My good friend Helen suggested I meet her this morning in order to go to a Buddhist meeting about nuclear disarmament and abolition. My initial reaction was to consider it a singularly pointless exercise. Nukes, I decided, are here to stay. The fact that that was my first thought was enough to make me realise I should go to the meeting. I hadn’t thought about it before and immediately I assumed it was too big to fix.
Nukes are fucking terrifying. Those relatively tiny bombs that fell on Japan before most of us were born – the human cost was astronomical. The cultural shift they provoked was unprecedented. Little Boy and Fat Man, the bombs were called. They killed hundreds of thousands in a second. Thank God nothing of that size has been detonated since. But the warheads we have now are thousands of times bigger. Thousands of times! It’s impossible to contemplate. If just one of them blew up in a city the death toll would be unimaginable. There is no humanitarian aid organisation that could cope with the survivors from the edges of the blast, radioactive people, sloughing their burnt skin, cradling their own eyeballs, cooking in their own bodies. Most of the people from Grenfell haven’t been rehoused adequately. Multiply that by thousands and add deformities, radioactivity, constant extreme pain. Then there’s the environmental cost. Chernobyl contaminated sheep as far away as North Wales from The Ukraine. Fukushima is still contaminating the Pacific, and it seems there’s nothing we can do to get into the basement and contain that reactor. We’ve made something bigger than our ability to control it.
Right now there’s a little fat boy man in North Korea who is starving his whole country in order to be seen to throw these horrible toys around. If he is as full of hubris as he appears to be he could start something atrocious. Around the world, countries are bristling with these monstrous creations. One wrong move could provoke a chain reaction that could wipe out the world as we know it. We don’t have the power to actually destroy the earth, but we do have the power to destroy ourselves on the earth. And we are convinced enough of our own immortality that someone might just do it. Particularly when you look at some of the personalities involved.
So where does the idea that we can dismantle all of these bastards fit in, where mutually assured destruction is the only deterrent we’ve had for decades? It was interesting to contemplate it today. It’s a man made problem, so surely it’s in our power to stop it. We stopped slavery in North America after over 200 years. These things have only existed for a single lifetime. And they’re expensive to maintain. The problem is that nobody trusts anybody else. How can someone go first? How can we trust one another to honestly disarm? How would we even go about it?
Of course these questions feel impossible. But change starts from the ground up. The literal very least I can do is change my attitude from this morning’s “there is nothing anyone can ever do.” Perhaps there’s something. It might not be my mind that finds it, or in my lifetime. But these warheads have a limited lifespan. They’re disgustingly expensive to produce, as is the paraphernalia connected to delivering them. Japan has none despite having the capacity to build them, and they haven’t been wiped out yet. Although North Korea could do something terrible.
I sat in a secular Buddhist Centre in Brixton and thought about all of this while making paper cranes. I have no solutions but my thoughts have shifted a little, from resignation towards curiosity as to how change might be effected. Often we need a hard example to catalyse a big change. There’s so much horrible shit happening worldwide in the name of territory and religion, and the natural world is busily demonstrating how tiny our posturing is compared to its power. I don’t want to see the hard example that would catalyse nuclear disarmament. I dread to think what form it might take. Can we start to disarm without anyone being nuked? This morning I’d have said “No way.” Now I’ve graduated to “just maybe”. Maybe the right person at the right time. Maybe a groundswell of belief and positivity. Who knows what. But maybe.
I went home and had pie, watched Rick and Morty and now I’m going to help an actress with a self-tape in my kitchen. Hopefully when I wake up tomorrow morning all the cities in the world will still be there. I made paper cranes to send to the peace park in Hiroshima. Maybe they’ll be the ones that stop us doing that crazy shit to each other. It’s a gesture. Nothing more. But a nuclear blast is a large number of very small reactions strung together into something huge. If we all make very small gestures maybe we’ll make some sort of peace bomb? Who knows. It’s worth a try.