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The Needle is Deep Into the Red Zone

By Barrie Zwicker

"HISTORY IS A RACE BETWEEN education and catastrophe," wrote H.G. Wells. Few deny that today the mass media are the greatest educator on public issues. And few deny that the ultimate catastrophe may be drawing closer now, even quickly.

History, or the end of history, is more in the hands of the mass media than most in the mass media want to think about personally.

The symbol of the threat of nuclear doomsday hovering over humanity, the Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, stands at four minutes to midnight.
The symbol of the threat of nuclear doomsday hovering over humanity, the Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, stands at four minutes to midnight.

One of the many reasons for this avoidance is that the threat of extinction is also a threat to traditional journalism. The faults of journalism – and it's natural that many within the media would be the last to recognize them or admit to them – are painfully illuminated when coverage of the threat of extinction is examined.

More accurate coverage of war-and-peace issues demands, centrally, more accurate coverage of the Soviet Union. These are inseparable. We are not in danger of going to war with Sweden or Japan or even China. Every nuclear weapon in the world outside the Soviet Union is pointed at the Soviet Union. An exclusive survey of coverage of the USSR in three Toronto dailies over a recent six-month period starts on page 187.

Who can be satisfied that the public is sufficiently aware of a nature of nuclear weapons? There are no American or Russian atoms, and the cells in the flesh of Russians and Americans and Canadians react the same to assault by radiation. On the page opposite Barbara Moon dispassionately describes one such death.

As we draw closer to war – more properly, to extermination – it should be evident that war is the ultimate failure of public communication. But we have incineratingly deep built-in biases against the corollary: that peace is public communication's ultimate aim. Our media have thrived on violence and confrontation and controversy; these have been at the very heart of what is "news." The relationship of war and the media is examined starting on page 6.

Reflections on our perceptual crisis appear on page 168. A description of what happens in the heart of a nuclear weapon when it is detonated also begins on page 168.

The effects on human flesh and society of such a detonation are described beginning on page 169. And the recollections of a former CIA man who observed atomic detonations are reported by Los Angeles Times reporter Robert Scheer on page 172.

Without replacement of our grotesque stereotype of the Soviet Union by something closer to reality, there is no hope of ending the Cold War, or ending the arms race, and therefore no hope of saving ourselves. In today's world, we cannot simultaneously indulge the luxury of hating the foreign devil out-group (see "The Psychology of the Arms Race" beginning on page 200) while hoping to stop the arms race. The first is at the core of the second. It is not for the Russians' sake (not that this would be an unworthy motive) that we need to see them more rationally: it is for our own sake.

To face this is to face more than a tinkering with our perceptions. It is to face the fact that most of us have been victims of nothing short of a Big Lie. "Behind every war there is a big lie" Richard Barnet writes on page 198. In the past this led to "ignorant armies clashing at night," in the words of Matthew Arnold. Today the price of the Big Lie is potentially the death of all.

The dangerous fraud of civil defence is explored starting on page 184.

Some of the more direct impacts of the arms race on journalism are discussed on page 181. Not unrelated, the story of how 95,000 feet of colour film of the destruction in post-atomic attack Hiroshima and Nagasaki were deliberately withheld by the U.S. authorities for 36 years begins on page 182.

All the lessons of history have to be learned, and acted upon, in time, by those now living in order to prevent the unnecessary catastrophe of nuclear war. There is a lot of evidence we won't make it.

Published in Sources Summer 1983


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