Letter: Hope against war

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The Independent Culture
Sir: You report (6 June) that "India dashes hope of an early nuclear ban". This confirms the atomic weapon tests by India and Pakistan as the most terrifying events since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. That crisis was a climax in the confrontation between two economic systems. Resolution was possible - just - because the actions of the antagonists were based on rational advantage calculations.

The new situation is different, because behind the territorial conflict over Kashmir looms the confrontation of two religions. Religions are by definition matters of belief and not amenable to reason. Therefore, to the extent that India and Pakistan allow Hinduism and Islam to influence their postures, their confrontation will become increasingly dangerous.

So what is there left to hope for? That question was posed after the Cuban missile crisis by my father, Max Born, a founder of modern physics and Nobel laureate, who devoted his later life to public opposition to nuclear armaments. He wrote in My Life and My Views (1968): "There are two kinds of hope. If one hopes for good weather or for winning a pool then hope has no influence whatsoever on what happens. But in the coexistence of people, hope is a moving force."

It is difficult to make out that hope influenced religious conflicts in the past, except in so far as the combatants may have hoped for paradise. Those conflicts were devastating enough. The destructive potential of atomic weapons makes earlier devastations look like a child's rampage. So now the continuing existence of India, Pakistan and, indeed, the rest of us depends on the kind of hope which moves people to action.