A Morse code for 2006

In the last days of 2005, leading thinkers and scholars from around the world share their fears, hopes and expectations of 2006. As Isabel Hilton asks: What does 2006 have in store? (Part one)
Ariel Dorfman
22 December 2005

The only certainty I have about 2006 is that any prediction I make is bound to be wrong. I mean, if I had been asked at the end of 1905 to anticipate the events of the following year, would I have been able to foretell the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and the far more devastating one in Ecuador? Or the tsunami that ravaged Hong Kong? Or Mount Vesuvius erupting and Naples in flames? Or race riots in Atlanta and bread riots in Stockholm? Not a chance.

And yet, and yet. . . Maybe the best way to divine the future is to scrutinize the Siamese mirror of the past. Armed with the malevolent benediction of hindsight, 1906 might indeed provide some guidance as to what awaits us in 2006. Perhaps we won’t collect the same number of landslides or explosions in coalmines as a century ago, but who can doubt that this coming year, given our planetary warming (and the simultaneous freezing of our collective intellect), we have an excellent chance of being host to an even wider variety of assorted disasters than ever before.

As to that catastrophe called warfare, it’s likely we’ll grow even more adept at killing. It is sobering to think that back in 1906, the world celebrated the great Santos Dumont lifting his plane up into the air for a good sixty metres. A hundred years later, the conquest of gravity should again be in the news, though its incarnation will be less peaceful. You don’t have to be a wizard with a crystal ball to discern how the most powerful nations on this earth would prefer to wage war: from a distance.

So I don’t envisage 2006 bringing another ruinous invasion of yet another hapless country by ground forces, but rather some sort of apocalyptic onslaught, just as ruinous, by hordes of airplanes, bombing villages and cities, and thereby creating yet more victims, yet more survivors, yet more potential terrorists, sullying the skies which were so innocent for Santos Dumont all those years ago. .

And what of hope? If we listen carefully, can’t we hear a whisper of encouragement from the past, is there not a model from back then which we could use to confront our current cycle of calamity and violence?

In effect, it happened to be in the year 1906 that our species decided to establish a distress signal that everybody on earth and on sea could recognise. Anyone who heard Three Dots Three Dashes and Three Dots on a wireless transmission would henceforth know, regardless of language, beyond the barriers of nationhood, that someone was calling for help, someone was transmitting an SOS, was asking that a ship be salvaged, a soul be saved, succor sent out.

Surely there is a lesson for us in that remote determination by our ancestors to find a way, agreed upon by all, to rush to the rescue of those in need.

As if they somehow knew that one hundred years later we would be the ones in need, we would be the ones desperately trying to invent a new and different distress signal respected by all nations, we would be the ones to cry out in the night and ask for help, someone to come and rescue our wounded humanity in the year that marks the sad centenary of the birth of Adolf Eichmann.

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