Peace activists: We’re gonna blow up!” Everybody else: “Meh…”
Peace activists born in the 1950s and earlier often talk about the peak of the anti-nuclear movement when “a million people” gathered in New York City’s Central Park in 1982 to protest against the potential for nuclear war.
“Nuclear war no longer seems to scare us as much as it used to – have we become accustomed to the unthinkable?” asks writer Jeff Sparrow, pointing to the lack of reaction to very real potential for the use of nuclear weapon over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
How did the world become so blasé over nuclear destruction?
“If nuclear war no longer gives us nightmares, it’s perhaps because we’re becoming accustomed to the unthinkable. We don’t associate disaster exclusively with a push of the atomic button. Instead, we see it creeping up slowly everywhere we look,” he writes.
To the Boomers and their parents, the prosperity of the post Second World War period created a completely different context to the economic malaise we experience today. This made the potential for nuclear war an outlier to the peace and prosperity being experienced in other aspects of life.
“For all the misery it brought, the second world war culminated in remarkable social advances such as the extension of the welfare state. The generation that first read [dystopian graphic novel] When the Wind Blows lived through the postwar economic boom – and so could understand the threat of nuclear annihilation as a hideous aberration threatening the more-or-less steady march of human progress,” he writes. “No one thinks like that today.”
Creeping disasters, as he calls them, of today are evidenced all around us, he says. “To take a few examples more or less at random, heatwaves have led to crop failures across Europe, the Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the planet, and the rise from diseases such as Zika, malaria, dengue, chikungunya and Covid-19 has been caused by climate change, creating what scientists describe as threats ‘too numerous for comprehensive societal adaptions.’”
Sparrow doesn’t offer any solutions. But he notes that the world needs those mass marches in New York City and elsewhere, once again. “Those huge marches – and the mass membership of groups like the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament – acted as a constraint on politicians.”
- Read, “Nuclear war no longer seems to scare us as much as it used to – have we become accustomed to the unthinkable?” by Jeff Sparrow, published August 12, 2022 in The Guardian