The Doomsday Clock
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 7 Jan 2019
2 Jan 2019 – Looking back at 2018, we see progress in all of the areas of a culture of peace except one: disarmament, and in particular nuclear disarmament.
Symbolic of this, last year the “doomsday clock” of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists was reset to only two minutes before midnight, the shortest it has been since 1953!
An accompanying article recalls a 1982 television film depicting the effects of a nuclear war on a Kansas town which was viewed by 100 million people and which helped inspire President Ronald Reagan to reach a disarmament agreement with Russian President Gorbachev a few years later. The author of the article concludes:
“There are striking parallels between the security situations today and 35 years ago, with one major discordance: Today, nuclear weapons are seldom a front-burner concern, largely being forgotten, underestimated, or ignored by the American public. The United States desperately needs a fresh national conversation about the born-again nuclear arms race—a conversation loud enough to catch the attention of the White House and the Kremlin and lead to resumed dialogue.”
This reminds me of a novel that I wrote back in 1965 called simply “PEACE.” Like many of my generation I was greatly troubled by the Cuban missile crisis a few years before which served as a wake-up call that we could destroy our entire civilization with a nuclear war. So I wrote a novel imagining that a series of accidental nuclear explosions and the threat of nuclear blackmail, combined with a peace movement centered around “Peace News” (much like CPNN), led eventually to a World Peace Treaty and nuclear disarmament.
More recently, in 2011, I came back to this theme in a two-act theatre play called “Freud’s Last Death” which takes place in the 1986 in a bunker buried deep below ground in what was then the Soviet Union. We meet Colonel Stanislav Petrov, retired from the Soviet Air Defense Forces, who refused to launch a nuclear attack against the West despite the fact that the radar showed missiles on the way to destroy the Soviet Union. That part of the play reflects an actual event. We carried two articles about this in CPNN, in 2004 and again in 2012, and a film about it was released in 2014. Petrov died in 2017, and his story remains relatively unknown. Symbolically, it seems, even the links in the CPNN articles are no longer valid.
In the play we also meet Sigmund Freud, whose brain has been kept alive by a scientific “miracle,” and we question him about his belief that humanity is condemned because of a “death instinct.” At the time of the play, Gorbachev and Reagan are meeting in Iceland where they will reach agreement for the most important nuclear disarmament initiative in history. The danger of a nuclear war was reduced, but not eliminated,.
The play concludes:
The “initial disarmament agreements have been overcome by a new arms race. There are now over 30,000 nuclear weapons under the control of nine states, with other states planning to manufacture them. A global nuclear war would still risk the destruction of all life on the planet. And as for the death instinct, scientists still do not know if it exists or not.”
Here we are, entering 2019, without progress towards nuclear disarmament.
Will humanity survive until 2020? Or will the nightmare of nuclear war intervene?
It’s time to wake up!
Dr. David Adams is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment and coordinator of the Culture of Peace News Network. He retired in 2001 from UNESCO where he was the Director of the Unit for the UN International Year for the Culture of Peace. Previously, at Yale and Wesleyan Universities, he was a specialist on the brain mechanisms of aggressive behavior, the history of the culture of war, and the psychology of peace activists, and he helped to develop and publicize the Seville Statement on Violence. Send him an email.
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