U.S. Patriarchy and the Bomb
ANGLO AMERICA, 24 Aug 2020
17 Aug 2020 – August 11, 1945 is a date few remember. We commemorate Pearl Harbor, “the day that shall live in infamy”; we shudder to recall Hiroshima; we remember Dunkirk, and Normandy; great battles from the Civil War are even re-enacted. But August 11, 1945, the day the Japanese surrendered, is little noted. People cried and laughed and hugged each other in the streets. A long terrible war that had cost some 70 million lives had finally ended.
A proud President Truman claimed the atomic bombing of Hiroshima-Nagasaki had ended the war, saving a million American lives, a number his adviser McGeorge Bundy, pulled out of a hat, according to historian Kai Bird, who documented their conversation in his book, The Chairman: John J. McCloy & The Making of the American Establishment.
Our history books continue to reiterate this myth as fact. Yet we now know, thanks to painstaking research by Gar Alperovitz in The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb (1996) and since confirmed by a suite of historians, the Japanese were prepared to surrender before the bombing, and Truman knew it. Other motives, which had little to do with Japan, and the dogged insistence of Secretary of State James Byrnes, prevailed.
When others tried to prevent it, Truman admitted that he was reluctant to tell the American people that the government had spent over $2 billion on a secret project to invent a “gadget” he did not use, saving face at the cost of 140,000 civilian lives.
More compelling was the fear of the Soviet threat. In deliberations of the Interim Committee (transcribed in Richard Rhodes’ classic tome, The Making of the Atomic Bomb) Byrnes role is clear. Soviet encroachments into Eastern Europe had given credence to those fears. Byrnes persuaded Truman that the communists had to be stopped lest they destroy us. Using the bomb would show who was boss.
Alas, the subsequent development of 70,000 additional bombs at tremendous cost to both nations failed to secure the peace in the ensuing Cold War. The US and USSR conducted some two thousand nuclear tests, including the malevolent peacetime attack on the Marshall Islands. The history of nuclear weapons, like recorded history in general, continued to be punctuated with horrific instances of cruelty, devastation, slaughter and all conceivable forms of torture. Seventy-five years after Hiroshima many Americans continue to believe Russia is still our enemy, and maybe China too. Meanwhile the drum beats on, and grisly wars continue to flare up all over the globe, while the competition between nations seeking to build a bomb of their own undermines any illusions we might have that we are secure; and those who put their faith in the theory of deterrence insist that a hefty nuclear force is the way to prevent another world war, read nuclear world war.
After many treaties between the two main competitors (there were no others) the number of weapons arsenals were much reduced. New START lowered the total to 14,000 missiles, mostly held by Russia and US. But now the US nuclear buildup is swelling again, and in response we are seeing a surge of nuclear weapons development amongst the nine nuclear nations, stimulated by Obama’s 10-year-plan to “modernize” the force and accelerated by Trump, who has also suggested that the US might undertake resume nuclear weapons which had ended in 1992; and Congress has authorized $10 million toward this end. “What’s the use of having nuclear weapons if you can’t use them?” he famously whined during his campaign for the presidency. He has since dismantled a number of critical treaties.
We are closer to nuclear war than ever before. Citing growing international tensions and a reckless American leader, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists in January revealed their “Doomsday Clock” showing it is now 100 seconds to midnight, closer at Armageddon than at any time during the Cold War.
What are we to conclude about our country and our species from this 75-year flirtation with the means of ultimate, global destruction? I’ve heard many people, especially men respond by saying, You’ll never get rid of war. War has always been here. It’s human nature. But what if it isn’t?
Certainly the picture is chilling. It’s hard to find words to portray the situation we in which we find ourselves. The reality is so overwhelming that we want to run and hide; and in fact, we do run, we do hide. We are good at running, at hiding. Running after bland “hopes,” striving to “be positive” and rejecting all negative views, we dare not look at the enemy charging at our heels, nor the ditch into which we are being propelled. It will all work out in the end. In the by and by.
What is preventing us from taking the bull of doom by the horns. Is this, too, human nature?
There may be many explanations, but here I would like to look at two. They are so intertwined as to be almost inseparable. The first is the belief that people are basically bad. The second is patriarchy.
Buddhism holds the view that people are basically good. The practices of meditation and dharma study are intended awaken the basic goodness that is already there. Spiritual teachers coming to America find that the pervasive belief in human badness is an obstacle to awakening.
We, the children of Christian and Jewish monotheism, have been imprinted since birth with the notion of our inadequacy. That notion can be traced back to our religions, even if our families are not serious churchgoers. The great Western religions teach that we, imperfect beings, are tainted with sin from birth, either because of the sin of copulation, or original sin we inherit from Adam and Eve’s fateful mistake. We must repent and pray and give money to the church to be redeemed.
Patriarchy supports this view. It harbors capitalism, racism, colonialism, imperialism, fascism, materialism, and spawns inequality and violence; it favors individualism, competition, wealth, success, and devalues those who are poor for their personal failures. Patriarchy is a system that sees nature as a force to be conquered, consumed, and discarded. Its fundamental premise is the inferiority of women. As women have begun to demand their equality, the patriarchal net has begun to fray; yet its unconsciously held assumptions and values linger.
But it has not always been thus.
All scriptures speak of another time long ago, a heaven on earth where angels played, and gods and goddesses walked among men. The Greek poet Hesiod called it the golden age. In India, too, the four stages of human existence represent a descent from that golden age. Blue Krishna plays his flute in the garden as beautiful women called gopis dance. Shambhala refers to an ancient mythological land of “enlightened society.” The fairy tale land of happiness, Shangri-la, is shrouded behind mists. Creation stories of Indian peoples also tell of a time when people lived with respect and beauty. The Golden Age is followed by decline.
The Bible portrays an earthly paradise too, but the end was abrupt. Our ancestors were expelled for succumbing to temptation by the devil disguised as a snake and a woman as weak as she was beautiful. This is the legacy of sin from which we can never escape. Our fate is sealed, again, by our basic badness. We can only hope to return to Paradise in the afterlife.
What if the old myths of a golden age have some basis in fact? What if there really was a time when humans lived together in peace? Decades of archaeological study has unearthed mounting evidence that there were such cultures, in Eastern Europe, the Near East, and parts of Asia during the upper Paleolithic and into the Neolithic. Although there is no written record, the art and artifacts that remain have shown an egalitarian way of life that persisted for hundreds, even thousands of years.
There is no evidence of weapons.
In these indigenous, original cultures, people practiced earth-based religions. They worshiped Nature, the Mother of all Life. And they honored the human mother who gave them birth. They worshiped the life-giving power of the female. They worshiped life.
Elinor W. Gadon writes, in her classic book, The Once and Future Goddess:
“Before the onslaught of patriarchy and the suppression of the Goddess, all that lived was bound into a sacred fabric, “the larger web of the life force,” part of a whole…This integration of the whole has never been achieved in monotheistic religions; rather they have led to an ever accelerating severance of nature from culture bringing us…to the brink of species and planet annihilation. (xii)”
Once, the Mother was our object of worship and source of our guidance. Today we worship the Father (or no one and nothing at all). The two primal forces of creation are apart, separate from each other and clashing. Human relationships struggle, male and female or whatever we call them now in the postmodern re-gendered age) are estranged. Worshiping one or the other – almost never both – we are always in conflict.
We know in our hearts, in that golden age that lives on in our dreams, mother and father belong together. In this third age of the human story, we desperately need them to come into balance, so that they (and we!) may engender the long-awaited divine child who is always waiting somewhere beyond our ken to incarnate: the future – the salvation and redemption of our demented race.
Since there was once a civilization without warfare, we can take heart. Envisioning a better world holds the solution to our dilemma. The outcry against racism and with it the call for a caring society is a welcome sign. The growing numbers of women entering powerful positions also indicates that a feminine force is asserting itself (though successful women are often imbued with patriarchal assumptions). Our attitudes toward nature have begun to shift, from seeing our terrestrial mother as an enemy to one of an ally. We begin to make friends with the indigenous culture our forefathers took such pains to oppress. All these movements of consciousness and practice are seeking to bring the human world into balance.
As we recognize this rise of a more maternal, loving culture within our midst, we can be a little more hopeful of the outcome. But it’s not enough to watch. We can support these movements, and we can amplify our cry of opposition to the various forces that threaten our demise.
Choosing nuclear disarmament in a time of pandemic and climate change would be a good place to start, writes Melvin Goodman in “Trump’s War on Arms Control and Disarmament” freeing millions of dollars for important, needed programs and repair. It could be the foundation of a truly comprehensive “green new deal.” Giving up nuclear weapons could well be the necessary first step toward the reconstruction of our society on a better foundation, one of love.
Stephanie Hiller is a free lance writer who blogs at “Particle Beams”. She is an adjunct instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College, where she teaches autobiographical writing to older adults. She lives in Sonoma.
Tags: Feminism, Green New Deal, Nuclear Abolition, Patriarchy, Peace
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 24 Aug 2020.
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