Robert C. Koehler
This is American exceptionalism: "Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds."
But you have to say it without the doubt, the regret -- the horror -- of
When you remove Oppenheimer's moral awareness from the quote, it sounds more like: "Oh, I wouldn't hesitate if I had the choice. I'd wipe 'em out. You're gonna kill innocent people at the same time, but we've never fought a d--n war anywhere in the world where they didn't kill innocent people. . . . That's their tough luck for being there."
This is the Simple America: nuclear-armed and ready to fight. The only anti-nuke action it's willing to take is against
Meanwhile, we have more than 1,700 nuclear warheads deployed, while
". . . current plans call for 12 new nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines to carry more than 1,000 strategic nuclear warheads into the 2070s, at a total cost of almost
In addition, "The
And, oh yeah, all this development continues to generate radioactive waste. Above-ground nuclear testing in the '50s and '60s spread cancer across a huge swath of the western U.S. And the
A group of physicists changed the world in 1945, opening up our godlike potential to destroy life itself. We're still smug about it.
Sixty-seven years ago,
And this is where American consciousness has stalled. The national ethos -- Frontier Nation, conqueror of a continent -- hardly changed when we became a nuclear superpower. We retained the same simplistic exceptionalism, the same sense of our own moral rightness and victimhood, ignoring any inconvenient data that would challenge it, such as evidence suggesting that
While internal anti-nuclear and antiwar sentiment roiled the national identity over the decades, and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set its clock at varying minutes before midnight (right now it's at five minutes till), the national mainstream maintained its unquestioning patriotism and the military-industrial economy grew increasingly entrenched.
The irony is that, all the while, the ethos of exceptionalism and moral righteousness has been vulnerable not to the bluster and swagger of other nations but to the tiniest piercings of conscience and awareness. In 1995, for instance, the
One of the most shocking and controversial pieces in the planned exhibit was a little girl's lunchbox, which was found after the bombing. Its contents -- rice and peas -- had been carbonized. The girl's body was never found.
This was too much. It undid the righteousness of patriots. "Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds." As I think about it now, I feel a renewal of hope that, against all odds, our humanity will save us.
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