At 1:23:45am local time April 26, 1986, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine SSR, a series of errors and bad judgment led to an explosion in reactor #4 that spread radioactive material through much of western Europe.
Design flaws of the reactor type that were suppressed by the state meant that the safety countermeasures would fail during a safety test leading the a catastrophic accident. It cost lives immediately in the explosion, it cost lives in the attempt to put out the radioactive fire, it cost lives in the months long mitigation efforts to cap the spread of radiation. It cost lives by the thousands.
Good, honest heroic people of the Soviet Union paid with their lives to make safe the region around Ukraine and stop the threat of a nuclear holocaust through much of western Europe.
Chernobyl, however, is the perfect metaphor for the Soviet Union. Built up on dangerous mythology that would fail if tested. And it did.
Former General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev wrote in 2006 that the Chernobyl incident was likely the true cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Perhaps he is right. Generations of corruption and cynicism finally let loose and nobody trusted the regime anymore.
We are in danger of repeating a mistake. While this isn’t a nuclear plant melting down, we’re in a global crisis of another brand. A pandemic.
Several of our leaders are bent on returning life back to normal – the “normal” we had prior to the outbreak. It’s the same yearning to maintain status quo that the former Soviet authorities were fixated on. Because to let any other narrative slip in there it meant that change would have to be embraced.
The Soviet Union paid a price. It wasn’t until well after the Chernobyl incident that they were forced to admit that their reactor type had a critical design flaws, but in having their science community point out this flaw in years previous; it was an admission that by suppressing the information of the flaw the Soviet Union became responsible for the disaster. They alone could have prevented it, but they weren’t prepared to change.
In striving to return to normal as this pandemic burns through its process, by refusing to change, we are collectively setting ourselves up for the next disaster.
It’s true that nobody can take “blame” for the onset of Coronavirus, but how we deal with it should be revealing as to the various leadership styles out there.
For the Soviet Union, it was prestige and power. Today it’s money. Money isn’t everything. Just like prestige and power can quickly evaporate.
The notion that “we’re all in this together” cannot just be a political tag line, it has to be a new philosophy. Both in these times of crisis but as we emerge.
On the other side of this pandemic, we have to rethink how we care for our most vulnerable so that they may lead a dignified and relative independent existence. Homelessness needs to stop completely. The tax code needs to stop coddling the one percent. We need to invest in a universal safety net. Nobody should starve or be homeless.
We are granted by our creator this place among the stars as our home, and no place else like it exists. It’s our moral obligation to care for it and care for each other. We have no place else to go.
Either we change or die. Change isn’t going to be easy or fast, but doing nothing and pretending that we can just carry on as “normal” is the lie. And that lie will be our doom.