Thursday, November 24, 2005

Somewhat dark thoughts on history

We have reached a comfortable plateau in the West: there is unprecendented wealth, unprecedented material progress, internal peace, societies where people can concentrate in their private matters, relationships, amusements – we can forget history even if still subject to biology and accident. Yes, there are the occasional follies of imperial adventures, worries on terrorist attacks and weapons of mass destruction, and on the horizon rise majestically the warning signs of environmental collapses to come, of climate change, pandemics, natural disasters. But at the moment things are fine: we have recovered from the nightmares of the world wars and the looming, oppressive threat of the Cold War one day turning hot and ending the whole world with it (suprisingly little is nowadays said or remembered of that atavistic fear that endured for so long time). No matter, we are now comfortable.

And it is so obvious to see that even in this fragile stability the engine of history has been blind passion, not reason. Capitalism has proven to be the mechanism that can use our base, grasping human nature for a kind of general advancement, for a kind of stability and progress – fundamentally, of course, based on unstability, on purely materialistic values, on this blind competition for growth and profit. So far it has worked: we have advanced, not because of our ethics and moral dispositions but despite of them. That advancement no doubt won’t last for ever. But aside from that immediate point, history looms very dark: at heart we are still animals, still mortally afraid of the night, acting reflexively to gain short term security and comfort, motivated by passion, not reason, being subject to biology and accident. With this world, these tools, this cleverness and these blind, destructive instincts: for how long can our luck hold?

2 comments:

helsinkian said...

Thanks for another poetic post. We have been lucky to avoid a nuclear war. Yet we often forget Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The actual experience of nuclear bombs falling on cities was what made that atavistic fear of the end of the world so real. Even if Japan survived, the world survived and life goes on, the fear of other cities falling victim of war in that unimaginable way is still real. India vs. Pakistan could easily provide a worse scenario than that. At this moment, I'm quite optimistic about Musharraf and his relationship with India but a nutjob could start a nuclear war in many countries. Weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists is the worst threat imaginable and no-one is safe from that.

Now President Truman made that fateful decision to drop the atomic bombs in 1945. He's one of the Presidents I appreciate the most, not nutjob at all. I guess he chose between Japanese children dying for years as a result of radiation and plenty of American soldiers dying in battle. Maybe he even didn't know what he was choosing between. Maybe if he hadn't shown how bad the bombs are someone else would have been quick to use them. Still, it was a dark moment in history that ended the apocalypse. How can it be that a statesman I respect so much and who was in no way stupid could go to such extremes? Was dropping the atomic bomb simply another event in the war comparable to the bombings of Dresden or Tokyo? Wasn't one bomb needed if that weapon had to be used? Is people dying of cancer for years after the war is over comparable to the usual effect of landmines after any war? Too many questions without answers.

Yes, military defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan was hugely important. It was the only way for the free world to remain free. But didn't Nagasaki, if not Hiroshima learn a lesson? I mean overreacting in an issue of such magnitude is too much of playing God, even if it was about a defensive war. I think a civilized nation should never, ever drop atomic bombs again. That should be rule number one in any war. Goal number one in the war on terror should be preventing terrorists from getting access to nuclear weapons. I'm not at all convinced that this issue is being taken seriously despite all the talk.

stockholm slender said...

Yes, the WMD are such a nightmare. I hope I would have more trust in the humankind not ending up using them. But I don't much have it. The Western Self/Other dynamic is getting more destructive all the time, escalations follow each other. With these trends it seems to be only a matter of time.