Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Nuclear Psyches 

Plenty of time to read lately, and the phone lines are off and on along with the electricity. Ahhh, winter. If I don't respond to posts and comments, that's why. Anyway, the last tome I closed was by Robert Jay Lifton, the noted psychologist, writing with Greg Mitchell, who produced a study of the dropping of the bomb and America’s psychological relationship of its impact called Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial. A lot of things struck me in this reading, not least of which was how little it mattered whether the president at the time was a Democrat or a Republican—what seems to matter more is the psyche of the president. Truman was determined to be “decisive.” He was determined to see himself as a leader. While he took responsibility for his decisions, he did so in denial of many facts. Lifton and Mitchell note that

“Deeply concerned about living up to the standards of earlier American leaders, Truman could associate use of the bomb with self-worth and American loyalty…the bomb could seem to enable one to do everything—to solve and transcend all immediate problems, bring about instant victory as well as control of the future, and offer those who used it a deity’s dominion and immortality. Truman decided to use the bomb because, like so many others, he was drawn to its ultimate power—and because he feared not using it. [emphasis theirs]

All other presidents since him have continued a buildup of weapons, most never questioning the need for more. (Eisenhower was perhaps the most vocal early president opposing their use, however, saying “Surely no sane member of the human race could discover victory in such desolation. Could any one wish his name to be coupled with such human degradation and destruction?”) The study ends with Bush I, who you will recall refused to apologize for Hiroshima..

I know, none of this is news. But, couple Truman’s obsessive need to be “decisive” and unfulfilled claims to “take responsibility” with how he decided to manifest that (using the bomb both in fact as a tool of diplomacy) and along a with a simple chauvinistic view of American “goodness.” Now, mix that with aWol’s need to be “decisive” and his own simplistic view of projecting American “goodness.” Remember, he has to tap former presidents to project compassionate relief efforts; that’s beyond him. (And how could Clinton have said no without being an asshole?) Remember, too, that the bomb is still the means of projecting power preferred by nations worldwide. We simply continue with the assumption that no nation will ever use it again.

Given the psychology of those in power now, this is not an assumption I’d bet on. We know they’re capable of cruelty, and what if a nuke was somehow used by a non-national group on Americans? Would they hesitate to retaliate in kind, even if the target could be no more reasonable than Hiroshima and Nagasaki? I mention all of this as MLK Day remembrances and actions loom on the horizon.

“Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.” - Martin Luther King, J., from chapter seven of his book “Strength to Love”, originally published in 1963.

“Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows…. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.” - Martin Luther King, Jr., speech delivered in Los Angeles titled “The Casualties of the War in Vietnam” on 25 February, 1967.

Colin Powell can hope that tsunami relief will “improve America’s image.” I suggest it’s a bare start. January 15-17 are great places to start reminding the world Bushco is NOT America. Peace IS possible. But the times are scary and madmen reign…

corrente SBL - New Location
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The Washington Chestnut
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