Who sees beauty in death? Or rather who sees beauty in the bringers of death and destruction? A person of reason and humanity would reply, Why no one would, but one whose mind is unhinged. A sane person would say that beauty cannot exist in a weapon. Many other things, for sure, but not beauty.
Even allowing for the belief that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, there is a line in the sand whereupon on one side stands the madman and, on the other, a sane man.
Introducing Donald Trump, madman.
Though, of course, the President of the United States needs no introduction. Never in history has a country, and the wider world, known more of what a leader thinks, is thinking, at all times of the day and night than with Trump. The thing is verbosity does not equal insight. The virtue of what he says is only of benefit to himself; thus, the machinegun, constant spraying of thoughts to circumvent his enemies – the media and the truth. Sad.
And so many words have been written of him and his ways, these included, but amidst the relentless blizzard of tweets, speeches and remarks, one stopped me recently, not for its precision or eloquence, but for its barbarism.
Trump uses the word beautiful because he sees no distinction between power and beauty.
A week ago, Trump was asked about North Korea. He replied: “Our military has never been stronger. Each day, new equipment is delivered, new and beautiful equipment, the best in the world – the best anywhere in the world by far. Hopefully, we’re not going to have to use it on North Korea. If we do use it on North Korea, it will be a very sad for North Korea.”
Beautiful and sad.
In May, speaking during a visit to the Middle East, he said: “One of the things that we will discuss is the purchase of lots of beautiful military equipment because nobody makes it like the United States. And for us that means jobs, and it also means frankly great security back here, which we want.”
Trump is right. Nobody makes it like the United States. Its military expenditure is more than $US600 billion ($A750 billion) annually, almost three times that of next highest, China. The US has 6800 nuclear warheads, 1800 on high-alert status.
Trump uses the word beautiful here because he sees no distinction between power and beauty. But he should. Would a reasonable person look at military hardware, weapons of immense capacity to destroy and describe them in terms of rapture?
Retired US lieutenant-colonel William Astore, writing in the website antiwar.com says: “For some reason, foreigners on the receiving end of US weaponry don’t think of it as ‘beautiful’. Nor do we when our weapons are turned against us. Enough with the ‘beautiful’ weapons, America. Let’s stick to the beauty of spacious skies and amber waves of grain.”
It’s true that Trump also uses the word “beautiful” in myriad settings. Indeed, the website Factbase has compiled the times he has used it – 1500 times in fact, and climbing. Thus Brigitte, wife of French President Emmanuel Macron is “beautiful”, as is Kim Jung-sook, wife of the South Korean President Moon Jae-in; so, too, are speaker systems, Cubans, farming, water, television studios, airports, lives lost in Afghanistan, Confederate monuments, coal and the unknown.
And given Trump’s lack of boundaries, there is no reason, nor evidence, to suppose he regards nuclear bombs any differently to conventional arms.
One American columnist says of Trump’s use of the word that it is a device, not a “descriptor”. This may be so, but there’s a method in this madness.
The Verge reports on a study by New York University and published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that says Trump finds success in his tweets because of the emotional and moral language he uses. “The study concludes that there is empirical basis to the argument that Trump’s tweets, which struck many long-time observers of politics as ill-conceived and unhinged, helped to power his successful campaign.”
If Trump can see beauty in the formula but not in the bloody consequence then surely this is disconnected from reality. How one beholds a weapon of mass destruction is manifestly different to how one beholds – albeit in his improper remarks – the French President’s wife.
And given Trump’s lack of boundaries, there is no reason, nor evidence, to suppose he regards nuclear bombs any differently to conventional arms. He may have said he regards nuclear war as a last resort, but then he doesn’t rule it out either, and during the presidential campaign was gung ho that America must embark on a build-up in all arsenals, including nuclear. If he had a mind to, he would describe the military-industrial complex as beautiful, too.
Which is insanity incarnate. Ray Monk, in his biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Inside the Centre, a tail gunner on the Enola Gay after it dropped the bomb on Hiroshima said: “I saw fires springing up in different places, like flames shooting up on a bed of coals. I was asked to count them. I said, ‘Count them?’ Hell, I gave up when there were about 15, they were coming too fast to count. I can still see it – that mushroom and that turbulent mass – it looked like lava or molasses covering the whole city, and it seemed to flow outward up into the foothills where the little valleys would come into the plain, with fires starting up all over, so pretty soon it was hard to see anything because of the smoke.”
A city of more than 250,000 people vanished, a quarter of them died. Some were vaporised. It was a complete success, to the US forces. After this success, America told Japan that if it didn’t accept the terms of the Potsdam peace declaration it could “expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this Earth”. It didn’t. The US dropped another bomb on Nagasaki; 40,000 died. Japan surrendered.
There is a casual cruelty that resides in the use Trump puts to the joining of beauty and weapons.
The similarity with Trump’s warning to North Korea is striking, and a little scary. “They will be met with fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which the world has never seen before.”
Perhaps Trump is a reader of history, or an aide is, and fed him the line. But when the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth sees beauty in weapons, this is not an exercise in aesthetics.
After the first atomic detonation at Los Alamos, Oppenheimer recalled in a 1965 interview: “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds’. I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”
Oppenheimer believed, in the context of World War II, that it was necessary to make the bombs, and his only regret he said after the Hiroshima bombing was that “we hadn’t developed the bomb in time to use against the Germans”. Nagasaki, however, darkened his thinking, and he put his efforts afterwards in trying to now control what he had made. It was too late. The genie was out of the bottle.
In the way of the naivety of scientists going up against politicians, Oppenheimer thought that after the world saw the horrendous destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nations would come together to ensure it never happened again. Instead, he was cast out – a dreamer in exile.
In a few years, the Earth was set on the path of Mutually Assured Destruction, and thus far has survived. Despite treaties and efforts at dismantlement, there are still 15,000 nuclear warheads, most owned by the US and Russia.
Donald Trump, quite rightly, has been censured for his manipulation of language, for his skewing of the real for the unreal (even dipping into the surreal), for his bending and snapping of the truth for his own purposes.
But there is a casual cruelty that resides in the use Trump puts to the joining of beauty and weapons. Why cast them as beautiful?
Keats said in Ode on Grecian Urn: ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know’.
Given this, how could Trump know the true meaning of either beauty or truth when they are one and the same? Sad.