"That I should have been born in 1915, that I should be the contemporary of Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Vietnam, and the Watts riots, are things about which I was not first consulted. Yet they are also events in which, whether I like it or not, I am deeply and personally involved." CWA p.161
Thomas Merton lived and wrote against the backdrop of nuclear proliferation, atmospheric and underground testing, and the very real and imminent possibility of global thermonuclear war. One only has to revisit the events of the sixties to be reminded of how real the threat of nuclear war was at that time. It's not possible to reflect on Merton's "Passion for Peace" without having at least a little glance from the nuclear perspective.
"Up to now (August 1962) there have been 106 nuclear tests since testing began again (almost a year). Thirty-one of these by the USSR, seventy-four by the USA, and one by Britain, in the USA (Nevada). The USA has made twenty-nine atmospheric tests, twenty-six in the South Pacific and three in Nevada. The USA has also made forty-four underground tests and one in the stratosphere. Total of all nuclear tests since the beginning: USA 229, USSR 86, UK 22, France 5. Grand total: 342 nuclear tests, of which 282 were in the atmosphere...Nice going boys!" CGB p.251
Baby Boomers and the Bomb
Our "boomer generation" has lived with the possibility of nuclear war all of our lives. Our childhood was filled with images and sounds of impending atomic doom, our youth with sounds and images of resistance and protest.
"The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists" has used the "Doomsday Clock" as an illustration of how close we are to "catastrophic destruction" since 1947. In 1968 the clock was set at 7 minutes to midnight, in 1991 it was set at 17 minutes to midnight, in 2007 it was set at 5 minutes to midnight. The clock was set at 2 minutes to midnight in 1953 after the U.S. and U.S.S.R. developed and tested the hydrogen bomb and 3 minutes to midnight in 1984, one of the "chilliest" points of the "cold war".
The "tick-ticking" of the "doomsday clock" is just another component of the background noise of everyday life, just like muzak, traffic, and TV ads. Sometimes we've heeded its alarm, awakened, and taken action. But, mostly we've just slept through it.
2008 concerns include nuclear weapons in the hands of "rogue states" or terrorists; the destabilizing development and deployment of missile defence systems; and the slow pace of reducing existing stockpiles. A review of the news today will include stories about the testing of a new missile in Iran (capable of striking Israel), advice from a general to an incoming president on continuing a missile defence program, and plans by Russia to deploy missiles in Kalingrad, "a forward area close to Western Europe".
"The only sane course that remains is to work frankly and without compromise for the total abolition of war."
Thomas Merton 1962