferno envy those whose demise is more sudden. Under modern conditions, war can become the ultimate calamity; those who are most knowledgeable tend to have the most negative assessments of what another war will bring. We are left with a glaring choice, whether we will abolish war or it will abolish us.

Nonetheless, people avoid facing this stark question. They recognize, perhaps, that the abolition of war will constrain national powers. Or perhaps they do not see the immediacy of the question to their own parochial interests. But they can put no faith in banning modern weapons while continuing to valorize war. In a dispute, both sides of the Iron Curtain will find it prudent to maintain, and potentially use, hydrogen bombs. Further, no side wants to appear weak by being the first to renounce war. So, as was the case with potential duelists in the past, the job of arranging an accommodation falls to neutral parties. They should have strong incentives to pursue an East-West rapprochement, given the vulnerability of neutrals should a war break out.

The neutrals can start by setting up a commission that would determine the effects of a nuclear war. They would ask non-neutral governments if they agree or disagree with the findings. This exercise is meant to impress upon everyone the absolute necessity of avoiding nuclear war.

Humanity, in its brief spell on earth, has accomplished wondrous things. “Is our race so destitute of wisdom, so incapable of impartial love, so blind even to the simplest dictates of self-preservation, that the last proof of its silly cleverness is to be the extermination of all life on our planet? – for it will be not only men who will perish, but also the animals, whom no one can accuse of Communism or anti-Communism [p. 238].” (Shades here of "harmless trilobites and butterflies.") Let us overcome our trivial differences, and we can usher in a future far exceeding past glories; “remember your humanity, and forget the rest [p. 238].”

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