"Whatever crushes individuality is despotism, no matter what name it is called." ~ John Stuart Mill
Headed Beneath the Planet of the Apes
When I had seven years under my belt, I was impatient to grow up and learn the mysteries of the world that would be revealed with adulthood. Some decades later, resolving the open questions on my childhood checklist has been something of a disappointment. I remember being terrified as a ten-year old of the Soviet military juggernaut presented in a Time magazine article. Since then, I've learned I wasn't reading an investigative piece, but just a propaganda yarn that helped advance the monetary or power ambitions of some anonymous clique or another. Other disappointments included hearing again some of the jokes for which I didn't get the punch line, only to find out a decade later that they weren't actually funny. Also, there were situations on television and in the movies I didn't understand, but I trusted I would get in the future. One mystery of those years was in watching a group of humanoid mutants worshipping a missile in the 1970 movie 'Beneath the Planet of the Apes.' The mutants were intelligent, organized, attractive (actually deformed and wearing masks), and yet completely nutty in the religion department. The question that stuck with me at seven and then long afterwards was, 'Why are these people saying prayers to a nuclear bomb?'
Screenwriter Paul Dehn deserves a little credit for slipping bits of insight into his B-movie. As it turns out, bomb worshippers surround us, even today. 'We need to pull our troops out of there and nuke 'em!' is a refrain I read in blogs and newspapers. I hear this comment conversationally in office workplaces and in social get-togethers. 'Turn Iraq and Mecca into sheets of glass,' is quoted the most by people who would have difficulty finding either on a map. It's frustrating to hear until you understand the source. People are frightened and angry, and when push comes to shove, not even a $750 billion defense budget can stop their knees from knocking when facing enemies they can't understand or control. Not all of the materialistic and bureaucratic wonder of Blackhawk helicopters and Echelon eavesdropping systems can comfort their fear against the murderous thing that goes bump in the night. At the end, they turn to their true faith. Akin to the saying, 'There are no atheist in foxholes,' is that when a human being's back is against the wall, you find out who his god is.
'Please deliver me from my fear. Help me not to shake in my boots when I see spilt sugar on the workplace countertop by the microwave oven. Give me restful nights again by erasing the scary strangers from the face of the Earth,' might be the prayer if they could grasp the right words. The ironic part of these frightened pleas is that, in this case, the god to which these people place their faith is the very same one that they fear showing up in their seaport in a packing container. You see, Mr. Nuclear Bomb is something of a deficient god. He's all sword, sickness and death and no help, succor, and love. He's not just or even very smart ' just an expression of mass murder as soon as he falls into the control of the wrong group of people. At least people who worship bottles of liquor or sexual excess are comforted for short periods of time and are no threat to their neighbors (except when they're driving). I wish the bombers would pick gods as well as even those poor souls. Of all of humankind's religious sects ' including the secular and progressive orders along with the traditional ones ' these death worshippers and power supplicants are the most dangerous to our continuing civilization. The bomb worshippers would like to turn entire cultures into radioactive smears ' not because these foreign tribes have actually injured them, but merely because of the phantoms in their own minds. C.H.U.D. are more desirable neighbors. Their killing, at least, has a basis in rationality.
History and current events seem to have firmly established that the instinct for genocide is an innate human trait. A significant minority of us lack empathy, and when the climate of fear or rage gets high enough, these people, with the herds of sheep blindly following them, can ratchet up the body counts. That encapsulates the main danger of the bombers. If a critical mass of them gathers together, a sociopath with access to fission or fusion bombs might gain the political means and opening needed to incinerate entire cities of his fellow humans. Hope, though, is not dead. Love can triumph over death. Religious nuts can be converted.
Bomb worshipping mutants, I'm calling you out. Choose to keep better ideological company than Mao and Stalin. Do the rest of us a favor. Take your fingers off of your imaginary nuclear buttons and find better gods to worship.