I was born in the 1950s. It was an age riven by anxiety about nuclear war. Ten years after the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been destroyed by the first use of atomic-powered weapons, the west was still consumed with the horror of seeing Oppenheimer’s equations translated into an explosion that ripped apart buildings, adults and children on a scale envisaged only in science fiction.

The threat of this has not gone away, though it can be argued that the deadliness of what the American ‘war games’ strategists termed ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ – MAD, has maintained the peace.

Some of the fiction of the time reflected the idea that the only survivors of an active MAD scenario would be be those ‘high’ officials important enough to warrant a place in a nuclear bunker. These were (and are) actual buildings set deep underground and stocked with everything such a group would need to survive the nuclear winter, as it was called, and re-emerge, years later, pure of creed, to begin civilisation, again.

Quite what mother nature would think of such beings was never discussed. But in my own heart, I developed a loathing for such a concept and the ludicrous politics that created such an idea in the first place. My pet name for these high-caste survivors was ‘the bunkermen’. I thought it appropriate, since it seemed always to be men, rather than women, whose aggression led to war, and whose willingness to lie about the facts, inequality and the complexity of human decision-making mirrored their lack of empathy.

As a long-departed aunt once said to me “The men were good at banging the drum, but not so good at mopping up the blood, afterwards.”

Fast forward half a century and, within the invisible bubble of the nuclear MAD, wars continue on a near-global scale. Nuclear-level money is spent on a second level of warfare that targets humans deemed worthy of assassination by descending missile, guided from satellite or drone control systems. Countries which possess the MAD systems may not use their own flags to fight wars, but ally themselves – often covertly – with proxy armies through which they operate on the ground. The past forty years of Afghanistan’s history are a perfect example of how this operates.

The last decade has been a difficult period to live through. Much of what we took for granted as ‘established and stable’ has been or is being swept away by authoritarian politics. To me, it feels as though the spirit of aggression moves through increasingly confrontation politics, designed to follow an age old model of mobilising hatred to create majorities in a politics that would seem dangerously out of touch, were there any alternatives that didn’t sweep away democracy in any form. That may follow, of course…

The results are focussed in two ways. Domestically, the sense of caring is diminished, and public institutions that support it are deliberately weakened. But a far more corrosive effect is being played out on the world stage, in which areas like parts of the Middle East become the point of focus for the most heartless policies – reducing the value of human life to nothing.

It may be that human life has no value to those who control this new order. Our worth may now be measured only in the sense that we are ‘economic units’ in a monetary world where increasing power is vested in fewer and fewer people. There is a certain logic in that being the end point of a system where the measure of value has become so singular. In those ‘fewer and fewer’ controllers I see again the bunkermen, safe in their gated estates, mixing only with their fellow bunker dwellers and exploiting their vast wealth in the cementing of the newly established status quo – in which everyone but them is poorer.

Against this tide of warped materialism stands the silent outrage of those who remember how much work it took to initialise the post-WW2 landscape of social institutions such as the provision of universal healthcare and the establishment of a minimum level of welfare that would provide the basics of living to those who were suffering through no fault of their own.

It’s a truism that ‘change is inevitable’. We can choose to believe that the state of the Earth is a soul-less cycle of cause and effect or we can see that nature has true cycles of evolution beyond the Darwinian model of biological mating and survival. Bigger factors can and do change the course of the planet’s history. The current, bleak outlook of the Covid-19 virus is an example of how something unforeseen a few months ago is changing the entire ‘health’ of the commercial world. I am not proposing that any kind of ‘divine intervention’ is behind the virus’ mutation into the human ecosystem, simply that the palette of such unforeseen and deadly triggers of chaos is much larger than mankind has ever considered – and therefore that our perceived ecological and societal stability may be an illusion we can no longer afford.

Against this background, the breakdown of the old order of ‘caring and inclusive’ societies may need to be re-evaluated. The nature of survival against, say, a deadly virus, requires us to work together, regardless of wealth or rank in society. The rich or powerful man is as much at risk as anyone else. True, they could retreat into a bunker of their own making, as continues to be the doomsday scenario in a post-nuclear holocaust, but who would want to emerge into the poisoned dust of such a world?

We have become disconnected from outrage. In Syria, children are freezing to death in their thousands on a nightly basis as they flee the barrel bombings of their own president; and this is just one example of many. Think Yemen or Myanmar and we will find the same deadly cocktail of a poor part of the world within which authoritarian powers play out ‘strategies’ of control that have failed us for the past century.

The bunker is our enemy more than those who inhabit it. It is state of mind as much as any other. The future of life on Earth is surely that we recognise our connections to every other member of the human race, and act in way that begins to include rather than exclude. In that, we will change the nature of mankind and face the real challenges at the microbial, viral and economic levels in a very different way. If we cannot offer support, then, at least we can turn to face suffering and offer awareness.

That is so much more than nothing… and, for a while we may have the freedom to open our personal bunkers and step out into the complex sunshine of a world not yet destroyed.

15 Comments on “Echoes of the Bunkermen

  1. Pingback: Echoes of the Bunkermen | Campbells World

  2. WOW!
    This is so powerful. Thanks so much for writing such a magnificent piece.
    I’d love to feature this in my magazine.
    Please get in touch with me directly should you be interested.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Clear and powerful message, Steve. My I quote you on parts of this giving you credit? It’s important to get this idea out. I’ve been planning to work on a post about such things, and you’ve said it so well I’d like to add your point of view and the credibility of quoting a second source as well as stating my own observations. Let me know… If you prefer, I can simply reblog it, but that tool gets less visibility than an original post with links back and credit references.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Insightful and powerfully written as always Steve. Dark times indeed. We need to keep looking for those little rays of sunshine.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you so much for addressing this issue, Steve, and in such a way that there is no question as to what is being addressed. It is very sad that mankind has been reduced to such a level of unconsciousness. I was born in 1941 at the start of WWII and have lived through every insanity of the world since that time. I still think about the tale of Gilgamesh, and how history has repeated this tale again and again in hundreds, perhaps thousands of varieties, but all with the same results.

    Long ago I read a book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, and I have carried it around in my wallet for all this time. I get it out and read it regularly. You can replace God with Gods or whatever power you choose to believe in. It is the thoughts overall that are important.

    We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end war;
    For we know that you have made the world in a way
    That man must find his own path to peace
    Within himself and his neighbor.
    We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end starvation;
    For You have already given us the resources
    With which to feed the entire world
    If we would only use them wisely.
    We cannot merely pray to You, O God,
    To root out prejudice,
    For You have already given us eyes
    With which to see the good in all men
    If we would only use them rightly.
    We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end despair,
    For You have already given us the power
    To clear away slums and to give hope
    If we would only use our power justly.
    We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end disease,
    For You have already given us great minds with which
    To search out cures and healing,
    If we would only use them constructively.
    For strength, determination, and willpower,
    To do instead of just to pray,
    To become instead of merely to wish.

    Written by Rabbi Jack Riemer, Likrat Shabbat

    Liked by 1 person

      • I meant to say that I carry the prayer, not the book in my wallet. Boy, that would be some huge wallet! Yes, society is not at all what it has been, but perhaps this is leading us to some time or place different in many ways from where we have landed. I don’t know anything for certain except that I am glad I have had to have as many life experiences as I have had and been able to meet and know people who have enhanced my life so much. Even the worst parts of life had their place after all. It is like walking through the forest. In the forest are what we consider weeds, and yet nature has a reason for them to be there. And perhaps there is poison ivy or poison oak there too, but we can walk around them and still go through the forest. And there are mushrooms too, some very tasty and healthy, and others that will poison our bodies. But we can choose carefully if we eat them.

        Mankind has had this dual persona since the beginning of time. I don’t believe that the fact that man has always had free will was the issue. But we have historical accounts from all over the world that tell the unbelievable stories of the things done to one society by another since and before history was written down.

        Hitler was certainly one of the most insane people of our times, and yet in the end result, his whole world came to an end, and not the end he or any of what his followers had anticipated. That is not a lot of comforting thought, but I guess we all have to realize that Paradise has never been promised to last forever. We can enjoy it while we have it, record what we can of it for some future time or place, and when it is our time, go with grace inasmuch as we are able. I am perhaps making light of what might be, but the point is that we cannot change the world in what it is becoming, and perhaps like some of the historic myths and tales of others was left to help us understand those things.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: