Beyond M.A.D.: Reviving Nuclear War
“Some of the key technocrats and scientists of the Cold War say the nation has become overly confident about its nuclear deterrence. The nuclear enterprise, they say, ‘is rusting its way to disarmament.’”
Let’s meditate on this irony — that disarmament, finally, means no more than growing old and weak and pathetic.
What brilliant Cold War Revival propaganda, masquerading, in the Los Angeles Times last week, as objective reporting. Let’s meditate on the dark chuckles of the Cold War technocrats, as they attempt to summon an extra trillion dollars or so from the national coffers to restore America’s nuclear weapons program to the glory of the 1960s and push on vigorously with the design and development of the next generation of nukes: our national strength, the foundation of our security. All that’s missing from the article — “New nuclear weapons needed, many experts say, pointing to aged arsenal” — is Slim Pickens screaming “Ya-hoo!” as he rides the bomb into human oblivion at the end of Dr. Strangelove.
The ostensible focus of the article, as well as a second article published two weeks earlier, both by Ralph Vartabedian and W.J. Hennigan, is the decrepitude of the American nuclear arsenal, with its myriad sites and delivery systems hampered with out-of-date technology and indifferent maintenance, e.g.: “Today, the signs of decay are pervasive at the Pantex facility in Texas, where nuclear weapons are disassembled and repaired. Rat infestation has become so bad that employees are afraid to bring their lunches to work.”
Oh, the horror. Rats and nukes. Next up, Godzilla? Any serious challenge to nuclear weapons as the ultimate manifestation and symbol of national strength is absent from these articles; so is any rational account of the danger their hair-trigger presence poses to humanity — not to mention the insanity of their ongoing development. For instance:
“John S. Foster Jr., former director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and chief of Pentagon research during the Cold War, said the labs should design, develop and build prototype weapons that may be needed by the military in the future, including a very low-yield nuclear weapon that could be used with precision delivery systems . . .” (emphasis added).
During the Cold War, the primary justification for our gargantuan nuclear arsenal was contained in the acronym M.A.D.: mutually assured destruction. No more world wars, boys and girls! With the Cold War superpowers in possession of the means to destroy the human race, the only wars we could wage were relatively small, proxy wars in Third and Fourth World countries.
“Those who like peace should love nuclear weapons,” said Kenneth Waltz, Cold War academic extraordinaire and founder of the school of neorealism (as quoted recently by Eric Schlosser in The Guardian). “They are the only weapons ever invented that work decisively against their own use.”
But seven decades into the nuclear era, mission creep is making its presence felt along with the rust and rats. Link low-yield nuclear weapons with a word like “precision” and their use in a real war starts to feel almost justifiable — and so much more satisfying, apparently, than simply maintaining a nuclear arsenal for the purpose of never using it. Threat is power in the abstract. But a mushroom cloud over Central Asia or the Middle East is power made manifest, especially if one lacks the mental and spiritual capacity to grasp the consequences.
The nuclear era, Noam Chomsky wrote this past August, reflecting on the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, “opened on August 6, 1945, the first day of the countdown to what may be the inglorious end of this strange species, which attained the intelligence to discover the effective means to destroy itself, but — so the evidence suggests — not the moral and intellectual capacity to control its worst instincts.”
The mission that our mainstream media has claimed for itself is to continually reflect back to us our inability to control our worst instincts. Thus, write Vartabedian and Hennigan, “The incoming Republican-controlled Congress could be more open to exploring new (nuclear) weapons.”
They proceed to quote Texas Republican Rep. Mac Thornberry, chairman-elect of the House Armed Services Committee. Voicing his concern about our aging arsenal and his support for renewed nuclear testing, he said, “You don’t know how a car performs unless you turn the key over. Why would we accept anything less from a weapon that provides the foundation for which all our national security is based on?”
And that brings me back to the rust. What seems desperately outmoded and nearing collapse isn’t our nuclear infrastructure but our thinking about national security. The United States of America, nation of Manifest Destiny, was built on conquest and exploitation. This is the basis of its inability to believe that security could be based on anything except near-absolute power and the reason why, in the corridors of political power, disarmament is synonymous not with sanity but neglect.
Unless the paradigm shifts and we redefine ourselves as a nation — and we redefine our relationship to other nations, including our alleged enemies — our future is nuclear weapons we can use.