A Lesson from the Beirut Blast

Every event presents itself in multiple ways. It has its consequences, good or bad, spinoffs, windfalls and tragedies. The Beirut Blast of August 04, 2020 is one of the biggest tragedies in recent years, killing hundreds of people and injuring thousands. Amid this devastating explosion, is there anything we can take away? Perhaps this horrific event too has taught us a lesson, which each one of us must take very seriously and sincerely.

This blast took place just two days before the 75th anniversary of Hiroshima incident of the Second World War. It’s an appalling reminder of how we humans have put our survival in grave peril, bringing home the impending horror that is probably awaiting us if we fail to act wisely. There’s more we must be willing to do than just pour out empty condolences. Those who died 75 years and those who died a few days ago left us with the same message and lesson. They gaze into our eyes from their graves. Through the ashes they turned into, they have put up the writing on the wall. If 2750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate can wreak such havoc, what kind of hell might be let loose by nuclear weapons? The question is not merely with respect to whether or not the nuclear armed countries would confront. It’s about the very nature of the thing we’ve ended up making, and everything that its mere possession entails. Evaluating this issue along the two axes of war and accident opens a window into our bleak and grim future.

The nuclear weapon in particular, and weaponry in general, always pose an existential threat to humanity. The case can be made against both, and the reasons that we should disarm are writ large. We humans are in no way perfect. Our self-centered, self-interested and self-defeating behavior gets manifested on both individual and collective level. From states laying waste towns, cities and villages to an individual massacring innocent people with a gun, we lose our capacity to reason so much so that our celebrated title of ‘rational animal’ becomes an oxymoron. Our imperfection is equally manifested through mistakes. We make mistakes and we will make mistakes. So there’s a need to pause and introspect. Given such a precarious nature of humans and the systems they’ve made, the least we can do is to minimize the risk by consensually agreeing to disarm. The race for developing more and more such Frankenstein monsters must not be disguised as development. Even if an argument is made for nuclear weapons that they’ve proven to be the biggest and most effective peacekeepers, it in no way diminishes the threat which the nuclear accidents pose. It’s undeniable that there’ve been more nuclear accidents than the bombs dropped. To put it into perspective, the odds of the detonation of a nuclear weapon in an accident is one in a million. The odds of our dying in a plane crash are one in 40 million. And who’ll forget the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear disasters?

During the late 1950s, a few years into the Cold war, when the Soviet Union and the US were threatening the world with their nuclear armament race, a meeting called Pugwash conference was held. This conference had its roots in the Russell-Einstein manifesto which had called for such a conference. It was a call for nuclear disarmament, an appeal to people all over the globe that there’s a looming threat posed by nuclear weapons, and we must address it. The Beirut blast is the same call. Its shock waves will keep us reminding that we’ve to be wise enough to live together and not die together. The words from the manifesto cry out:

“We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.”

Ubaidullah Pandit has studied Law and Information Technology.