Thursday, December 18, 2014

Obama's Missed Opportunity: America's Resumption Of The Nuclear Arms Race

James Carroll, columnist at the Boston Globe and occasional writer at TomDispatch, appears mirrored at Juan Cole's Informed Comment blog, writing about the great opportunity Obama had in 2009 to turn America, and hence the rest of the nuclear-armed nations of the world, toward a path to nuclear disarmament, or at least a drastic reduction in the number of nuclear-tipped missiles armed and ready to go at any moment. The short version: ultimately, despite his grand announcement, Obama listened to the hardcore hawks, and America is on course to modernize, not decommission, its nuclear arsenal.

'Fat Man' - Nagasaki,
Aug. 9, 1945
When I was a young child, a boy in grade school, W.W. II, with its first... America's and the world's first... use of an atomic bomb in war, was recent history, and the Cold War was ratcheting up. Classrooms full of school kids learned to do duck-and-cover drills, on command from the teacher. There were lists of steps we were supposed to take when told to "drop," lists to which some wag always appended one additional step after "Place head between legs": "Kiss your a$$ goodbye." Most of us understood there was no going back from a direct nuclear attack on the City of Houston: virtually everyone would die, and we knew it.

In the 1970s, some steps were taken toward reducing the magnitude (not the direness) of the US-Soviet nuclear conflict. As a consequence, by the 1980s, the era of Saint Reagan, the hawks began to talk of "winnable nuclear war"; once again, humanity faced extinction by the crazy men in Washington and Moscow. The same nutjobs began to talk of nuclear weapons in space as well as defensive weapons in space.

Reagan himself claimed to have "won" the Cold War by arming the US to the point at which the Soviet Union could not keep up. (Gorbachev, as quoted by Peter Jennings on ABC evening news, called this claim "utter crap.") According to a chart at Wikipedia, the US peaked at more than 30,000 nuclear weapons; the Soviet Union, 40,000.

The number didn't begin to decrease until Ronald Reagan left office, replaced by his veep, George H.W. Bush. Subsequently, nuclear arms in both nations were decreased in number, leveling off at about 5000. (The number depends on what you count as a "weapon": I suspect the 5000 is a count of warheads, because I've seen counts of the number of missiles that were considerably lower.)

I do not know how much credence to give to Carroll's extremely pessimistic assumption that there's no going back once Obama decided to follow the hawks' advice and modernize the nuclear forces. There is the fact that at least four more nations have joined the nuclear "club," with more sure to follow. In addition, every terrorist group in the world will continue to do its damnedest to get its hands on one or more nukes, though all of them face delivery difficulties that may prove insurmountable (we can hope!).

But if Carroll is right, and Obama has truly abandoned his hopeful determination in 2009, then the children and grandchildren of my first cousins (cousins only a few years older than me) will learn to duck-and-cover... and kiss their a$$es goodbye. Heaven help us all.

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