I sit here in the silence of the awakening dawn’s stillness stunned by the realization that I exist. I wonder why. It is my birthday. The first rays of the rising sun bleed crimson over the eastern hills as I imagine my birth. The house and my family sleep.
Someday I will die and I wonder why. This is the mystery I have been contemplating since I was young. That and the fact that I was born in a time of war and that when my parents and sisters were celebrating my first birthday, my country’s esteemed civilian and military leaders celebrated another birth: the detonation of the first atomic bomb code-named Trinity.
Trinity has shadowed my life, while the other Trinity has enkindled my days.
Sick minds play sick word games as they inflict pain and death. They nicknamed this death bomb “the Gadget,” as if it were an innocent little toy. They took and blasphemed the Christian mystery of the Trinity as if they were mocking God, which they were. They thought they were gods.
Now they are all dead gods, their fates sealed in their tombs.
Where are they now?
Where are all their victims, the innocent dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
Where are the just and the unjust?
Where are the living now, asleep or awake as Trinity’s progenitors in Washington, D.C. and the Pentagon prepare their doomsday machines for a rerun, the final first-strike run, the last lap in their race to annihilate all the living? Will they sing as they launch the missiles – “So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good night?”
Joseph Biden, the second Roman Catholic president, while mocking the essence of Jesus’s message, pushes the world toward a nuclear holocaust, unlike JFK, the first Catholic president, who was assassinated by the CIA for pushing for the elimination of nuclear weapons and the end of the Cold War.
The wheel turns. We count the years. We wonder why.
Years ago I started my academic life by writing a thesis entitled “Dealing With Death or Death Dealing.” It was a study of the transformation of cultural symbol systems, death, and nuclear weapons. The last hundred years and more have brought a transformation and disintegration of the traditional religious symbol system – the sacred canopy – that once gave people comfort, meaning, and hope. Science, technology, and nuclear weapons have changed all that. Death has been socially relocated and we live under the nuclear umbrella, a sinister “safeguard” that is cold comfort. The ultimate power of death over all life has been transferred from God to men, those controlling the nuclear weapons. This subject has never left me. I suppose it has haunted me. It is not a jolly subject, but I think it has chosen me.
Was I born in a normal time? Is war time our normal time? It is. I was.
But to be born at a time and place when your country’s leaders were denouncing their German and Japanese enemies as savage war criminals while execrably emulating them and then outdoing them is something else again. With Operation Paperclip following World War II, the United States government secretly brought 1,600 or more Nazi war criminals into the U.S. to run our government’s military, intelligence, space, chemical, and biological warfare programs. We became Nazis. Lewis Mumford put it this way in The Pentagon of Power:
By the curious dialectic of history, Hitler’s enlargement and the refurbishment of the Nazi megamachine gave rise to the conditions for creating those counter-instruments that would conquer it and temporarily wreck it. In short, in the very act of dying the Nazis transmitted their disease to their American opponents; not only the methods of compulsive organization or physical destruction, but the moral corruption that made it feasible to employ those methods without stirring opposition.
There are always excuses for such moral corruption. When during WW II the U.S. firebombed almost all Japanese cities, Dresden and Cologne in Germany, and then dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in gratuitously savage attacks, these were justified and even celebrated as necessary to defeat evil enemies. Just as Nazi war criminals were welcomed into the U.S. government under the aegis of Allen Dulles who became the longest running CIA director and the key to JFK’s assassination and coverup, the diabolic war crimes of the U.S. were swept away as acts of a moral nation fighting a good war. What has followed are decades of U.S. war crimes from Korea through Vietnam and Iraq, etc. A very long list.
The English dramatist Harold Pinter, in his Nobel Address, put it bluntly:
It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.
Nothing could be truer. When in 2014 the U.S. engineered the coup in Ukraine (coups being an American specialty), it allied itself with neo-Nazi forces to oppose Russia. This alliance should have shocked no one; it is the American way. Back in the 1980s when the U.S. was supporting death squads in Central America, Ronald Reagan told the world that “The Contras are the moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers.” Now the Ukrainian president Zelensky is feted as a great hero, Biden telling him in an Oval Office visit that “it’s an honor to be by your side.” Such alliances are not anomalies but the crude reality of U. S. history.
But let me return to “Trinity,” the ultimate weapon of mass destruction since I was reading a recent article about it.
Kai Bird, the coauthor of American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the book that inspired the new film Oppenheimer about J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist credited as “the father of the atomic bomb” and the man who named the first atomic bomb Trinity, has written an Op Ed piece in The New York Times titled, “The Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.” True in certain respects, this article is an example of how history can be slyly used to distort the present for political purposes. In typical NY Times fashion, Bird tells certain truths while concealing, distorting, and falsifying others.
I do not consider Oppenheimer a tragic figure, as does Bird. Complicated, yes; but he was essentially a hubristic scientist who lent his services to a demonic project, and afterwards, having let the cat out of the bag by creating the Bomb, guiltily urged the government that used it in massive war crimes to restrain itself in the future. Asking for such self-regulation is as absurd as asking the pharmaceutical or big tech industries to regulate themselves.
Bird rightly says that Oppenheimer did not regret his work inventing the atomic bomb, and he correctly points out the injustice of his being maligned and stripped of his security clearance in 1954 in a secret hearing by a vote of 2 to 1 of a security panel of The Atomic Energy Commission for having communist associations. “Celebrated in 1945 as the ‘father of the atomic bomb,’” Bird writes, “nine years later he would become the chief celebrity victim of the McCarthyite maelstrom.” A “victim,” I should add, who named names to save his own reputation.
But tucked within his article, Bird tells us: “Just look at what happened to our public health civil servants during the recent pandemic.” By which he means these officials like Anthony Fauci were maligned when they gave the public correct scientific information. This is absurd. Fauci – “attacks on me quite frankly are attacks on science” – and other government “civil servants” misinformed the public and lied over and over again, but Bird implies they too were tragic figures like Oppenheimer.
We stand on the cusp of another technological revolution in which artificial intelligence will transform how we live and work, and yet we are not yet having the kind of informed civil discourse with its innovators that could help us to make wise policy decisions on its regulation. Our politicians need to listen more to technology innovators like Sam Altman and quantum physicists like Kip Thorne and Michio Kaku.
Here too he urges “us” to listen to the very people responsible for Artificial Intelligence, just as “we” should have listened to Oppenheimer after he brought us the atomic bomb. Implicit here is the belief that science just marches progressively on and there’s no stopping it, and when dangerous technologies emerge from scientists’ work, we should trust them to control them. Nowhere does Bird suggest that scientists have a moral obligation before the fact to not pursue a certain line of research because of its grave possible consequences. Maybe he has never read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, only written over two hundred years ago.
Finally, and most importantly, Bird begins his concluding paragraph with these words:
Today, Vladimir Putin’s not-so-veiled threats to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine are a stark reminder that we can never be complacent about living with nuclear weapons.
This is simply U.S. propaganda. The U.S. has provoked and fueled the war in Ukraine, broken all nuclear weapon treaties, surrounded Russia with military bases, stationed nuclear weapons in Europe, engaged in nuclear blackmail with its first strike policy and threats, etc. Putin has said in response that if – and only if – the very existence of the Russian state and land is threatened with extinction would the use of nuclear weapons be considered.
So Bird, in writing a piece about Oppenheimer’s “tragedy” and defending science, has also subtly defended a trinity of other matters: the government “science” on Covid, the transformative power coming from AI, and the U.S. propaganda about Russia and nuclear weapons. There is no mention of JFK’s call to abolish nuclear weapons. This is how the “paper of record” does its job.
I sit here now at the end of the day. Shadows are falling and I contemplate such trinities. I am stunned by the fact that we exist, but under a terrifying Shadow that many wish to ignore. Jung saw this shadow side as not just personal but social, and when it is ignored, the collective evils of modern societies can autonomously erupt.
Bird argues that nuclear weapons are the result of a scientific quest that is unstoppable. He writes that Oppenheimer “understood that you cannot stop curious human beings from discovering the physical world around them [and then making nuclear bombs or designer babies].”
This is the ideology of progress that brooks no opposition since it is declared inevitable. It is a philosophy that believes there should be no limits to human knowledge, which would include the knowledge of good and evil, but which can then be ignored since it and all thought and beliefs are considered a priori to be relative. The modern premise that everything is relative is of course a contradiction since it is an absolute statement. Many share this philosophy of despair disguised as progress as it has crept into everything today. It is tragic, for if people accept it, we are doomed to follow a Faustian pact with the devil and all hell will follow.
I think of Bob Dylan singing :
I just don’t see why I should even care
It’s not dark yet, but it’s gettin’ there
But I do care, and I wonder why. As night comes on, I sit here and wonder.
Reprinted with the author’s permission.