Doug Rawlings

The Doomsday Clock that the atomic scientists came up with in the late 1940s and still use today provides us with a fascinating metaphoric lens to look at our world as we enter 2023.

If the stroke of midnight represents the end of civilization as we know it, then the closer the minute hand creeps to that moment, the worse off we are.

What’s moving that mechanism?  Our propensity to assemble nuclear weapons and our willingness to use them. And now scientists have added climate crises and artificial intelligence to the mix.

In 2022, we were 100 seconds away from midnight. We’ll soon find out where the minute hand lands for this year.

As much as I appreciate this metaphor, I still have a problem with it.  First and foremost is the implied inevitability of the hand hitting dead midnight.

We are doomed, it says to us.


Not so.

To begin with, time itself is an artificial construct. It only exists in our minds. And it is neutral. We live within its confines, and we have the power to move it forward or backward.

In fact, it’s really not the meaning of time that should be of concern to us, but what we do with it. It is, after all, our invention.

So let’s use our powers of invention. Concerning nuclear weapons, the leaders from Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Union of Concerned Scientists have come up with their “Back From the Brink” game plan. This program essentially calls for nations to come to their senses. Starting with our own.

We should immediately sign on to international treaties that ban the creation and testing of nuclear weapons; we should denounce first-use policies; we should take the decision to use nuclear weapons out of the hands of one individual; and we should divert our tax dollars from the military’s inflated treasury into domestic infrastructure projects.

The other two forces that move the minute hand — climate crises and artificial intelligence — I’d like to address as a military veteran.


Ask any Vietnam veteran about time, and I’ll bet they’ll tell you about their “short timers calendars.” Trust me, we were painfully aware of what we were doing with our time and how desperately we wanted to get out of its clutches. But in terms of climate crises, we are now focused on the direct connection between this country’s rampant militarism and the climate disasters swirling all around us.

The military is the number one polluter in our nation. And now we’re finding out more and more how military bases turned a blind eye to the poisons in their waters and food supplies. It’s not rocket science to assert that we need to more closely monitor and regulate the Pentagon if we want to rein in planet-destroying pollutants.

As far as artificial intelligence is concerned, I think we should start with President Ronald Reagan’s exaltation when he claimed that soon there would be no more “boots on the ground” when we go to war.  Robots will take over. We initially laughed at that scenario, but now we have drones doing the killing for us and “robotic dogs” sniffing out the enemy.

Artificial intelligence, in other words, is making waging war more and more palatable to American citizens. If our troops are not in danger, what’s the problem? It’s no leap in logic, then, to declare that AI is moving the minute hand by keeping the war machine well-oiled and out of our collective consciousness.

Let us gather together as citizens living in a democracy and take responsibility for how we spend our time. The Doomsday Clock is an excellent way to measure that phenomenon as long as we don’t fall into the trap of helpless, hopeless despair.

We can control time. Let’s get to work.

Doug Rawlings is a co-founder of the international organization Veterans For Peace, which has dedicated itself since 1985 to educating people about the realities of war. One of its major objectives is to eliminate nuclear weapons from this planet.

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