Playing with fire
Nobby was down the end of the row, occasionally squeaking with delight as he found an interesting war hammer or an especially evil-looking glaive. He was trying to hold everything, all at once. Then he dropped the lot and ran forward. ‘Oh wow! A Klatchian fire engine! This is more my meteor!’ They heard him rummaging around in the gloom. He emerged pushing a sort of bin on small squeaky wheels. It had various handles and fat leathery bags, and a nozzle at the front. It looked like a very large kettle. ‘The leather’s been kept greased, too!’ ‘What is it?’ said Carrot. ‘And there’s oil in the reservoir!’ Nobby pumped a handle energetically. ‘Last I heard, this thing had been banned in eight countries and three religions said they’d excommunicate any soldiers found using it!*
*Five more embraced it as a holy weapon and instructed that it be used on all infidels, heretics, gnostics and people who fidgeted during the sermon
Anyone got a light?’ ‘Here,’ said Carrot, ‘but what’s—’ ‘Watch!’ Nobby lit a match, applied it to the tube at the front of the device, and pulled a lever.
They put out the flames eventually. ‘Needs a bit of adjustment,’ said Nobby, through his mask of soot. ‘No,’ said Carrot. For the rest of his life he’d remember the jet of fire scorching his face en route to the opposite wall. ‘But it’s—’ ‘No. It’s too dangerous.’
‘It’s meant to be—’ ‘I mean it could hurt people.’ ‘Ah,’ said Nobby, ‘right. You should have said. We’re after weapons that don’t hurt people, right?’
– Men at Arms, Terry Pratchett, Corgi 1993
Vaguely I wonder who exactly refers to it as the ‘Son of Satan’… or if there is indeed an ICBM that is (or perhaps was) dubbed merely ‘Satan’, of which this a derivative or perhaps it is some form of technological progeny of the original. I can’t be bothered to look it up… but it did remind me of something else (since they were going on about the Devil)
(Taken from a summary of Journey to the West)
The central figure of this novel is a magical monkey who founds a monkey civilization and becomes its leader by establishing a territory for the monkeys. Subsequently, the monkey king overcomes a “Devil confusing the world”, and steals the devils sword.
Returning to his own land with the Devils Sword, the monkey king takes up swordsmanship. He even teaches his monkey subjects to make toy weapons and regalia to play at war.
Unfortunately, though a ruler of a nation, the martial monkey king is not yet ruler of himself. In eminently logical backward reasoning, the monkey reflects that if neighboring nations note the monkeys play, they might assume the monkeys were preparing for war. In that case, they mighty therefore take preemptive action against the monkeys, who would then be faced with real warfare armed only with toy weapons.
Thus, the monkey king thoughtfully initiates the arms race, ordering preemptive stockpiling of real weapons.
(Journey to the West is a Chinese novel published in the 16th century during the Ming dynasty and attributed to Wu Cheng’en. It is regarded as one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, and has been described as arguably the most popular literary work in East Asia)
In any event, I find it quite interesting that a 13th (I think) century Tao-ist novel kinda predicted our modern geopolitics. Although maybe hoarding arms is the age old tradition that we’ve been carefully nurturing since the beginning of time (and not prostitution as we’ve been led to believe). Still, an armory filled with sharp-swords (or indeed Klatchian fire engines) doesn’t quite have the world ending potential that our current stockpiles do.
Up until the mid to late 80’s… when that picture was taken, the adults in the room knew that there was a good chance the world could end in a fiery conflagration. (I don’t think I suspected any of that was actually true… which was quite nice I feel, ignorance might really be bliss) And then it all that angst went away… and we had this huge opportunity to move humanity forward…
It was the realisation that the cold war was over in the other way, too. That is was quite likely now that we would NOT have to think every day of the possibility of a mistake or a crime, or a blunder leading to what was euphemistically called in my home town of Washington, DC., a nuclear exchange. Imagine thinking of a thermonuclear holocaust as an ‘exchange’.
But that was the way we tried to make the thought go away. It was an extraordinary period. And in those days, some of you will remember, and you can look it up, there was talk of a peace dividend, of the possibility of transferring the enormous resources that we had been putting into warfare, into peaceful projects and into doing something about the real victims of the Cold war, who were the inhabitants of the countries we used to call the third world. That there would be, possibly, a new internationalism, a new comity internationally, a new renunciation of force, some spare money, and a common feeling that the values of pluralism and democracy were worth having for their own sake, and had so to speak, proved their worth in ideological combat against both fascism and stalinism. It was a blissful time to be around I tell you. That’s November the 9th, call it, thats the day the Berlin wall fell.
-transcript of a speech by Christopher Hitchens, 2005.
And instead… here we are. (30 years later)