By Chet Yarbrough
Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World’s Superpowers
By: Simon Winchester
Narrated by: Simon Winchester
Simon Winchester (English American author, National Book Award Winner for Non-Fiction).
“Pacific” is an entertaining and tragic reminder of earth’s despoliation and man’s inhumanity to man. Simon Winchester begins his story by explaining the Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean on Earth, bounded in the south by Antarctica, in the west by Asia and Europe (sparsely dotted by Oceania), and in the east by the Americas.
The tests were codified by four titles: Operations Crossroads, Castle, Redwing, and Hardtack. The objective was to find an explosive device that would end WWII. Two fundamental flaws in the plan are the iniquitous displacement of indigenous people on Bikini Island and the consequence of nuclear fission on humanity. One rationalizes both by believing actions taken saved the future. The saving came at the expense of a small island’s contamination, its inhabitant’s displacement, and the mitigated losses of Allied soldiers in a protracted Japan invasion. And, of course, the estimated 80,000 people killed in Japan within one year of the two atomic bombs, and the 90,000 to 166,000 that it grew to in years to come.
The rationalization is capsulized by Oppenheimer’s quote after detonation of the first atomic bomb. That seems the truth, without any rationalization. The reality of science trumps rationalization. The numbers of dead and injured is science. Bomb blasts are the science of numbers vs. the less-definable rationalization of survivors. Belief in the value of killing people is rationalization. What is not believed to be true from science or faith is only proven after its consequences are experienced.
From the Bhagavad Gita, Oppenheimer notes “I have become Time, the destroyer of worlds”.
Much of the history of the 20th century is artfully recounted by Winchester’s “Pacific”. From the growth of computers to the serendipitous creation of surfboards, Winchester reminds listeners of our changing world. Much of what science has found has hugely benefited humanity but we never know it’s true impact in advance. The atomic bombs invention is a blessing and curse. It may lead to the discovery of a new source of pollution-free power or the end of civilization.
Though Winchester’s book is written before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it reveals the likelihood of coming collisions between nation-states.
Winchester reminds us of the USS Pueblo incident in 1968 and its boarding and threats by North Korean soldiers. Though it was a spying mission it was conducted in neutral waters off of Korea. The inept Captain of the vessel allows the illegal boarding by North Korean forces. North Korea commandeered the vessel and unjustly incarcerated 83 seaman. Winchester notes no one is killed but the North Koreans held the seaman in poorly maintained facilities for 338 days.
Even though education levels and science will rise among nations, each has cultural and political beliefs that are different. Those differences give rise to inevitable conflict. Winchester infers the need for recognition of human equality. He argues individuated cultural and political beliefs will continue to collide in a post-nuclear world where human life’s survival is threatened.
The world’s continued use of fossil fuels is slowly changing the ecology of the Pacific Ocean. The coral that is dying provides nutrients for fish and wildlife that sustain one of humanity’s primary food sources.
“Pacific” is another story that warns of humanities folly. Winchester’s story reinforces growing understanding that we all live on one planet. Life will not end from human despoliation, but human beings will disappear if we continue to ignore nature’s balance. What will remain is life that survives in a different world.