Let it be known that we knew love

Let it be known that we knew love

‘The Sword of Damocles’, by Richard Westall (1812).

Oborn minute after the final explosion, more than half of all human beings in the world will be dead, the dust and smoke of continents on fire will hide the light of the sun, and absolute darkness will envelop the world once more. A winter of orange rains and icy hurricanes will reverse the flow of the oceans and change the course of the rivers; fish will die of thirst in their scorching waters, and birds will no longer be able to find the sky. Eternal snows will cover the Sahara; the mighty Amazon will be destroyed by hailstones and disappear from the face of the planet, and the era of rock and grafted hearts will return to its glacial primal state.

The rare humans who survived this first terror, and those privileged ones who were able to find a safe refuge at 3 o’clock in the afternoon on the grim Monday of the great disaster, will have saved their own lives, only to then die of horror at these memories. The creation will be complete. In the final chaos of humidity and eternal night, the last remnants of the life that once was will be cockroaches.

Presidents, prime ministers, friends, (1)

This is not a bad attempt at plagiarising John’s delirium in his exile from Patmos (2), but a vision of a cosmic disaster that could occur at any moment: the explosion – intended or accidental – of only one part of the great powers’ nuclear arsenal that slumbers, with one eye open. This is the situation. Today, 6 August, 1986, there are more than 50,000 operational nuclear warheads in the world. In ordinary terms, this means that every human being, including children, sits on a 4-ton barrel of dynamite, the total explosion of which can wipe out all trace of life on Earth 12 times.

This colossal threat hanging over our heads, like the sword of Damocles, is of an annihilation that could theoretically destroy four planets, in addition to all those that revolve around the Sun, and upset the balance of the solar system. No science, art or industry has grown as much as the nuclear industry since its inception 40 years ago, and no other creation of human genius has ever had so much power over the world’s destiny.

Through its very existence, the apocalypse locked in the death silos of the richest countries reduces our hopes of a better life for mankind.

The only consolation that these terrifying simplifications can offer – in a pinch – is to allow us to confirm that the preservation of human life on earth would cost far less than the maintenance of the nuclear threat. Through its very existence, the apocalypse locked in the death silos of the richest countries reduces our hopes of a better life for mankind.

In the domain of childcare, for example, this is an obvious truth. UNICEF launched a program in 1981 to address the critical issues of the world’s poorest 500 million children. This includes basic sanitary aid, elementary education, improved hygiene conditions, the provision of clean water and food … An unattainable dream, valued at $ 100bn. This is barely the cost of 100 B-13 strategic bombers, and less than that of the 7,000 Cruise missiles that the United States is to manufacture.

For health – with the cost of 10 Nimitz nuclear aircraft carriers, out of the 15 that the US will build before the year 2000 – we could carry out a prevention program that could protect over a billion people against malaria during this period; that would prevent the deaths of more than 14 million children in Africa alone.

Last year there were around 575 million people worldwide who went hungry, according to FAO figures. Providing them with basic essential nutrition would have cost less than building 149 MX rockets, of the 223 to be housed in Western Europe. The cost of just 27 of these would pay for the agricultural equipment necessary for poor countries to acquire enough food for the next four years. This program would also cost nine times less than the Soviet military budget in 1982.

As for education – with only two Trident atomic submarines, of the 25 that the current US administration plans to build, or with the cost of the identical number of Tiphon submarines being built by the Soviet Union – we could finally achieve the fantastic goal of world literacy. Indeed, building the schools and training the teachers needed in the Third World to meet the new educational demands of the next decade could be paid for with the cost of 245 Trident-II missiles. And, with the cost of 419 more missiles, we could meet the growing demand for education in the Third World over the next 15 years.

Finally, the suppression of Third World debt, and economic recovery of this debt over ten years, would cost barely one sixth of global military spending for this period. Despite this gigantic economic mess, human waste is still more worrying and more painful: the war industry employs the largest contingent of scientists ever assembled for any project in the history of mankind. These are people who are on our side, whose natural place is here, with us, around this table we need to free them so they can help us create, in education and justice, the only thing that can save us from barbarism: a culture of peace.

Despite these dramatic certainties, the arms race does not allow itself a moment’s rest. Right now, while have been eating lunch, a new nuclear warhead has been produced. When we wake up tomorrow there will be nine more in the reserves of the North. With the price of just one of them, we could – if only for a Sunday in autumn – perfume the Niagara Falls with sandalwood.

A great novelist of our time once asked whether Earth was the other planets’ hell. Perhaps it’s less than that: a hamlet without memory, abandoned by the gods in the last suburb of the great universal homeland. But the growing conviction that this is the only place in the solar system where life’s wondrous adventure has taken place leads us to a distressing conclusion: the arms race runs counter to intelligence.

Millions of millennia after the explosion, a triumphant salamander who once again traversed the entire species scale will perhaps be voted the most beautiful woman in the new creation.

Not only counter to human intelligence, but also to the intelligence of nature, whose purpose escapes the clairvoyance of poetry. Three hundred and eighty million years passed between the appearance of visible life and the moment a butterfly learnt to fly … and then another 180 million years before nature produced a rose, with no other purpose than being beautiful. It took another four geological eras for human beings – unlike our Pithecanthropus great-grandparents – to learn to sing better than birds, and even be able to die of love. It is by no means glorious that men’s talents have ensured, in the golden age of science, that such a colossal, multi-millennial process could return to its original nothingness with the push of a button.

To prevent this from happening, we have come together here, adding our voices to the countless voices calling for an unarmed world and just peace. But, even if disaster does happen, it will not have been altogether unnecessary that we came together.

On the contrary, millions of millions of millennia after the explosion, a triumphant salamander which traversed the entire species scale, will perhaps be voted the most beautiful woman in the new creation. On us – men and women of science and arts and letters, people of intelligence and peace – depends the possibility that the guests at this chimerical election do not attend, filled with the same terrors we have today.

With modesty, but also with determination of spirit, I propose that we make a commitment to design and manufacture a memory ark capable of surviving the atomic threat. A sort of bottle of astral castaways thrown into the oceans of time, so that tomorrow’s new humanity may learn, through our testimony, what the cockroaches will not be able to tell them: that there was once life here, that there was suffering and injustice , but that we also knew love and we were even able to imagine happiness. Let the names of those responsible for our disaster be known, and let them be known forever; let is also be known how deaf they were to our demand for peace, and to our desire to lead the best possible lives. And finally, let it be known with what barbaric inventions, and for what petty purposes, they wiped out the life of the universe.