February 11, 2004
With the announcement that nuclear nonproliferation lies in ruins, America has entered a period as critical as the Cuban Missile Crisis. The whole world, not simply the United States, may now be in the age of the nuclear car bomb. The speed with which the crisis has descended has left political parties without a set response to the nightmare which they had deluded themselves into thinking would never happen. They will in consequence, temporize the way actors who have walked into the wrong play have done, by repeating snatches from other parts, however ludicrous, however inappropriate. No one is ever truly ready to face a diagnosis of cancer.
One hopes that lingering in the minds of partisan politicians is the realization that this is real, that they can die in a nuclear fireball too. Or that some memory of fellowship or love of country, left over from childhood, returns to make its claim. If any of that still lives, let it come forth now. The hour is here.
Yet if we do not outlive these years, it was still worthwhile to have come this far as men. Some account it little. Matthew Arnold once reflected on the paltriness of our dreams:
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
And so perhaps the night shall come. But not while we live. Not while we live.