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I wonder if I’ve ever been as hooked by anyone’s writing within about ten pages as I was when I just got into Arundhati Roy’s The End of Imagination (Included in the collection The Algebra of Infinite Justice). It’s brilliantly written and makes a cogent case against nuclear weapons. Having been born a few decades too late, I never really witnessed the anti-nuclear movement in full force. For the first time, I think I am suitably horror-struck by the knowledge of what nuclear weapons truly are.

Somehow it never really struck me that it was horribly wrong for the United States to have detonated nuclear bombs in the hope of getting Japan out of World War II. Let’s say two families, the As and the Bs are engaged in a century-long vendetta that’s claimed dozens of lives and caused immense  suffering. Let’s say family A realizes that if they kidnap the head of B’s newborn son and subject the infant to the most twisted forms of torture they can come up with, B will be horrified enough to abandon the vendetta forever. Does this make it right – or in any way excusable – for them to do that?

Although on the whole I really liked the essay, there are two points with which I do have issues. The first concerns the following passage, which describes Western society:

“These are people whose histories are spongy with the blood of others. Colonialism, apartheid, slavery, ethnic cleansing, germ warfare, chemical weapons – they virtually invented it all.”

Here’s the thing – I don’t like it when people seem to imply that the people of the East lived in some kind of idyllic Heaven on Earth before the West came along. The Arabs were avid traders of slaves, and the practice of slavery was nearly as common in the Chinese, Japanese, and North African kingdoms as anywhere in the West.

(And in case you’ve never heard of white slaves, I strongly recommend you visit this link:

White female slave captured by the Barbary Corsairs (see link above)

As for apartheid, how much older is the Hindu caste system? And how is it any better? And finally, just because empire-builders in the East (Genghis Khan, for instance, or the Mughals) did not build empires as large, or as recently as the Western nations did does not mean that the peoples of the East are inherently and universally quiet, non-materialistic, peace-loving creatures.

My second problem is with the following:

“…we embrace the most diabolic creation of Western science [i.e. the nuclear bomb] and call it our own.”

This is a fervent request to everyone reading this: please don’t use terms like “Western science”. There’s only one way of doing science. It’s called the scientific method; it involves principles such as experimentation, observation, and accurate prediction, repeatability, openness, etc. Nobody can own any part of the scientific method and there are no separate Eastern and Western versions of it. (Any body of “knowledge”  that is not built upon the scientific method – e.g. astrology, voodoo, homeopathy, feng shui, etc – is not science.)

Having said that, it is, of course, true that nuclear bombs were invented by Western scientists, and that Eastern scientists may never have done something like that if they were in the same position. So call them a “Western invention” if you will. That’s fine.


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