The text of a presentation delivered by the author to the Sixth World Congress of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War in 1986.
Ten Theses on Chernobyl – Günther Anders
Dear contemporaries of the end times!
For that is what we are: contemporaries of the end times, and it is our duty not to become contemporaries of the end of times, precisely in order to continue to concern ourselves with them. This series of theses is the third one that I shall have proposed on this topic. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung accepted the first in 1957; these days that newspaper does not get involved in that kind of thing. I pronounced the second in 1959, after my return from Hiroshima, to the students of the Free University of Berlin, which published and distributed them. I concluded the first series of theses with the sentence, “Hiroshima is everywhere”. Later, I used this slogan as the title of one of my books. The way I see it, today is the perfect time to avail myself of the opportunity to coin a new slogan: “Chernobyl is everywhere”. The first two series were warnings. I hope that the same function will be served by the third. Therefore, I am assailed by powerful doubts and my heart is torn apart to have to say that in the meantime the first stage of what my first two series of theses warned against has perhaps commenced. In any event we must persist in our efforts to make everyone aware of the danger.1
To begin with something perfectly topical.
Today, the real danger consists in the invisibility of the danger. No one is capable of constantly being aware of this invisibility. Such an achievement seems to be beyond our psychological capacity. If we want to survive, we must try to understand the invisible as if we had it right in front of us, and educate our fellow men with respect to this understanding and in the fear that it implies. Under no circumstances do we have the right to convince ourselves or anyone else that indifference constitutes proof of independence. Do not abandon your reason, do not opt for indifference just because it would be easier for you, or because the irradiated dish that they offer you seems at first sight to be more tasty.
We have been accused of “sowing panic” by those who still consider Metternich’s2 old slogan to be valid: “The first duty of the citizen is to remain calm.” Yes, it is true, we are sowing panic, we even make a profession of it. For anyone who thinks that the danger resides in the panic rather than in the danger against which we are trying to warn those who are afraid of being afraid, distorts the truth and deliberately blinds his fellow men.
To use the term “emotional” as a term of ridicule is to evince coldness and stupidity.
It is obvious that we will react “emotionally” to the threatening catastrophe and we shall not be ashamed to do so. Indeed, we should be ashamed to react any other way. Anyone who does not react in this way and calls our emotion irrational, reveals not only his coldness, but also his stupidity.
To distinguish between the military use and the peaceful use of nuclear energy is senseless and deceitful.
For we know that the allegedly peaceful nuclear power plants have for some time now, consistently and without respite, threatened not only certain people, or even all of humanity, but have also posed a threat to all life on earth. Their construction and operation are worse than the military use of atomic energy: they participate in a “Herostratic” project.3 Today, after Chernobyl, now that no one can feign ignorance, their defenders have deliberately committed a crime. This crime is not only called “genocide”—I often use the adverb, “only”!—but “globicide”, the destruction of the terraqueous globe. The supporters of nuclear energy, and above all the supporters of waste treatment facilities and super-reactors, are no better than President Truman, who ordered the bombing of Hiroshima. They are even worse than him, because today people know much more than that simple-minded President ever could have known in his time. They know what they are doing; he did not. That we, human beings, should die, whether from a nuclear missile or from a supposedly peaceful nuclear power plant, amounts to exactly the same thing. Both are equally deadly. Killing is killing. Dead means dead. Those who are supporters of the missile and those who are supporters of the power plant, those who minimize the effects of the one and those who minimize the effects of the other, are both cut from the same cloth.
Help is impossible.
For some time now, doctors have rationally concluded that all the studies devoted to the question of medical care in the event of a nuclear war are nothing but farces and smokescreens, and that any assistance on the part of doctors, and a fortiori any effective treatment, would be impossible in the case of such a catastrophe. Both assistance and effective treatment would be impossible because there would no longer be sick people, or patients to cure, or medicines, or hospitals, or food; in short, there would be nothing. The claims made by our reactionary adversaries, according to whom the doctors who are against nuclear war, by reaching this conclusion, are reneging not only on their duty as human beings but also their duty as doctors, is simultaneously illogical, dishonest and inhuman. Since, should the need arise, we will not be able to either help or save the people, we must instead try to save the existence of the world as a whole. We have to accomplish more than everything the Red Cross has done up until now: We have to act in such a way that both the Red Cross as well as the military doctors will be rendered superfluous.
We are not “Luddites”.
As for those who would accuse us of being “Luddites” and “enemies of progress”—a trade union leader has honored me with these epithets—we have to laugh at them as if they were idiots. The Luddites were enraged because they saw that what they wanted to produce by hand, ropes, for example, were being produced by machines.
Today we solemnly swear that we have neither any wish nor any need to produce missiles by hand. We are not opposed to the mode of their production but to the very existence of these products. It would be stupid to make such an accusation against us. When we do oppose a mode of production, however—the mode of production of electricity by means of nuclear power, for example—we do not do so only because its products are dangerous and deadly, but because their mode of production is itself dangerous and deadly. And they are not dangerous only for those who produce them, but, as Chernobyl proves, they are also pose a danger to all our contemporaries.
As for the accusation of being against progress, I aver—I, who have always, and for all the right reasons, been counted among the radicals—that we can now toss the term, “supporter of progress”, on the trash heap of moth-eaten phrases from the past century.
The nuclear industry as the answer to the oil crisis.
The panic that has been orchestrated for the last fifteen years by way of the repeated claim that oil reserves will soon be exhausted and that, as a result, our lights will go out—an intimidating argument that has been very successful—a claim made in order to justify the refusal to renounce the production of nuclear energy supposedly for the purpose of postponing the onset of an oil crisis, this organized panic, I say, is nothing but pure disinformation. Nuclear energy has above all been the response of the West to the fact that the countries of the East Bloc are the main owners and suppliers of oil, and as such are extremely powerful. No one wants to be either politically or economically dependent on them.
When nuclear energy was first introduced, oil exploration and drilling continued, which proves that no one believed that oil reserves were exhausted. The fall of the price of oil that followed some years later likewise demonstrated that the theory of the obscurantists, according to whom we are exposed to the impending threat of the lights going out that looms over the world, was false. If the outlook for the world is bleak and if its future does not seem bright, it is not due to the depletion of oil reserves, but to the victory of the nuclear industry.
Dear friends, let us not forget that the Latin verb, revolvere—from which the noun, revolution, was later derived—had a precise meaning that we must apply today: to roll back; to go backwards by rolling back. Let us open up our Latin dictionary, let us open up our Stowasser,4 and he will confirm what I have said. Ultimately, the revolution that we must carry out consists in making nuclear development a thing of the past.
And now, a few words about present day terrorism. The real terrorists of our time are those who are constantly terrifying the world with the threat of destruction.
“Terrorism” means “threat”. It is not our side that blackmails humanity by offering it the compensation of the possibility that it might continue to exist.
Nuclear terrorism began on August 6, 1945.
Those whom I have in mind are also the nihilists of our times, because what they are doing is threatening annihilation, they are threatening to reduce the world to nothing. The decision to proceed in this manner has already been taken: during the Vietnam War, thanks to computers. If the project to eliminate man contained in a decision that blots out the destiny of humanity is not nihilism, then I do not know what that word can possibly mean.
Unlike those men, we are the authentic conservatives of our time. For we want to safeguard the existence of the world and of humanity, that of our children and of the children of our children. In Latin, the word for “safeguard” means to conserve. We want to conserve them.
Our alleged peace is war.
The formula conceived by Clausewitz about a hundred and fifty years ago—“War is merely the continuation of politics by other means”—this quotation from his book, On War, is always misquoted—is utterly meaningless today. Peaceful nuclear power plants are instead nothing but a continuation of the military threat by way of the intervention of other means, or to put it more simply: Today’s peace is nothing but the continuation of war by other means. The expression, “cold war”, which the Americans utilized to designate the peace of the fifties, now belongs to history. If this expression lacks meaning or is trivial nowadays, this only serves as an embarrassing over-confirmation of my words.
What it really means.
We are threatened with death by the terrorist acts perpetrated by men without imagination, men who are illiterates with regard to feeling, men who are today all-powerful. Anyone who thinks that, after 1945, after that fool Truman, these all-powerful terrorists, these high functionaries, have not acted in accordance with a particular rationality; anyone who thinks that we can make them change their ways by offering them bouquets of flowers, by multiplying hunger strikes, by holding hands with others to form human chains, or speaking with them man to man, anyone who thinks this way is a naive soul, since he ignores—it does not matter whether deliberately or not—the interests of the military industry. On the other hand, there are among us enough men of good faith who restrict themselves to ensuring—in a very egocentric gesture—that they can retain a good conscience.
No, we are more serious. For what has to be done is to harass these people who are both not very bright yet also all-powerful and capable of deciding at their whim whether or not humanity will exist; we certainly have to curtail their power. In the interests of the people who currently exist and of those of tomorrow, we cannot allow an order to be issued like the one that caused the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki some forty years ago. Such orders and such order-givers must not exist. Anyone who disputes the need to obstruct in this way those who give such orders becomes their accomplice. And anyone who opposes as a matter of principle the kind of obstruction as it has been practiced up until now, at Wackersdorf,5 for example, naturally becomes an even greater accomplice.
Dear friends, some twenty-eight years ago—as I said—I formulated in Hiroshima itself a slogan, “Hiroshima is everywhere”, and later used it as the title of a book. At that time, what I was trying to do was to point out that every point on the globe can be reached and annihilated exactly like Hiroshima. The current situation is much worse.
For, thanks to a single Hiroshima, regardless of where it occurs, whether in Harrisburg, Chernobyl or Wackersdorf, whether it takes place during times of war or during this so-called peace, thanks to just one Hiroshima, I repeat, all the other places of our dear Earth could be transformed simultaneously into an immense Hiroshima, or even into something worse. Because not only all locations in space, but also all points in time, will be affected, if they have not already been affected. Then we, the men of our time and also our ancestors, will finally never have existed.
Translated in December 2014 from the Spanish translation of a presentation subtitled “A Friendly Message to the Sixth Congress of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War”.
Spanish translation published in Argelaga, no. 2, June 2013, obtained from the website of Argelaga: https://argelaga.wordpress.com/2014/04/24/diez-tesis-sobre-chernobil-mensaje-amistoso-al-sexto-congreso-internacional-de-medicos-por-el-impedimento-de-una-guerra-nuclear/.
- 1 The Theses that follow were published in the newspaper, Tageszeitung, on June 10, 1986 and in the journal Psychosocial, no. 29, August 1986.
- 2 Austrian statesman (1773-1859).
- 3 Herostratus, who burned down the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus in order to attain immortal fame.
- 4 The leading Latin/German dictionary.
- 5 A German city where the planned construction of a nuclear power plant in 1980 was blocked by the determined opposition of the population.