Nuclear Myths

Donald Paneth May 25, 2005

UNITED NATIONS—The final week of negotiations at the seventh nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference was frantic. Most of the meetings of the conference’s three main committees were closed to the public and press. Questions included: Would the conference be able to reach a consensus and write a final document that would preserve the 35-year-old treaty? If it were, what would be in it? And would it be enough to prevent the world from sliding into a nuclear abyss? It was difficult for correspondents, United Nations Secretariat members, and non-governmental organization experts to determine what was happening behind the closed doors.

Nobody knows what they are doing with regard to the nuclear threat. The United States is losing two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has Syria and Iran in its sights. Its nuclear policies are based on first use and even use against countries that are not nuclear-armed. It will use nuclear weapons before it loses any more wars.

The conference might be represented diagrammatically by a maze (the NPT) within a labyrinth (diplomatic negotiations) at the center of which was a myth (of power and danger). The diagram would be augmented by an historic chronology.

Man continues to go through cycles of violence, war and peace. Perhaps next time around, a nuclear aggressor will knock the earth off its axis – finis.

Man has been unable to confront the monsters within himself but instead projects them on to others – the enemy, the stranger. Serving the old gods of power and riches and victory, man re-enacts ancient myths of self-destruction.

Nuclear weapons are sacred to those nations that possess them, hence the unwillingness to disarm.

They represent ultimate power, and conjure up the mythical underworld in which dwelt the monsters of man’s psyche – Cyclops, the Sphinx and Oedipus, the Minotaur. Over and over humanity re-enacts the ancient Greek myths. The monsters triumph.

The Minotaur lurked in the center of his labyrinth, and consumed the young men and women of Athens sent as tribute. Ariadne has perished in the modern world. Theseus wanders in the labyrinth without a thread to lead him out.

Man is lost in the labyrinth of his ambiguous, contradictory, destructive nature.

Man attempts to engage himself, perhaps to redirect himself, but refuses to acknowledge his violent, divided nature. He might educate himself out of his predicament if he recognized it. Governments and nations preferred to torture the question.

The ancient myths remain unresolved.