Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Although as a child I was aware of The Troubles on my doorstep I was too young to worry about the state of the wider world.  Things such as the Cold War didn’t effect me. But it must have played on the minds of people like my parents.
I remember dad mentioning in passing that some people thought a meteorite that fell in the late 1960’s over Ulster  was a nuclear bomb. What else would have caused the night sky to light up like that?
Ever since reading Hiroshima last week I have been reflecting on the nuclear arms race and wondering why men raced to produce bombs so powerful and destructive.
It seemed like as good a time as any to watch Dr Strangelove. My feeling about the film is that it is overrated. Yet I am watching now in a world that hasn’t just experienced the Cuban Missile Crisis. So maybe it is like Bob Dylan. I think he is over-rated as well, but if I had been living through the 60’s how would that change my perspective?


There is one line in the film that stands out, a line about one B-52 carrying bombs with the same amount of explosive power as all the bombs exploded by all the sides during World War II. And as for things going wrong by mistake, this is the sort of incident that happened in the 60’s. Part of me is grateful for not being aware of this stuff growing up.

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Hiroshima, a terrible book

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I liked the retro look of this Penguin book yesterday, it seemed vintage and cool. Never judge a book by it’s cover though as it is easily the most horrific book I have ever read.

First published in 1946 it  recounts the experience of six  eyewitnesses on the day that the first first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima . What follows is hell on earth as far as I can see, human beings suffering or in pain and literally not knowing what has hit them.

In general John Hersey shows little emotion and just tries to tell the story of these survivors without adding too much of his interpretation on events. At one point though when describing the effect of radiation on survivors he writes:-

‘And, as if nature were protecting man against his own ingenuity, the reproductive processes were affected for a time; men became sterile, women had miscarriages, menstruation stopped.’

One thing that caught me of guard was the two of these eyewitnesses (and survivors) where Christian  voices, one a German Jesuit and the other a Japanese Methodist minister.

At one stage in the unfolding carnage this Methodist minister, Mr Tanimoto is called to the house of a dying wealthy man in the city, a man who had been anti-Christian and accused Mr Tanimoto of being a spy for the Americans. He goes to help this Mr Tanaka and finds him in a tomb like shelter, his face and arms puffed up, eyes swollen shut, covered in pus and blood, As John Hersey recounts:-

‘Standing at the shelter stairway to get light Mr Tanimoto read loudly from a Japanese-language pocket Bible: ” For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up. In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth. For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled.Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance. For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told…”
   Mr Tanaka died as Mr Tanimtoto read the psalm’


dominion over hake

There is a verse in the opening chapter of the bible that has been bothering me.

“Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

It is this command to subdue the earth and have dominion over other creatures that troubles me as it seems to legitimize treating other creatures as natural resources to be exploited for our enjoyment.

I was looking at the words on the STEP Bible software :-

Subdue =to subject, subdue, force, keep under, bring into bondage
Dominion =
to rule, have dominion, dominate, tread down

The idea of subjecting, forcing, keeping under, bringing into bondage seem like aggressive even violent words, especially since they are words given before the fall of man.

Similarly the idea of having dominion, dominating, treading down don’t seem to be words that are in tune with the idea of the lion lying down with the lamb. It seems like a rough way of living with little affection.

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On Sunday  night a kind lady popped around  with fish  that had just been landed from the North Atlantic.
She kindly gave us a big white box of some type of fish and some prawns.
The box was unmarked but checking a book I reckon it was probably hake. Reading on book then said:-

‘We all have our weaknesses, certain things – like roulette, scrumpy or chocolate – we can’t quite  trust ourselves to be around. The Spanish tend to lose their heads over fish, and none more so than hake. Merzula, as they call it, is their fish of choice, bordering on a national obsession – and now bordering on an international ecological disaster… much of it is caught by Spain’s extensive deepwater fleet, the biggest and most heavily subsidised in the European Union. Few species apart from cod and bluefin tuna are under more pressure”
The River Cottage Fish Book, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Nick Fisher

The verse in Genesis with the idea of dominating and treading down doesn’t seem to fit easily with the idea that we should fish gently and carefully.

And that was a command in the Garden of Eden before sin had entered the world. Now that sin has entered how much more aggressive and violent is mankind?See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out.

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you can’t kill your ancestors….or else

So a few weeks ago I had started reading Steven Pinker’s book ‘The Better Angels of our Nature‘ praising it for being well written unlike other writers.

So of course it was inevitable that the book then started getting a bit boring and long, so much so that I’ve decided to abandon it about half way through. (I still think that it might be a good book but that I’ve a short attention span.)

I guess also that I was reading looking to pick holes.
I wanted to be able to talk about things with my brother in law for example or to just try and understand things from a different point of view.

Maybe the hole I would pick if I was picking a hole is  that I don’t really understand how from a purely evolutionary point of view  someone like Steven Pinker would think that violence is necessarily a nasty thing or something we should turn our noses up at. The back cover says that this

‘myth-destroying new book reveals how contrary to popular belief, humankind has become progressively less violent, over millennia and decades’

Well that’s great news if it’s true, but if it’s all a cosmic chemical reaction is there anything ‘wrong’ with all that violence that went on all those years ago and that we’re apparently leaving behind?
You can write books appalled at how awful we were to each other in the violent old days, but hey, it worked. You’re writing books because your ancestors acted violently and proved themselves stronger and more suitable gene vehicles for the conditions than others at the time. They had traits that meant they were more adapted to conditions, the made it through to the next round.

I’m not really sure what I’m trying to say. Something like the whole book doesn’t make sense. My nephew came out with a line to his mum a few months back, something like

You can’t kill your ancestors or else you wouldn’t exist..’ 

If you’re reading this and natural selection by cold chemical reactions and physics is what brought about life, if  ‘our purpose’ is to be some type of gene vehicle then all that violence was  effective because it ensured that our ancestors survived and that we now exist.  In a way violence was/is beneficial as our ancestors weren’t killed or murdered.

better angels

I was staying at my sister-in-laws over the Christmas holidays and noticed some ‘light’ bedtime reading by the bed in the spare room, ‘The Better Angels of our Nature‘ by Stephen Pinker which I was sort of fascinated by. Then last week there was a copy in the library which I’ve brought home and have started to read.

It is a very long book. Well, not very long, but long enough for me. And he is a very good writer so I am reading it and enjoying it.
But it feels like a much more dangerous book for a Christian to be reading than some of the books by Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins because

a) I enjoy his writing
b) He is very good at pulling out studies and burying you under a weight of smartness which you can’t be bothered to check out. You are just swept along by the writing
c) He shoots Christianity down, but doesn’t do it in a way that makes you particularly annoyed. Instead of trying to prove that he thinks it’s all wrong like Hitchens and Dawkins and that you should believe that it’s wrong (which gets your back up) he just gets on with assuming it’s all wrong and writing about the book.

So that’s what I’m reading at the moment. One thing I’ve noticed is that about a quarter of the book through and I don’t remember there being a  definition of violence or what he means by violence.

 

*edit*

I’m not sure what I mean by dangerous book for Christians to be reading. That sounds like my teenage days talking when people used to say that you couldn’t listen to rock music as it was from the devil.

Voices Against War

the last tycoon336‘Violence is concerned with power and greed; people seek their own advantage to the detriment of others in the world. The financial people who swindled pensioners out of their pensions showed violence towards these people’

Leslie Hardie, CO, Second World War

So I finished a book I’ve been reading, Voices Against War by Lyn Smith a book based on the testimony of ‘those who participated in protest – from the Great War of 1914-1918 through to….the ongoing conflicts in Iraq in Afghanistan’

So much to think about. It’s all very well thinking you’re against war, but what if a Nazi with a gun came for Helen or my mum, what would you propose to do about the concentration camp?

But that is the theoretical side of things, what about the violence of our daily lives, the violence that we experience every day? The voice of Leslie Hardie above reminds me the violence I commit by merely being human in a very complex word.

For instance, last night I sold a book on Amazon, something which I’ve been doing the last few years. A considerable % of the price I sold it for went to Amazon as it has with the various books, DVD’s and CD’s I’ve sold. In effect I’ve done some work for Amazon.

Yet I also know that Amazon are less than honourable in their tax affairs using tax loopholes to avoid paying corporation tax.

Because of their size and power they are able to gain an unfair advantage over those who can’t afford to move to The Channel Islands yet have to pay their taxes. I know this happens and I know that by selling books on Amazon or buying books on Amazon I am swelling their coffers.

Of course our lives are so complicated these days. Not that lives weren’t always complicated, but now everything is comlicated because we can find out about stuff at breakneck speed with electronic communication.

Everything is so complicated and it has to power to depress you (well me at any rate) because you’ll go mad. Can we go around worrying about how every action has consequences? Perhaps one of those virtues that we need most but rarely talk about is wisdom. Not training, or education, but wisdom, the power to make wise decisions in day to day life. I know I need more of it.

trying not to boil away

I was reading this book in Belfast today as PSNI choppers hovered above, riot police blocked roads with white landrovers and  ‘peaceful’ protesters went  protesting about east Belfast with a healthy slice of rioting and destruction.
I am trying to deal with contempt for these people, to understand their issues or show compassion but it’s hard as most of you will probably understand.
At one point I was imagining the police helicopter armed with Hellfire missiles to fire into the streets of east Belfast and unleashing something that would really encourage people to give up and go home.

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Still, violence isn’t going to halt violence.
This testimony from a medic serving in Syria during World War II reminded me of that, maybe also of my responsibilities if I claim somehow to be a Christian. If we can’t offer something radically different from an eye for an eye then what’s the point?

‘Once we heard of someone giving information about us to the Germans. We thought we knew who he was, so my gang went and captured him and brought him in front of me. He was very frightened. The boys said, ‘Let’s beat him up.‘ I had absolute power over this man and I felt the desire rising up inside me to smash him, to break him. It was really a terrifying feeling because it went against all my instincts, a violence erupting out of the very depths of myself. And I came to realise that this was the Hitler in me. That was a fundamental, mind-changing thing. I suddenly knew that the violence I was fighting against – the concentration camps, the sadism, the torture – was boiling up inside my guts. That has been a profoundly important insight for my life – that one should recognise the darkness. I sometimes feel that if you become a total pacifist, the danger is that you begin to think that you haven’t got these things in you. You become very gentle and smiling, but underneath you’re boiling away’

(Bishop) Stephen Verney, medic with HSU, Syria