I was nine-years old in the summer of ‘63 when my father taught me to barbeque pork steaks. President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Khrushchev had just signed the first Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the Doomsday Clock was pushed back five minutes.
It is 12 minutes to midnight.
My father’s concrete-block barbeque pit was located barely ten steps from our backdoor, on the site originally intended for the family fallout shelter. It was a substantially built structure as I imagined the shelter would have been.
My dad, like the 200,000 other dads who built backyard fallout shelters in the first two decades of the Cold War, believed it was the only way to keep his family safe; unlike the generals and the CEOs of the U.S. military-industrial complex who knew that the efficacy of such a shelter was its ability to make nuclear war imaginable by the illusion of survivability.
Growing up in the shadow of a mushroom cloud, one took cold comfort in knowing that the continuance of the human race hinged on the Strangelovian doctrine of mutual assured destruction. The “logic” behind MAD was either the nadir of Cold War reasoning or its zenith. Regardless, it was calculatedly simple. If both the United States and the Soviet Union have the ability to annihilate the other, while at the same time, an inability to defend against an all-out nuclear attack, it would be insanity to shoot first.
It is 12 minutes to midnight.
By 1984, a toolshed had replaced the barbeque pit in our backyard and President Reagan had begun constructing a continent-sized bomb shelter known as the Strategic Defense Initiative. It was to be a space-based anti-ballistic missile shield that used laser weapons to destroy incoming nuclear warheads. Two decades and $70 billion later, it is still as fictional as its “Star Wars” namesake.
But like backyard fallout shelters, Reagan’s SDI made surviving nuclear war once again imaginable, which allowed for the possibility of winning with a first strike against the “Evil Empire.” This strategy undermined the fail-safe “logic” of MAD.
It is 3 minutes to midnight.
On an azure morning in September 2001, America was attacked by terrorists armed with box cutters and an incorruptible belief in eternity. Parents were once again told they could protect their families by turning their homes into fallout shelters using damp towels and plastic wrap and duct tape.
In March 2002, the Los Angeles Times published excerpts from the Bush administration’s secret Nuclear Posture Review, which is predicated on preemptive and preventive nuclear strikes. It also revealed that the Pentagon was ordered to develop a first-strike nuclear strategy for use against the “Axis of Evil”(Iran, Iraq, North Korea) and our current ally, the former “Evil Empire,” Russia.
More apocalyptic yet, is the NPR’s assertion that “we will not hesitate to act alone . . . to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively.” Exactly one year later, the Bush administration kept that promise.
It is 7 minutes to midnight.
This January 17, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the keepers of the Doomsday Clock, moved the clock forward two minutes, primarily because of the continued threat of 27,000 nuclear weapons in eight countries, 2000 of which are on hair trigger alert and ready for launch. It also cited “the destruction of human habitats from climate change. According to the BAS, “Not since the first atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki has the world faced such perilous choices.”
The nuclear ambitions of Iran—and its president’s vow to wipe Israel off the map—coupled with the United States and Israel’s first strike policy and willingness to include tactical nuclear weapons in their battle plan to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear technology is pushing the world to the “brink of a Second Nuclear Age.”
And again, in the “Long War” on terror as in the Cold War, Pentagon planners are attempting to make a nuclear confrontation imaginable with the illusion of survivability. But this time it is not shelters they are selling. It is scale. They are planning to use only small nuclear bombs from now on . . . a whole lot of them.
The Pentagon’s 2005 “Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations” calls for “integrating conventional and nuclear attacks.” This doctrine maintains that the use of tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield will ensure “minimal collateral damage,” thereby making their use “safe for the surrounding civilian population.”
If this doctrine strikes you as more insane than MAD, you are perfectly sane.
It is 5 minutes to midnight.
Given the Bush administration’s reckless disregard for the global consequences of its ideological juggernaut, American children are no less likely to grow up in the shadow of a mushroom cloud than were their parents and grandparents. They deserve something better.
If parents are not willing to demand—and accept—no less than “something better” from their president and his generals, they would be well advised to pass on to their children a warning from Bert the turtle:
“When the bomb hits you will notice a bright flash. That’s your cue to DUCK and COVER!”
mmmmmmmmAll the children of the world deserve something better!
Robert Weitzel is a freelancer writer whose essays regularly appear in The Capital Times in Madison, WI. He has been published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Skeptic Magazine, and Freethought Today. He can be contacted at: email@example.com