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Our Fate is In Our Hands



When we were first assigned the task of reflecting on our experience in the Short History of the World course, I was initially finding it difficult to choose what I wanted to write about. I found my choice in the second to last class of the semester when a quote was put up on the screen and we were asked to consider its implications in the world of today. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We can live together as brothers, or perish together as fools”. 1 Humans, as a species, are the most advanced creatures on Earth, creating societies and gaining the knowledge through which to manipulate the planet for our own personal gain. The greatest problem that humanity faces today, is how we use this knowledge. As the quote states, we can either use knowledge together to save the already dying planet, and learn to live in a state of peace and cooperation, or we can destroy ourselves by continuing to battle against each other for power. “Over the past few millennia, we humans have been steadily perfecting more and more violent ways of hurting each other”. 2 More recently, since the twentieth century, technological advancements have allowed mankind to not only create, but in many cases perfect some of the deadliest weapons the world will ever know. Our success as a species is leading to many unintended consequences, mainly those monsters that we have created with our own technology. 3 There is probably no greater nightmare than the prospect of attacks through the use of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, which I believe to be three of the most deadly advancements in science to have been made in the quest to find the ultimate advantage. 4 With these weapons of

  • 1 Lon Appleby, A Short History of the World: Prometheus Lecture, 2015.

  • 2 Evan Ackerman, Electromagnetic Arc Generator Could Protect against Shockwaves with Plasma, published by IEEE Spectrum, 2015.

  • 3 Fred Guterl The Fate of the Species: Why the Human Race May Cause its Own Extinction and How We Can Stop It, Bloomsbury, 2012, 4.

  • 4 Chris McNab and Hunter Keeter, Tools of Violence: Guns, Tanks and Dirty Bombs,

Osprey Publishing, 2008, 253.


mass destruction present in the world today, it has become a matter of the highest urgency to preserve and strengthen international cooperation and international treaty arrangements. 5 As quickly as chemical warfare was discovered, the civilized world has been trying to eliminate its threat with limited success. 6 Over the course of World War I, Germany had developed and discovered ways of using chemical weapons in battle, but they would not be the last nation to do so. 7 Germany’s affiliation with chemical weapons would become more devastating to the world population during World War II, when Hitler commissioned scientists to explore more options for chemical warfare. 8 What they discovered would lead to the greatest genocide that the world would ever know. Through the use of the pesticide Zyklon-B, gas chambers in concentration camps would claim the lives of six million Jewish people, a number that was originally intended to be as high as eleven million. 9 This genocide shows how the knowledge of a chemical compound originally intended for agricultural purposes was abused to kill millions of people. Also during World War II, we would see the most destructive weapon every devised take shape and be deployed, resulting in the instantaneous deaths of seventy thousand people in the Japanese city of Hiroshima. 10 This of course was the atomic bomb, and what would be the beginning of the era of nuclear warfare. While what was considered the nuclear arms race once

  • 5 Ambassador Thomas Graham Jr., Commonsense on Weapons of Mass Destruction, University of Washington Press, 2004, 5.

  • 6 McNab, n.3, 253.

  • 7 McNab, n.3, 256.

  • 8 Scott Christianson, the Last Gasp: The Rise and Fall of the American Gas Chamber, University of California Press, 2010, 149.

  • 9 Christianson, n.7, 154.

10 Don Nardo, World History Series: Weapons and Warfare, Lucent Books, 2004, 90.


only existed amongst around a half dozen of the World’s most developed nations, several “new” nations have recently joined the ranks of nations possessing the capability of at least limited nuclear warfighting. 11 One of the greatest fallouts of nuclear warfare cannot even be seen immediately. Just as great as the threat of a bomb wiping out a massive amount of people as it explodes, the side effects caused by the radiation can also have a lasting impression on the population, and can lead to the deaths of those who may have survived the initial blast. 12 The term “Nuclear Holocaust” is a compression of the twentieth century’s two worst inventions, leading to a fate in which the survivors would be envious of the dead. 13 Realistically, we should be grateful that the threat of nuclear war is just that, a threat and not yet a reality. It is believed that had a thermonuclear war occurred between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, the human civilization would have likely been destroyed. 14 Even though there is an effort being made in present day to remove the threat of nuclear warfare by destroying any nuclear warheads that are in existence, it is probably too late to reduce the role that they play in the future of civilization. 15 The third technological advancement to have been made is in the field of Biological weapons, which go further back in history than either chemical or nuclear weapons. 16 Biological weapons

  • 11 McNab, n.3, 255.

  • 12 Graham, n.5, 23.

  • 13 Ron Rosenbaum, How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III,

Simon & Schuster, 2011, 28.

  • 14 Graham, n.5, 27.

  • 15 Rosenbaum, n.13, 259.

  • 16 Graham, n.5, 120.


are defined as devices that spread pathogens to sicken, or even kill an enemy. 17 They can be seen as early in history as the fifteenth century when the Spanish presented the natives of Peru with clothing contaminated by smallpox, which rapidly spread, decimating the population. 18 As the global population continues to grow, we are creating conditions that are ripe for a plague of twenty-first century proportions. 19 Viruses that exist on their own in the world are not the biggest threat of this type. Emerging methods of biotechnology are beginning to open up ways of modifying existing viruses so they would be more lethal, and could spread more quickly than anything nature ever made. 20 Many scientists believe that we are currently on the verge of a mass extinction event, one that would make the Black Death look like a mild recession, and something that Homo sapiens have never experienced, but will only ever experience once. 21 It would seem, that the more advanced we become as a species, and the greater our quest for knowledge, the more we are at risk of being the cause of our own devastation. If we ignore the eminent threat that the weapons previously discussed pose on our extinction, we are probably still going to the kill the planet for future generations. In 2012 alone, it was estimated that the global military expenditure stands at over $1.7 trillion annually. 22 Included in this budget is explorations into advanced weapons to give each individual nation an edge over the next. If some of this funding was removed and allocated to saving the planet by reducing the causes of global

  • 17 Clay Farris Naff (ed.), Biological Weapons, Thomson Gale, 2006, 7.

  • 18 Graham, n.5, 120.

  • 19 Guterl, n.3, 3.

  • 20 Guterl, n.3, 97.

  • 21 Guterl, n.3, 27.

  • 22 Anup Shah, World Military Spending, published by Global Issues, 2013.


warming, we would be in a much greater state. As it stands, this is not the case. Although the use of chemical weapons is largely in the past, nuclear weapons and biological weapons still play an imposing and ominous role on our future. The struggle for power in the world is ever growing, and if the nations of the world continue to work against each other, and continue to seek out each other’s destruction, we are going to find ourselves in an all-out state of war as early as during this century. If we cannot learn to co-exist on this planet, and allocate our research and knowledge to reversing the effects that we are having on the Earth, we as a species are not going to survive. “In the very long run, if humans don’t wipe themselves out with a big war, we will live in an engineered planet, in the sense that it isn’t natural anymore.” 23

23 Guterl, n.3, 174.



Ackerman, Evan. "Electromagnetic Arc Generator Could Protect Against Shockwaves with Plasma." - IEEE Spectrum. 25 Mar. 2015. Web. 17 Apr. 2015.



Christianson, Scott. The Last Gasp: The Rise and Fall of the American Gas Chamber. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2010.

Graham, Ambassador Thomas Jr. Commonsense on Weapons of Mass Destruction. Seattle:

University of Washington Press, 2004.

Guterl, Fred. The Fate of the Species: Why the Human Race May Cause Its Own Extinction and How We Can Stop It. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012.

McNab, Chris and Hunter Keeter. Tools of Violence: Guns, Tanks and Dirty Bombs. Great Britain: Osprey Publishing, 2008.

Naff, Chris Farris (ed.). Biological Weapons. Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2006.

Nardo, Don. World History Series: Weapons and Warfare. Detroit: Lucent Books, 2004.

Rosenbaum, Ron. How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III. New York:

Simon & Schuster, 2011.

Shah, Anup. "World Military Spending." - Global Issues. 30 June 2013. Web. 17 Apr. 2015.