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Weapons of Mass Destruction
A Zarathushtrian's Perspective
by Tamuchin McCreless
On July 16, 1945 a 41 year old physicist who had graduated from Harvard 20 years earlier with a degree in chemistry looked away from a flash in the sky of Los Alamos, New Mexico as numerous thoughts raced through his head. As well as these thoughts that bounced back and forth from one temple to another, this physicist also had many feelings running through his gut, mixed feelings. On the one hand, he felt happy that all of his efforts had been successful. He had predicted correctly that the atmosphere and the ocean would not ignite and destroy the world, as so many had feared. He had correctly calculated the critical mass necessary to explode every atom in a lump of uranium. But on the other hand, as he revealed in an interview over twenty years later, there was something that was bothering him tremendously. His way of describing this bothersome feeling was to refer to a quote from a Hindu script which read, "Now I am become death, destroyer of all worlds." And perhaps that is the feeling that permeated Robert Oppenheimer’s body as he looked at the mushroom cloud that formed from the explosion of the world’s first nuclear bomb, the type of weapon that is still today the most powerful weapon of mass destruction in the world. All know the history of what followed from there.
A friend of mine once told me that if every country in the world had nuclear weapons, it would mean world peace. The logic being that no one would attack anyone else for fear of being attacked themselves and starting a worldwide nuclear holocaust. He could not have been more wrong. Such a state of affairs would only create a need and a desire among countries to create something even more horrific and destructive. The very existence of nuclear weapons is a testament to this. Their existence stems from a fear that at some point exists within every person, a fear of other people, a fear that all must overcome.
Whenever I think of weapons of mass destruction, I think of a story I heard long ago of a man who saw his reflection in a mirror and then saw his own reflection step out of the mirror. The first time I heard this I thought that perhaps the man was having a bad "acid trip" or some other strange drug-induced experience. But the story is really quite interesting. The man proceeded to look at his reflection and tried to raise his hand up to touch it, but when he did, the reflection also raised its hand, which startled the man and so he pushed the reflection back, and his reflection did the same. He began to feel threatened and so decided to do away with this reflection which was apparently from another world and was obviously not him. He began to think about what could happen if this reflection, which obviously had violent tendencies, went after his wife or his friends, pretending to be him. He hit the reflection, and the reflection hit him back. He kicked the reflection and the reflection kicked him back. The harder he fought, the harder his reflection fought, until he finally became tired of fighting, and his reflection did the same. When he gathered enough strength to stand he saw that his reflection was truly only a reflection, and it was only doing as he was doing. He walked away from it, and it walked away from him. And so the story ended. I actually think it should be added to the story that if the man had turned to embrace his reflection, his reflection would have done the same.
In a sense, this is the story of mankind. We are all surrounded by people who are so much like us, they are almost like reflections. Sometimes we are afraid of them because we know they have the ability to hurt us as we know we that we have the ability to hurt them. This drives some to want to destroy others before they are destroyed themselves. After all, befriending someone is sometimes more difficult than destroying them. Death is certain, with life comes many risks. Attempt to befriend someone, leave yourself vulnerable and there is always the risk that they will attempt to destroy you. Destroy them and that risk is gone. But it is these risks, and the challenges of befriending others that make life wonderful. Fighting rarely leads to the elimination of an enemy but only yields more fighting. When we fight others, they fight back harder. When our people kill theirs, they kill ours. When we develop weapons, they strive to develop bigger, better and more sophisticated ones. We have gone from stones, to swords, to guns, to bombs, to bigger bombs, to nuclear bombs. When we raise the pot, someone raises it higher, until there is so much at stake that we cannot afford to lose, and so we keep raising it higher ourselves. All of this because we are afraid of our own reflections, because we don’t want to risk attempting to embrace our reflections. Such a pattern is what lead to the development of weapons of mass destruction. A weapon that can destroy enemies with little effort is certainly valuable to someone who wants certainty and does not want to risk anything. With such a weapon, enemies could be completely exterminated, or so its creators might have thought.
I always wonder what would have happened if someone, perhaps a really good salesman, could have visited President Truman in 1945, before he agreed to use the weapon Oppenheimer helped to create. This salesman would have had with him a weapon the likes of which no one had ever seen before. We’ll call it a weapon of mass construction. This weapon would make it unnecessary to drop nukes on the Japanese. It’s "kill zone" would rather be an "enlightenment zone." Instead of killing hundreds of thousands of people, it would take them out of the mindset of wanting to fight a war. It would put them into the mindset of wanting to be constructive, wanting to work with their fellow countrymen, as well as other countrymen, to make the world a better, safer, happier, more peaceful place. I’m sure most of us know in our minds what would have happened if this man could have visited Truman. President Truman would have laughed at him. But I believe that such a weapon exists. It exists within the walls of our universities. It exists between the covers of philosophical, religious, scientific, and other literary texts that line the shelves of our libraries. Most of all, it exists in between those two appendages on the side of our heads that we use to hear. It’s not something that can be dropped in an area to cause instant change. It doesn’t work that way. Construction is a much longer, more difficult and challenging process than destruction. It takes years of hard work and effort. It takes thinking beyond one’s own lifetime, and even beyond the lifetimes of the next generation. But the rewards that can be reaped from even the smallest amount of construction, far outweigh whatever rewards come from any type of destruction, if indeed there are any. I know there are those that have existed throughout time and exist today that are working on this weapon of mass construction. I hope to be able to join them and contribute to their cause, in whatever small way possible. I hope we all do.