HIROSHIMA & HUMANKIND’S EXISTENTIAL CHOICES
To an extent paradoxically, and in another way of thinking quite naturally, the only antidote to this stranglehold on our mutual future is the rise of worker power. Capital–whatever strains or splits have riven different sectors or nations or cliques–has ultimately always deferred to the ‘necessity’ of an ongoing extension of fission and fusion research and the primacy of such investment strategies.
A clear implication of this line of reasoning concerns the issue of power, of social heft and capacity. Obviously, poverty, prisons, chauvinistic ethnocentrism, eviscerated education, and half a hundred other problems absolutely demand attention and focus. However, if survival matters, what contextualizes and conjoins all of these single issues, including this hideous morass of death in the nuclear sphere, is how working people can come to exercise power in the world. Otherwise, whether we live long enough to snuff ourselves out in one heated rush or expire from one version or other of a ‘death from a thousand cuts,’ none of our specific concerns will ever amount to more than ‘academic interest’ or ‘passionate desire.’
In the event, this essay deals with Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and their ongoing relevance. The trigger for the decimation or even the annihilation of human society and its seven billion current cousins could come from India and Pakistan; from Israel and Iran; from North and South Korea; from Europe, the U.S., and Russia via Ukrainian or multiple other flashpoints; or from the U.S. and China as a result of various bones of contention. The ecocidal events that could follow from such engagement is not, moment by moment, very likely, nor are the sorts of alternate routes to human extinction high-probability scenarios.
However, as any gambler or statistician or wise observer of events knows, given enough throws of the dice, every possible outcome–even those that are at any given point exceedingly implausible–will occur: without exception. Therefore, if the conjunction of nuclear-armed nations continues, eventually our kind of creatures will simply no longer exist on this planet, at least under any set of circumstances that we would assess as humane.
As John Hershey wrote at the end of Hiroshima, ‘What has kept the world safe from the bomb since 1945 has not been deterrence, in the sense of fear of specific weapons, so much as it’s been memory. The memory of what happened at Hiroshima. (And now, as the years unfold), the (survivors’) memory, like the world’s, (i)s getting spotty.'”—OpEdNews
In July 1946, the United States began a series of 67 nuclear test explosions over the Marshall Islands, detonating the equivalent of 1.7 Hiroshima-sized bombs daily for 12 years. The largest, the 15-megaton Bravo shot, turned the sky blood red for hundreds of miles. Birth defects never seen before and other radiation-related health effects continue to plague the Marshallese people.
In 1951, the U.S. also opened a nuclear testing range on Western Shoshone ancestral land 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas, spreading fallout across cities like St. George, Utah, and tracked as far as New York. The U.S. government has linked testing in Nevada to domestic cancers and other health problems.
Lasting health and genetic effects are not the only nuclear dangers that remain today. Many Americans are not aware that about 15,000 nuclear weapons, most orders of magnitude more powerful than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, more than 90 percent held by the U.S. and Russia, continue to pose an intolerable threat to humanity. And the dangers of wars among nuclear-armed nations are growing.
Further, the U.S. plans to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years to modernize its nuclear bombs and warheads, the submarines, missiles and bombers needed to deliver them, and the infrastructure to sustain the nuclear enterprise indefinitely. At the nearby Livermore Lab, scientists are modifying a new warhead for a new long-range standoff weapon capable of launching a nuclear sneak attack.”—East Bay Times
(By conducting a media campaign), ‘We hope to generate a measure of citizen interest, and to begin a public discussion of nuclear weapons in the Puget Sound region. In this election year the danger of nuclear weapons ought to be a topic of discussion,’ Ground Zero member Rodney Brunelle recently said of the bus ad campaign.
(When Seattle transport authorities balked at running the ads, doubting the reliability of the data, Ploughshares provided expert verification and amplification of the facts in the ads). Funding expert sourcing and verification of information around nuclear weapons can help democratize important decisions and inform expert policy analysis at the same time. We are proud to support Kristensen and the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists. Information is the lifeblood of a democracy. We believe that through reason, information and dialogue, the threat of nuclear weapons can be reduced – and one day – even eliminated.”—Ploughshares
Perry does not use his memoir to score points or settle grudges. He does not sensationalize. But, as a defense insider and keeper of nuclear secrets, he is clearly calling American leaders to account for what he believes are very bad decisions, such as the precipitous expansion of NATO, right up to the Russian border, and President George W. Bush’s withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, originally signed by President Nixon. In his foreword to the book, George P. Shultz describes Perry as a man of ‘absolute integrity.’ His record is remarkable: Ph.D. in mathematics, vast technical training and experience in high-tech business, management of research and weapons acquisition as an undersecretary of defense under President Carter, and deputy secretary and then secretary of defense under Bill Clinton.
(When as a junior analyst, he calculated that even an optimistic two-thirds reduction in median anticipated casualties would mean twenty-fivemillion instantaneous American deaths, not including long term effects and ‘disruptions’), (t)his was the moment when Perry concluded that there could be no acceptable defense against a mass nuclear attack, an opinion from which he has never deviated. Many political leaders, including several presidents, have disagreed with Perry and have sponsored various types of anti-missile defense systems, the latest being the ballistic missile defense system now being installed in Eastern Europe. Perry recalls that it was the fear of nuclear annihilation during the cold war that unleashed the billions of federal dollars that supported the secret defense work that began in Silicon Valley and then propelled it forward. As much as anyone, Perry is aware of the ways, secret and public, that technical innovation, private profit and tax dollars, civilian gadgetry and weapons of mass destruction, satellite technology, computers, and ever-expanding surveillance are interconnected. But he now uses this dark knowledge in an effort to reverse the deadly arms race in which he had such a pivotal role.
(After avoiding human annihilation by blind, dumb luck during the Cuban Missile Crisis), (t)ragically, despite coming so close to nuclear annihilation, the leaders of the Soviet Union and the United States did not make any effort to slow nuclear competition; they did just the opposite. Perry sees here the operation of ‘surreal…thinking’ utterly at odds with the new reality of nuclear weapons. Yes, the hotline between Washington and Moscow was established, but otherwise strategic thinking in both the US and the Soviet Union went on as though nothing had happened. Perry points out several particularly troubling aspects of the crisis. There were, he writes, advisers on both the Soviet and US sides who wanted to rush into war. The media, for their part, treated the crisis as ‘a drama of ‘winning’ and ‘losing.’ Finally he observes that political leaders seemed to gain approval with the public based on their willingness to initiate a war.
‘Our chief peril,’ (Perry observes), ‘is that the poised nuclear doom, much of it hidden beneath the seas and in remote badlands, is too far out of the global public consciousness. Passivity shows broadly. Perhaps this is a matter of defeatism and its cohort, distraction. Perhaps for some it is largely a most primal human fear of facing the ‘unthinkable.’ For others, it might be a welcoming of the illusion that there is or might be an acceptable missile defense against a nuclear attack. And for many it would seem to be the keeping of faith that nuclear deterrence will hold indefinitely—that leaders will always have accurate enough instantaneous knowledge, know the true context of events, and enjoy the good luck to avoid the most tragic of military miscalculations.
While many complain of the obvious dysfunction in Washington, few see the incomparably greater danger of ‘nuclear doom’ because it is hidden and out of public consciousness. Despite an election year filled with commentary and debate, no one is discussing the major issues that trouble Perry. It is another example of the rigid conformity that often dominates public discourse. Long ago, I saw this in the Vietnam War and later in the invasion of Iraq: intelligent people were doing mindless—and catastrophic—things. ‘Sleepwalking’ is the term historians now use for the stupidities that got European leaders into World War I and for the mess they unleashed at Versailles. And sleepwalking still continues as NATO and Russia trade epithets and build their armies and Moscow and Washington modernize their nuclear overkill. A new cold war. Fortunately, Bill Perry is not sleepwalking and he is telling us, in My Journey at the Nuclear Brink, to wake up before it is too late. Anyone can begin by reading his book.”—New York Review of Books