'Chain Reaction' (File photo)
‘Chain Reaction’ (File photo)

Think of “Chain Reaction” as a Christmas tree — from the dark side.

OK, maybe that’s not a perfect analogy.

Civic Christmas trees are often taller, wider at the bottom, not the top. And more sparkly.

But Paul Conrad’s “Chain Reaction” sculpture, near the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on Main Street, is vertical, looks a little like a tree and it does elicit an emotional reaction from most.

Christmas trees usually evoke good feelings in most people, warm fuzzies, maybe even an outright smile. It’s a beautiful thing, a tall green fir from nature, adorned with colorful decorations and lights. You don’t have to be religious to get into the spirit of Christmas, and a tall tree in some public square can lift spirits.

“Chain Reaction” may not lift spirits, but it does inspire them. Warm and fuzzy? No. But not negative either. I would call it positive, healthy, and necessary. The inscription at the base reads, “This is a statement of peace. May it never become an epitaph.”

Unless you’ve become so inured to seeing it that you don’t even see it anymore, if you give it even a moment to sink in as you zoom by, you will give it at least a moment’s thought. It’s good for us that it’s there. We must never forget. It’s too important.

The threat of nuclear destruction remains with us. It didn’t go away when duck and cover drills and bomb shelters became pass√©.

Eight nations have nuclear weapons, and half of them don’t like us much. Four more used to have them and say they don’t any more, including three former Soviet Union states. (I’m not entirely sure there aren’t one or two stray ones out there that may have been squirreled away. But maybe I’ve watched too much “24.”) Two of them are neighbors who can’t stand each other and have been waging intermittent war (and four official ones) for nearly seven decades. And a couple more are working on it, including our buddy Iran. Israel has the bomb, and is surrounded by enemies who want to wipe it off the map. Does all that sound like ancient history, or today’s headlines?

Our previous president thought it was a real good idea to start making smaller “bunker busting” nukes for flushing the bad guys out of those sand dunes and mountains, and I was horrified to see how many in government and the military solemnly nodded their heads in agreement. Thank God sanity prevailed and it didn’t happen.

But the mind set there was, “it’s just another weapon; we’ve got it, let’s use it.” In a limited way, of course.

Hiroshima. Nagasaki. Never again.

It’s understandable, in the throes of World War II, with two nations on opposite sides of the globe who were hell bent on world domination, quite capable of it and demonstrating they were horribly ruthless in their execution, that our country’s best scientific minds (and some important German ones) would develop a weapon to stop them. But once we saw what that atomic bomb could do, on a human level, the world recoiled in horror and vowed never to use it again.

That resolve, those memories, have faded. But the weapons are still here, the world is still dangerous, and there are evil entities who wouldn’t hesitate to use them if they got the chance.

And that is why we need “Chain Reaction.” In a brilliant three-dimensional realization of his Pulitzer Prize-winning (three times) political cartoon style, Conrad created a simple piece which darkly says it all. The mushroom cloud — we all know what’s happening on the ground when that horrible harbinger rises into the sky.

Who can be for nuclear weapons? Isn’t it maybe the one thing every person on Earth should agree on? I’m not talking about a debate over how we remove them all and prevent anyone from building them again, or about balance of power. I’m talking about the pure humanity of it. “Chain Reaction” reminds us of the horror of nuclear destruction. It’s a good and necessary thing. Who could be against that?

Conrad got it built, at a cost of $250,000, and gave it to Santa Monica in 1991. It was installed in a very specific place: on the city property that runs from the Civic to City Hall. And across from the RAND Corp. RAND has been a very influential think tank for more than half a century. They’re arguably the most famous business headquartered in Santa Monica. They’ve done a lot of good work. And they’re the ones who came up with the concept and policy of MAD: mutually assured destruction, through nuclear weapons. Talk of relocating the sculpture is uninformed, or comes from an agenda.

There’s no question it’s City Hall’s responsibility to maintain the sculpture, and I’m all in favor of us getting creative in finding a way to make that happen. (For those who don’t know, there’s a possibility that the sculpture may be removed if a significant amount of cash isn’t raised by February to shore it up.) Our fine city’s government has done an outstanding job of finding funding for necessary public projects. So let’s get City Hall supporting instead of thwarting this, and forget the buck passing and deadlines and concentrate on making this happen.

In the meantime, a dedicated group of citizens continues fund raising, and bringing in more and more people to support this important project. Check out the list of supporters and the committee at savechainreaction.com.

One of them is Jerry Rubin, our indefatigable peace activist, who has gone on a 100-day liquid fast timed to end on his 70th birthday, to draw attention to and raise funds for the cause. That birthday, and “Chain Reaction,” will be celebrated big time on Dec. 11, 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., at Rusty’s Surf Ranch on the Santa Monica Pier. Food, drink, celebs (actress and founding Mama Michelle Phillips; Chris Carter of “Breakfast with the Beatles;” activist, singer and the voice of Pocahontas in “The New World” Q’Orianka Kilcher; “Baywatch” actress and activist Alexandra Paul, and more), music and dancing (Beatles tribute band), comedy (Rick Overton — hilarious), and a bodacious cake. Fun, a good cause, and your fellow Santa Monicans. Hope to see you there.


Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 27 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com.

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