It started with a quote my brother found in a book he was reading, “The Sense of an Ending” by Julian Barnes: “History, that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”
Think about it.
It struck me as particularly insightful, and I sent it on to an old friend from college. She responded with a quote of her own, and our exchange continued. Since she is more widely traveled than I am, her quotes became rather far-reaching and exotic.
For instance, “In every kitchen, they’re cooking beans.” Apparently, this is an old Spanish proverb. She had to explain it to me; it has something to do with being suspicious. I still don’t get it, but one quote she didn’t have to explain came from “Let The Great World Spin” by Colum McCann: “The only thing you need to know about war, son, is: Don’t go.”
My apologies to the loyal men and women who volunteer to serve our country, but my Quaker instincts tell me McCann is right. Don’t go!
Violence begets violence, especially today when even the threat of armed conflict could trigger a nuclear exchange.
My most recent offering came from Albert Einstein. He spoke the following lines on national television just after President HArry Truman announced that the United States would begin work on a H-bomb. “Every step” he said, “appears as the unavoidable consequences of the preceding one. In the end, there beckons more and more clearly general annihilation.”
This quote appears in “Command And Control,” an exceptionally well-documented history of nuclear weapons. Not the kind of book I want to read right now, but it’s my job as a board member of Nuclear Watch South to keep up with these things.
No one knows for sure how many nuclear bombs there are in the world today. Their exact number and location are closely guarded secrets of the nine nations that possess them. But various organizations track this kind of information and agree there are probably more than 17,000, many on high-alert status and ready to fire. This means with the passage of time, an accidental launch is almost certain.
I’m sure Times readers understand what a single modern thermonuclear bomb could do. We know, but we block it out, and thus, as Einstein said over 50 years ago, the human race drifts toward annihilation.
I could tell horror stories about accidents and near launches, about the poor conditions and poor moral of the men in our underground missal-launch bunkers and about the brinksmanship that occurs at the highest level of governments around the world, but it would be counterproductive. Fear and resignation are our worst enemies. On the other hand, denial is not an option.
Our task now, as individuals and as human beings, is to come up with ways to change the course we are on. And yes, that means a certain amount of radical change. When Pope Francis said “unfettered capitalism” is a form of tyranny, he was accused of being a Marxist, but the pope wasn’t suggesting we become Marxists, only that we need to redirect our economic system away from greater corporate profit and toward worldwide social needs.
If humanitarian concerns don’t move you, consider the cost. According to Reuters News Service, the U.S. plans to spend approximately $355 billion modernizing our nuclear arsenal in the next 10 years. Furthermore, the cost is not just dollars and cents. Living under the threat of nuclear annihilation is demoralizing.
Last quote: “Every ... (weapon) that is made is ... a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. A world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of it children. ... It is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.” — Dwight Eisenhower.
Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.