Sooner or later, the global coronavirus pandemic will have to end. Many more will suffer and die before then, but end it will. Since March, close to 20 million people have been infected and close to 800,000 have died in 213 countries and territories.
Had the atomic explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki 75 years ago happened at Wuhan, China, instead of the virus leaping out of that city to the rest of the world on December 31, 2019, the death toll might have been incalculable. This is to say there are worse threats to human life and civilization than the worst pandemic.
These threats will not end when the pandemic ends. For people like Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned public intellectual and political activist, the first of these is the nuclear threat, fueled by the uncontrolled nuclear arms race. A nuclear war could extinguish human life on the planet, after surviving the pandemic.
At this moment, the Doomsday Clock stands at “100 seconds to midnight”—the most dangerous situation humanity has ever faced, according to Wikipedia. Midnight is a metaphor for the end of civilization—the apocalypse.
The Doomsday Clock has been up since 1947, after the atomic-bombing of Japan in 1945. It is maintained by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists at the University of Chicago, founded by the scientists who had helped to develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project. In order to indicate “the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change and other disruptive technologies,” the clock is periodically adjusted by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board, in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 13 Nobel laureates.
Since 1947, the clock has been moved forward and backward at least 24 times. Originally set at seven minutes to midnight, it was moved to “two minutes to midnight” in 1953—the closest it ever got to the apocalypse in the 20th century—following the successful testing of the first hydrogen bombs by the United States (November 1952) and the Soviet Union (August 1953).
In 1962, the clock might have moved closest to midnight as the world stood on the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis, but the crisis ended before the clock could be adjusted to recognize the cataclysmic threat; it stood seven minutes to midnight, as previously set in 1960 after the Pugwash conferences on science and world affairs allowed American and Soviet scientists to peacefully exchange ideas.
In 1963, the clock moved 12 minutes to midnight after the signing of the Partial Test Ban Treaty in Moscow. In 1969, it moved 10 minutes to midnight after all UN members signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, except for India, Israel and Pakistan. In 1972, it moved 12 minutes to midnight, after the US and the Soviet Union signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT 1) and the Anti-Ballistic Missiles (ABM) Treaty.
In 1984, increased Soviet-US tension in the Afghan war moved the clock back to three minutes to midnight. Then the clock moved farther away after the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty by Ronald Reagan and Michael Gorbachev in Washington, DC, in 1987.
In 1990, it moved to 10 minutes to midnight after the fall of the Berlin wall and the Iron Curtain and the reunification of Germany.
In 1991, it moved 17 minutes to midnight—the farthest it ever did since 1947, after the signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) between US President George H. W. Bush and Gorbachev, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 26, that year.
Seven years later, the clock moved closer—nine minutes to midnight—after India and Pakistan tested their nuclear weapons in 1998.
In 2018, the clock moved to two minutes to midnight—back to its 1953 setting, following the US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and the INF Treaty, and because of US-Russian nuclear modernization efforts, compounded by information warfare threats, and the failure of world leaders to address looming threats of nuclear war and climate change.
On January 23, 2020, the clock moved to 100 seconds to midnight—the closest it ever got to the apocalypse since 1947. That’s where it stands today.
“We moved the clock 20 seconds closer to midnight,” says a statement from the Bulletin, “because trends in nuclear weapons and climate change have failed to improve significantly over the past two years, because the means by which political leaders had previously managed these potentially civilization-ending dangers are themselves being dismantled or undermined without a realistic effort to replace them with new or better management regimes.”
There are now nine countries in possession of nuclear weapons: US, Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. The combined nuclear stockpile can extinguish all forms of human life several times over, and the latest hypersonic weapons can travel between continents more than 20 times the speed of sound. Never before has mankind been in a graver peril of extinction, never before has there been more urgent need for global action.
But for most of us Filipinos, the threat of nuclear extinction seems much too distant as to be real. It seems to exist more in the realm of fiction. What is menacingly and maddeningly real—even more than the pandemic, which continues to surge in our country while other countries are able to contain it— is the insane effort of power-mad politicians to inflict terror and death upon their people, in the name of naked power.
We remain locked down in our homes while the Executive and Congress run berserk to railroad all sorts of laws that deprive us of our basic rights and liberties, and our basic dignity as human beings. This goes against the natural order of things. Under our Constitution, founded on the moral law, sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them. Because the excesses of Congress may have become more dangerous than the plague, the people must now lock it down, rather than the other way around.
In the last years of B.S. Aquino 3rd, the National Transformation Council, in its August 27, 2014 Lipa Declaration, proposed the creation of a multi-sectoral transition council to temporarily replace the dysfunctional government and preside over sorely needed constitutional and societal reforms. However, this proposal was overtaken by the 2016 presidential elections, and President Duterte’s victory rendered everything redundant. Now, four years later, a growing number of Filipinos seem convinced that their own Doomsday Clock, which has nothing to do with the threat of nuclear war or climate change, is moving dangerously close to midnight, and that there may be even more compelling reasons than existed during Aquino’s last years to urgently revisit the NTC proposal.