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From the H-Bomb to the Human Bomb

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At City Journal, Andre Glucksmann, a top advisor to French president Nicolas Sarkozy and one of the few outright defenders of the US in France, argues that the West needs to show vigilance against the existential threat of the human bomb and modern terrorism: From the H-Bomb to the Human Bomb.

Astrophysicists have found, wandering in the starry expanse, certain black holes. When faraway stars come into contact with them, the stars disappear, along with their planets, swallowed by bottomless darkness. From the beginning, human civilizations have existed alongside analogous moral abysses, which foreshadow an end of all things. According to tradition, such annihilation suggests a jealous and vengeful divinity, or malevolent demons.

In their endeavor to understand the black holes that threaten societies, the inventors of Western philosophy, comparing them to natural cataclysms, earthquakes, volcanoes, and epidemics, refused to see in them a supernatural sanction or to deny the responsibility of mortals. If God is not a cause, the darkness that threatens to overtake humanity is human, irreducible to an impersonal fate. The destructive principle inheres in us, whether we know it or not—this is the persistent message of the tragedians. Hate moves like Thucydides’s plague, not a purely physiological condition but an essentially mental disorder, which takes over bodies, minds, and society. The idea of a contagion of hatred must be taken literally: hatred spreads hatred, an outbreak that inoculates itself against all who oppose it.

Maybe one day, we will view the last century with nostalgia, even if it was dealt Auschwitz and Hiroshima. For today’s terrorism strives to mix these two ingredients into new cocktails of horror. During the cold war, the threat to man was dual: one, between two blocs, involved reciprocal annihilation; the other, terrorist, confined the savage extermination of civilian populations to the interior of each camp. Today, global terrorism eliminates geostrategic borders and traditional taboos. The last seconds of the condemned of Manhattan, of Atocha, and of the London Underground sent us two messages: “Here abandon all hope,” the Dantesque injunction carried by a bomb that wipes the slate clean; and “Here there is no reason why,” the nihilist gospel of SS officers. Hiroshima signified the technical possibility of a desert that approaches closer and closer to the absolute; Auschwitz represented the deliberate and lucid pursuit of total annihilation. The conjunction of these two forms of the will to nothingness looms in the black holes of modern hatred.

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