The Doomsday Clock

Scientists from the Bulletin and the clock. Photo credit: L.A. Marzulli (Source:

We’re leaving together, but still it’s farewell,

And maybe we’ll come back, to Earth, who can tell?

Those who find interest in glam rock music or in leather jackets may have recognized an extract from Europe’s masterpiece “The Final Countdown”. Although the single was released in 1986, it echoed an earlier ambition.

In 1945, at a time of nuclear weapon proliferation, former scientists from the Manhattan Project (military bureau which had overseen nuclear research during WWII) founded the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The aim of the journal was to cover the trouble waters featuring the nuclear age and its possible consequences over the citizens of the world.

The beginning of the Cold War was marked by the “mutually assured destruction” doctrine, as the US and the USSR had gathered so many weapons of mass destruction that both sides – and probably the entire world – would be wiped out in the event of a war. That was indeed a M.A.D. period.

Thus, in 1947, the Bulletin designed the “Doomsday Clock” to symbolize the threat for mankind to destroy its own world: the closer the clock was to midnight, the more likely we were, humans, to annihilate ourselves. As Kennette Benedict, former Executive Director of the Bulletin explained, “It is a metaphor, a reminder of the perils we must address if we are to survive on the planet.”

When it was first set, the clock was seven minutes to midnight. Then it was time for humanity to turn back time without DeLorean.

Since then, it has been reset twenty-one times following a favorable or an unfavorable event or context: the closer it got to our demise was in 1953, when atomic research was conducted on a global scale and when all warnings were lit up. The farther it got was in 1991 when the Cold War ended with the signature of treaties reducing dramatically the number of nuclear weapons on all sides.

Presidents Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev signing SALT II, a milestone for nuclear weapon limitations, in 1979. (Photo credit: Bill Fitz-Patrick, Source: Wikipedia)

In 2016, it is now three minutes to midnight, following the global failure to address climate change issues as well as the broadening of nuclear arsenals. And counting!




Author: Nicolas

Ingrédients : 33% d'anecdotes insolites, 19% de livres poussiéreux, le reste de curiosité névrosée. Auteur du Petit dictionnaire des sales boulots (Vendémiaire, 2022). Chroniqueur chez Slate et RetroNews.

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