Anti-Nuclear Terror or, I Feel a Chiliasm

Several years ago I had a hippie roommate who dismissed punk by saying, “You can’t keep announcing the apocalypse for the day after tomorrow.” He was right, and not only because punk had the shortest half-life of any counter-culture to date. Fear is a mighty force, especially if there really is reason to be scared shitless, as in the case of anything nuclear. But, even apart from the disabling distress attending the experience, fear has its limits as a motivation, and the Newest Left — the antiwar/anti-nuke opposition — may trip itself up unless it respects them.

Terror — including, but not only the “terrorism” we’re trained to selectively abhor — can probably induce almost any response a scaremonger wants, at least for awhile. But it lends itself to some uses much more than others. Historically it’s always worked best to buffalo people into war: only recently has fear of war itself overridden fear of the officially anointed Enemy for significant numbers of people in Europe and America.

The irreversibly catastrophic consequences of nuclear war have offered to antiwar activists an insidious temptation to terrorize the terrorists. What is Reagan’s shopworn Red Scare compared to worldwide biocide? And any halfwit can see that the nearest nuclear power plant is a menace beside which a few faraway insurgent banana-republicans appear as virtual phantasms, even if you give some credence to Cold War mythology. Turning the tables on our Trilateral tyrants serves them right. But is it right to serve them?

To oversimplify: people can be frightened into doing things to about the same extent they can be coerced into doing them. Force and fear can prevent people from doing most anything they want to. They can also compel the execution of a few fairly simple tasks. But they can’t command creativity or imagination. (In the antebellum south, field hands could be whipped into working — up to a point — but slave craftsman enjoyed a great deal of slack, although legally they were equally at the mercy of their masters. The law oversteps the bounds of workaday reality at its own peril.) You can create a bogeyman easily enough, and the Newest Left has done so, with perhaps more justification than any of its predecessors. But (one, two, three) what are we fighting for?

Self-induced hysteria can only eventuate in burnout (or sellout). If the antiwar doomsayers at their most extravagant are correct, the world will shortly self-destruct and we needn’t concern ourself with petty peripheral problems like statism or class society. Instead, let us wish our successors the cockroaches the best of luck as, freed at last from the ravages of Black Flag, they take their turn trying to evolve to the point they can raise the black flag as their own.

But if — as, operationally, we all assume — neither nuclear holocaust nor ecocide is going to happen in the short run, then there is time, if there is time for anything, to doubt whether frenzy is the shortcut to salvation. You have to wonder about a movement encompassing Republicans for a Nuclear Freeze, Catholics for a Nuclear Freeze, Union Bosses for a Nuclear Freeze, Stalinists for a (unilateral) Nuclear Freeze, Momentarily Out-of-Office Warmongers for a Nuclear Freeze, etc. Are they all under an umbrella — or a circus tent? Such promiscuity perhaps obscures the fundamental difference between those of Us who crave peace, health, freedom and pleasure — and those of Them who, apart from the interest they presumably share with us in avoiding vaporization, make it their (that is to say, business’) business to deny our aspirations and who, until ten minutes ago, were the pillars of the System which created this crisis.

It isn’t ritual obeisance to various Marxist or other-ist theories which reduce nukes and all other evils from video games to split ends to some demonic abstraction (capitalism, irreligion, the wrong half of the brain, possession of a penis, etc.) that I’m proposing — far from it. That’s the kind of (for lack of a better word) thinking that got us into this mess. Anti-nukers are right to defend their insight into the malignity of nuclearism itself against various opportunist leftist and/or moralist imperialists who try to annex the issue for their own purposes. But this is not to say that nukes fell on our heads from Mars one day. In fact they’re the product of our own society — indeed, our own country, later joined by assorted Stalinist and nationalist regimes. It’s the lowest-common-denominator, moderate favor-traders whose anti-nuclear ardor is naive or hypocritical; not the intransigence of those who only assert the obvious when they point out that nukes are the patricidal children of a nucleogenic society.

When “respectable” antinuclear Establishmentarians argue that a freeze is reasonable since, after all, we already have the capacity to exterminate our alleged enemies many times over — doesn’t that confirm the utter inadequacy of the electoral freeze-fetish?

Although — even because — there is good cause for fear, we must appeal less to fear (and hate) than to love, lust, creative power, untrammeled imagination, hope and desire. What we crave at long last is life, not mere miserable survival, which almost certainly we can’t have anyway without a radical overturn of institutions and a radical transvaluation of values. Only Pluto, the God of Wealth, disputes his plutonium paternity. I have to agree with what Bob Brubaker has written: “To me, a movement that criticizes daily life without ever mentioning nuclear weapons is far more profound than a movement which criticizes nuclear weapons without ever mentioning everyday life.”

Part III: Appeal To Treason