It didn't take long. In the immediate aftermath of the dropping of the "victory weapon," the atomic bomb, on two Japanese cities in August 1945, American fears and fantasies ran wild. Almost immediately, Americans began to reconceive themselves as potential victims of the bomb. In the scenarios of destruction that would populate newspapers, magazines, radio shows, and private imaginations, our cities were ringed with concentric circles of destruction and up to 10 million people in the U.S. and tens of millions elsewhere died horribly in a few days of imagined battle. Even victory, when it came in those first post-war years of futuristic dreams of destruction, had the look of defeat. And the two wartime American stories -- of triumphalism beyond imagining and ashes -- turned out to be incapable of cohabiting in the same forms. So the bomb fled the war movie (where it essentially never made an appearance) for the sci-fi flick in which stand-ins of every sort -- alien superweapons and radioactive reptilian and other mutant monsters -- destroyed the planet, endangered humanity, and pursued the young into every drive-in movie theater in the country.
As late as 1995, those two stories, the triumphalist end of "the Good War" and the disastrous beginning of the atomic age, still couldn't inhabit the same space. In that 50th anniversary year, a planned exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum that was supposed to pair the gleaming fuselage of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that carried the first atomic bomb to Hiroshima, with the caramelized remains of a schoolchild's lunchbox ("No trace of Reiko Watanabe was ever found") would be cancelled. The outrage from veterans' groups and the Republican right was just too much, the discomfort still too strong.
Until 1945, of course, the apocalypse had been the property of the Bible, and "end times" the province of God (and perhaps a budding branch of pulp lit called science fiction), but not of humanity. Since then, it's been ours, and as it turned out, we were acting apocalyptically in ways that weren't apparent in 1945, that weren't attached to a single wonder weapon, and that remain difficult to grasp and even deal with now. With that in mind, and with thanks to Javier Navarro, we have adapted a video interview done with TomDispatch regular Noam Chomsky by What, the association Navarro helped to found. Reworked by Chomsky himself, it offers his thoughts on a perilous future that is distinctly in our hands. Tom
The Path to Disaster
By Noam Chomsky
What is the future likely to bring? A reasonable stance might be to try to look at the human species from the outside. So imagine that you're an extraterrestrial observer who is trying to figure out what's happening here or, for that matter, imagine you're an historian 100 years from now -- assuming there are any historians 100 years from now, which is not obvious -- and you're looking back at what's happening today. You'd see something quite remarkable.
For the first time in the history of the human species, we have clearly developed the capacity to destroy ourselves. That's been true since 1945. It's now being finally recognized that there are more long-term processes like environmental destruction leading in the same direction, maybe not to total destruction, but at least to the destruction of the capacity for a decent existence.- Advertisement -
And there are other dangers like pandemics, which have to do with globalization and interaction. So there are processes underway and institutions right in place, like nuclear weapons systems, which could lead to a serious blow to, or maybe the termination of, an organized existence.
How to Destroy a Planet Without Really Trying
The question is: What are people doing about it? None of this is a secret. It's all perfectly open. In fact, you have to make an effort not to see it.
There have been a range of reactions. There are those who are trying hard to do something about these threats, and others who are acting to escalate them. If you look at who they are, this future historian or extraterrestrial observer would see something strange indeed. Trying to mitigate or overcome these threats are the least developed societies, the indigenous populations, or the remnants of them, tribal societies and first nations in Canada. They're not talking about nuclear war but environmental disaster, and they're really trying to do something about it.
In fact, all over the world -- Australia, India, South America -- there are battles going on, sometimes wars. In India, it's a major war over direct environmental destruction, with tribal societies trying to resist resource extraction operations that are extremely harmful locally, but also in their general consequences. In societies where indigenous populations have an influence, many are taking a strong stand. The strongest of any country with regard to global warming is in Bolivia, which has an indigenous majority and constitutional requirements that protect the "rights of nature."- Advertisement -
Ecuador, which also has a large indigenous population, is the only oil exporter I know of where the government is seeking aid to help keep that oil in the ground, instead of producing and exporting it -- and the ground is where it ought to be.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who died recently and was the object of mockery, insult, and hatred throughout the Western world, attended a session of the U.N. General Assembly a few years ago where he elicited all sorts of ridicule for calling George W. Bush a devil. He also gave a speech there that was quite interesting. Of course, Venezuela is a major oil producer. Oil is practically their whole gross domestic product. In that speech, he warned of the dangers of the overuse of fossil fuels and urged producer and consumer countries to get together and try to work out ways to reduce fossil fuel use. That was pretty amazing on the part of an oil producer. You know, he was part Indian, of indigenous background. Unlike the funny things he did, this aspect of his actions at the U.N. was never even reported.
So, at one extreme you have indigenous, tribal societies trying to stem the race to disaster. At the other extreme, the richest, most powerful societies in world history, like the United States and Canada, are racing full-speed ahead to destroy the environment as quickly as possible. Unlike Ecuador, and indigenous societies throughout the world, they want to extract every drop of hydrocarbons from the ground with all possible speed.
Both political parties, President Obama, the media, and the international press seem to be looking forward with great enthusiasm to what they call "a century of energy independence" for the United States. Energy independence is an almost meaningless concept, but put that aside. What they mean is: we'll have a century in which to maximize the use of fossil fuels and contribute to destroying the world.