Monday, May 01, 2006
Pandora was, according to the Greek mythology, the first woman in the world. Zeus has constructed her to punish the men for Prometheus' theft of the secret of fire. Good job, Zeus.
She had received gifts from all Gods. How do you say it in Greek? Yes, "all" is "pan" like in "pan-American". Gifts are given by "donors", so a girl who got gifts from all Gods must be Pandora. :-)
The gift from Zeus, the God of Gods, was a box. She was instructed not to open it. However, as a curious woman, she opened it and released sorrow, plague, poverty, crime, and other misfortunes of mankind. (Well, Adam and Eve did more or less the same thing with the Macintosh.) She closed the box before the hope evaporated: hope was the only ingredient that was left in Pandora's box. Later, she opened the box again and released hope: this act of hers ended a very bad period of the human history.
What is the message? The message is that what you get from Pandora's box depends on the timing and other circumstances. Pandora's nuclear box was first opened in Summer 1945, and although the obvious consequences looked horrific, most historians and others agree that the nuclear bombs saved a lot of lives. Nuclear weapons give people a certain additional power and the power can lead both to clearly bad as well as relatively good outcomes, in comparison with the non-nuclear alternatives.
I think that this was essentially the case of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The White House would be mad if they declared the nuclear weapons to be forever unusable. I've been always amazed how many nuclear heads have been produced despite the tiny probability that someone would like to use a significant portion of them. When I was a kid, we would hear about the disastrous consequences of nuclear weapons all the time. Life on Earth would end, and all this stuff.
I no longer believe these alarmist ideas; they look kind of childish and irrational to me. Life on Earth did not end with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In fact, even life in Japan did not end; on the contrary, Japan started one of its most optimistic historical periods. The higher the moral standards of the main nuclear powers are, the better outcome one can expect from a possible nuclear confrontation.
A necessary condition for the hundreds of thousands of Hiroshimas in the currently existing warheads to destroy life is that they're controlled by a lunatic such as Mahnoud Ahmadinejad or the leaders of Sudan. And one of the tasks for responsible politicians is to guarantee that such a thing won't happen.
Figure 1: In fact, it's a task for both of them.
In the real world, there are many other sources of evil, instability, and numerous threats, and there are easy-to-imagine circumstances in which the nuclear weapons could become helpful for a more civilized party in a certain conflict. Yes, I still prefer a future without nuclear confrontations, but the price to pay for such a future can't be infinite.