Make Life a Mythic Journey
…for all our concern for life and health, monstrous engines of destruction have been invented which could easily exterminate the human race.
—-C.G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self (p. 97)
At 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945 a solitary B-29, the Enola Gay, in the words of pilot, Paul Tibbetts, “dropped the first atomic bomb in history” over Hiroshima, Japan. According to historian, Richard Rhodes, in his award-winning book, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, the device detonated “1,900 feet above the courtyard of Shima Hospital,” “70,000 [of the city’s
76,000 buildings] were damaged or destroyed, 48,000 totally” and “recent estimates place the number of deaths up to the end of 1945 at 140,000” with an additional 60,00 deaths “related to the bombing” over the next five years (pp. 728, 734).
Today, sixty-seven years later, we are still grappling with the political and psychological fall-out from the dawn of the nuclear age. We successfully navigated multiple crises during the nearly 50-year Cold War period following the end of World War II in 1945. But, it took the experience and wisdom of two U.S. Presidents—Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy, to avoid a nuclear showdown with the Soviet Union. President Truman, who authorized the Hiroshima bombing, successfully resisted calls to use atomic weapons in the Korean War; and President Kennedy, a veteran of the war in the Pacific, similarly moved from the brink in the Cuban Missile crisis. Today, when those leaders and their policy advisers have passed on, we face not only their loss, but also a failure of collective memory of the consequences of nuclear war.
Jung warned of a potential catastrophe that would occur 50 years after his death in 1961. He wrote in The Undiscovered Self, “it is in the nature of political bodies always to see evil in the opposite group, just as the individual has an ineradicable tendency to get rid of everything he does not know and does not want to know about himself by foisting it off on somebody else (pp. 99-100).” Today, we face just such a threat in the Middle East where a new generation of U.S. politicians is struggling to deal with Iran’s suspected ambition to become a nuclear power and the strident opposition of the political leadership in Israel.
Recently, the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee, Mitt Romney visited Israel and gave his tacit support for unilateral Israeli intervention against Iran’s nuclear complex Such ill-considered advice by a Presidential candidate and his Bush-era neocon advisers has potentially catastrophic consequences of the kind Jung imagined. Specifically, it is likely that Israel would have to use nuclear armaments to successfully attack Iran’s nuclear research facilities. This would almost inevitably draw the United States into a war with Iran and possibly its allies China and Russia. Given the current political climate in Israel, it is not improbable that such a devastating “October surprise” could occur. The tepid response of the Obama Administration so far offers little comfort in containing Mr. Romney’s reckless rhetoric and restraining the Netanyahu government.
On the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, we must insist the we and our political leaders re-learn the history of the nuclear era starting with Rhodes’ book and also viewing the U. S. Army films of Hiroshima in the days following the attack. And, more importantly, they must follow Jung’s admonition that “nothing promotes understanding and rapprochement more than” when “we are prepared to doubt the absolute rightness of our assumptions and compare them carefully and conscientiously with the objective facts.”
Paul Marshall Wortman
August 5. 2012