‘It’s 11:59 on the Clock of Starvation’

Doomsday Clock
Doomsday Clock

Speaking to an American radio audience just before the German surrender at the end of World War II, Hoover raised important issues for Western Civilization in the post-war world. His main focus was on food availability and security.  Hoover observed ‘No peace will be possible in nations that are half well-fed and half starved.’  He closed his speech with the dire warning: ‘It is 11:59 on the clock of starvation.’

This image was striking—or nearly striking.  I am unaware of others using this minutes to midnight metaphor when describing food insecurity or famine in 1945.  It is quite evocative and easily understood by both the analog-oriented and the digitally-minded.  The minutes to midnight image was used several times by Hoover while describing famine in 1945 and 1946, then fell out of his rhetorical toolbox.

The minutes to midnight metaphor was revived by the Manhattan Project scientists in 1947.  When they published their initial Bulletin of Atomic Scientists that June, it carried the image of the Doomsday Clock.  It was meant to warn of the impending dangers that nuclear weapons posed to the survival of mankind. When it debuted, the Doomsday Clock was set at seven minutes to midnight.  Over the first seventy years of its existence the clock’s setting has ranged from two minutes to midnight—during the Cuban Missile Crisis, to seventeen minutes to midnight—upon the signing of the START I treaties.

Over the past few years, the Doomsday Clock has embraced a wider range of perils to human existence.  It is no longer limited to nuclear annihilation.  Climate change, pandemics and destabilized nation-states have led the creators of the clock to refine their model.  In recent years they have judged that humanity is 100 seconds from oblivion.  How they reached the decision to move from minutes to seconds, and how they deemed 100 seconds—as opposed to 103, 91 or 87 seconds—as the true measure of risk is beyond my limited understanding.  The Doomsday Clock is still ticking at https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/current-time/

While researching this blog, I learned that the Harvard School of Public Health and the World Data Lab had established a World Hunger Clock in November 2020.  The World Hunger Clock assesses food insecurity by nation, and within each nation by region.  It judges what percentages of the population lack food and whether the region is primarily rural or urban.  The data is posting on their website here:  https://worldhunger.io/ and on Facebook. Herbert Hoover would have loved these tools.

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