Don’t nuke me bro!
September 29, 2014
The threat of nuclear incineration has bothered me ever since the Cold War bomb scares of my 1950s youth. My mortal body may one day be cremated, but I would prefer to be dead when that happens and numb to the white-hot fire of eternity.
The way things are going, a new spate of nuclear proliferation may up the odds for intercontinental annihilation. Despite the election vow of our president to eliminate the threat of nukes, The New York Times reported last week that the Obama administration plans to enlarge U.S. nuclear capability.
Apparently, Putin's push on the Ukraine has given Obama sleepless nights worrying about duck-and-cover options among Martha Washington furnishings at the White House.
On the same day as the nuke announcement came, a news flash was broadcast about a disturbed U.S. veteran who scaled a White House fence and walked right into the presidential home. Defense experts should take note that the first step toward homeland security is keeping the doors locked at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
This veteran was apparently reeling from post traumatic stress disorder, a pandemic among U.S. service members. His breach of White House defenses posed a security risk that no nukes could stop — unless they aimed one right at the White House lawn.
Journalist Rachel Maddow, in her book "Drift," warns that America's lust for weapon systems that pack kilotons of death and destruction and cost trillions to build is still en vogue.
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Thirty years ago, when Ronald Reagan boosted U.S. defense capability in a game of bluff with the Soviet Union, that costly buildup deferred funding from domestic needs like roads, schools, cities, bridges and health care. Expensive weapons systems shifted the U.S. from the world's biggest creditor nation to the world's largest debtor nation.
Well, here we go again, reported the Times, with "a nationwide wave of atomic revitalization with a collective price tag, over the next three decades, at up to a trillion dollars." Those pesky domestic needs will just have to wait.
Maddow's book is enough to keep you up at night — not only from fear of mishandled nukes (a common occurrence), but from seething anger over mountains of taxpayer dollars lavished on so-called defense.
We all pay the bill for nukes that today have marginal practical value in a world where wars are mostly surgical procedures using drones or our mostly privatized army. Both of which, Maddow notes, alleviate the need for public scrutiny and congressional approval.
What Maddow describes as a decaying U.S. nuclear arsenal — from fungus on the wings of cruise missiles to aged and corroded storage containers — makes the case that the U.S. currently has more nukes than it can safely manage, a half dozen of which have reportedly been lost.
The Times laments that there is no strategic goal in Obama's proliferation: "Supporters of arms control as well as some of President Obama's closest advisers say their hopes for the president's vision have turned to baffled disappointment as the modernization of nuclear capabilities has become an end unto itself."
And what of Congress — the representative body of the people, the ballast in our ship of state, the voice of collective reason in American democracy? "Congress," said the Times, "has expressed less interest in atomic reductions than looking tough in Washington's escalating confrontation with Moscow."
It's a bad combination when a frightened president and a macho Congress escalate weapons of mass destruction to the tune of a trillion dollars. Each one of those dollars is paid by you and me with the hope that they will be spent on roads, bridges, etc., maybe even on PTSD research and treatment.
Sam Nunn, the former senator whose views on nuclear disarmament apparently once influenced Obama, told the Times, "A lot of it is hard to explain. The president's vision was a significant change in direction. But the process has preserved the status quo."
As Obama contemplates boots on the ground in Iraq and a trillion worth of nuclear escalatio, he needs to hear from that veteran who scaled the fence. That vet should explain to the president that war damages the psyche and that nukes are a sorry answer for national security.
Paul Andersen's column appears on Monday. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.
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