Thursday, November 6, 2014

1945 was a triumph for modernity AND postmodernity

And that can't possibly be !

It would be as if Matter and Anti-Matter went through a revolving door together and yet both emerged equally triumphant.

At the time ( just after September 1945) most militarily-oriented accounts of the end of WWII certainly played the Allied victory as a win-win result for the forces of Modernity against a threatened return to a barbaric dark age --- and many military-oriented accounts of WWII still spin it that way.

'Modern Big Science (here insert radar, jets, atomic bomb and penicillin perhaps) beats back masses of fiercely barbaric atavists'.

But some prescient scholars , even in 1945 , people more attuned to changes in fashions in philosophy and to changes in deep broad cultural life certainly saw that that Dresden, Hiroshima, Auschwitz , the Katyn Forest and the Fall of Singapore had opened up breaches in the old certitudes that time and sunshine couldn't heal.

So seventy years later we can still have dozens and dozens of new books every year focussed on the meaning of the events of 1945 emerging (as it were) from two separate but parallel universes.

1945 is laid out in these parallel but widely separated streams of books as either the birth of modern Big Science and a triumph for modern progressive rational planning ---- or as the beginning of the end of the 400 year old Enlightenment Project.

First, let me make it clear that all those who saw 1945 as a triumph for Enlightenment and Modernity were sincere - and those who still hold these views are equally sincere.

But being sincere and being correct are not the same.

I see this being the result of an inevitable mental time lag between when truly philosophy-shredding events occur and when humanity correctly assesses their meaning.

During that time lag, modernity-besotted scholars can celebrate Vannevar Bush for both developing a differential analyser (basically an aiming device designed to accurately drop a shell or bomb down a pickle barrel inside a distant military plant) and for leading the development of the atomic bomb - which could miss the infamous pickle barrel by miles and still destroy the plant (and the entire city surrounding it as well).

Ouch ! What ever else these academics think they might be doing - being rationally consistent certainly isn't one of them.

Bush and the American Air Force strategic bomber proponents  had claimed - for years before, during and after WWII - that the war could be quickly and humanely won by highly accurate precision bombing.

Slow but steady infantry fighting, like slow but steady democracy, they felt was simply not up for defeating absolute evils like Hitler and Tojo.

Superheroes with superweapons were needed to impose extralegal violence , all to quickly restore justice and peace.

Indeed, the American Air Force's single bomb on Nagasaki did 'quickly' end the war --- albeit six years after it began .

 But Nagasaki's target aiming results could hardly be called accurate --- despite conditions being virtually ideal to demonstrate precise bombing --- if it actually existed anywhere outside its supporters' minds.

Similarly , throughout WWII Vannevar Bush thought natural penicillin was totally unfit for use as a medicine.

He pushed instead for penicillin to first become a man-made chemical synthetic before seeking wide public use, thereby delaying its mass introduction for precious years during an all-out Total War.

What he actually accepted credit for however, at war's end , was the unlikely triumph of natural penicillin.

Modernity's 1945 big triumphs, in other words, when more closely examined were actually modernity's biggest failures -- triumphs instead for postmodernity.

Hence my journal's focus on wartime Gotham and its doubly twin Manhattan Projects.

On one side of wartime Gotham's Janus face , modernity's failures to precisely craft the Carl Norden bombsight and Merck synthetic penicillin .

On the other side, postmodernity : Columbia University's 'close is good enough' Atomic bomb (and the Grumman close-in fighter-bomber) together with Pfizer/Dawson's slime-produced natural penicillin.

I think the subject matter for my journal is both a dramatic page-turner story for people who enjoy exciting narrative nonfiction - and a good time and place to look to discover when, how and why modernity failed and postmodernity climbed out of the wreckage.

Because modernity failed but didn't die - it lives on inside the minds of our climate deniers inhabiting almost all the places of power and wealth.

And unless we can make them see that their gods have failed , the future global debacle they have planned for all of us will make WWII look pretty petty ante ...

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