Sunday, July 21, 2019

Nuclear Weapons: Why "Imagine the Worst"?

Corpses floating down Motoyasu River
(‘A-bomb Drawings by Survivors’, by Mr. Haruo Ikegame)
(Source: Memoir of the A-bombing: The Devastated City, Hiroshima)

The flood continued forty days and the waters rose and lifted the ship high over the Earth. The waters kept rising, the flood deepened on the Earth, the ship floated on the surface. The flood got worse until all the highest mountains were covered -- the high-water mark reached twenty feet above the crest of the mountains. Everything died. Anything that moved -- dead. Birds, farm animals, wild animals, the entire teeming exuberance of life -- dead. And all people -- dead. Every living, breathing creature that lived on dry land died; he wiped out the whole works -- people and animals, crawling creatures and flying birds, every last one of them, gone. Only Noah and his company on the ship lived.

The floodwaters took over for 150 days.

- Genesis 7:17-24
(translation from The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language by Eugene H. Peterson)

Since the beginning of the nuclear age, the world has faced a dilemma of imagination.

On the one hand, there are those who say that, yes, we can -- and must -- do the work necessary to imagine how horrible the consequences of nuclear bombs are. The quintessential representative of this school of thought is John Hersey, who wrote the classic account of the first nuclear attack, Hiroshima.

On the other hand, there are those who say that any attempt to put the experience into words falls far short of reality or of what is needed. Mary McCarthy, for instance, wrote a critique of Hersey's Hiroshima on these grounds.

What makes it a dilemma, of course, is that if we can't imagine the reality of nuclear weapons, we can't do anything about getting rid of them. And the fact that, in a few days, we will observe the 74th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima in a world still teeming with nuclear weapons raises the question: what accounts for our failure of imagination?

The people who created the Noah story used their imaginations. They worked with what they knew -- lesser floods -- to try to imagine: what might happen? How bad could it be, if the worst happened?  As a result, for millennia every child has known the story of The Flood.

It is ironic that those ancient storytellers were able to do so much with so little, and yet we -- who can easily call up seemingly endless images of the consequences of nuclear bombs with a quick Internet search -- do so little with so much.

The "Back From the Brink" campaign to prevent nuclear war will require many types of skill and many forms of work. Not the least will be the exercise of our imaginations.

Next NOAH post
Previous NOAH post
All NOAH posts

Related post:

The topic of remembering and forgetting is essential to the truth of the film, and to the experience of activists working to abolish nuclear weapons. We won't live if we can't manage to forget, and yet we won't live if we don't manage to remember. (See Are We All "Children of Hiroshima"? )

No comments:

Post a Comment