The Time's Plague

Richard Macintosh

June 9, 2003


"'Tis the time's plague when madmen lead the blind."
--Shakespeare, King Lear, Act 4, Scene 1: line 47 (Words of the Earl of Gloucester)

I remember the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I was twelve years old at the time. To the members of my family, it meant the end of World War II and the accompanying deprivations of wartime life. My parents looked forward to the safe return of family members who had served in the armed forces. It did not occur to them that something had radically changed in our world. My parents thought of atomic bombs as just "super-big bombs." No problem. No problem, because we had these big bombs and the rest of the world did not.

I asked the unmentionable: "But won't other countries get big bombs, too?"

My father just looked at me. He didn't have an answer, so he quickly made one up. "Well, maybe some other countries," he said, "but not the really bad ones, because we just beat them." That didn't make much sense, but I had learned that pestering my father when he was in a weak position was not a good idea.

No, my father's reply didn't make much sense, but in a world gone awry, what has to make sense? Children ask for meaning, but adults have long ago rationalized away moral truth.

The caustic pen of Mark Twain comes to mind. On the river, Huck Finn protected his friend, Jim, by lying to men looking for runaway slaves. Then, in a twist, Twain had Huck rationalize that it was OK to lie, as he "hadn't been started right" (gone to church, or to school) and, therefore, didn't know the difference between right and wrong. (1)

It seems that in August, 1945, only the innocent knew the difference between right and wrong. A statement by H. L. Mencken is more than apt:
"Men can fool other men, but they can seldom fool boys." (2)
But soon enough, new enemies appeared. Suddenly, there was a new "Red Scare," and Americans were told that "World Communism," led by the Soviet Union, posed a dangerous threat. This coincided with the advent of the Cold War in 1948 and was underlined when the USSR exploded an atomic device in September of 1949.

I am old enough to remember the "drop drills" in school. For you younger people out there, a "drop drill" was to protect the students from an atomic blast. No kidding. The teacher would say "Drop!" and each student would drop to the floor and roll up into a little ball under his or her desk. This was obviously a farce, but who was thinking? I mean, hiding under a desk? This is going to protect the students from an atomic blast? In our more lucid moments, we would joke about it, especially when looking at the teacher cowering under her desk. But, along with the joking we were losing our sensitivity and our innocence. We ceased questioning our government and whether, or not, the enemy du jour actually planned to attack us. The fact that nations savaged by the Second World War -- such as the USSR -- were in no position to instigate a new war never penetrated our consciousness.

But the "Red Scare" was getting into high gear. Senator Joseph McCarthy investigated alleged communist influence in the government, academia and even Hollywood. The investigation of the "Hollywood Ten" led to the blacklisting of some of Hollywood's most creative talents, including Charlie Chaplin and Daltron Trumbo, the author of "Johnny Got His Gun." This was followed by the trial and execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg who were convicted of spying and transmitting atomic secrets to the USSR.

John Foster Dulles, the Secretary of State in the Eisenhower administration, crafted the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) policy that threatened the USSR with annihilation if there was a nuclear attack on the west.

The NATO and SEATO alliances were formed and an early warning system, NORAD, would alert and protect us in case of an attack. Through the decades of the fifties, sixties and seventies, wars and rebellions threatened to expand into a major confrontation, but the fear of nuclear catastrophe held things in check.

Clearly something had to give. The world was growing weary of living under the threat of nuclear annihilation. Attempts were made to declare a nuclear truce and the major belligerents began talking about destroying their nuclear weapons. Although the initial progress was meager, agreements were made. A series of non-proliferation agreements were made, leading to the SALT I and SALT II treaties. Finally, a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed. The nuclear powers agreed to (a) not use nuclear weapons against a state that did not possess them and (b) not use them as a "first option."

Then, in 1991, the Soviet Union died. Just like that! No more "Evil Empire!"

For a brief time the world believed that the rationale for war and terror would abate. The fate of the world lay with the decision of the United States of America. What would be the decision? After all, America was "good," wasn't it?

The decision of the United States of America was to go on offense.

It was a decision that both the Democratic and Republican parties bought into. Madeleine Albright, the Secretary of State in the Clinton administration, put it this way:
"If we have to use force, it is because we are America! We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall, and we see further into the future." (3)
How neat.

With the Bush II administration, the hubris has gone further. Liberated from restraint by the tragedy of 9-11, this administration has abrogated international law, agreements and protocols. It has browbeaten and threatened old allies who questioned our direction. It has sought and received a blank check from the Congress to wage war at will, while at home a draconian "Patriot Act," an act that guts much of the Bill of Rights, has been passed and placed in effect. According to Ron Paul (R. Texas) this bill was voted on before it was distributed to Congress for review. (4)

No matter.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is dead. The Bush II administration now reserves the right to use nuclear weapons against any state deemed a threat and to use them as a "first strike option."


The majority of Americans seem to think this belligerence is OK.

The Blind!

The majority of "the blind" are not old enough to remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

But, I am old enough and I do remember.

The proposal to build a new generation of atomic weapons is madness, born of a moral disconnect. The threat to the world is more than implied. Terrorizing the world with the threat of nuclear weapons is not a game to be played by Beltway Samurais and their think-tank buddies. Because of such arrogance, combined with thoughtlessness, the danger of a dead planet has become stark and real.

I never thought that I would live to see the leadership of my country act in such a manner.

In true Orwellian fashion, the words and actions of the American government do not line up. American foreign and domestic policies have become tangled in a bizarro world, where words change meaning to suit the whim of the moment. It is a world where, in a casual aside, Paul Wolfowitz could state that the WMD rationalization for the Iraq war was based on a bureaucratic search for consensus. (5)

Hey, no problem. . . Is anyone paying attention?

Apparently not anyone who matters.

Regarding the two major American political parties, it is obviously a mistake to expect any meaningful criticism of Tweedle Dee by Tweedle Dum.

So stand! Stand alone, if necessary. As Gandhi once said: "Do you think that anything on earth can be done without trouble?" (6)

The neo-conservative cabal that leads the Bush II administration plays hardball with anyone who questions its wisdom. Critics of American policy and the President are smeared on television and in the print media as "Bad Americans," or worse, "Anti-Semites."

"Bad Americans?"

Allow me to put the calumny in context and end this essay with the words of a thoughtful man who survived a Nazi death camp:
"So let us be alert -- alert in a twofold sense: Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of. And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake."
--Viktor Frankl (Man's Search for Meaning p.179)

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References and Resources

Shakespeare, William. King Lear, Folio Society, London. 1997.

Frankl, Viktor E. Man's Search For Meaning, Washington Square Press, New York, 1984.

1.  Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Heritage Press, 1940, p. 116.  (back)

2.  Mencken, H. L., The Golden Age of Pedagogy, A Second Mencken Chrestomathy, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1995, p. 380.  (back)

3.  Albright, Madeleine, Remarks on Iraq, NBC Today Show, February 19, 1998.  (back)

4.  O'Meara, Kelly Patricia, "Police State," Insight Magazine, posted November 9, 2001.  (back)

5.  "Wolfowitz Comments Revive Doubts Over Iraq's WMD," USA Today, May 30, 2003.  (back)

6.  Fischer, Louis. The Essential Gandhi, Vintage Books, New York, 1962, p. 205.  (back)

Iraq on Swans


Richard Macintosh was a Public High School Teacher in California (1956-1989). Ed.D, Educational Leadership, BYU, 1996. MA, Liberal Studies, Wesleyan University, 1982. BA, history, Stanford University, 1956... Macintosh is currently a part-time consultant on Personnel/Team matters in Washington State.

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Published June 9, 2003
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