Dreaming the End of the World: Apocalypse
as a rite of Passage
Michael Ortiz Hill 1994
Spring Publications, Dallas
The Dream at the End of the World
Now is the time for your loving, dear
And the time for your company
Now that the light of reason fails
And fires burn on the sea
Now in this age of confusion
I have need for your company.
The radiance of a Thousand Suns
IN 1799, AN engineer in Napoleon's army discovered in the Egyptian desert a large, flat, black stone of ancient origin upon which was inscribed the same message in Egyptian hieroglyphics and in Greek. The Rosetta Stone made it possible for the first time for scfiolars to decipher the lost language of hieroglyphics because it placed alongside them the known language of ancient Greek. The next three chapters intend to establish how the language of apocalypse inscribed in the complex and contradictory image that the Bomb presents in our psyche can serve as a Rosetta stone for understanding the language and imagery of ecological catastrophe. Almost fifty years later, as we emerge from under the shadow of the nuclear threat, it is difficult to recall how a weapon of unimaginable destruction carried a fantasy of Messianic hope as the clouds of war gathered over Europe and Asia in the early forties. Nevertheless, the Manhattan Project drew together some of the best minds of a generation to create the first atomic bomb, peculiarly focusing one of the most durable, recurrent passions in judeo-Christian culture: the longing for the Messiah and the Golden Age. As the passion to "save the world" necessarily wells up in us as we approach the end of the millennium, it serves us well to understand how a similar passion, wedded to technological positivism, bore fruit in the first nuclear device. In the invention of the Bomb, two millenarianist currents intersected with one another-one political and the other scientific. To elucidate the political-or, more accurately, nationalistic-current, we may extend a metaphor provided by General Leslie Groves, who oversaw the Manhattan Project. The Bomb's invention was comparable, in his eyes, to Columbus's discovery of America. Like the Spanish before them, the Anglo-Saxon colonists of the New World regarded this vast continent as the site of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth: America the New Canaan, the New Order of the Ages, a light unto the nations. For Groves and President Harry S. Truman, the Bomb was a gift from God, confirming a symbolic mandate that would make the United States the leader among nations. As Truman wrote in his diary, "It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered, but it can be made the most useful" (quoted in Rhodes, 1986:691). For many military and political leaders since the forties, our "arsenal of democracy" not only promised to protect the sacred space of the American dream but also was a way of ensuring that that dream shape the world at large. After World War 11, the new world order was to have a specifically American cast. Running parallel, and ultimately merging, with nationalistic millenarianism was an equally naive faith that science would eventually create the circumstances of the Golden Age. If, as J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, said, the Manhattan Project was the culmination of three centuries of physics, it was also, by a more subterranean route, the fulfillment of three centuries of millenarianist longing.
In the Christian world, the desire for the Messianic age, though nominally marginalized by the secularization of Western society, found itself translated freely into a scientific idiom. The Age of Reason emerged from the breakdown of the Catholic hegemony on truth, thereby laying the ground for the utoplan hopes of the French and American revolutions as well as a new age of scientific enquiry.
For example, the Catholic heresy of "immanentizing the eschatology - that is to say, accelerating the end of the world - was braided with the humanistic pursuit of knowledge at the very outset of the scientific enlightenment in England. The Freemasons and Rosicrucians, for example, desired "to create a band of illuminati who could lead the world to a better, more peaceful and tolerant way of life." Martin Bernal writes of this strange marriage of theology and secular studies:
Many millenarians believed that knowledge had to be reassembled before the coming of the millennium. Therefore the scholar could be the midwife of eschatology. It is from these schools of thought that the English "scientific revolution of the late 17th Century seems to have evolved. (Bernal, 1987:174)
Also in the seventeenth century, when a third of European jewry embraced a rather erratic young man, Sabbatai Zvi, as the Messiah, his conversion to Islam necessarily threw Judaism into profound crisis. The scholar Gershom Scholem traces a direct continuity between the ruins of Sabbateanism and the beginning of the Haskala or Jewish Enlightenment. But the Haskala was unable to extirpate the intense longing for an end to the nightmare of history, and one finds this longing transmuted into socialist idealism, Zionist passion-and into scientific positivism. The end of the last century and the beginning of this one saw a resurgence of marginal religious sects anticipating the literal coming of the Messiah. Jehovah Witnesses, Adventists, Hasidic Jews all believed the time was imminent. By then, however, what had far more credibility was the promise that scientific discovery would herald a new age of abundance and peace. The hopes that nuclear radiation would form the basis for this new age almost coincided with its initial discovery. Only a few years after Frederick Soddy detected, with Ernest Rutherford, the radioactive breakdown of thorium into radium in 1901, he was already envisioning the New Jerusalem:
A race that would transmute matter would have little need to earn its bread by the sweat of its brow. Such a race could transform a desert continent, thaw the frozen poles, and make the world one smiling Garden of Eden. (Quoted in Weart, 1988:6)
The possibility of fantastic new weaponry didn't diminish these hopes, but amplified them by incorporating them full-fledged into the apocalyptic drama of the death and rebirth of the world. One of Soddy's more influential and earnest admirers was H. G. Wells. It was to Soddy that Wells dedicated his 1913 novel The World Set Free, in which he coined the term 'Atomic Bomb' and first fictionalized a nuclear holocaust. The World Set Free was one of Wells's speculative "histories of the future"-ending at approximately our present decade when humanity, sobered by its capacity for destructiveness in the wake of a horrible nuclear war, ripened into wisdom and created a world republic and a technological paradise on earth. Wells wrote,
Never before in the history of warfare had there been a con tinuing explosive; indeed, up to the middle of the twentieth century, the only explosives known were combustibles whose explosiveness was due entirely to their instantaneousness; and these atomic bombs which science burst upon the world that night were strange even to those who used them. (Wells, 1926:89)
The core of the Bomb, "lumps of pure carolinum shed layer after layer of radioactive efflorescence indefinitely, poisoning everything around. Impossible to put out, Wells's atomic bomb was "uncontrollable until its forces were nearly exhausted " Even when dropped in the ocean, the effluvia sat "like frayed out water lilies of flame" (ibid.:89, 91, 112). In Wells's novel, the first three bombs were used on Berlin sometime in the 1950s or perhaps early'60s - dropped manually after the bombardier bit off a celluloid stud with his teeth to oxidize the atomic core. The Central European power reciprocated until the "last war" left civilization as we know it in ashes. Looking back in retrospect from the 1990s from his Himalayan laboratory, the narrator realizes that the old tendencies of human nature, suspicion, jealousy, par ticularism and belligerency, were incompatible with the monstrous destructive power of the new appliances the in human logic of science had produced. (lbid.:168)
Under the guidance of a small technocratic elite - "the directing intelligence of the world" as Wells put it-the world came of age. Nationalism was abolished. Nuclear energy provided for illimitable prosperity, with flying cars and arctic and desert wastelands transformed. Women were liberated from their subjugation to men, free sex abounded and the majority of humans became artists. "The bulk of activity in the world lies no longer with necessities, but with elaboration, decoration and refinement," wrote Wells (ibid.:200-01).
Deeply influenced by the writings of H. G. Wells, whose acquaintance he made in London in 1929, the physicist Leo Szilard carried with both irony and sincerity what he regarded as the true meaning of his life. He wanted to save the world. Wells's tract "The Open Conspiracy" (which, like The World Set Free, advised the collaboration of scientists, financiers and technocrats to create a world republic) especially appealed to Szilard's utopian proclivities. It was Szilard's deep concern that the Germans were taking very seriously the possibility of inventing a nuclear device that led him to draft, with Albert Einstein, the 1939 letter to President Franklin Roosevelt that would result in the American Effort to develop the first atomic bomb. Wells's fantasy, then, found a rather perverse realization in the not-so-open conspiracy to save the world called the Manhattan Project. Both Wells and Szilard were infected by millennial aspirations that were rampant between the wars. The success of the Russian Revolution captured the imagination of the best and the brightest who were still reeling from the carnage of the "war to end all wars." Many believed that World War I was the final gasp of imperialism which, as Lenin wrote, was the last stage of capitalism preceding its collapse. A classless society was prophesied to emerge from the vicious conflict between the exploited class and those who owned the means of production. Dialectical or scientific materialism offered the blueprint by which the fruits of labor would return to those who labored. Intelligent people asserted that this revolutionary shift from an economy dangling from the irrational fluctuations of the marketplace to a scientific planning of the economy for the general welfare was already being enacted in the Soviet Union. Soviet films of Stalin in the thirties show him wreathed in a numinous light so there could be little doubt that he was no mere human. In a Germany shambled by war and political and economic chaos, Hitler similarly subsumed the confused yearnings of the German people into his fantasy of the thousand-year Retch. He was seen as the great Promethean who ignited the imagination and will of a humiliated people to lead them forward toward a glorious destiny. Although Churchill and Roosevelt never took on the mantle of the Messiah in the same fashion as Hitler or Stalin, as the tide of chaos rose in the early forties they nonetheless carried a measure of pro'ection as the martial embodiments of good against the absolute evils of the Axis powers. Within this extreme context, nationalistic (and military) millenarianism joined hands with its scientific counterpart. J. Robert Oppenheimer's collaboration with General Leslie Groves made the Manhattan Project the watershed when weapons research became the right and proper focus of the best scientific minds of a generation. Half a century later, 95 percent of all the scientists who have ever lived are alive. Half of these are involved in perfecting the human capacity to annihilate one another. Oppenheimer was drawn to left-wing causes in the late thirties, partly out of his outrage on behalf of his relatives in Germany who were suffering from Nazi anti-Semitism. Later when his ideology became more compatible with the American war effort, he would still rely on the leftist idiom, speaking of a "people's army" or a "people's war" to overthrow fascism. Many at the core of the Manhattan Project knew the horrors of Nazism more directly. As students in Gottingen, Berlin and Hamburg, Eugene Wigner, Leo Szilard, Edward Teller and John Van Neumann witnessed the rise of Nazism, the vilification of Einstein's "Jewish physics" and the growing violence against Jewish people. Hans Bethe, who was said to have been the only human who knew why the stars shine, used award money for his unpublished paper on the subject to get his mother out of Germany. Otto Frisch extracted his father from a concentration camp. However, the hope that the Bomb might free the world from Hitler's madness was inevitably extended even further to the fantasy that the Bomb might make war itself obsolete. The ideas of Niels Bohr, the paterfamilias of the Manhattan Project, had an incalculable influence on this utopian longing. Oppenheimer was to compare the importance of Bohr's vision of the "complementarity" of the Bomb to when he learned about Rutherford's discovery of the atom's nucleus. By complementarity, Bohr meant that, although the Bomb might be the greatest disaster to have befallen humankind, it may well be a great blessing, "a turning point in history." Inadvertently echoing H. G. Wells's vision thirty years after he fictionalized the Bomb in The World Set Free, Bohr believed that weapons of such magnitude would impress upon nations the grave necessity of resolving crises peacefully. "We are in a completely new situation that cannot be resolved by war," said Bohr (Rhodes, 1986: opposite 481). World War 11 then, rather than "the Great War," could be the war to end all wars-and the Bomb would be the deciding factor. Bohr's vision was a source of inspiration amidst the ambivalence of some of the scientists. Of his visit to Los Alamos in 1944, Oppenheimer was to write, "He made the enterprise seem hopeful, when many were not free of misgiving" (ibid.:524). The Bomb was not merely "the Second Coming in wrath' (Weart, 1988:102), as Winston Churchill described it, but also offered the possibility of a new era of human progress. The particulars of that new era would be filled in after the war when nuclear energy could be put to civilian use. just as the Bomb was to bring on a new era of peace, the idea would be current among scientists and journalists in the fifties that limitless nuclear energy would fructify that peace, carrying humanity at long last into the land of milk and honey. Soddy's dream of the magnificent potentials of atomic energy that so excited H. G. Wells-and through Wells, Leo Szilard-after the war found its greatest enthusiast in the irrepressible New York Times journalist William Laurence (who, when he was covering the Manhattan Project, confided to his editor that he was onto a "sort of second coming of Christ"' [ibid.:100]). Laurence assured the public that nuclear energy could "make the dream of the earth as a Promised Land come true in time for many of us already born to see and enjoy it" (ibid.:158-59). The Hydrogen Bomb was a world-covering umbrella, "shielding us everywhere until the time comes, as come it must, when mankind will be able to beat atomic swords into plowshares, harnessing the vast power of the hydrogen in the world's oceans to bring in an era of prosperity such as the world has never dared dream about' " "We will change the eartws surface to suit us," Edward Teller would write in 1957 (Weart, 1988:211). But in the meantime, as the war raged on in the Pacific, the hopes for a kinder world were focused on the first dark stage of preparing for the first atomic explosion at the Trinity site, which many would describe in terms befitting the advent of a god.
It is impossible to ignore or to diminish the religious element that turns up again and again in the accounts of the Trinity blast. The site is in a vast gypsum desert under the blue shadow of the Sierra Oscura in southern New Mexico. It was named by Oppenheimer, invoking by way of John Donne the mystery of the martyred and resurrected God:
As West and East In all flat maps - and I am one - are one. So death doth touch the Resurrection. (Rhodes, 1986:571)
"That still doesn't make a Trinity," Oppenheimer confessed in a 1962 letter to Leslie Groves-and then speculated that perhaps he was influenced by a better known poem, one of Donne's Holy Sonnets, beginning,
Batter my heart, three persond God; for you As yet but knocke, breathe, shine and seek to mend; That I may rise, and stand, oerthrow mee, and bend Your force to breake, blowe, burn and make me new. (lbid.:572)
After Trinity, Thomas Farrel wrote:
The effects could well be described as unprecedented, magnificent, beautiful, stupendous and terrifying.... The lighting beggared description. The whole country was lighted by a searing light with the intensity many times that of the midday sun. It was golden, purple, violet, gray, and blue. It lighted every peak, crevasse and ridge of the nearby range with a clarity and beauty that cannot be described but must be seen to be imagined. It was that beauty that great poets dream about but describe most poorly and inadequately. (Lifton, 1982:88-89)
The epiphany of beauty was experienced as well by physicist Robert Wilson, who headed the project's research division. In the documentary The Day After Trinity, he says, "Perhaps it was some kind of beauty, but awesome is what I would call it.... It made a large desert rimmed by mountains appear to be a small place. . . . once that had happened, I was a different person from then on' " An assistant to Julian Mack concurred from his vantage point ten thousand meters from Ground Zero: "My God, it's beautiful" (Szasz, 1984:89). Other observers were more explicitly religious in speaking of the event. One noted "a hushed murmuring bordering on reverence" amongst those present. William Laurence wrote that it was like being "privileged to witness the Birth of the World-to be present at the moment of Creation when the Lord said: 'Let there be light"' (ibid.). He compared the experience to witnessing the second coming of Christ and believed that many others there had been profoundly moved. Emest Lawrence wrote that Trinity "bordered on a religious experience" for him (Weart, 1988:101). "It was an overwhelming, awe-inspiring sight," wrote the Viennese physicist Victor Weisskopf.
When the brightness subsided, we saw a blue halo surrounding the yellow and orange sphere, an aureole of bluish light around the ball. This effect of the radioactive radiation was a totally unexpected phenomenon, although it would have been easy to predict. The appearance of this uncanny blue light made a deep impression on me. It reminded me, in spite of an inner resistance to such an analogy, of a painting by the medieval master Matthias Griinewald. Part of the altar piece at Colmar, the painting depicts Jesus in the middle of a bright yellow ascending sphere surrounded by a blue halo. The explosion of an atomic bomb and the resurrection of Christ-what a paradoxical and disturbing association. (Weisskopf, 1991:152)
It is striking that, following Oppenheimer's lead of naming the site of the first nuclear test "Trinity," Weisskopf and William Laurence - both Jews - saw in the Bomb the glory of Christ. In the Jewish tradition, the character of the Messiah has distinctly human dimensions, a "Son of Mae'rather than the "Son of God" of Christian eschatology, while the Christ metaphor speaks to an experience that dwarfs the human realm. Ferenc Szasz notes, "Others whispered, more in reverence than otherwise: 'Jesus Christ"' (Szasz, 1984:89). Known to be something of a mystic, I. I. Rabi described Trinity by the overwhelming light that engulfed him:
Suddenly, there was an enormous flash of light, the brightest light I have ever seen or that I think anyone has ever seen.
It blasted; it pounced; it bored its way right through you. It was a vision which was seen with more than the eye. It was seen to last forever. You would wish it would stop; altogether it lasted about two seconds.... (Rhodes, 1986:672)
Oppenheimer said, "We waited until the blast had passed, walked out of the shelter and then it was extremely solemn. We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most were silent" He recalled the terrible and ecstatic eleventh chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita, where the warrior Arjuna requests that Vishnu display the nakedness of his transcendental form. Arjuna is cowed in holy terror as the god visits upon him "the radiance of a thousand suns" "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds" Oppenheimer quoted the Gita. "I suppose we all felt that, one way or another," he continued (ibid.:676). Three weeks later, the pilot of Enola Gay, Paul Tibbets, requested God's blessing upon the Bomb that would initiate the citizens of Hiroshima into the darkest consequences of this ecstatic presence. "Be with those who brave the heights of Thy heaven intoned the chaplain, "and carry the battle to our enemies" (ibid.:704).
Another striking theme that repeats again and again in the "dreaming up" of the Bomb is that of birth and paternity. On the mythic level, it is clear that the Bomb was not invented as much as "born." Some people recognized the godlike epiphany of light and fire-so long anticipated-as the birthing of something or "someone" new. We can discern a specifically paternal pride and even hints of tenderness toward the Bomb. William Laurence called the rumblings of the Trinity explosion the "first cry of a newborn world" The telegram regarding the test to Secretary of War Stimson at Potsdam was more explicit:
Doctor has just retumed most enthusiastic and confident that the little boy is as husky as his big brother. The light in his eyes discernible from here to Highhold and I could hear his screams from here to my farm. (lbid.:688)
Indeed, the procreative metaphor is embedded in the notion of nuclear fission itself. When Otto Frisch discovered the elongation and lysis into two parts of uranium nuclei, he asked the American microbiologist, and his friend, William Arnold what the equivalent process in living cells was called. "Fission replied Arnold (ibid.:263). The primary process at the core of nuclear weapons was named directly after the primary process of the mystery of conception. In his memoirs, Curtis LeMay, who coordinated the World War 11 air combat over japan and consequently the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, wrote of "the nuclear baby clinging as a fierce child against its mother belly" (Weart, 1988:147). And, of course, Paul Tibbets enwombed the bomb named Little Boy into the plane that, immediately prior to his mission over Hiroshima, he named after his mother. Recognizing them as the first among many brothers, the Japanese referred to Little Boy and Fat Man as the "Original Child" bombs. In a rather perverse extended fantasy in which Edward Teller makes a confused attempt to wrest paternity of the Hydrogen Bomb from his competitor, Stanislaw Ulam, he writes,
It is true that I am the father in the biological sense that I performed a necessary function and let nature take its course. After that, a child had to be born. It might be robust or it might be stillborn, but something had to be born. The proc ess of conception was by no means a pleasure; it was filled with difficulty and anxiety for both parties. (Rhodes, 1986:773)
After this long and difficult labor, the first Hydrogen Bomb, named Mike, was tested in the South Pacific (only seven years after its older brothers). Teller sent a telegram to Los Alamos saying simply, "It's a boy" (ibid.:777). Although Hans Bethe once quipped, "I used to say that [Stanislaw] Ulam was the father of the hydrogen bomb and Edward [Teller] was the mother, because he carried the baby for quite awhile" (ibid.:773), one notices a vivid absence of the feminine amidst all this imagery of birthing. The classicist Karl Kere'nyi claims that the essential nature of a god is displayed in the manner of its birth: Christ born in straw among animals or Aesclepius snatched from his mother's womb as she lay burning in a funeral pyre in Hades. I sense in the physicists' imagination an imitatio dei-like the Father God, these men would birth without the aid of women: Athena the war goddess sprung fully armed from the forehead of Zeus.
This "miraculous birth" and the millennial hope that gathered around it translated the submerged judeo-Christian myths of the apocalyptic triumph of good over evil into a particularly twentieth-century idiom-an idiom humanistic and utopian, to be sure, but equally militaristic and nationalistic. At the end of the last millennium, Europe was alive with the anticipated return of a Messiah. Masses of people looked to the sky, trying to discern Christ on his white horse, his terrible swift sword drawn to slay at last the primordial beast, the Antichrist, and to establish on earth his holy dominion. Now, in the last century of the second millennium of the Christian era, we have attained the technological facility to literalize this vein of dreaming which, in spite of the culture's secularization. as in no way died. If I were to specify the dream narrative that we are unconsciously living out in which the Bomb has congealed as "a pearl of great price" in the midst of our longing and despair, it would go something like this:
Storm clouds gathered and the world was covered in darkness. A Beast ran rampant. Blood flowed freely, and all that was loved by human beings felt intimately threatened. What could save us from the Beast? Far from the rivers of blood, a small group of men gathered secretly in a desolate place to birth together the Messiah. Pregnant imaginations, futility, fever of excitement, desperate ambivalence and tireless idealism-how did they carry such a child? In the desert at dawn, finally, came the birth of the new light, as if that day the sun rose twice. Nature itself was set afire in its radiance and the men, moved beyond words, were silent with reverence toward that which they birthed. Surely now the war would end and with it war itself. Surely now the New Age would begin.
Human beings constellate their spirituality in numerous ways. The exquisite tenderness toward the finite-almost a caress with an open hand-with which a Zen master pours tea is quite different, say, from the convulsive ecstasy of a Yoruba priestess as the drum beat opens her to being mounted by the Orisha. For centuries before this one, the Mescalero Apache would spend days fasting in caves in the Sierra Oscura overlooking the place that would be called Trinity. A bear might appear or coyote the fire thief-or, rarely, a wolf-and lead the seeker to the home of its medicine. "This is the home of the flowers and the herbs used to cure men all over the world the animal might say. And, learning his medicine, the Apache would return to his tribe to practice healing because that is mainly what power is for, according to the Mescalero. The Messianic dream of the Bomb as it was enacted at Trinity partakes of a very particular way of spirituality that far precedes the invention of the Bomb itself. The plurality of nature is stripped away, and the fire that burns in the heart of things is witnessed naked, unmediated-the mysterium tremendum. In Greek, this is called apokalypsis-literally "revelatiorf' or "a tearing away of the veil, of that which conceals" (kalyptein). Nature-matter itself-is rendered as a burnt offering toward that which utterly transcends the differentiation of form. The Bomb as the advent of Messianic hope is one all-tooreal dream in which we have been embedded since the forties. But Hiroshima did not mark the beginning of a peaceful era, nor has the civilian use of nuclear energy created a New Jerusalem of unimagined prosperity. Lining the underside of the Messianic dream is another, darker realm of fantasy. If the Messianic dream is an epiphany of light drawing our imagination into the stars, this other dream is an eruption from that realm under the earth so long cemented over by Western Civilization. This dream is the awakening of the Beast.
From: Saving the World
Although Christ advocated that his disciples be as "gentle as lambs and as clever as serpents ' " this serpentine intelligence has sunk to a despised position in the hierarchy of judeo-Christian values-now exiled to the domain of the sociopath and the white-collar criminal. The innocence of the child, the docility of the lamb, the simple earnestness, altruism and directness of the "man of righteousness" presumably elevate human beings above the beasts of the field.
THE BOMB is nominally our creation-but just as surely it has created us. For almost fifty years, we have all been gathered underneath its shadow. Now that the Cold War is over and that shadow seems to be shrinking, I want to conclude by examining where we are left. For the dream at the end of the world continues undiminished, even if the mushroom cloud ceases to be its central compelling image. When I first started writing this book, the image around which my ideas began coalescing was that the Bomb was like a dark pearl that congealed within the midst of Westem culture, that it belonged indigenously within Indo-European confusions, longings, mythology. The Bomb was not "other" but rather an overdetermined symbol, that we had made technologically real, of a cluster of themes that are so essential to what we have come to call "civilization": messianism, apocalypse, the pull of the Underworld and our resistance to it, the beckoning of Mephistopheles through the seductions of technology, etc. There was an alchemical intent for me in using this pearl metaphor-the desire to change poison into nectar. If we recognized that this pearl is made of the unbearable urgencies in ourselves or in our culture, then maybe we could repossess or transform those aspects in a less destructive manner. The more I read about the Manhattan Project, the more I could discern how these "unbearable urgencies" afloat in the collective psyche came to a daemonic head in Los Alamos. Underneath the war effort and the beleaguered ideals of the physicists, I sensed another pattern. The physicists themselves spoke of Mephistopheles. How deeply they understood how enmeshed they were in the drama of Faust, we don't know. Oppenheimer was a remarkably intelligent man, a Sanskrit scholar who spoke eight languages and wrote short stories in imitation of Chekhov-a very unlikely person to be the "Father of the Atomic Bomb." Alongside him were people of tremendous intelligence and humanity, the cream of the cream of what Western culture produces in intellectual and aesthetic sensibility. They were literally sleeplessly possessed by this project-in a way that's daemonic in the classical, Greek sense of the word. Only after Hiroshima did some begin realizing the measure of their possession. I contend that this daemonic focusing of energy did not "belong" to the physicists any more or less than to the rest of us. It did, however, make good use of them. During my research of the book, I commissioned the astrologer William Lonsdale to do a reading of the personality of the Bomb to reveal something of the nature of this daemonic energy. Using the Trinity blast as the moment of "birth Lonsdale cast a natal chart that is startlingly cohesive in its themes. The dominant aspects of the chart sketch a portrait of a sociopathic, severely focused individual utterly lost in the narcissistic willfulness of its own intent. Leading the pattern is Mars in Taurus-in Lonsdale's words, "the single most stubbornly self-intent track in the entire zodiac' " Quoting his unpublished manuscript on astrological degrees, Lonsdale continued,
One can be charming, valorous, seductive or stalwart in presenting oneself from a side that seems to be either appropriate or advantageous in the moment. But these adaptions are superficial and ceremonial; and behind these one stands as a mountain of emphatically resistant and self-convinced ways of exhibiting to others one's specialized themes con cerning what life is all about.
Amplifying this narcissism, according to Lonsdale, is the fact that the Bomb had no planets in its fifth through ninth houses at the time of its "birth"-indicating that "there is no social impulse in the chart, nothing interactional. It has no interest in anything other than itself. This is a solipsistic chart." Perhaps the most haunting aspect of the horoscope of the nuclear daemon is that the Jupiter of the chart is the exact same degree as the Jupiter of the Third Reich. "Jupiter has a twelveyear cycle. The Third Reich was founded in 1933. The same mind, the same intelligence is at work." Lonsdale concluded his reading by saying,
There is an extremely rigorous and disciplined intelligence of the Nazi kind at work here that knows how to take each step-erasing the previous step as one moves forward. I see this as a very tenacious chart. It could outlast its seeming demise.
In the third chapter of this book, I traced back to the Neolithic Era the mythic grid of the primal antagonism between the Beast and the Cultural Hero that seems to be the essential "dream' in which the Bomb cohered. The daemon that Lonsdale portrays has a very long history. The circumstances of its birth and rebirth within our psyche and culture are very much alive, undiminished by the end of the Cold War. The question that we must ask at this juncture is, if the Bomb inherited the mantle of "marching into the future" from the Third Reich, then what now inherits this blind quality of selfintent from the Bomb? If I had to locate this daemon at present, it would be in the prevailing ideology of the New World Order that perceives the natural world as a field of exploitable resources and the human world as a field of potential markets. Far less dramatic than the Bomb in its pyrotechnics and moving under the banners of progress, freedom, democracy and "development," this new order promises to be no less lethal and considerably more insidious. And yet it partakes of the same incapacity to examine its own premises, the same "stark, unapologetic selfwill without an inhibiting factor" that Lonsdale attributed to the personality of the Bomb.
It should go without saying that ecological depredation is hardly anything new. As chapter three reveals, hostility against nature proceeds implicitly out of the ancient mythic enmities that the apocalyptic initiation seeks to dissolve. I've tried to show in this book how the Cold War and the arms race eclipsed, to a degree, the reality that a vicious war was being waged against the natural world. But what I suspect is more accurate is to view the Cold War as just one front in this much broader crusade. Nominally, the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged as enemies. But the stockpiling of weapons, the inheritance of immense accumulations of nuclear waste, the struggle over resources to sustain two inflated, militarized economies and the exportation by economic coercion of models of development guaranteed to wreak ecological havoc-these things have made the earth the ultimate loser of the Cold War. The conflation of "freedom and democracy" with "economic development and the free market system" has an incantatory effect obscuring the essential tenet of faith that capitalism has always shared with communism-that the natural world is at the disposal of human beings to do with it what we like. it is the height of historical shortsightedness to assume that this New World Order emerged after the end of the Cold War. If I had to trace the origins of this recent incarnation of the Messiah/Beast complex, I'd probably begin at the midway point of this millennium when the Portuguese took slaves and gold to be the exploitable resources of West Africa and the Spanish imagined the "New" World to be a boundless field of harvestable Indian souls, Indian labor, and precious metals. The Spanish friars believed that, in evangelizing the Americas, they were participating in the final sacred drama that would precede the coming of the Messiah-a very Catholic mission that has been translated over the past few centuries into a capitalist idiom coupling imperial appetite with the fantasy of developing the "undeveloped world." Though Marxism originated as a rigorous and prophetic critique of this madness, within three decades of the Russian Revolution it found itself a full co-participant very much under the sway of its own Messianic ideology. The "capitalism versus communism idiom of the Cold War, then, can be seen as a temporary bifurcation of the hunger of the Beast continuing apace under the spell of "progress' " At this juncture, we see the Third World marginalized to the point of despair. In the colonial and neocolonial imagination, people of color have been fused with the exploitability of natural resources ever since slaves and gold were perceived to be commodities. The fate of the earth and the fate of the Third World are now completely and inextricably intertwined. The voracious consumerism of the First World gnaws at one end of the rain forest, while those dispossessed by the military and economic policies that sustain that consumerism gnaw at the other end. If imperialism has made people of color a subset of exploitable natural resources, the cutting edge of ecological thinking takes that proposition and turns it on its head. At the Earth Summit in Rio de janeiro in June 1992, delegates from the First World tended to run either on the dualistic technocratic fantasy that "we" (humans) could, through the ingenuity of science, fix "it" (nature) or the spiritualized fantasy that abstracts ecological concerns from urgent social ones. Third World delegates, on the other hand, began the hard labor of working out a pragmatic and implicitly unitary understanding of how human communities are nested within local ecologies and how neither the welfare of the planet nor the welfare of the human population as a whole can long sustain the economic disparities between the rich and the poor nations. I take the delegates' work to be the first and essential political step toward a fundamentally new paradigm whose full measure would see the human species rewoven-in all its rich cultural plurality and as only one community among many-into the natural world as an integrated part of its complex intelligence and radiant beauty. If our imaginations can hold such a possibility, then perhaps we can find the humility to act on its behalf.
The profundity of the image of the mushroom cloud has been a blessing and a curse-both terrifying us into wakefulness and numbing us with its immensity, inspiring awe and assuring helplessness. It is possible that the earths ecological desecration will not yield to us an image of that magnitude. The slow disappearance of species, the unraveling of the web that happens imperceptibly within our "progress" might be a very quiet apocalypse. For that reason, our vision needs to be exceptionally acute, our imaginations alive, and our hearts willing to break. In a society addicted to anesthetics of one kind or another, this may be a very large demand, but nothing less than the world is at stake. In chapter ten, I noted the disturbing similarity between dreams collected during the Third Reich by Dr. Charlotte Brandt and the dreams I've gathered on the end of the world. A pervasive theme of "no refuge" dominates both the Third Reich of dreams and the dreamland of apocalypse. What disturbs me more than the thematic similarity is the enormous distance in both cases between the dreamers' dreams and the ideology of the powers that be. Dr. Brandt's informants were stable, middleclass citizens, the so-called "good Germans" who found a way to make their peace with the Third Reich-yet their dreams show exactly what that peace cost. Similarly, the prevailing ideology of the state during the Cold War, the accumulation of weapons, the refinement of new ways to kill, the realpolitik of "our" weapons against "theirs," the pretense that the state offers any protection whatsoever from an expected holocaust, and now, unobscured by the Cold War, our war on nature fueled by a religion of technological positivism, exploitation of resources, and "progress" -none of this is reflected in apocalyptic dreams except as a trajectory that leads straight to hell. This abyss between private nightmare and the state's ideology is a bottomless chasm that we will all tumble into if we do not wake up. The reflexive choice to literalize our fantasies technologically must come under serious scrutiny as must the choices to blindly live out our hungers. To the exact degree - and this cannot be stated more emphatically -that we do not take apocalypse into the psyche where it truly belongs and suffer it through as a rite of passage, we will be compelled unconsciously to live it out literally to the bitter end. In a manner that is ultimately mysterious to me, the apocalyptic rite of passage, by consciously bringing to fruition the most difficult realities of the twentieth century as they display themselves in one's soul, actually initiates one into the oldest values carried within human culture. It's as if time torques at the end of the millennium like a mobius strip, and one finds oneself embracing the primary sanity of indigenous peoples-an intelligent and tender respect for the earth's sacrality and a way of living within that sacrality that does not seek to aggrandize human enterprise at the expense of other living beings. Finding our way both personally and culturally toward what the Navajo call "walking in Beauty" may be the only viable future for us on the other side of the dream at the end of the world.