Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
20 February 2008


An exchange of atom bombs is nothing but a festival of mutual suicide - Oliver Postgate continues hi

By Oliver Postgate

“Lord, look down upon your world!” commanded the Devil.

“Why should I?” replied God. “It stinks.”

“I said look! not sniff. Look down on a single moment sixty-two years ago. The moment in which you remade time. The moment when you allowed mankind to see itself as it was, in a single flash of eternity.”

“OK. So I let them drop an atom bomb on Hiroshima. It was a strategic decision. True it involved some collateral damage, but in total it saved more lives than would have been lost if I hadn’t.”

“Yes, and it also put a full-stop to the end of a festival of human beastliness and mutual murder. And more than that it was a sign, a warning, to humanity, that unless the stupid bastards stop finding ever more beastly ways of killing each other and poisoning the planet they will commit suicide, turn your green and lovely land into a dead rock, spinning uncounted years in the emptiness of space, a place where, to all intents and purposes, life, love and laughter never existed. That was the message.”

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

“Thankyou for letting me know my own message.” said God. “Do you have any more superfluous information?”

Content from our partners
Transport is the core of levelling up
The forgotten crisis: How businesses can boost biodiversity
Small businesses can be the backbone of our national recovery

“Yes. It didn’t work.”

“What do you mean ‘it didn’t work?” God was noticeably put out. “There hasn’t been a nuclear war. And once that heroic traitor Klaus Fuchs had sent the recipé for the bomb to Russia the message was inescapable. Humanity must either give up the idea that nuclear fission was a weapon of war or commit suicide.”

“Huh! Where did you get that idea?”asked the Devil.

“Well it’s obvious, you smoking cinder!” snapped God. A weapon of war exists to do a known amount of damage at a known cost. If both sides can totally destroy the other in one go, there is nothing left of either side but red-hot rubble. So an exchange of atom bombs is nothing but a festival of mutual suicide.”

“So what happened?”

The immortals gazed down upon the last half-century of our lives.

“At least nobody has let off another nuclear weapon yet.” said God. “At least deterrence has worked so far.”

“Yes, so far,” said the Devil, but the empire-builders and the arms manufacturers could not bring themselves to admit that their definitive ultimate weapon was a load of poisonous junk. They were an important industry and they could see their balance-sheets dissolving. So they decided that mutual-suicide bombs had value as military weapons according to the quantity and sophistication held.”

“That’s complete rubbish!” said God.

“Absolutely! agreed the Devil. “But the military-industries stood by the need to have more and better intercontinental missiles, because they claimed that if they didn’t have more than their potential foes, their nation would be undefended.

“Crap!” said God. “That was bullshit, total dangerous bullshit, but at the same time it served a greater human need than truth. It served the people’s need to feel they were defended against the terrible might of the imaginary enemy’s ever-growing arsenal of nuclear weapons. Also, by pretending that nuclear weapons gave military might according to the quantities held, the western powers were hoping it could bankrupt the Soviet Union and cause it to give up the competition. Thus the US and its allies thought it might get back the prize of world domination which sole possession of the atomic bomb might have given them. It was a vain pointless contest but it gave people the impression that they were being defended.”

“It was also a bare-faced lie,” added the Devil. “We watched otherwise honourable statesmen come out with resounding porkies like the laughable “Protect and Survive” handbook, and heard the immortal Secretary of State for defence, Michael Heseltine, tell the Party Conference that the British people would show the world that they have nerves of steel and that they are willing to make any sacrifice in order to preserve their institutions and way of life. He said: “If we are resolute in our determination to combat any aggression with all the weapons at our command, then, at the nuclear brink we can be certain that our enemies will pull back!”
“Needless to say our enemies would be telling themselves the same thing the other way round and we would see both sides approaching the nuclear brink resolutely being certain that if they press on, the other side is absolutely sure to pull back.
“That was NATO’s defence policy for Europe in the 1980’s and if it had ever been put to the test it would have led straight to death.”

“Nor would there be any institutions or way of life left to defend.” added God. “The world is lucky that time is past.”

“It isn’t.” said the Devil. “The great enemy of truth is fear, and although those pieces of resounding rubbish had the effect of inspiring many hundreds of sensible people to join the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the majority of people, egged on by campaigns of vilification by HM Government against the traitorous CND, preferred the official fairy-tale. Later, the dissolution of the imagined enemy – the Soviet Union, did make things a bit difficult for the nuclear arms trade, but now they have tried another track. They will keep the big nukes ready in reserve and quietly concentrate on developing small-scale versions for use as starters.”

“So we are back at square one.” said God. “The nukes are still being categorised and piled up as weapons of war, and the moment the starters fly, the big ones will follow. Tell me, Oh master of Evil, “Why did this-all happen? Do you know?”

“Yes.” replied the Devil. “When your loved ones are frightened, they lose the ability to think. Ask them a simple riddle: “When is a weapon not a weapon?” Answer: “When it blows everything to pieces.”
“Your world will bring about its own end and destroy everything in it as a result of a small semantic quibble which a child of five could have answered.”

“Get thee behind me, friend.” said God, as he limped away.