Lessons of Hiroshima and Orlando

By Friedman, Thomas L | International New York Times, June 16, 2016 | Go to article overview

Lessons of Hiroshima and Orlando


Friedman, Thomas L, International New York Times


We need to think about the moral implications of where technology is taking us.

I want to talk today about the horrific human tragedy of Orlando. But first I want to talk about Hiroshima -- or, more precisely, the profound speech that President Obama gave there on May 27 that got lost in all the campaign noise here.

Hiroshima, Obama suggested, represents a world in which for the first time ever a country possessed the power to kill all of us -- and if it had to be any country, I am glad it was America. But today, he said, we're entering a world where small groups -- maybe even soon a single super-empowered person -- will be able to kill all of us; therefore we'd better start thinking about the moral implications of where technology is taking us.

"Science allows us to communicate across the seas and fly above the clouds, to cure disease and understand the cosmos, but those same discoveries can be turned into ever more efficient killing machines," the president noted. "The wars of the modern age teach us this truth. Hiroshima teaches this truth. Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us. The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well."

What the president was describing is the central strategic issue of our time: the growing mismatch between the combined rapid evolution of our technological prowess and the powers this gives to a single individual or group to destroy at scale (you can make your own gun now with a 3-D-printer), and the pace of our moral and social evolution to govern and use these powers responsibly.

And that brings me to the Orlando massacre -- to what happens when, on a smaller scale, we refuse to reimagine the social and legal changes we need to manage a world where one loser can now kill so many innocent people. The notion that such a person -- any person -- should be able to buy a military-style assault rifle is insane. That the Republican Party cannot see the wisdom of common-sense gun laws is just begging for bigger massacres.

At the same time, year after year, we keep seeing young Muslim men drawing inspiration and permission from Islam to kill large numbers of civilians in the West and, even more so, killing other Muslims in Muslim lands.

I've lived too long in the Muslim world, and experienced the decency of Muslim communities, to believe that this is the essence of Islam. But I have seen too much of this suicidal violence for too long to believe that it has nothing to do with the puritanical, anti- gay, anti-transgender, anti-female, anti-religious-pluralism versions of Islam that are too often promoted by sources in the Arab world, Pakistan and Afghanistan. …

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