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"Perhaps It's Already Too Late"

     Back in the mid-seventies I was teaching modern U.S.
history.  We were all the way into the 20th century, which is rare
for high school history classes.  Almost in passing I mentioned
"the U.S. defeat in Vietnam."    
     Some of the boys stopped me.  "We didn't lose in Vietnam!"
     "Well, we did," I said calmly.  "Our military and political
objectives were not attained in any sense -- we just quit and
came home."
     "But we could have won," they insisted.
     "Could have?" I asked.  "We put a great deal of effort and
money and blood into it, and evidently we could not win.  At
least we did not win."
     "We could have nuked 'em," the boys said, and would not let
me label what really did happen a defeat for the U.S.
     Since then I have thought about all that a great deal,
wondering about the purpose of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. 
"Deterrence" is the word used most often as explanation, even
though we had our arsenal first, when there was no one else to
deter.  Also we have always had the largest arsenal, and we've
used ours, against civilians.
     What are all these nuclear warheads for?  Even after some
partial dismantling, we still have thousands ready to go.  We did
not use any nuclear bombs in Vietnam, even though we were engaged
in an extremely violent struggle.  Why not?  We allowed defeat
instead.  The Soviet arsenal, it turns out, did in fact deter us. 
Deterrence worked, except it was the other way around.  Some
madmen, like Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and General
Curtis LeMay, were tempted, but they were deterred.  Yet that
still doesn't explain what our own current arsenal is for.  
     Are we really ready to incinerate millions of humans, of all
ages and all persuasions, just because some leader annoys or
insults us?  We're better people than that, in spite of having
had some rather dreadful leaders of our own.  
     When I shared some of these thoughts with the editors of THE
ALBUQUERQUE TRIBUNE some years ago, my suggested title was, "What
Is Our Nuclear Arsenal for?"  They published the piece, with a
title they made up:  "We Need to Get Rid of Our Nuke Arsenal
before We Elect Someone Crazy."
     Here we are with no super-power adversary, no one to deter. 
For some years there has been an attempt to replace "communist"
with "terrorist," and the attempt has become feverish since the
fall of 2001.  But you can't deter a terrorist with threats to
incinerate entire cities.  That's simply silly -- they are ready
to die doing exactly that.  So what is the nuclear arsenal for?
     For some years thoughtful people suspected that the budget
for nuclear bombs was pure pork, not intended really for actual
use in a war.  It was "jobs, jobs, jobs," many of them right here
in New Mexico. 
     But we were uneasy.  What if a madman like Curtis LeMay
became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff?  What if a liar and
a crook like Richard Nixon became President of the United States,
with a war-criminal like Henry Kissinger really in charge?  Some of us
urged that we get rid of that arsenal while there  was still time.
     The last several budgets included billions to "improve" or
"upgrade" the extant nuclear arsenal.  But the only way a nuclear
warhead can be "improved" or "upgraded" is to dismantle it and
figure out how to dispose of the left-over waste material safely,
which has not yet been done.  Burying the lethal material
irretrievably, in wet salt, in a place like the
Waste Isolation Pilot Project near Carlsbad, does not dispose of
the danger.  Meanwhile, we simply do not need or want any more
nuclear warheads.  It will be a crime and an unmitigated
disaster, if any one of them is ever detonated, accidentally or
on purpose.
     The new budget makes us fear that it is already too late to
avoid crime and disaster -- we have already elected someone
crazy.  "Since we can't make any real military use of the huge
firepower bombs we invented and built at large expense of
ingenuity and money, since they'll destroy everything and
obliterate life itself for hundreds of thousands of years,"
they're saying, "let's make some little ones, so we can use them
from time to time, when we want to, and let's test them, too, no
matter what international treaties may say about that."
     Is that not crazy?  "Let's make them so they'll fit in pick-
up trucks and even suitcases, so individual crazies, really
dedicated persons, can deliver them personally to places where
ordinary people gather."
     The craziest thing of all is that this great only surviving
super-power, with all its thousands of nuclear warheads, is
worried that India and Pakistan, with a few dozen each at most,
may decide to use them on each other.  Isn't that what they're
for?  If they shouldn't use theirs, what are ours for?
     And the biggest worry, for those of us analyzing craziness
itself in high places of power, is that these guys really do
believe in their own moral superiority.  They believe the Cosmos
has chosen them for leadership at this moment.  They take
literally the myth of the World's Last Battle, at Armageddon, and
they believe that "God" has prepared our nuclear arsenal for the
task of bringing about the literal end of the world.
     Now that's crazy.  And that's evil -- a word I personally
use much more cautiously than these crazies do.
     It's depressing.

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Copyright © 2002 Harry Willson

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