To the Editor:
I’ve been the unofficial poet laureate of the Hyde Park Kenwood Interfaith Council’s annual commemoration of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for several decades now. Our neighborhood surrounds the site of the first controlled nuclear fission reaction ever. A marvelously eerie Henry Moore statue (locally known as “the Mushroom”) marks the spot. Every August we gather there for speeches, poetry, music, and memories, to remind ourselves that what we did in August of 1945 must never happen again.
Our stalwart organizers have been having trouble getting people involved in this commemoration this year. Some people are away on vacation, or otherwise occupied. But I suspect that what is mostly going on is that people with the kind of political energy that has been attracted to the Hiroshima Day commemoration in other years are too preoccupied in the struggle against the Cheato Bandito and his band of evildoers this year to have any energy to spare for what we may tend to see as yesterday’s struggles.
Many of us see the current administration and its malign influence on many of our compatriots as drawing our country to the brink of a fascist abyss. Getting us off the brink is too urgent to leave time or energy for any other campaign, however laudable. One of the more popular pieces of cubicle art is a poster that reads: “When you are up to your ass in alligators, it is difficult to remember that your original objective was to drain the swamp.”
The alligator-swamp metaphor breaks down for those of us who paid close attention to World War II. Alligators, after all, don’t swarm out of the swamp into surrounding neighborhoods, searching for lebensraum and trying to overthrow the City Commissioners and set up a new swamp. Back in my lefty days, I occasionally had to listen in on arguments over whether it was possible to maintain socialism in a single country. It is more to the point, for us history majors, to ask whether it is possible to confine fascism to a single country. What seems to be happening in Europe and Asia suggests that it is not. One of the almost inevitable consequences of fascism is war. And war, in this post-nuclear age, can all too easily involve the use of weapons of mass destruction. Some of those weapons are likely to be nuclear. Some of them may be even worse.
We – by which I mean all sentient beings on the planet – managed to get through the last seven decades without getting incinerated, by virtue of being governed by politicians who recognized that using The Bomb was bad P.R., bad for business, and bad politics. In most other respects, those politicians, like most of their predecessors, were greedy, selfish, corrupt, and generally lacking in civic virtue. Self-interest has been their most powerful motivation. But even the worst of them, on all sides, generally believed that nobody blows up the world out of self-interest.
It has been a nice seven decades, comprising most of my lifetime. But we are now seeing the advent of a new generation of politicians, who, in addition to being greedy, selfish, corrupt, and generally lacking in civic virtue, seem to value image over reality, and what the Sicilians call la bella figura over material self-interest. For the sake of la bella figura, they might even get off on blowing up the world. The Cheato Bandito has been threatening various apocalyptic consequences for Montenegro, Iran, and North Korea, should they dare to develop delusions of sovereignty. He never quite uses the other n-word, but that’s probably because he doesn’t want to limit his options, should modern science develop something even worse than nukes.
In short, we need to remind ourselves that the only thing worse than the Cheato Bandito without weapons of mass destruction is the Cheato Bandito withweapons of mass destruction. At the moment, much of our nuclear arsenal is outdated and quite possibly no longer fit for its original purposes. Let’s keep it that way, as long as we can, at least until the end of this administration. This is a battle for the safety of today’s earth and today’s children. This is not your grandfather’s peace movement.