On October 24, 1962, an American nuclear chemist, Harrison Brown, began writing a column in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, just as the Cuban Missile Crisis was coming to an end.
“I'm writing from a plane from Los Angeles to Washington, and from what I know, this article να may never be published,” Brown said. “At no other time in history have people and nations come so close to death and destruction on such a large scale. “Midnight is coming.”
The birth of the Clock
His dark warning referred to the “Clock of Revelation”, the iconic Bulletin symbol since its inception 75 years ago, by Albert Einstein and some University of Chicago scientists involved in the Manhattan Project. Their work had contributed to the invention of the atomic bomb, but many of them were outraged by its dropping by the United States on Japanese cities.
The image of the clock, which counts down to midnight, was intended to symbolize the sense of urgent danger that Brown was experiencing during his flight to Washington in 1962.
“He believed that the world could end before it even landed,” Rachel Bronson, the current president of the Bulletin, told the Guardian.
The verdict is expected to be negative
Tomorrow, the Apocalypse Clock will be unveiled for the 75th time, and we will find out in which direction the Bulletin committee, which consists of scientists and security experts, has moved its indicators. For two years, he was stuck at 100 seconds before midnight. With the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine occupying the international media lately, it is likely that the clock will not move backwards, which means that humanity is still in greater danger than ever.
During the Cold War, the most disturbing finding of the indicators had brought humanity to the two minutes before midnight, after the firing of a thermonuclear warhead, a hydrogen bomb.
Until the Cuban Missile Crisis, the indicators showed seven minutes before midnight, and despite the pessimism of Brown's article, the Bulletin decided that year not to move them forward. The reason for this is the fact that the near-complete catastrophe had motivated the US and Russia to work again to reduce the risk.
On the contrary, the longest distance recorded is 17 minutes before midnight, immediately after the end of the Cold War. Since then it is constantly moving in the direction of disaster. This is partly due to fragile geopolitical balances, the rapid rise of nuclear weapons and the new existential threat of climate change, which has been officially counted since 2007.
An image with gravity
The Icon of the Apocalypse Clock belongs to artist Martil Langsdorff, whose husband, Alexander, was a physicist in the Manhattan Project. When he and his anxious colleagues decided to turn their internal newsletter into a magazine in 1947, they asked her to design the cover. She attributed their choice to the fact that “I was the only artist they knew”.
It was originally intended to base its design on the letter “U” to refer to the celestial, but the increasingly turbulent discussions between scientists in the couple's circle of friends made her choose something that referred to the urgency of the situation.
“He took the image of the countdown during rocket launches and turned it into a clock,” Bronson explains. He added that the initial distance of the hands of the clock, seven minutes from midnight, “reflected the immediacy of the danger, but also the hope, a feeling that we can still do something about it. We can reverse it. And all this in a picture that does not require words to be understood “.
75 years close to Revelation
The image, which at the same time embodies the quintessence of a difficult problem, drowned under tons of scientific research, has become an important symbol for pop culture. He has since appeared in Cold War novels, Doctor Who episodes, songs by The Who and Iron Maiden. The watch was also mentioned by Boris Johnson during last year's Cop26 in Glasgow – although he misplaced the hands one minute before midnight.
“He made a mistake at the time, but he used it, and we agree with him,” Bronson told the Guardian. “We at Bulletin believe that public involvement is crucial to this issue. In the US, they are preparing to spend $ 1.8 trillion on a new nuclear arsenal. The public must be involved in this case, because it is their own money. “
“It is very difficult to continue to care about an issue that has remained pressing for 75 years,” he concludes. “But it really remains imperative and through politics, through art and through journalism, we must be able to avoid the worst.”
With information from the Guardian