NO New Nuclear Weapons - NO Star Wars - EVERYTHING SHOULD BE UNDER THE SUN - NO New Nuclear Targets...
NO Weapons In Space
NO New Pretexts For Nuclear War - NO Nuclear Testing - NO All Types Of Weapons & War & War Culture...
We have only one WORLD yet! If we destroy it, where else will we go?
YES For The Global Peace Movement, YES Loving & Caring Each Other, YES Greatness in Humanity, YES Saving Our Unique Mother Earth,
YES Great Dreams For Better Tomorrows, YES Emerging Positive Global Energy, YES National and Global Transparency, and YES Lighting Our Souls & Minds.

Arthur C. CLARKE
Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds! - Collected Essays: 1934 - 1998

St. Martin's Press / New York - First Edition - August 1999
Page: 421 /Part 10

"Scenario for a Civilized Planet"

The world has changed beyond recognition since Herman Kahn in the early 1950s coined the phrase "It is time, once again, to start thinking about the unthinkable." Happily, we can now concentrate our thoughts on peace, not war, Clarke argues in the following essay.

"Scenario for a Civilized Planet" is e-published on the Light Millennium's web site with the Author's permission. Sir Arthur C. CLARKE, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Photo Credit: Rohan De SILVA
by Arthur C. CLARKE

              Although the control of nuclear weapons remains a major issue, it is no longer the central one. The damage inflicted by conventional weapons (smart or stupid; it made no difference to the refugees in that Baghdad bunker) is so appalling that major improvements are hardly necessary. And environmentally inconsiderate though it may be, I suspect that if we were given a choice, most of us would prefer to be killed by A-bombs rather than bayonets or nerve gas.

              So let us stop arguing over details and consider this fundamental question: What weapons, if any, would a civilized world society require?

              It may help to focus on an issue closer at hand--gun control. There are a few categories of people who need--i.e., require--guns: police, security guards, game wardens. Unfortunately, there are far too many people who want guns--indeed, lust after them--often chanting like a mantra the poisonous half-truth, "Guns don't kill people; people do." Nor, by the same crazy logic, do nuclear bombs; but they made the job a lot easier.

              The impulse behind those who want guns, instead of requiring them, is all too obvious. For such Rambo clones seeking surrogate ejaculation, I once coined the slogan "Guns are the crutches of the impotent." Similarly, high-tech weapon systems are the crutches of impotent nations; nukes are just the decorative chromium plating. Let us see what crutches we can throw away, to walk proudly into a decent future.

              The first criterion for civilized weaponry should be the total avoidance of collateral damage (to use another piece of mealymouthed Pentagonese, like friendly fire). In fact--don't laugh--no device that could kill more than the single person targeted should be permitted. A larger radius of action could be allowed only for instrumentalities that produced temporary disablement e.g., the "gas of peace" in H.G. Wells's Things to Come, acoustic or actinic bombs, water cannons, hypodermic guns, etc. Many more could be found if a fraction of the effort devoted to slaughtering people was spent devising ways of immobilizing them.

              To deal with the sort of minor disturbances that may require police action even in the most utopian society, here are the minimum-force items that would be added to the above:

              Nonlethal martial-arts devices, like quarterstaffs (Robin Hood had the right idea).

              Genetically modified feline, canine, ursine, or simian aides, preferably in the five-hundred-kilogram class, playing the same role as today's guard dogs, but with higher IQs.

              Passive defense robots (Robocop plus Asimov's three laws).

              The permitted delivery systems for all these would include bicycles, scooters, jeeps, hovercraft, and helicopters.

              So much for basic law and order. But for real emergencies, which will occasionally arise even in utopia, single-shot rifles and handguns could be issued, perhaps only under presidential orders...

              And that's it. We are now one global family, and however much we may dislike our siblings, family quarrels should not be settled with hand grenades or AK-47s--much less ICBMs.

              At this point, many of my readers will be muttering, "You can't change human nature"--as if it exists! Perhaps the only characteristic that distinguishes we humans from the other animals is our infinite flexibility-- and our ability to take for granted changes that once seemed inconceivable. Not so many centuries ago there were societies in which a gentleman would feel naked without a sword--and was prepared to use it. There was a time when public executions, for such crimes as stealing a loaf of bread, were common entertainments. We still have a long way to go, but those who deny that Homo sapiens is incapable of making the adjustments necessary to survive are traitors to their species.

              Still, as Lenin once famously asked, "What is to be done?" There is no simple answer to this enormously complex question, and many of the obvious solutions, however attractive they may seem, will be counterproductive. Thus it now appears that President Reagan's well-targeted evil empire rhetoric, and much of the American military buildup during his administration, only served to strengthen the hand of the paranoics in the Kremlin. With the twenty-twenty hindsight of history, one can argue that a more conciliatory attitude would have produced better results; whether it would have been politically feasible for a chief executive who was such a willing captive of the military-industrial complex is quite another question.

              I wonder if the recent occupant of the White House ever came across these words: "Every gun that is fired, every warship launched... signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed." Typical bleeding-heart-liberal pacifist sentiments, of course--except that they are those of President Eisenhower, when he alerted his countrymen to the dangers of the above-mentioned military-industrial complex.

              I have many good friends in this amorphous entity, which should perhaps be renamed the military-scientific complex, but the sooner it is put out of business the better for mankind. The old description "merchants of death" is all too accurate; by comparison the Mafia and the drug cartels are minor nuisances. (Incidentally, there is a very cozy relationship between arms dealing and the international drug trade, especially in the Orient and South America.)

              But how to counteract the intellectual and emotional fascination of warfare, especially as embodied in today's glamorous weaponry? Be honest--when did you last see anything as exciting on television as the opening hours of the Persian Gulf conflict? Not only the glossy pages of the aerospace magazine but the arts are peddlers of what I have labeled technoporn. Much enough though I admire it, I am afraid George Lucas's Star Wars saga is a perfect example, with its fascinating hardware and gorgeous explosions.

              Even more relevant, because it mirrors the real world, is Top Gun. One day our grandchildren may be able to view such a superb piece of moviemaking with the same guilty enjoyment we must now feel when screening Leni Riefenstahl's similarly brilliant (and mildly homoerotic) paean to Aryan manhood, Olympia (1936). No great harm, as long as you realize exactly what's going on.

              And while on the subject of aesthetics, I see one faint flicker of hope in current military designs. Many of the tools of warfare were once beautiful: Excalibur, medieval armor, the Tudor flagship, the Spitfire...even the V-2. But today's weapons often look as hideous as their purpose; consider the Stealth bomber or any of the late Warsaw Pact's tanks. Perhaps our collective unconscious is signaling to us, and none too soon....

              To be more practical, when appeals to nobler instincts fail, the dollars-and-cents approach may succeed. There would be a concerted outcry for the dismantling of the military-industrial complex with all deliberate speed if its disastrous impact on the economy was appreciated. By concentrating their best brains and most valuable resources on projects that are worse than nonproductive, the United States and the Soviet Union embarked on a race to ruin--which, history may yet record, resulted in a photo finish.

              And don't talk to me about spin-offs. They exist, but --with a few notable exceptions like applications satellites--most of them are trivial; we would gladly do without ceramic kitchenware if we could dispense with the missile nose cones that spawned it.

              Would General Motors have been humbled, and the textile mills of New England closed, had the United States been able to emulate World War II's real victors, Germany and Japan, and concentrate on civilian consumer goods? Los Angeles did not destroy Detroit as dramatically as Los Alamos destroyed Hiroshima, but the black holes of the California defense industry helped to suck away its lifeblood. Even domestic electronics, which should have benefited the most from military spin-offs, failed to take advantage of them. The United States invented the videocassette recorder-- but when did you last see one made in America? Or, for that matter, a wholly homegrown TV set? Why bother to make them when there was easier money from the Pentagon?

              Unfortunately, this is a hard lesson to get across, especially to defense-plant workers who have been laid off just before Christmas. Craven congressmen who vote billions for weapons systems that everyone knows are unwanted only postpone the inevitable. There should be no need to stress the obscenity of such behavior in a world where the price of a B-2 bomber could save a million children from lingering deaths. President Eisenhower said it all, forty-nine years ago.

              Yet even men of goodwill and intelligence can be seduced by glamorous technology (did not Oppenheimer use the word "sweet" for Ulam's H-bomb breakthrough?) or sleepwalk into accepting the "fallacy of the last move." No better example could be given than SDI (Version 1.0)--the concept of a nuclear umbrella over the United States.

              Thanks to a World War II colleague who, for his sins, was made chairman of the Defense Science Committee, I learned more than I wanted to about this pipe dream and did my best to denounce its technological, financial, and above all operational absurdity. (Ironically, President Reagan quoted one of my own "laws" in favor of it. No hard feelings.)

Sir Arthur is at His office in Colombo, 2005
Photo: Rohan De SILVA

Sir Arthur and Tayrone, Colombo
Photo: Rohan De SILVA

              The United States Navy destroyed the credibility of Version 1.0 when in most advanced weapons system shot down an Iranian airliner--on a scheduled flight, in broad daylight. Anything left was buried without funeral honors by AT&T; the hours'-long failure of its telephone system, after decades of testing and debugging, is an instructive techno-disaster in the same league as the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. In one of the last letters I received from him, Luis Alvarez (how we missed you, Louie, during the "cold fusion" caper!) referred to certain Star Warriors as "very bright guys with no common sense." Perhaps even they have now learned from the two examples I mentioned.

              And yet, the SDI affair demonstrates the excruciating difficulty of answering Lenin's eternally valid question. The originally advertised concept may have been technological nonsense--but brilliant politics. It wouldn't have fooled scientists like Ronald Sagdeev for a moment, but it may have scared the hell out of some of his countrymen with more medals than brains. We'll never know for sure, but those who (like myself) criticized SDI may have done an involuntary disservice to peace.

              In penance, let me give two faint cheers for Son of SDI--if it is completely unclassified, its objectives (e.g., loose missiles) are sensibly defined, and it does not divert attention from such really dangerous delivery systems as offshore submarines and diplomatic bags. Although I suspect that a tactical defense initiative would fail precisely when it was supposed to work (remember the Pearl Harbor radar), it's a good idea to explore the technology. We may need it sooner than we imagine--almost certainly within the next thousand years. There have been two--repeat two--megaton-class meteor impacts on Earth during this century (1908 and 1947, both in Siberia). Something may be seriously wrong with all those reassuring statistics.

              To return to the more immediate challenge of Lenin's question--which, unfortunately for his countrymen, he answered incorrectly. Can anyone do much better, in this time of geopolitical meltdown? Long-range planning in out of the question; the best that any present-day statesman can hope to achieve is what the poet Robert Bridges called "the masterful administration of the unforeseen."

              Yet one basic necessity for the new world system is clear. Many wars in the past have been caused by fears and suspicious that were unjustified. Openness--"glasnost," or transparency--is a key ingredient for the avoidance of future conflicts, and the technology of the Space Age has made this not only possible but inevitable. The reconnaissance satellites (both those of the United States and the late Soviet Union) may well have averted World War III. Together with such ubiquitous communications devices as fax machines and portable satellite telephones, they are the best guarantee of "peace through truth." As President Reagan put it with the hard-won cynicism of the practical politician: "Trust, but verify." What have been christened "peacesats" will be a necessary--though not sufficient--part of this process.

              Yet peace is not enough. We need excitement, adventure, new frontiers. (That, hopefully, is one aspect of human nature that will never change.) Although there are problems enough in today's world to absorb all our energies, listing them is likely to evoke yawns rather than enthusiasm. Of course we need more hospitals, more food, more energy, better housing, less pollution. Above all, we need better schools and teachers. I hope it will not be too late for the United States to undo the damage wrought on its educational system by fundamentalist fanatics, Creationist crazies, and New Age nitwits. Such people are a greater menace to the open society than the paper bear of communism ever was.

              Many pundits (starting, I believe, with William James) have stressed that mankind needs a substitute for war. Sports, especially as exemplified in the Olympics, goes part of the way, but even American football and Canadian ice hockey d not provide all the necessary ingredients.

              However, there is one activity which, almost as if it were divinely planned, fully utilizes the superb talents of the above-criticized military-industrial complex. I refer, of course, to the exploration--and, ultimately, colonization--of space. Many, and some of the most pressing, of our terrestrial problems can only be solved by going into space.

              Long before it was a vanishing commodity, the wilderness as the preserver of the world was proclaimed by Thoreau. In the new wilderness of the Solar System may lie the future preservation of mankind.

              Having already written far too much on that subject, I will merely draw attention to the planned mission to Mars selected by President Bush as a goal for the fiftieth anniversary (2019) of the Apollo moon landing and activities in connection with the International Space Year. We have to clean up the gutters in which we are now walking--but we must not lose sight of the stars.

              Though I hope that someone can preempt me, it appears that more than four decades ago I had the dubious honor of first enunciating the doctrine of mutual assured destruction ("The Rocket and the Future of Warfare," Royal Air Force Quarterly, March 1946, and since reprinted in Ascent to Orbit [John Wiley, 1984]). Too much thinking about MAD is liable to induce that dislocation from reality, the Strangelove syndrome, for which there is no known cure. So I was very glad to say farewell to the whole dismal subject hen I delivered the Nehru Address, "Star Wars and Star Peace," in New Delphi on November 13, 1986. In his thoughtful and witty speech of thanks, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi remarked: "Forty years ago, Dr. Clarke said that the only defense against the weapons of the future is to prevent them being used. Perhaps we could add to that, we should prevent them being built... It's time that we all heed his warning... I just hope people in other world capitals also are listening."

              If not, here is one final quotation from H.G. Wells: "You damn fools! I told you so!"

_ . _

Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!
- By Arthur C. CLARKE
"Scenario for a Civilized Planet"

Part 10, Page 421 - 427.
St. Martin's Press / New York - First Edition - August 1999
Page: 421 /Part 10

- Photo Credits: Rohan de SILVA

Special Thanks to:


"Scenario for a Civilized Planet
," e-published on the Light Millennium's Summer-2006, #18 Issue with the Author's permission, and posted to the Web site by Bircan Ünver.

Summer 2006
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