I’ve followed the ups and downs of the Doomsday Clock for 60 years. I first learned about it as a University of Chicago freshman in 1963, that it was created there in 1947 by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. What a neat metaphor to convey how close humanity is to destroying itself. Designed by painter Martyl Langsdorf, the Clock has become an international symbol of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change and disruptive technologies.
Every January the Bulletin announces the yearly setting. After 3 years at 100 seconds, the closest in its history, no one following the Clock’s countdown to Midnight was surprised today when it was moved 10 seconds closer to Doomsday. The Bulletin’s Science and Security Board cited the potential US Russian nuclear confrontation over Ukraine as the leading cause for the ominous move forward: “The US government, its NATO allies and Ukraine have a multitude of channels for dialogue; we urge leaders to explore all of them to their fullest ability to turn back the Clock.”
For those of us who believe in inexorable human progress, the past 32 years have been anything but. In 1991 the Clock was backed off from 12 minutes to Midnight (Doomsday) to 17 minutes (1,020 seconds), the furthest away in its first 44 years. This resulted from recognition of the heralded end to the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and advances in nuclear disarmament agreements.
But the Cold War simply went into hibernation as the US looked for new enemies to expand its gargantuan military arsenal, including nukes. Twenty years of reckless Islamophobia channeled American military adventurism throughout the Middle East. When that adventurism faded after two decades, the US decided to light a flame under that dormant Cold War with Russia by doubling now obsolete NATO right up to Russia’s borders. ‘Don’t worry about those troops and missiles on your doorstep Mother Russia. We just want to keep you the hell out of Western Europe’s political economy’.
What could go wrong? Just Russia, after 8 years of endless provocations in Ukraine, with thousands of Russian speaking Ukrainians dead from Ukraine brutality, invading 11 months ago today. And in America and Russia today….all nukes are on the table.
What’s equally sad about today’s ominous setting at 90 seconds to Midnight? Our government, our media, our citizenry took little note, going about their lives of noisy desperation oblivious to the danger to existence we face. As Chicago once famously sang, “Does anybody really know what time it is?”
Walt Zlotow became involved in antiwar activities upon entering University of Chicago in 1963. He is current president of the West Suburban Peace Coalition based in the Chicago western suburbs. He blogs daily on antiwar and other issues at www.heartlandprogressive.blogspot.com.