Monday, 4 December 2006

Nuclear War

This seems to be on the agenda again, with the news that Tony Blair is going to insist on replacing Trident.

Radio 5 Live played a snippet from the Public Information Film: "Protect and Survive - Action after Warnings" at about 5 this evening, which was intriguing, because presenter Peter Allen talked as if we were all familiar with these things - they were never shown, of course, and only clips of them were first seen in "Threads" in 1984. It just shows the insidiousness of this unique fear, that something very few people have seen can be treated as a cultural memory.

A social historian they interviewed called Protect and Survive completely wrong. He said that it was naive to think anyone could survive with the measures it advocated - fallout shelters, food stocks, etc. Some people would have survived, mainly those in rural areas and on the edges of towns. It was them Protect and Survive was aimed at, not the rest of the population, which makes it cynical, not naive. As I've written before, the PIF "Casualties" is the most appalling cultural document anywhere. It is the abandonment of the people to the supreme horror.

The discussion they had was curious, and it brought up some interesting things -such as the gradual displacement of the fear of nuclear armageddon with that of climate meltdown, but the fact of fear being central anyway. To me, the concept of nuclear war is totally different from any other war; almost literally unimaginable. Even "Threads" doesn't go far enough - for reasons of budget, probably.

How can a civilisation live under this threat - and remember it was at 4 minutes' notice, not the 50 years for climate change - and not be affected, at some deep level of its psyche? Without wanting to sound like a 10th rate Jung, could there be a concept such as "collective trauma", in which the ever presence of imminent and total destruction would leave its marks long after it had gone? Are we really living in the sunlit uplands of the post-Cold War period, or are we acting out the collective mental disturbances sown in our past?

Have we, indeed, actually finished the twentieth century at all? I tend to think some things, such as our anxiety over climate change and the shrill language surrounding it, may instead be ways in which we're trying to grasp its legacy. Maybe we're only just getting started on facing up to what we went through, the vast, mechanised murder, the leaders who slaughtered by the million while smiling and promising great worlds, even the tower blocks which were supposed to be new communities in the sky - and what our civilisation caused and nearly caused.

2 comments:

james higham said...

...Without wanting to sound like a 10th rate Jung, could there be a concept such as "collective trauma", in which the ever presence of imminent and total destruction would leave its marks long after it had gone? Are we really living in the sunlit uplands of the post-Cold War period, or are we acting out the collective mental disturbances sown in our past?...

I believe the seeds are being deliberately sown and are linked with seeds from the past, as you intimate. The purpose is to leave the people in a state of trancelike, zombylike, dull fear. This is an important post.

The Tin Drummer said...

I believe the seeds are being deliberately sown and are linked with seeds from the past, as you intimate. The purpose is to leave the people in a state of trancelike, zombylike, dull fear.


I do agree, but I'm not sure why. I understand why a government, especially an incompetent authoritarian one, would do this: but my point is also that even if they didn't want to do it deliberately it would be happening anyway. Does that make sense? Our art is "to shock", our favoured music is just the representation of orgasm in sound, we delight in the theory of zero, in literature at least.

The Englishman said to the German: "I am afraid of nothing." The German replied, thoughtfully:"Yes, it must be terrible for you."

There is something in the idea that this has broken down, and that we celebrate, even wish for, zero, nothingness, death.

Or am I just an old reactionary? OK - I know I am that, but I think there is something in this after all.