On the 66th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a friend sent to me some documentary footage about the day when nothing out of the ordinary had happened in Hiroshima. People were working, heeding traffic lights, having tea and then in a few seconds, like a survivor recalls, from a efficient town going quietly about the business of life, Hiroshima turned into a city of the dead. People evaporated leaving behind shadows. Or died with their clothes and limbs having melted off them. For the pilots, it was a culmination of a process that begins with a desensitising patriotic purpose and ends in the worst crimes against humanity in the name of nationhood.
So what has changed since that morning 66 years ago? Having seen the effects of a nuclear holocaust, have we stopped investing in stockpiles? Are we safer, more responsible, more compassionate, more tolerant as a planet? Have we learnt anything at all? The answers to some of these questions are frightening and as the recent earthquake in Japan will show us, stocking nuclear energy can be as dangerous as unleashing it. The arms race was once between two carping big bullies. Now so many smaller nations take pride in their stack of Nukes.
In the 80s, I saw a Nicholas Meyer film, Day After Tomorrow that tried to capture the possibilities of the question, “What it?” It was about the fictional premise that the US will launch a full-scale nuclear attack on the Soviet Union if it learns that the latter could be preparing to attack too. We don’t learn in the film who presses the trigger first but yes, everyone pays. Though the film plays out in central America, it was not just about a region, a country or the characters of the film. It was a warning issued to a world unaware of its own power to destroy itself.
Because isn’t that what we are? One world? Sharing the same planet? All paying for the mistakes and ambitions of a few? Who decided for instance that only nuclear deterrents can ensure our safety and inhibit our enemies from attacking us? Do American citizens feel safe in their own fiercely, proudly guarded country, post 9/11? The future of the world hinges upon the fact that we look at it as one entity, rather than an incoherent map of countries at war with each other.
Some years back, someone forwarded me the pictures of the earth, taken by Sunita Williams from the space. Maybe we need that amount of distance to see how beautiful we look as one. There was Iceland, looking good enough to eat like a bowl of whipped cream. And such beauty in the moment when the night slowly dips parts of the globe in darkness while other bits are waking up to sunshine.
In the dark, cities looked like jewel boxes and the earth like one large diamond. There were silk ribbons of rivers and bands of oceans, ice cream peaks of the Swiss Alps, sunsets and dawns and you gasped and were humbled by the realisation that it is not our right but our privilege to inhabit this planet. If only like Williams all feuding war lords could go up in space to see the world in the perspective it deserves to be seen in. Looking at the pictures, my son wanted to hug the earth and save it from global warming. He does not yet know what a nuclear holocaust can do to this planet, his planet.
Even after so many wars, lessons learnt painfully and at great cost, we continue to think that the earth revolves around us. We won’t even think what that AC, that plastic bag, that factory next door, the accumulating e-waste, the vanishing forests, the garbage heaps, the dissipating oxygen in our cities, the ever-increasing population is doing to the earth. Will we ever learn that we don’t run things around here and that the earth alone knows its business best and we should not mess with its mathematics if we don’t know the solutions?
And why does even a mild threat today provokes in us a defensive rage? A sense of righteousness without a conscience is the most dangerous thing in the world. Whether it bombs Hiroshima or attacks Iraq, Vietnam, Afghanistan or spawns suicide bombers or sparks a riot or turns the WTC towers into melting human and steel rubble or rapes and murders in the name of honour/revenge, the justification is always the same.
Every murder, every bomb, every crime is always about avenging or reiterating a cause that is bigger than humanity. The human cost of such beliefs is immeasurable and yet, there is no escaping them. Or maybe, there is a way out. And maybe we will find it before it is too late.
Reema Moudgil is the author of Perfect Eight (http://www.flipkart.com/b/books/perfect-eight-reema-moudgil-book-9380032870?affid=unboxedwri )