Cry for War Drowns Out Common Sense
Published on Friday, March 29, 2002 in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Cry for War Drowns Out Common Sense
by Hubert G. Locke
The problem with incessantly beating the drums of war, as this national administration is currently doing, is that the noise begins to drown out reason, common sense and, eventually, sanity.

Reason was the first to be sacrificed when Bush proclaimed his "axis of evil" and put Iran, Iraq and North Korea -- and possibly Russia and China -- on a list of suspect-nations with which the United States would prepare to do battle in the name of demolishing weapons of mass destruction. In at least one of the three pariah countries, a fierce political battle is being waged between moderation and fanaticism; consigning the country to the ash bin of evil managed to ineptly breathe more life into the fanatics and their cause.

Common sense quickly followed when it was announced that Vice President Cheney would make a grand tour of the Middle East in order to convince Arab leaders of the importance of joining America in the effort to topple Saddam Hussein -- or at least not to stand in the way while we did so. Most Arab leaders sit on a tinder-box of poverty, illiteracy and religious fundamentalism for which no spark would be greater than the prospect of the United States trying to overthrow the leader of an Islamic nation -- no matter how much he might be despised. (Lay aside, of course, the question of how -- in the absence of a declared war -- we justify going into someone else's country to wipe out its government.)

Now -- with the news that the Pentagon is considering the development of a new generation of nuclear weapons that can perform feats that our current arsenal of nuclear bombs apparently can't manage -- comes the sacrifice of sanity. The world entered the nuclear age less than 60 years ago. Most of the subsequent six decades have been spent in feverish efforts to find way of avoiding the possibility that -- after the devastation wreaked on Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- these horrid instruments of mass destruction would ever be used again. The best the two superpowers could do during this period was to develop a strategy quite appropriately named MAD (for "mutually assured destruction" or the knowledge that both sides had sufficient arsenals of nuclear devices that if one unleashed its stockpile, the other side could still retaliate with enough destructive force to annihilate the aggressor.)

For those of us old enough to remember this ghastly era in world politics (and that includes just about everyone over the age of 40), it produced a collective anxiety on this planet that was palpable. In the 1950s, people actually built bomb shelters in their back yards, thinking that such primitive devices would protect them from nuclear fallout. In the '60s, we held our breath while John F. Kennedy forced Nikita Khrushchev to remove nuclear weapons from Cuba. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, we lived with a relentless barrage of articles, movies, essays and novels -- all describing, imagining or depicting what might happen if a nuclear war broke out.

That era also produced a mounting wave of protest, in this country and all over Europe, from students, clergy, labor union members and other intensely concerned citizens. People poured into the streets in city after city and on every occasion possible to decry the idea that the world could be made safe by the threat of blowing it to bits. There was a relentless pressure on the leaders of government to find other, saner means of defense and national security. And long before the Soviet Union collapsed, discussions, negotiations and treaties were undertaken and concluded that began to reduce the nuclear arsenal in the stockpiles of both superpowers.

That an administration of the United States of America could blithely consider proceeding as if the history of the past 60 years had never occurred and risk plunging the world back into a period of nuclear insanity is not only morally reprehensible, it is politically monstrous.

Around Seattle and elsewhere in the nation, voices are beginning to be raised questioning this course of affairs. I had the privilege of hearing one such collective voice read from the pulpit of my church on Palm Sunday. May those voices rise to a crescendo of protest and dissent. The world does not need to be put through another round of nuclear madness.

Hubert G. Locke, Seattle, is a retired professor and former dean of the Daniel J. Evans Graduate School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington.

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