Saturday, April 11, 2009

Politically Incorrect Thoughts: Would No Nukes Lead To More Kooks?

By Manifesto Joe

This is from a book by Roger Kahn:

Late in April 1915, as spring came to Flanders, the German army introduced poison gas -- greenish iridescent chlorine, choking, vomiting, lung-searing chlorine -- into trenches near the village of Ypres. In 1916 the German navy began unrestricted submarine warfare -- sinking cargo ships and passenger vessels without warning. ...

This was war, not marbles. The British army introduced its own weapon of terror, the armored tank, spitting machine-gun and cannon fire, crushing flowers, flesh, bone, everything in its path, the dreaded mythic juggernaut turned real. U.S. reporters applauded "Tommy Atkins' new toy." The German soldiers who found themselves facing the first tanks on September 18, 1916, reacted in an understandable way. They panicked and ran.

This passage came from an unlikely source, A Pure Flame of Fire: Jack Dempsey and the Roaring '20s. Kahn's 1999 sports biography shrewdly works in the ambiance of the times rather than just sticking to the details of legendary boxing champ Dempsey's tempestuous, colorful life.

While recovering from a prolonged illness, I was seeking something "light" to read, and found Kahn's work, surprisingly, somewhere in the middle. At the same time, I read accounts of President Barack Obama's idealistic call for a nuclear-free world.

The connection? Kahn pointed out briefly but eloquently what kind of enormities warring humans are capable of in a non-nuclear time. We've certainly seen plenty of carnage since the U.S. first used atomic bombs in 1945. But we've also seen circumspection and restraint that we might not have seen otherwise.

The main thing that kept the Cold War "cold" for 45 years was what came to be known as "mutual assured destruction" or by that most appropriate acronym "MAD." Looming large over nasty local conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Nicaragua and Afghanistan was always the prospect of tens of millions dead, on both sides -- and untold horrors for the "survivors."

And, with "no nukes," can it be imagined what a conventional war between U.S.-NATO forces and a Soviet-Chinese alliance would have been like?

Let's suppose that a "Star Wars" ICBM interception system could be made to work, with virtual certainty. Suppose there were no exceptions -- U.S. cities and strategic bases would be protected from attack by bomber-delivered devices, and from low-flying cruise missiles launched from submarines.

In such a world, the dreams of Ronald Reagan, Edward Teller and the other 1980s "Star Wars" proponents would have all come true. I doubt that is quite what Barack Obama has in mind, but in such a scenario, nuclear weapons have been, for all practical purposes, eradicated from Earth.

If human history is the basis from which to forecast, the slaughter that might result would suffice to make a Joseph Mengele or Pol Pot queasy.

Humans have a vast history of being boundlessly greedy, paranoid and savagely unconcerned about the lives of others when they are not restrained by moral values, prison bars, higher reasoning, fear of damnation or anything else that can impose and enforce ethics. I do not know if this depravity is innate, but it has surely been witnessed by all but naive and sheltered people.

Nations behave in much the same way as individuals. If not bound by economic weakness, moral admonitions or fear of destruction, they are most certainly capable of enormities.

The "MAD" acronym has a ring of truth. Since 1945, we have spawned generations of closet neurotics. The neurosis has reared its head in forms as diverse as yippies and Lyndon LaRouche supporters. An estimated 19 percent of Americans are mentally ill and in need of treatment, some psychiatrists say. Drug abuse and alcoholism are common. We escape reality in elaborate worlds of frivolity created by the blind poets of our age, TV scriptwriters.

Approaching my 53rd birthday, I cannot recall a time in which nuclear weapons did not exist. As a small child mesmerized by TV, I saw an animated microcosm of the Cold War, a 1950s minimalist depiction of a human figure fleeing radioactive fallout. Public-service announcements about where to find shelter from radiation have long vanished from the little screen, but the image still haunts me.

All that considered, I would rather live in an age of anxiety than be killed or maimed in an age of greater carnage. War is far from obsolete -- but across much of the globe, unlimited warfare is of necessity a thing of the past -- for now. With all the terror that nuclear weapons present for humanity, arguably the world is now, in a grotesque way, a somewhat safer place in which to live.

I urge the unconvinced to dredge up history lessons and ponder the events of the decades before the use of the A-bomb on Hiroshima.

When Ronald Reagan was a preschooler, the colonial powers of Europe began a war. The U.S. was later lured into this war to "make the world safe for democracy."

Hundreds of thousands were killed in single battles, like at the Somme in 1916. The doomed were, like cattle, prodded headlong into ritual killing at the command of "over the top." Many more lost limbs, faces, lungs, minds.

That was supposed to be "the war to end all wars," but it wasn't. Fighting broke out during the 1930s in Spain, China and Ethiopia. Sometimes this was rivaled or exceeded by the organized slaughter and starvation orchestrated in the Soviet Union during those dark years.

After 1939 the world was immersed in a struggle of previously inconceivable proportions, in holocausts unrivaled in history, in a crimson, six-year nightmare -- until a warm, clear day in August, when the human race got a sobering glimpse of what the end might look like.

(An aside -- while hindsight is always 20/20, I think Harry Truman made a serious moral mistake in August 1945. He should have had the first A-bomb dropped just outside Tokyo Bay, as a demonstration, then sent a message to the imperial Japanese government: "Any questions?")

Barbarism certainly hasn't vanished since then, but its onslaught seems to have slowed. Holocausts seem to occur in remote areas like Sudan -- and, notably, in areas where there really are "no nukes." Carefully measured wars sometimes kill no more soldiers than U.S. highways kill motorists in the course of a year. (The civilians lost as "collateral damage" are, of course, often another question.)

Life now has a profound uneasiness. But it is life, as opposed to the very permanent alternative.

Where would I, an American male born in 1956, be now if nuclear weapons had never been invented, and the threat of their use did not exist? I suspect I would have been killed in battle long ago, or disfigured by sophisticated conventional weapons, fighting a war against communists that neither side would have been likely to "win."

Yet I find myself urged by my president, a manifestly brilliant and good man, to in some sense open the Pandora's box, to eliminate the nuclear threat, to potentially turn the conventional might of nations loose in the world once more.

I find myself looking back with neurotic nostalgia to the "MAD" theory. It may have kept me alive for nearly 53 years.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.


Jack Jodell said...

Manifesto Joe, it is deep, thought-provoking writing like this post that makes you such a treasure and makes me so glad you're back. I wish you continued good health for many years to come!
Your point about "MAD" is very valid. Here's a thought: it is unlikely that a President with the world in the state it's in today would naively suggest destroying all nuclear weapons and leaving us vulnerable. Perhaps, just perhaps, the Pentagon (with Obama's knowledge) has developed a secret new weapon so technologically advanced, so pinpoint accurate, and so terrible, as to make nuclear weapons obsolete?

Regardless, mankind has always, and WILL always, engage in barbarous acts, murder, and warfare. We are paradoxically civilized and uncivilized. It is a fact of our entire history, and there is little evidence we will ever overcome this horrible flaw. Eisenhower's 1960 warning about the military/industrial complex has fallen on deaf ears, as that dreadful complex basically runs our government and plays a huge role in industry today. America is the world's largest arms merchant, and evil, greedy, cynical people will find a way to keep those sales strong no matter what.

It looks like the best we will ever be able to do is remain technologically advanced, industrially strong, act multilaterally in world affairs, and try to prevent the rise of another mass murderer like Hitler, Stalin, or Saddam Hussein. I don't believe we will ever be able to stop small wars or wars of proxy, but the more we work for multilateral cooperation in trade and foreign affairs, the more likely we'll be able to prevent huge world wars and events of mass destruction.

I hope...

Anonymous said...

unreal, horrible truth ..
the horror is that no lessons learned and history repeats itself..

sad, sad, sad,l sad

Manifesto Joe said...

Hi, Jack;

Thanks for sticking with me during difficult times. More later.

Blue Girl, Red State said...

Excellent post, and excellent points. I have a more intimate relationship with nukes than most people do, and can't disagree with a single word you have written. Good job. Well thought out posts like this are what I have come to expect from you, and if I have to wait a minute between them, so be it.

Marc McDonald said...

Good post. It raises some points I hadn't considered before. In any case, I have my doubts that nukes can ever really be eradicated from the planet. Still I think it's at least a good goal to aim for and I applaud Obama for at least addressing this. I mean, poverty will never be eliminated either, but that doesn't mean we should give up efforts to help those who are destitute.

AltandMain said...

I don't think that nuclear weapons will prevent wars. I view hyper proliferation as a very bad thing because you never know who will end up acquiring such weapons. At some point, it is inevitable that some fanatic or other group will get their hands on them.

I recommend that you read "How to win a nuclear war". It was a Cold War era book published during the Reagan years.

As it turns out, deterrence was always a public propaganda term. The US always wanted first strike capability. That Star Wars system you mentioned was merely a shield. First, the US would take out all of the Soviet nuclear weapons silos and nuclear submarines, along with airfields. Most of their nuclear capability would die, but some <5% would survive. Star Wars would intercept most of those as well (that was the REAL intention of the war fighters who became today's neocons). Edward Tellar estimated that so long as less than 25% of the US population died, a Cold War was acceptable. Then the US would simply wipe out the remainder of the USSR and "win" if you will as they would be depleted of weapons and wide open to attack.

Perhaps nuclear weapons prevented a WWIII between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, but that comes at a terrible cost that still threatens our existence.