According to the Doomsday Clock maintained by members of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists since 1947, we are now at two and a half-minutes to midnight. The clock symbolically measures the risk of man-made global catastrophe. Midnight represents the end of the world as we know it. Since the rise to power of the grotesque Trump I’ve had a strong foreboding of war or disaster. It’s not just a vague feeling of dread but palpable and real as a block of concrete wedged in my gut. According to Google a sense of impending doom can be a symptom of PTSD, depression, cardiac arrest or a jellyfish sting. I’ve not seen a jellyfish for years and my heart is still beating. PTSD? Depression?…maybe. But it seems I’m not the only one to feel this way. The internet is full of survivalists and experts predicting nuclear war or environmental crisis. I’m sure many will dismiss me as a neurotic and perhaps I am.
How long can we play chicken with weapons that could blow up the world many times over? And how can we preach to North Korea forbidding them from doing exactly as we have done…Pakistan, India, Israel, France, Britain, Russia, China and of course the almighty USA develop and test nuclear missiles. Their defense strategies are based on Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD for short). So it’s no surprise that a small communist country like North Korea should want to defend itself from a capitalist superpower that has spent the last sixty years bombing and invading weaker nations.
I wish I was one of those people who exists in a rose-tinted bubble where nothing bad could ever happen. Religious fanatics in particular seem to think they are immune from disaster. They have faith in the government, in doctors, in the police, in the army, in God, in the natural order. They think someone somewhere is always looking out for them. They think they are one of the chosen few destined to live a charmed life and that nasty things only happen to heathens, the poor, the third world, the ugly or the undeserving. Yes, I wish I could also stick my head in the sand and pretend everything is hunky-dory. But since an early age I’ve always been aware that the world is not a safe place. Bad shit happens to good people. Frequently. We are not in control of the important things in life. We just pretend to be.
My parents became refugees during World War Two. They lost their homes and spent years in Nazi Labour Camps. They endured starvation, humiliation and seeing loved ones blown to pieces. I grew up with tales of their experiences casually recounted over the dinner table. I learned all about war and what human beings are capable of. We are not an admirable species. When I was nine years old my father gave me a book about Buchenwald Concentration Camp. There were graphic photographs of lampshades made from human skin, skeletal people in torn pyjamas and piles of rotting corpses. I realized the world is anything but safe, that I had to be prepared for the worst while hoping for the best.
My parents always hoarded food and emergency supplies. They knew what it meant to go hungry. They knew what it meant for soldiers or armed neighbours to break into your home and steal your food. My father constructed a secret hiding place in a disused chimney breast where he stashed rice, pasta, tinned food, dried milk, water and biscuits. At the time I found this hilarious. Now I think it makes sense. We take so many things for granted in affluent countries. We can’t imagine a scenario where shops are not brimming with goodies. The reality is that even a power cut of more than a couple of days would result in food and water shortages.
Whether it was my parents’ stories about the war or watching too many unsuitable movies but all my life I’ve had vivid nightmares about nuclear war. At the age of twelve I learned about the four minute warning in school. Our English teacher read out a poem by Toge Sankichi, a survivor of Hiroshima. I will never forget the shock and horror of that moment. I’d never heard of nuclear weapons before. Later in life I worked for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. I took part in street demos and ran a local group. In those days I genuinely believed protest and logic could change the world. Nuclear weapons were such an abomination, all we had to do was tell people the truth and they would choose peace. I went out into the wind and rain handing out leaflets. I picketed the gates of a local RAF base where Tornado nuclear bombers were based. I wrote letters to the papers. People called me a communist. I didn’t care. Now I realize how naive I was. Prejudice, ignorance and the quest for power underlies a lot of human behaviour. The sad fact is that some people actually enjoy violence.
I suppose my cynicism and lack of trust in society also stems from my experience of disability. The world is not a welcoming place for disabled people. There are physical and attitudinal barriers at every step. We live by the law of survival of the fittest. The weak are blamed for their inadequacies. Why don’t I try harder to be normal, why don’t I try harder to walk? I’m asked these inane questions by complete strangers. Some seem to think I ride around in a wheelchair because I’m lazy or for kicks. The Paralympic movement has given disabled people a greater public profile but the down side is we are now all expected to be superhuman, to achieve the extraordinary. The non-disabled sometimes don’t understand that Paralympians are young athletes who achieve amazing feats because of their training and specialist support.
My understanding that the world is a fragile place began when I was three years old. Within four days of being given a polio booster by my family doctor I developed a polio-type illness. My life changed completely. I was ripped away from the safety of my home to a hospital where I experienced abuse and isolation. Medical professionals are not always kind and caring like in TV dramas. Reality is not so pretty. Trust is not always rewarded. The system can destroy you and not even notice. My gullible parents believed doctors who said vaccination would protect their child. They were never warned that things could go wrong. My maternal grandfather was the only one in my family who did not believe NHS propaganda. He argued with my parents that I should not be vaccinated. My grandfather had survived hardships and lies under a Stalinist regime. He knew better than to trust the authorities. Unfortunately he was proved right and my mother has had to live with the guilt of making a bad decision ever since.
In Germany vaccination is mandatory. Parents who refuse to comply are fined £2,000. The UK is now considering a similar policy. It begs the question who owns our bodies, the individual or the State? When they talk about the benefits of vaccination they are looking at overall figures, at what is helpful for society as a whole. There might only be a one in a thousand chance that a vaccine will adversely affect a child but what if that person ends up being you? When you live the rest of your life with discrimination, poverty, pain and suffering will it help to know it was for the public good? We are not told the truth by the mass media or the government. They play down the risks of drugs and vaccines. We hear about tragic cases where children were not vaccinated but we don’t hear about the lives ruined by vaccines that went wrong.
The list goes on and on…thalidomide, mesh implants, silicone implants, MNR vaccines and now the latest horror stories about epilepsy drug victims – babies damaged by drugs given during pregnancy. How can we trust the health professionals? Where was the help for these victims? Who takes responsibility? It’s all conveniently swept under the carpet and forgotten.
So yes, the world is a dangerous place. Don’t believe everything you are told. Be careful who you trust. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you!
And that sense of impending doom…it refuses to go away. The clock is still ticking…