Nuclear Weapons and Extreme Threats

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 2153 ... July 24, 2020
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Nuclear Weapons and Extreme Threats:
A Tale of Two Men Handling Emergency

Judith Deutsch

One man reacted to emergency and the other one didn’t. The two men are Richard Feynman (1918 - 1988), the highly revered Nobel Prize laureate nuclear physicist, and 22-year old David Livingston, Senior Airman and missile repairman who was killed in the Titan II nuclear missile accident in Damascus, Arkansas, in 1980. The purpose of focusing on these two men is not to describe "human nature" or masculinity or to diagnose psycho-pathology. It is to look at a case of nuclearism, at what went wrong, what could have been different, and what in these men’s characters interfaced with society. To draw this distinction, the sources for this article are Feynman’s talk and transcript about his work on the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project, and Eric Schlosser’s book Command and Control: Nuclear weapons, the Damascus accident, and the illusions of safety.

We face today at least four emergencies (each intertwined with the logics of capitalism but also having... distinct dynamics and features): nuclear, climate, pandemic, and racism. Handling extreme threat means recognizing that there is an emergency in people’s lives, directing all attention on how to prevent, mitigate or prepare for it, and urgently prioritizing the saving of lives. An adult reaction to emergency would include realistic fear, concern for oneself and others, a rational sense of time, and single-minded focus.

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