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On the Beach 2017

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The US submarine captain says, "We've all got to die one day, some sooner and some later. The trouble always has been that you're never ready, because you don't know when it's coming. Well, now we do know and there's nothing to be done about it."

He says he will be dead by September. It will take about a week to die, though no one can be sure. Animals live the longest.

The war was over in a month. The United States, Russia and China were the protagonists. It is not clear if it was started by accident or mistake. There was no victor. The northern hemisphere is contaminated and lifeless now.

A curtain of radioactivity is moving south towards Australia and New Zealand, southern Africa and South America. By September, the last cities, towns and villages will succumb. As in the north, most buildings will remain untouched, some illuminated by the last flickers of electric light.

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This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper

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These lines from T.S. Eliot's poem The Hollow Men appear at the beginning of Nevil Shute's novel, On the Beach, which left me close to tears. The endorsements on the cover said the same.

Published in 1957 at the height of the Cold War when too many writers were silent or cowed, it is a masterpiece. At first the language suggests a genteel relic; yet nothing I have read on nuclear war is as unyielding in its warning. No book is more urgent.

Some readers will remember the black and white Hollywood film starring Gregory Peck as the US Navy commander who takes his submarine to Australia to await the silent, formless spectre descending on the last of the living world.

I read On the Beach for the first time the other day, finishing it as the US Congress passed a law to wage economic war on Russia, the world's second most lethal nuclear power. There was no justification for this insane vote, except the promise of plunder.

The "sanctions" are aimed at Europe, too, mainly Germany, which depends on Russian natural gas and on European companies that do legitimate business with Russia. In what passed for debate on Capitol Hill, the more garrulous senators left no doubt that the embargo was designed to force Europe to import expensive American gas.

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Their main aim seems to be war -- real war. No provocation as extreme can suggest anything else. They seem to crave it, even though Americans have little idea what war is. The Civil War of 1861-5 was the last on their mainland. War is what the United States does to others.

The only nation to have used nuclear weapons against human beings, they have since destroyed scores of governments, many of them democracies, and laid to waste whole societies -- the million deaths in Iraq were a fraction of the carnage in Indo-China, which President Reagan called "a noble cause" and President Obama revised as the tragedy of an "exceptional people." He was not referring to the Vietnamese.

Filming last year at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, I overheard a National Parks Service guide lecturing a school party of young teenagers. "Listen up," he said. "We lost 58,000 young soldiers in Vietnam, and they died defending your freedom."

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John Pilger grew up in Sydney, Australia. He has been a war correspondent, author and documentary film-maker. He is one of only two to win British journalism's highest award twice, for his work all over the world. On 1 November, he was awarded (more...)
 

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David Watts

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John, I remember watching the film "On the Beach" many decades ago. I had forgotten about it until this article. I remember not much about the film other than the nuclear devastation. But also how the idea of nuclear war startled and saddened me, even though it was fiction. But that fiction book could well become the "pre-truth" final book to fact and in retrospect, a prescient nonfiction book. Clumsily said, but you get the idea.

I look at all this stuff we are pushing a nuclear Russia with as a failing of 1st grade logic, reason, and rational. Is it possible that "the powers that be -- neocons, et al. -- " actually are ready for a nuclear war as they think they can "win" it? I have read a few times here at OEN that indeed thoughts like "winning" a nuclear confrontation -- that defy any sense -- is actually possible?

Submitted on Friday, Aug 4, 2017 at 7:26:04 PM

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lila york

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There are neocon think tanks in DC pushing nuclear war as "winnable" - based on nothing. no scientific knowledge or evidence. The military - back before Bush 2 fired all of the sane generals and replaced them with evangelicals who believe in the rapture - has advised them that no nuclear war is winnable, and that Russia has a much higher capability now than during the cold war. There would be no life on earth, but for insects that can exist in high radioactivity.

Submitted on Friday, Aug 4, 2017 at 8:12:06 PM

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Chuck Nafziger

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I read "On the Beach" in 1960 when I was still in high school and it has stuck with me since. Americans are not exceptional in their gullibility, but the media and government are exceptional in their war mongering propaganda. Goebbels would be ecstatic. The fact that this course of action is much more likely to cause human extinction than the implied goal of American hegemony, makes the propagandists exceptionally exceptional.

My new book, not yet read, is "From MAD to Madness, Inside Pentagon Nuclear War Planning" by Paul Johnstone. A previous book, "Command and Control," by Eric Schlosser, opens a view into the insane mind set that deals with our nuclear weapons program. One has to fall through Alice's looking glass to find a place with so much insanity. Only Hillary and the neoliberals/neocons are much meaner and more lethal than the Red Queen and her army of cards.

I intend to enjoy every day until I see the bright light and mushroom cloud over the relatively nearby Trident submarine base.

Submitted on Friday, Aug 4, 2017 at 7:57:28 PM

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Carol R Campbell

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Chuck, if you move just a short distance to the Lisabuela Beach neighborhood on Vashon Island, you can cast aside your concerns, and join the guys in On The Beach.

In the mid-'80s, during the last real Campaign to Ban the Bomb, The Seattle Newspapers published a map of the overlapping Death Circles in the Puget Sound area including the Trident Sub Base. It was basically a picture of bright red over-lapping circles that completely blanketed all of Puget Sound, from Whidbey Island to Olympia.

Except for one tiny wedge on the West-side of Vashon Island. Lisabuela Beach and the surrounding area were untouched. Imagine my Joy at the thought of surviving the Inferno long enough to know that everything I cherished was gone...

Lisabuela is named after the two Daughters of one of the 'Mosquito Fleet' Captains. His small Passenger and Freight Boat used to dock there regularly in the 19 teens and '20s, if anyone wonders about that rather strange sounding. He also owned some acreage above the landing.

Submitted on Monday, Aug 7, 2017 at 2:11:29 AM

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Lois Gagnon

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Washington in the 21st century is proof beyond doubt that too much power renders humans certifiably insane. How else to explain the level of mind numbing recklessness displayed by this congress in its latest sanctions vote.

To flirt with the level of danger they put all life on Earth in for their geopolitical machinations makes you wonder if they have any connection to reality at all.

Submitted on Saturday, Aug 5, 2017 at 2:30:41 AM

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Jim Miles

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I love the phrase "Trump as a symptom and caricature of an enduring system " - Trump is reviled partly for what he is as a person, but it mainly highlights the insanity of the U.S. political/corporate world mostly by how they are reacting to him.

As for nuclear war, it will not matter that Russia is first, and that the U.S. last, as the difference is a matter of minutes, not hours, nor as in "On the Beach" a matter of days. After the nuclear weapons have destroyed much of the world's infrastructure, created a nuclear winter scenario, created a highly radioactive environment, there are still some 400 nuclear reactors and waste sites that will end up like Fukushima and Chernobyl, a global landscape pimpled by radioactive volcanos.

Submitted on Saturday, Aug 5, 2017 at 10:26:25 PM

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Freakin' insane.

Submitted on Saturday, Aug 5, 2017 at 10:27:47 PM

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Eddy Schmid

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Could'nt agree more with your post, Jim spot on. It seems the folks planning this devastation seem to forget that they themselve harbour their own devastation when their own Nuclear power plants all melt down and blow up.

No missiles from Russia needed. All it takes are a few well placed missiles, dont have to be nuclear, the power stations will do the rest.

It amazes me, this has nver been factored in to their insane plans.

Submitted on Monday, Aug 7, 2017 at 7:26:25 AM

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Carol R Campbell

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On The Beach was not the only anti-Nuke book published in the late 50's. There were several. Some were a bit more optimistic than others, in assuming that a fluke of time and place would allow a few survivors in isolated, remote places. But none was optimistic about undamaged survivors building new paradises.

I think my favorite is Canticle for Liebowitz, where a handful of monks who cherish Liebowitz's last message - which was actually his grocery list. 3000 years later, none of the Monks has any way to understand the languages of the 20th Century. Therefore, they have Canonized the Writer and his message, and are trying to establish peace among the remnants of Humanity - With little luck...

There also some wonderful late '50s Plays on TV, in Black and White on the subject. They were about as optimistic as the Novels. Harry Belafonte appeared in one, with an optimistic Anti-Racism message, but that used up it's stock of optimism....

Another showed an elderly Reader who had prepared for the end by raiding the NYC Library. In the last scene he sets down a huge stack of books and prepares to start reading. Unfortunately he stumbles and drops his only glasses - breaking them.

There was no message of hope for surviving a Nuclear War. Rather the optimism focused on enjoying what one could till the inevitable end.

Perhaps some Pirate TV Broadcaster should locate those old tapes from the Twilight Zone and Playhouse 90, and re-broadcast them!

Submitted on Saturday, Aug 5, 2017 at 10:42:16 PM

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Janet Supriano

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An urgent essay, well stated. But the ending, "... the real possibility of nuclear war -- if we allow it."
I don't see that we have options.
How in the world do we not allow it?



Submitted on Sunday, Aug 6, 2017 at 1:09:08 AM

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Janet Supriano

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This piece should be at the top of the page and stay there for a week.

Submitted on Sunday, Aug 6, 2017 at 1:59:11 AM

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Michael Morrissey

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Pilger tells it, as always, exactly how it is. But this essay impresses (again) on me the urgency of the current situation. We are closer to doomsday than at any time since 1953.

I agree with everything he writes here, especially concerning the obsession with the Trump personality, which, with all its flaws, has offered us the one hope of making peace instead of war with Russia that any politician, left or right, has given us. The insanity of the congressional sanctions bill, now law, proves beyond any doubt that there is no one in the US government today with any sense at all. (See here if you are still in thrall to the CIA/MSM fake news.)

The president is not important. Can anything be clearer than this? The last "legitimate" president was JFK, who defied the (Deep) State and was dispatched by same. The DS then wrote "Big Brother is in charge. You don't have a chance. Do not resist" across our foreheads on 9/11, and we only whimper, to use Eliot's term, for "new investigations."

There will be no "new investigations" of anything. That is what the Warren Commission told us over a half century ago (but relatively few heard; see here), and what the 9/11 Commission made transparent.

We are on the beach. The bombs haven't dropped yet, but there is every indication that they will. The propaganda war has been in full swing for more than a year, and economic war has been officially declared ("sanctioned").

What wouldn't the characters in On the Beach have given to be able to turn the clock back and try to prevent what happened? Would they have been content to call for "new investigations"?

Submitted on Sunday, Aug 6, 2017 at 9:09:49 AM

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Janet Supriano

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Editors: This piece by J. Pilger needs more time at the top of the page.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJEjYY4TTjM

Submitted on Sunday, Aug 6, 2017 at 12:09:15 PM

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Carol R Campbell

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I got this link from Global Research today and decided it would do better added to this article, than as a Quick-Link.
click here

Harry Truman is considered a damn good President, by many people who believe everything the see or hear on TV or in the NYT. He was never popular in my house as a kid, just as my Parents never voted for Ike. My Step-Dad was a West Coast Longshoreman. To quote my Kid Sister, Harry Bridges is next to god in our house - altho in my Mother's opinion, he was actually next to FDR...

1948 was my first attempt at door belling for a Political Candidate. I went door to door with 'The Old Man', as my Step Dad came to be known by me and the rest of the Family to differentiate him from Daddy, who looked just like Superman - altho my Mother had a different opinion on that subject too.

We door belled for Henry Wallace. Had he been elected, the entire History of the US would be different: No Cold War, No Walters/McCarren Act, or McCarthy Era, and very probably no Hiroshima. How little it takes to alter the direction of a Car or a Country.

FDR was in failing health in 1944 when he decided to run for a Third Term as President - an Historical Feat. To gather support for his decision, he gave in to pressure to replace Socialist Henry Wallace, with the Unknown Harry Truman.

Less that a year later, FDR Died, another event, like the Assassination of JFK that I'll never forget. Truman became President, and the History of Humanity made a drastic Right Turn...

Submitted on Monday, Aug 7, 2017 at 1:46:02 AM

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Eddy Schmid

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I have no issues with the majority of Pilger's article.

BUT, being Australian myself, and having the privilge of reading the comment regarding the U.S. Navy individual, who was asked a question by the Moronic, uninformed media and gave his honest answer, to which the media then went into melt down, astounds me. Even Pilger'd article here has compounded on that remark as well, sensationalising the whole issue, right out of proportion.

Let's face it, the FACT that a journalist seems to be totaly unawares of the fealty Americans pledge to their Government and Constitution upon signing on into their armed forces pledging to obey any and all orders and lay down their lives if ordered to.

To then ask such an individual, whether they would follow such an order, is IMHO, the height of utter stupidity.

What did this jounalist expect for an answer, that the officer would refuse such an order ????

What exactly did this Journalist (I even hate refering to someone of this ilk as a journalist) think the officer would say in answer to his idiotic question, that this individual would open himself to prosecution by answering honestly ???? Just to satisfy the journalist, who would simply walk away and suffer none of the consquences that the officer himself would suffer ?????

This whole attitude by jounalists these days, is IMHO a major part of the problems we are facing today.

Spouting stupid, idiotic remarks and questions, without giving consideration to the after effect they may have on the individual and the connected people involved.

Since when, are journaist absolved of the crap they stir up, and then walk away, pretending innocence of the fire they have lit ????

Submitted on Monday, Aug 7, 2017 at 7:43:10 AM

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Ruth Hosek

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My seat mate on the flight was Stan Uhlam, a Harvard mathematician, working in Chicago and Los Alamos on the bomb project in the forties. We spoke of many things and he was charming, articulate, knowledgeable and honest. He was one of the signers of Oppenheimer's letter to world leaders.

As we deplaned I asked him, "What should I do if I were to hear a bomb was going to be detonated over Chicago?" He looked me straight in the eye and said, "Run for ground zero. You do not want to live in the aftermath."

A nuclear war will eventually kill us all. I am so sorry that more time is not being spent on educating our youth on nuclear dangers. Then again, our leaders are themselves seemingly ignorant of these consequences.

Submitted on Monday, Aug 7, 2017 at 1:35:56 PM

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