The Cranes of Hope

Late one night, I read Sadako’s Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr. The book is based on the true story of a little girl called Sadako who contracts Leukemia ten years after the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My heart attached itself to the lively, petite, friendly, active Sadako. Her energy is infectious and it leaps out of the pages and wants to make you skip too as you navigate the stairs and walk to school.

Sadako was two years old when the atom bomb was dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Ten years later, her body is wracked with the unmistakable signs of Leukemia, a disease her family knows as the ‘Atom-Bomb’ disease. Her friend gives her hope and says when she makes a thousand paper cranes, she will become better. Sadako’s older brother offers to hand the paper cranes for her and pretty soon, the soaring cranes of every hue and size adorn her hospital room.

Wiki Link: Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes

According to the book, she is on her 644th crane when she dies, but her brother says she really made 1400 paper cranes and some of her paper cranes are still available for viewing as a message for Peace. It is a poignant story, and just writing the summary brought back the details of a lively spirit forever taken from the world, and I was shaken.

sadako

The nuclear threat is ever there. Read: Butter Battle Book by Dr Seuss. Mindless tweets on the subject by dictators leave me in an uneasy state of mind: We have on Earth right now the power to annihilate all lifeforms and spread widespread suffering. How many Sadako’s does humanity have to lose before we embrace all encompassing peace? Isn’t One Sadako too many?

Compellingly told, it is a light book with a heavy message. Oh! How heartless is warfare and why oh why did humanity have to develop nuclear weapons? I said aloud – a loud lament with silence as an answer.

In a mutinous mood, I stormed into the concluding essay on the Value of Science in Richard Feynman’s What Do You Care What Others Think? book. What possible excuse had he for his work on the Nuclear bomb. (The essay doesn’t directly allude to his work on the atom bomb, but on the general value of Science.)

Much as I wanted to storm and rage, I found myself reading the whole essay. He started the essay with something he had heard from a monk in a Buddhist monastery once:

To every man is given the key to the gates of heaven; the same key opens the gates of hell.

It is a valuable essay and well worth reading. It reminded me of the beautiful saying by Ursula Le Guin in the Earthsea books,

“To light a candle is to cast a shadow…”

 

The value of science is similar – while it is hugely important for understanding our universe, solving medical problems etc, there is also the troubling underbelly of Science using the same understanding with mal-intent or certainly unintended intent. (Problem with the Like button?)

Troubling? Yes.

But did you know, said a small voice in my brain, paper cranes are a symbol of hope and peace in Japan? We can hope and have faith in our uncommon knack to find solutions even as we create more problems. (The Wizard & The Prophet)

Radiance of a Thousand Suns

The children and I were reading the Butter Battle Book, by Dr Seuss again: A marvelous book that never fails to enlighten : the bigociously atrocious weapons we are capable of creating, how littlyfully small-minded we are when we come to self righteousness,  and the idiotic ends to our means. It makes me want to take our brains apart to see where bravado and ego reside and short circuit them, to see if it results in a fuzzy ice-cream show in the pupils. 

butter_battle

 

Written in 1984 this book is a simple parody of the nuclear arms race, and is chillingly relevant today.

The book is about Yooks and Zooks: The Yooks eat their bread with the butter side up, while the Zooks eat their bread with the butter side down. This leads to escalating differences and a long curvy wall is built between the two lands.

butter_battle_2

Soon, both sides start fighting by using weapons of increasing grandeur and magnitude starting from the Tough Tufted Prickly Snickle Berry Snitch to the Eight Nozzled Elephant Toted Boom Blitz. The book finishes with the Yooks and Zooks sitting on either side of a wall threatening to drop the Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo, signifying the nuclear threat.

Around the same time that Dr Seuss came out with this brilliant book for children, another one of my favorite writers delivered  a series of Gifford Lectures. Titled ‘The Varieties of Scientific Experience : A Personal View of the Search for God’ , Carl Sagan goes on to explain in one lecture how we fail to comprehend the true magnitude of the nuclear problem ahead of us. 

The_Varieties_of_Scientific_Experience
By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28513011

Quote:

The bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki – everybody’s read about them, we know something about what they did-killed some 1/4 million people … The planet Earth today has 55000 nuclear weapons, almost all of which are more powerful than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki and some of which are, each of them, a thousand times more powerful.* Some twenty to twenty-two thousand of these weapons are called strategic weapons, and they are poised for as rapid delivery as possible, essentially halfway across the world to someone else’s homeland.

*By 2006, the world nuclear arsenals had been reduced to about 20,000 weapons-still roughly ten times what would be necessary to destroy our global civilization. the principal reductions since 1985 were due to the 1993 Start II Treaty between the United States and Soviet Union.

“Twenty thousand strategic weapons in the world is a very large number. For example: lets ask how many cities there are on the planet Earth. If you define a city as having more than 100,000 people in it, there are 2,300 cities on the Earth. So the US and  Soviet Union could, if they wished, destroy every city on the Earth and have eighteen thousand strategic weapons left over to do something else with.

These lectures were delivered in 1985, the numbers have definitely been revised from thereon. A number of countries have also harnessed the power of nuclear weapons, even though there have been treaties and agreements to restrict its use. 

Robert Oppenheimer, credited as being the ‘father of the atomic bomb’, when he witnessed the test of the nuclear bomb over the desert in New Mexico was supposedly reminded of a text in the Bhagawad Gita.

If the radiance of a thousand suns
Were to burst at once into the sky
That would be like the splendour of the Mighty One…
I am become Death,
The shatterer of worlds.

With the rise of autocracy the world over, what would it take for us to save ourselves this time around? For all our brilliance in developing the bomb, we have yet to develop sound defenses against it.