Everything Is Hyped

When both the press and the politicians resort to demagoguery, it’s pretty hard to find the truth about anything, including weapons of mass destruction.

It’s been fashionable for some time now to scare people about biological weapons that could wipe out mankind. Let’s put this in perspective. When there were a lot fewer humans on Earth and zero medical defenses against disease, none of these diseases like smallpox, plague, yellow fever, tuberculosis, dengue fever, cholera, anthrax and whatever succeeded in wiping out the human race.

It makes a good story for the hero to struggle and at last save the entire human race from some superbug, but that’s all it is, a good story. No bug, super or otherwise, is likely to wipe out the human race. Epidemics and even pandemics seem to run out of steam entirely on their own, for reasons we don’t understand. That’s always been the case. It’s true that the Black Death killed a third of Europe’s population, but it didn’t touch the other two-thirds, and it eventually just petered out. At that time, nobody had a clue as to what caused it or how it could be treated.

The effects of chemical weapons have also been greatly exaggerated. To hear it from some Hollywood scriptwriters, one small vial of nerve gas could wipe out a whole city. That’s nonsense. Nerve gas was released into a crowded Japanese subway some years ago, and only about 10 people died.

Chemical weapons — or, as we used to call them, poison gases — were used widely in World War I by the United States, Great Britain, France and Germany. At one point, every fourth artillery shell was a chemical shell. Yet the overwhelming majority of casualties were caused by machine guns and conventional artillery. Clearly, no one thought of chemical weapons as weapons of mass destruction.

You should ask yourself why chemical weapons weren’t used in World War II. Everybody had them. They weren’t used because they hadn’t proven to be all that effective in the first war. Iran and Iraq used them in their war in the 1980s, but there has been no study that I’m aware of on how effective they were.

There is really only one weapon of mass destruction, and that’s the thermonuclear bomb. We used two atomic bombs against the Japanese. But even conventional bombs, if you drop enough of them, can cause mass destruction.

We have been tricked by propagandists into focusing our attention on what they mislabel as weapons of mass destruction, when what we should oppose is war. War causes mass destruction. Dresden and Tokyo were destroyed, with massive loss of civilian lives, using just conventional incendiary bombs.

Whenever it comes to assessing risk, we should always start with the proposition that we are all going to die. As the Buddhists say, when a child is born the only certainty is that the parents will bury the child or the child will bury the parents. Mortality is 100 percent. Everything, including us, is temporary.

Once you accept that, what’s to worry about? It’s much better to concern yourself with how you live than with how you will die. There are lots of people trying to scare you these days in order to sell you something — a pill or a policy or a war or a politician. Don’t let them do it.

If you wake up in the morning, then smile, you’re ahead of the game. Live that one day as if it were your last. You don’t need a near-death experience to teach you to enjoy life as long as you have it. Most of us don’t know when our string will run out, and it’s just as well.

As for weapons of mass destruction, remember what Brother Dave Gardner said about going in an atomic blast: "That way we can all go together."

Author: Charley Reese

Charley Reese is a journalist.