Category Archives: Nukes

‘Round Midnight

September 26th was the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.  In Chicago, where Voices for Creative Nonviolence is based, activists held the third of three COVID-era “Car Caravans” for nuclear disarmament, travelling through the city from Voices’ own rapidly gentrifying Uptown neighborhood to the statue on Chicago’s South Side which marks the fateful site of Earth’s first sustained nuclear chain reaction. Cars bore banners reading “End U.S. Nukes Before They End Us,” “Still Here?  Dumb Luck” “Not China, not Russia, not Iran: the World Fears U.S.” along with more explicitly antinuclear messages.

Stalwart in building the event were groups including Chicago Area Peace Action, CODEPINK, Chicago Committee against War and Racism, and the Gay Liberation Network, whose documentary of the previous month’s caravan was just released and will soon find thousands of broadcast viewers in repeat airings on a local station. That caravan was carried out on the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, and speakers were torn between the wish to commemorate the U.S.’ shockingly racist WWII bombardments of Japanese cities, and the fact that today’s thermonuclear weapons are incommensurably more devastating than those bombs, with a Hiroshima-model fission bomb, of course, included in the design of each thermonuclear weapon as a mere detonator.  Given their power which includes the power to trigger nuclear winter through even a limited exchange, these weapons’ first-ever use will be uncommemorated: it will end all races and all cities.

This Saturday we had ten cars, some late in RSVPing. Discussion arose about the difficulty of drawing participants (and perhaps also the real effrontery of traversing Chicago’s South Side), so soon after the Breonna Taylor verdict, and its outrageous near-exoneration of the policemen who killed Breonna Taylor.  We noted, however, that the United States has committed untold, unpunished murder worldwide in its self-assigned role as global policeman, and that it continues to arm itself with the hair-trigger weapon that will end the human upon its first firing.

One of our banners read “Holding a Gun to the Head of the World.”  A mobster who never needs to fire his gun nevertheless uses that gun quite violently in enforcing his racket. The U.S. continually uses its nuclear arsenal.  Tireless dissident (and repentant nuke planner) Daniel Ellsberg writes persuasively in his book The Doomsday Machine that every nuclear-armed U.S. President has threatened or seriously considered nuclear first use to manage a non-nuclear crisis. Indeed, no President and no major-party presidential nominee has ever renounced nuclear first use as a policy, even against non-nuclear nations. Not only past atrocities, and the promise of future annihilation, but the present-day shame of blasphemously holding our omnicide gun to the world’s forehead – to the foreheads of children – ought to convince us to place the building of a disarmament movement among our lives’ foremost, belated, priorities.

Our caravan’s literature, rightly careful to acknowledge the terrible nuclear records of both the Trump and Obama administrations, marveled that “[t]he U.S. public is frighteningly indifferent to a weapon of species extinction whose threat many bafflingly imagine to be somehow past. Humanity arguably now faces a worse nuclear danger than it did at the height of the Cold War. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists have set their famed “Doomsday Clock” at 100 seconds to Midnight, its first time counted in seconds, rightly adjusting for the arrival of hair-trigger hypersonic nukes.” That very indifference, and the consequent eagerness of both political parties to pursue Cold Wars either with China or Russia, is another cause to believe that Midnight is horribly near.

Our time is not without glimmers of real hope. A conscientious and heroic 2018 protest by the “Kings Bay Plowshares Seven” reminds us that courage in the face of midnight is possible – The Plowshares face a crucial sentencing date within the next month and deserve support from all of us. A larger antinuclear movement needn’t stand or fall on its success in achieving, all at once, total nuclear disarmament – more gradual goals for movement-building are available, including Daniel Ellsberg’s own recommended goal of eliminating “use-them-or-lose-them” land-based missiles first, and the five eminently sensible demands of the fierce (and growing) Back From the Brink movement.

Meanwhile outside the U.S. empire’s borders, these candle-flickers held against midnight begin, blessedly, to resemble a growing encampment’s blazing watch-fires.

Currently 87 nations have signed, and 45 (of a needed 50) ratified, the U.N. treaty definitively criminalizing the obscene nuclear stockpiles of these nine rogue states: the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and (semi-covertly) Israel.  While nations in possession of multigenocidal weaponry have all, so far, boycotted deliberations related to the Treaty, countries menaced for generations by this “nuclear club”  are jointly declaring that nuclear-weapon-bearing countries are the gangsterish outliers.  With the world’s nations ever more vocally against them, can even U.S. people maintain their indifference for long?

Ireland ratified the Nuclear Ban Treaty in early September, and the Irish Dail has already passed legislation enforcing the Treaty in Irish law. The new law makes it a crime, punishable by fine or life in prison, to “assist, encourage or induce” any other person to have anything to do with nuclear weapons. Once the Nuclear Ban Treaty enters into force, this will be the law in all countries which have ratified the Treaty. While countries that have not joined the Treaty are not legally bound to abide by it, the Treaty establishes in international law a legal “norm” against nuclear weapons that will continue to shape the behavior and policies of countries that remain outside the Treaty.

Two other treaties the US has shamefully never signed nor ratified are the Landmines Treaty and the Cluster Munitions Treaty, but the U.S. has not used these weapons since those treaties entered into force, partly because of the international stigma now attached to those weapons, and partly because of the difficulties of working alongside treaty-signing allies who legally cannot abet these weapons’ use or manufacture.  US companies have been compelled to stop making the prohibited weapons, in part by international campaigns of divestment associated with the treaties. These same factors are already affecting US nuclear weapons production in the age of the Nuclear Ban Treaty.  If we support our global neighbors now, perhaps they could change the minds of our neighbors at home.

Humanity isn’t here forever: and mutually reinforcing crises of war, of climate, of global inequality and global resource depletion ought to suggest to us neither lives of despairing apathy, nor the reckless self-deluding dash for omnipotence which seems to animate our leaders. Rather, they should teach us the urgency of living with meaning, dignity, connection and purpose right now, now while we have time.

We might have a surprising amount of time left if enough of us find the dignity to put compassionate, respectful, and possibly even global solidarity ahead of the fanciful and ambitious futures we were all building for ourselves. These years are precious. Let’s ourselves exemplify the tremendous courage and compassion demanded of so many in the nations our government targets overseas, of the Plowshares activists now awaiting sentence. Let our love be safe and sound…

“…when old Midnight comes around.”

The post 'Round Midnight first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Catholics Against Nukes: Archbishop Wester’s Hiroshima Vigil

In what is a turn-up for the books, a senior voice of the Catholic Church made something of an impression this month that did not incite scandal, hot rage, or the commencement of an investigation.  It did, however, agitate a few editors.  Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, in speaking at the online Hiroshima Day vigil, had put up his hand to defy the validity and morality of nuclear weapons and, along with them, the idea of nuclear deterrence.  One of the organisers of the event, the veteran peace activist Rev. John Dear, claimed it had “never happened before.”

Dear had a point.  There has been a shift within Catholic ranks urged along by Pope Francis on that most fatuous of strategic doctrines, nuclear deterrence.  Before the United Nations General Assembly in June 1982, Pope John Paul II chose to argue that nuclear “‘deterrence’ based on balance, certainly not as an end in itself but as a step on the way toward a progressive disarmament, may still be judged morally acceptable.”

At a Vatican symposium in November 2017, the current pontiff acknowledged concern for “the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental effects of any employment of nuclear devices.”  Given the risk of accidental detonation occasioned by error, “the threat of their use, as well as their possession, is to be firmly condemned.”

In November 2019 in Nagasaki, the pontiff expressed the view that peace and international stability were incompatible objects “with attempts to build upon the fear of mutual assured destruction, or the threat of total annihilation.”  Such weapons could not “protect us from current threats to national and international security”. Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles and president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops was of similar view in his recent commemorative remarks, at one with the Pope and calling “on our national and world leaders to persevere in their efforts to abolish these weapons of mass destruction, which threaten the existence of the human race and our planet.”

Archbishop Wester reminded his listeners of the stance taken by the US Conference of Bishops: that Washington has a pressing obligation to reverse the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and “reduce its own reliance on weapons of mass destruction by pursuing progressive disarmament.”  He spoke of the “fear, a dread and a sorrow” when visiting Nagasaki in September 2017.  “It reminded me a little bit of those days during the Cuban missile crisis when I would walk home from school having been instructed what to do in the event of a nuclear attack within a few thousand yards of a Nike missile site in San Francisco.”

The travails and challenges caused by COVID-19 might have forced social distance between people but, according to the Archbishop, “we’re united in our resolve to eliminate nuclear weapons and build a world that is grounded, not in fear and distrust, but in mutual respect for the life and dignity for all.” He quoted Pope Francis’s Nagasaki remarks about such instruments of death being an “affront crying out to heaven”, developed even as people continued to live in miserable conditions.

Support was also given to the efforts made by the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, co-founded by Tina Cordova and Fred Tyler in 2005 with the express purpose of drawing attention to the health effects of the Trinity test of July 16, 1945.  Their aim is compensation and health coverage for victims of the radioactive fallout drawn from the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

It stands to reason that Archbishop Wester is concerned.  Two of the US’s three nuclear weapons laboratories are to be found in the dioceses of Sandia and Los Alamos. “In fact,” observes Nuclear Watch New Mexico executive director Jay Coghlan, “there are probably more nuclear warheads in his dioceses – some 2,500 stored in reserve at the Kirtland Air Force Base at Albuquerque.”  The Los Alamos National Laboratory is also intending to expand plutonium pit production, but not, according to Coghlan, to maintain “the already extensively tested and reliable stockpile.”  The future lies in dangerously “speculative new designs” that will be untested because of the global testing moratorium unless the US recklessly decides to get back into the testing game.

The laboratories do come with their biting paradox.  Wester is aware that an enterprise involving such weapons of mass lethality has other aspects, those incremental, even accidental benefits drawn from the inventive drive to kill.  Scientists, for instance, were turning their minds to “research that envelops energy and environmental programs, computing science, bio science, engineering science, materials science and micro-systems, as well as advances in medicine, and lately, helping in fighting COVID-19.”

The editors of the Albuquerque Journal were unimpressed by the Archbishop and the organisers.  Wester and Dear inhabited “a world that sounds lovely but will never exist.”  They had erred in not recognising the “deterrent benefit of the nuclear arsenal” which had “kept a nuclear peace since 1945 even as nations like Pakistan and North Korea have developed nuclear weapons.”  They slipped up in not accepting that using atomic weapons on Japan saved the lives of Allied soldiers and millions of Japanese.  Horrific as those weapons were, war was horrific.  “World War II claimed 60 million lives.”

For the editors, it was far better to endorse the somewhat darker view of the Very Rev. Glennon Jones, whose piece for the August edition of the People of God newsletter for Catholics in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe impressed. “There is a vital difference between the promotion of an ideal and being naively idealistic.”

And so, we return to the historical reasoning that justified virtuous butcheries, the war is terrible argument, ignoring the obvious contention that such weapons are themselves potential incitements to error, lunacy and existential deletion. As long as nuclear deterrence, that most unmeasured of strategies, remains, it keeps company with the prospect of use and annihilation.  Coghlan, in his rebuke to the editors also penned in the Albuquerque Journal, gave an acid summation: “the US arsenal has always been about nuclear war fighting, starting with the simple fact that we were the first to use it.”  Only “sheer luck has kept us from nuclear catastrophe.”

Don’t Stigmatise the Nuke! Opponents of the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty

It would seem a logical step, at least from an existential perspective: to ban something so utterly horrendous to life; to forbid its use in any circumstances, whatever rationale employed to justify its use. But the nuclear weapon has its admirers.  There are those who continue to worship its sovereign properties, and those who leave gifts at the shrine of extended deterrence.  Be wary, they say, of the abolitionists.

The 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings should have encouraged much reflection on current attitudes to the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  Passed on July 7, 2017, it has become a focal point for advocates of a nuclear-weapons free world, and a source of irritation for nuclear weapons states who are not only dragging their feet but going in the opposite direction.

Increased interest in the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty is not accidental.  Jayantha Dhanapala, the second director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, considered the document as arising from an unruly environment.  “In the nuclear field, we are almost back to the years immediately after the Second World War, when rules for the nuclear age had yet to be developed.”  He warned that humanity risked deluding itself into thinking “that war between nuclear-weapon states is a malady of the past, no longer deserving attention.”

Dhanapala sketches the fault line in the nuclear disarmament debate.  Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) and their allies face non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS), both camps supposedly harbouring the same objective of eliminating nuclear weapons.  Both, however, make off from different stations: the NWS group insisting on “first achieving security and then nuclear disarmament”; the NNWS group preferring to reach an agreement to banning nuclear weapons “followed by its gradual implementation.”  The outcome of such different positions is clear: not a single nuclear weapons power has joined the regime, as they remain in love with their nukes, while all 43 ratifying states, to date, lack them.

The strangest spectacle in this disagreement is provided by those powers lacking nuclear weapons but relieved about those powers in guardianship that do.  The security argument prevails, formally under that fanciful but dangerous notion that an “umbrella of extended nuclear deterrence” exists to provide comfort.  For that reason Japan, despite being a noisy voice regarding the non-use and eventual elimination of nuclear weapons, has refused to endorse the weapons ban.  Hiroshima’s Mayor Kazumi Matsui will have none of it, and took the commemorative occasion to encourage the Japanese government to abandon that position.  “Hiroshima considers it our duty to build in civil society a consensus that the people of the world must unite to achieve nuclear weapons abolition and lasting world peace.”

At Nagasaki, similar sentiments were expressed by Mayor Tomihisa Taue, who found it “incomprehensible” that Japan’s treaty signature had been withheld.  He noted his concern that the appetite for nuclear disarmament had apparently been lost in recent years. Both the United States and Russia had placed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty on the rubbish tip of history.  “As a result, the threat of nuclear weapons being used is increasingly becoming real.”  Despite the sterling efforts of the atomic bomb survivors (the hibakusha) to make Nagasaki the final place of such a tragedy, “the true horror of nuclear weapons has not yet been adequately conveyed to the world at large”.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has dismissed the treaty as pie in the sky nonsense, showing that the abolition of nuclear weapons remains a dream kept symbolically necessary but practically unrealisable.  This serves ceremonial relevance, the sort of cant that has governed disarmament policies since the race for the nuke got away.

While essential to the cult of Japanese victimhood as the only country whose citizens suffered such bombings, nuclear weapons remained valuable even as these commemorations took place.  “The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,” Abe explained dismissively, “was adopted without taking into consideration the reality of the harsh national security environment.”  Japan continued to face the threats posed to modernised nuclear weapons programmes from “neighbouring countries in the region.”

Foreign Minister Taro Kono, in justifying Japan’s continued refusal to append its signature, emphasised the divisions between the various schools of thought.  There were those testing disagreements between nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear nations.  There were those within non-nuclear states.  Rather deviously, Kono suggested that Japan might play a bridging role, seeking “common ground” between the camps that would lead to nuclear disarmament and abolition.

Australia, ever willing to deputise for the US in the Asia Pacific, has also shown marked reluctance to stigmatise the nuke.  Few can forget its role as foiled spoiler in the UN working group on nuclear disarmament in 2016.  Australian diplomats made it clear that they had no interest in seeing any document banning nuclear weapons emerge from what they hoped would be a futile talking shop.  The attitudes of Australian officials in the group was exposed in documents obtained under Freedom of Information by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).  “So long as the threat of nuclear attack and coercion exists,” states one document from foreign ministry officials, “US extended deterrence will serve Australia’s fundamental national security interests.”  Wishing to be the vibrant dissenters at the party, they promised “a strong alternative viewpoint, notably against those states who wish to push a near-term ban treaty.”

During the course of negotiations, Australian officials thought it necessary to remain in “close contact” with Washington “about our shared concerns” on the working group’s disturbing move towards recommending “negotiations on a ‘ban treaty’”.  It was good of them, seeing as the United States had boycotted the talks.  At stages, concerns were noted about the “humanitarianism” being pursued in the discussions – because you would not want that when discussing weapons of extermination.

In 2017, John Quinn, Australia’s ambassador for Disarmament and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations, delivered a classic display of repudiation and approbation on nuclear weapons.  There was the mandatory mention: Australia shared “the widespread commitment to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.”  But the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty was not the way to go about it.  The humanitarian impulses behind the document had deepened division (that word again), “created damaging ambiguities” and creating a rival forum on disarmament.  The significance of Australia’s rejection of the treaty – and here, the gloves come off – is that it “seeks to delegitimise extended deterrence.  The ban treaty will not advance nuclear disarmament or security.”

This is not a position that shows any sign of altering. “Australia does not support the ‘ban treaty’ which we believe would not eliminate a single nuclear weapon,” states the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.  Sounding much like Abe, it mocks the document for rejecting “the realities of the global security environment”.  The treaty lacks the security assurances found in traditional mechanisms supplied by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and “would be inconsistent with our US alliance obligations.”

It follows that those claiming a normative shift in the ban treaty towards stigmatising the use of such weapons have their work cut out for them.  In some cases, the more vigorous opposition has not even come from the expected quarter.  Nuclear weapons states have simply refused to abandon their crown jewels, leaving the loudest barking against the ban treaty to their faithful, deluded allies who cling, desperately, to the fable of extended nuclear deterrence.

US: Crimes against Humanity at Home and Abroad

Photo Credit:  Albert Eisenstaedt

This month marks the second year since former President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, announced to the world a campaign promoted by a group of Latin American writers and academics to declare August 9 as International Day of US Crimes against Humanity. Appropriately the day is to remember the second nuclear bomb dropped in 1945 on Nagasaki, Japan that came just three days after the first nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Imagine how depraved and cold-blooded the then Democratic President Truman could be to find that he had incinerated 150,000 people on one day and turned right around and did it again in Nagasaki instantly killing 65,000 more human beings. US historical accounts love to turn truth on its head by saying how many lives those nuclear bombs saved when Japan was already defeated before the bombs were dropped after 67 Japanese cities had been leveled to the ground by relentless US aerial fire bombings.

The people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were sacrificed as an exclamation point on a proclamation to the world announcing the arrival of the US as the world’s new pre-eminent super power. It also served as an example that the US would commit any murderous crime of any proportion to maintain that imperial position of dominance and they have demonstrated that to be true time and time again. Even now in decline the US has never apologized for this unnecessary crime because that could convey a sign of weakness and a step back from a policy of nuclear blackmail held over the nations of the world. Obama had the chance to do that in the final year of his presidency when he had nothing to lose in a 2016 visit to Hiroshima. Instead of apologizing to the people of Japan or easing tensions in the world Obama, in eloquent fluffy double talk, said, “Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering. But we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again.”

The responsibility for the majority of suffering in the world was then, and continues to be, on an imperialist policy and its inherent neoliberal engine that violently throttles the ability of countries to develop in a way that would bring health and prosperity for the benefit of their majorities. In the end it is an unsustainable system that only benefits a sliver of privileged society.

The US crimes against humanity did not begin or end with the dropping of the nuclear bombs on Japan. As militant civil rights leader Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (formerly H. Rap Brown) pointed out years ago, “Violence is as American as cherry pie.” Since its inception the US has been ingrained with a motor force of violent oppression against everyone and every country that stood in the way of its expansion for control of resources and its entitlement to limitless accumulation of vast wealth for a few.

The original thirteen colonies that rebelled against England were not motivated solely by being taxed without representation but more for the restrictions that King George had placed on the unbridled greed of the white settlers to expand and steal the lands of the indigenous nations and communities and to establish a system of slavery which was the main source of capitalist accumulation especially for the southern colonies. At the time of the revolution close to 20% of the population consisted of Black slaves.  Slavery actually ran contrary to British Common Law so the only way the emerging class of landowners in the colonies could flourish was to secede from the British Empire. In doing so it established a pivotal component of the original DNA of the United States; structural racism as a means to justify any level of discrimination and oppression with a deeply embedded belief in the inferiority of any race not white and Christian. The cries of Black Lives Matter in the streets of all the major cities and towns of the US today are a resounding echo of resistance that comes from the plantations and the slave ships that came from Africa.

The genocide of indigenous people in the US was its initial crime wave against humanity as it expanded westward destined by God to exercise their Manifest Destiny. The early history of this country is littered with hundreds of massacres of the original caretakers of the land from the Atlantic to the Pacific. And that crime continues to this day with Native Americans suffering from the highest infection rates of Covid-19 in the country as a direct result of government neglect and broken treaties that keep the reservations in grinding poverty including in many areas where there is not even running water.

On July 21 Congress passed a $740 billion military appropriations bill, the biggest ever, and $2 billion more than last year. The United States spends more on national defense than the next 11 largest militaries combined.  A well intended but feeble attempt by sections of the Democratic Party to cut 10% of the budget to go to health and human services failed because ultimately funding the 800 US military installations that occupy territory in more than 70 countries around the world takes precedence over something so basic and human as subsidized food programs. Meanwhile approximately 20% of the families in this country are struggling to obtain nutritious food every day just as one example of the growing social and health needs.

Wars and occupations are expensive and that money goes right down the drain. It does not recycle through the economy; rather it is equipment and operations meant to destroy and terrorize, and the only part of it that is reused is the militarization of police forces in the US who are geared out in advanced equipment for the wars at home not even normally seen in theaters of war abroad.

When Obama took over from Bush junior he vowed to end the war in Afghanistan and instead left office with the unique distinction of having had a war going every day of his 8 years in office. He launched airstrikes or military raids in at least seven countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan and Trump came in and did not miss a beat and has carried the war of death, destruction and destabilization of Afghanistan into its twentieth year. The Pentagon knows that the days of outright winning a war are over and relies now on hybrid wars that are perhaps even more criminal. It is now wars of attrition with proxy and contract armies, aerial bombardment, sabotage of infrastructure that turns into endless wars, the intent of which is to make sure that a country is imbalanced, exhausted and does not become independent or develop and use its resources for the benefit of its own people.

This, of course, is not the only type of criminal warfare in the Empire’s arsenal. Economic sanctions are just as much a crime against humanity as military attacks. No one should ever forget the 10 years of the US orchestrated UN sanctions against Iraq in the 1990’s that were responsible for the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children.  Primarily through executive order Trump has put some sort of sanctions on around one third of the countries of the world ranging in severity starting with the 60 year old unilateral blockade of Cuba for the crime of insisting on its sovereignty just 90 miles away, to the sanctioning of medicines and food to Venezuela causing the deaths of 40,000 people, the outright stealing of billions of dollars of their assets out of banks, and organizing coup plots against the democratically elected President, Nicolas Maduro.

Now the chickens have come to roost with Trump sending shadowy military units of federal agents into cities like Portland, Seattle and other cities like it was a military invasion of some poor country, barging in uninvited not to bring order and peace but to brutalize, escalate and provoke people in the streets who for months now have been demanding real justice and equality. The combination of the failure of the Trump Administration to confront the pandemic with any sort of will or a national science based plan, the existing economic crisis with its glaring separation of wealth and the endless murdering of people of color as normal police policy has exposed the system like never before. The growing consciousness of a majority of the US population that now seem to be getting that there has to be fundamental change will be the catalyst for real change to happen. It will not come from a government that does not reflect their interests but only through a unity of struggle will we be pointed in a direction that will push US crimes against humanity, at home and abroad, to become a thing of the past.

Death From the Sky: Hiroshima and Normalised Atrocities

When US President Harry S. Truman made the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, followed by another on Nagasaki a few days later, he was not acting as an agent untethered from history.  In the wheels of his wearied mind lay the battered Marines who, despite being victorious, had received sanguinary lashings at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

A fear grew, and US military sources speculated about, the slaughter that might follow an invasion of the Japanese homeland.  They also pondered the future role of the Soviets, and wondered whether there were other means by which Japan’s involvement in the war might be terminated before Moscow got its hands on the battered remains of North East Asia.

Much is made about the moral dilemma Truman faced.  He knew there was the nastiest of weapons at hand, born from the race to acquire it from Nazi Germany.  But on a certain level, it was merely another weapon, one to use, a choice sample in the cabinet of lethal means and measures.  By that stage of the war, killing civilians from the air, not to mention land, was banal and common place; enemy populations were to be experimented upon, burned, torched, gassed, shelled and eradicated in the program of total war.

By the time Truman made his decision, Japan had become a graveyard of strategic aerial bombing.  General Curtis E. LeMay of the US Air Force prided himself on incinerating the enemy, and was encouraged by various study commissions advocating the use of incendiary bombs against Japan’s flammable urban architecture.  He was realising the dreams of such figures as the pioneering US aviator and air power enthusiast Billy Mitchell, who fantasised in the 1920s about Japanese cities being “the greatest aerial targets the world has ever seen”. In 1941, US Army chief of staff George Marshall spread the word to journalists that the US would “set the paper cities of Japan on fire”.  Civilians would not be spared.

Towards the end of the war, daylight precision bombing had fallen out of favour; LeMay preferred the use of Boeing B-29 Superfortresses, heavily laden with firebombs, to do the work.  His pride of joy in conflagration was Tokyo.  During the six-hour raid over the night of March 9 and 10, 1945, the US Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that 87,793 had perished, with 40,918 injuries.

There was little novel in LeMay’s blunt approach.  Britain’s Air Force Marshal Arthur “Bomber” Harris fertilised the ground, and the air, for such an idea.  He made it his mission to not only kill Germans but kill German civilians with a cool determination. He did so with a workmanlike conviction so disturbing it chilled the blood of many Britons.  As he put it, “The cities of Germany, including their working populations, are literally the heart of Germany’s war potential.”  It was his intention to, he explained to personnel, “in addition to the horrors of fire … to bring masonry crashing down on top of the Boche, to kill the Boche and to terrify the Boche”.  The Teutonic enemy came, not so much in all shades, but one.  Saturation bombing, regarded after the Second World War as generally ineffective, a ghastly failure to bring the population to its knees, received its blessing in Bomber Command.

This entire process neutered the moral compass of its executioners.  Killing civilians had ceased to be a problem of war, one of those afterthoughts which served to sanction mass murder.  Britain’s chief of the air staff for a good deal of the war, Charles Portal, called it a “fallacy” that bombing Germany’s cities “was really intended to kill and frighten Germans and that we camouflaged this intention by the pretence that we would destroy industry.  Any such idea is completely false.  The loss of life, which amounted to some 600,000 killed, was purely incidental.”  When 600,000 becomes an incidental matter, we are well on the way to celebrating the charnel houses of indiscriminate war.

When the issue of saturation bombing creased the legal minds behind the Nuremberg and Tokyo war crimes trials, an admission had to be made: all sides of the Second World War had made the air a realm of convenience in the killing of humanity, uniformed or not.  To win was all that mattered.  While the Nuremberg Charter left it open to criminalise German aerial tactics, the International Military Tribunal hedged.  As chief of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Göring was singled out for air attacks on Poland and other states but the prosecutors refrained from pushing the point, likely reflecting the cold fact, as Matthew Lippmann puts it, “that both Germany and the Allies engaged in similar tactics.”

It is true that Germany and Japan gave a good pioneering go at indiscriminate aerial slaughter.  But the Allied powers, marshalling never before seen fleets of murderous bombers, perfected the bloody harvest.  The war had to be won, and, if needed, over the corpses of the hapless mother, defenceless child and frail grandparent.  As the historian Charles S. Maier notes with characteristic sharpness, a tacit consensus prevailed after the Second World War that the ledger of brutality was all stacked on one side.  German bombings during the Spanish Civil War, notably of Guernica; Warsaw, Rotterdam, London and Coventry during the world war that followed, were seen as “acts of wanton terror”. The Allied attacks on Italian, German and Japanese urban centres, in proportion and scale far more destructive, were seen as “legitimate military actions”.

Distinctions about civilian and non-civilian vanished in the atomic cloud.  Hiroshima’s tale is the apotheosis of eliminating distinctions in war.  It propagated such dangerous beliefs that nuclear wars might be won, sparing a handful of specialists and breeders in bunkers planning for the new post-apocalyptic dawn.  It normalised, even as it constituted a warning, the act of annihilation itself.

Prior to the twin incinerations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the redoubtable nurse and writer Vera Brittain issued a warning that remains salient to those who wish to resort to waging death from the sky:  “If the nations cannot agree, when peace returns, to refrain from the use of the bombing aeroplane as they have refrained from using poison gas, then mankind itself deserves to perish from the epidemic of moral insanity which today afflicts our civilisation.”

Reversal

Another Mother for Peace (Poster Credit: Lorraine Schneider, 1966)

With survival at stake, can weapon makers change course?

Today, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the atomic attack on Hiroshima, should be a day for quiet introspection. I recall a summer morning following the U.S. 2003 “Shock and Awe” invasion of Iraq when the segment of the Chicago River flowing past the headquarters of the world’s second largest defense contractor, Boeing, turned the rich, red color of blood.  At the water’s edge, Chicago activists, long accustomed to the river being dyed green on St. Patrick’s Day turned the river red to symbolize the bloodshed caused by Boeing products. On the bridge outside of Boeing’s entrance, activists held placards urging Boeing to stop making weapons.

This summer, orders for Boeing’s commercial jets have cratered during the pandemic, but the company’s revenue from weapon-making contracts remains steady. David Calhoun, Boeing’s CEO, recently expressed confidence the U.S. government will support defense industries no matter who occupies the Oval Office. Both presidential candidates appear “globally oriented,” he said, “and interested in the defense of our country.”

Investors should ask how Boeing’s contract to deliver 1,000 SLAM- ER weapons (Standoff Land Attack Missiles-Expanded Response) to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia “defends” the United States.

Here are excerpts from Jeffrey Stern’s account of a missile’s impact on the town of Arhab in a remote area of Yemen. In this case, the missile was manufactured by Raytheon:

Now, as Fahd walked into the hut, a weapon about the length of a compact car was wobbling gracelessly down through the air toward him, losing altitude and unspooling an arming wire that connected it to the jet until, once it had extended a few feet, the wire ran out and ripped from the bomb.

Then it was as if the weapon woke up. A thermal battery was activated. Three fins on the rear extended all the way and locked in place. The bomb stabilized in the air. A guidance-control unit on the nose locked onto a laser reflection — invisible to the naked eye but meaningful to the bomb — sparkling on the rocks Fahd walked over.

At the well, at the moment of impact, a series of events happened almost instantaneously. The nose of the weapon hit rock, tripping a fuse in its tail section that detonated the equivalent of 200 pounds of TNT. When a bomb like this explodes, the shell fractures into several thousand pieces, becoming a jigsaw puzzle of steel shards flying through the air at up to eight times the speed of sound. Steel moving that fast doesn’t just kill people; it rearranges them. It removes appendages from torsos; it disassembles bodies and redistributes their parts.

Fahd had just stepped into the stone shelter and registered only a sudden brightness. He heard nothing. He was picked up, pierced with shrapnel, spun around and then slammed into the back wall, both of his arms shattering — the explosion so forceful that it excised seconds from his memory. Metal had bit into leg, trunk, jaw, eye; one piece entered his back and exited his chest, leaving a hole that air and liquid began to fill, collapsing his lungs. By the time he woke up, crumpled against stone, he was suffocating. Somehow he had survived, but he was killing himself with every breath, and he was bleeding badly. But he wasn’t even aware of any of these things, because his brain had been taken over by pain that seemed to come from another world.

In 2019, the UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen observed “the continued supply of weapons to parties involved in Yemen perpetuates the conflict and the suffering of the population.”

These experts say “the conduct of hostilities by the parties to the conflict, including by airstrikes and shelling, may amount to serious violations of international humanitarian law.”

A year and a half ago, were it not for a presidential veto, both houses of the U.S. Congress would have enacted a law banning weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.

Another end-user of Boeing’s weapons is the Israeli Defense Force.

The company has provided Israel with AH-64 Apache helicopters, F-15 fighter jetsHellfire missiles (produced with Lockheed Martin), MK-84 2000-lb bombs, MK-82 500-lb bombs, and Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) kits that turn bombs into “smart” GPS-equipped guided bombs. Boeing’s Harpoon sea-to-sea missile system is installed on the upgraded 4.5 Sa’ar missile ships of the Israeli Navy.

Apache helicopters, Hellfire and Harpoon missiles, JDAM guiding systems, and Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) munitions have been used repeatedly in Israeli attacks on densely populated civilian areas, resulting in thousands of civilian casualties in Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza. The human rights community, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’Tselem, and United Nations commissions, ruled these attacks to be human rights violations and at times war crimes.

I lived with a family in Gaza during the final days of the 2009 “Operation Cast Lead” bombing. Abu Yusuf, Umm Yusuf, and their two small children, Yusuf and Shahid, welcomed Audrey Stewart and me to stay with them. Once every 11 minutes from 11 p.m. – 1:00 a.m. and again from 3:00 a.m. – 6:00 a.m., we heard an ear-splitting blast. Normally, I wouldn’t have known the difference between the sound of a Hellfire Missile exploding and that of a 500 lb. bomb dropped from an F-15, but soon I could tell the difference. Little Yusuf and Shahid taught us to distinguish one gut-wrenching sound from the other. They had been cringing under the bombs for 18 days and nights.

I don’t see how the sale of weapons to governments which use them against civilian populations, against people like Fahad, in Arhab or Abu Yusuf and his family in Gaza, defends people in the U.S.

Boeing’s vast resources for scientific know-how, skillful engineering, and creative innovation could, however, help defend the U.S. against the greatest threat we  now face, environmental climate catastrophe. Writing for The New York Review of Books, Bill McKibben predicts “a century of crises, many of them more dangerous than what we’re living through right now.” The main question, he says, is whether human beings can hold the alarming rise in temperature “to a point where we can at great expense and suffering, deal with those crises coherently, or whether they will overwhelm the coping abilities of our civilization.”

“A rise of one degree doesn’t sound like an extraordinary change,” McKibben writes, “but it is: each second, the carbon and methane we’ve emitted trap heat equivalent to the explosion of three Hiroshima-sized bombs.”

Boeing’s engineers, scientists, designers and marketers could help turn the tide of human actions destroying our earth. Their expertise could truly “defend” people.

There’s a lesson to be learned from the river flowing outside of Boeing’s headquarters. It actually flows backwards. Long ago, brilliant engineers designed a way for the river to reverse its course. In doing so, they saved Chicago from sewage contamination of its drinking water supply – Lake Michigan. This action was hailed as one of the great engineering wonders of the world.

The City’s sewers discharged human and industrial wastes directly to its rivers, which in turn flowed into the lake. A particularly heavy rainstorm in 1885 caused sewage to be flushed into the lake beyond the clean water intakes. The resulting typhoid, cholera, and dysentery epidemics killed an estimated 12 percent of Chicago’s 750,000 residents, and raised a public outcry to find a permanent solution to the city’s water supply and sewage disposal crisis.”

The Sanitary and Ship Canal was constructed at an estimated cost of over $70,000,000. After its completion, in 1900, waterborne disease rates quickly and dramatically improved, and its water supply system was soon regarded as being one of the safest in the world. With its water source made safe and dependable by the canals, Chicago and the region grew and prospered rapidly.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to dye the Chicago River red or green. We need to protect the river and all wildlife dependent on it. But, we must continually confront Boeing and other weapon manufacturers, and insist they not destroy lives, homes and infrastructures in other lands. We must urge Boeing, like the river, to reverse course and participate, with dignity and humility, in the pursuit of human survival.

75 Years Since Hiroshima: Nuclear Sword of Damocles Hangs Over Humanity

“Some fell to the ground and their stomachs already expanded full, burst and organs fell out. Others had skin falling off them and others still were carrying limbs. And one in particular was carrying their eyeballs in their hand.”

The above is an account by a Hiroshima survivor talking about the fate of her schoolmates. It was read out in the British parliament in 2016 by Scottish National Party MP Chris Law during a debate about Britain’s nuclear arsenal.

In response to a question from another Scottish National Party MP, George Kereven, the then British PM Theresa May said without hesitation that, if necessary, she would authorise the use of a nuclear weapon that would kill hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children. Previous PMs had been unwilling to give a direct answer to such a question.

But let’s be clear: a single modern nuclear weapon would most likely end up killing many millions, whether immediately or slowly, and is designed to be much more devastating than those dropped by the US on Japan.

In 2016, the then opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn stated that he would not make a decision that would take the lives of millions. He said, “I do not believe the threat of mass murder is a legitimate way to go about international relations.”

It says much about the type of society we have when someone like Corbyn or Green Party MP Caroline Lucas were attacked by the mainstream and depicted as some kind of hare-brained extremists who would place ‘the nation’ in danger because they did not want Britain to renew its submarine-based Trident nuclear missile system (at the cost of at least £100 billion in ‘cash-strapped’ austerity Britain).

Chiming in with gutter tactics, May suggested that those wishing to scrap Britain’s nuclear weapons were siding with the nation’s ‘enemies’.

Reading from the script

Politicians like May read from a script devised by elite interests. These interests are from the highest levels of finance capital and transnational corporations and dictate global economic policies. They have imposed a form of globalisation that has resulted in devastating destruction and war for those who attempt to remain independent or structural violence via privatisation and economic neo-liberalism for millions in countries that have acquiesced.

Nuclear weapons hang over humanity like the sword of Damocles – not to protect the masses from the wicked bogeyman, but to protect the power and wealth of this US-led capitalist elite from competing elites in other major nations or to bully and coerce with the aim of expanding influence.

For those who are aware of the ruthlessness of imperialist intent and the death and destruction it brings, Theresa May’s comments may come as no surprise at all.

But what about the wider population? Those who believe the sanctimonious dross pumped into their heads by Hollywood and the corporate media about the US-led West being a civilising force for good in a barbaric world.

What civilised ‘values’ was May basing her threat of mass murder on when she spoke of unleashing a nuclear weapon?

The US is now committed to making its nuclear arsenal more ‘tactical’ – by manufacturing more ‘usable’ nuclear weapons. At the same time, it continues to ramp up pressure on nuclear armed China. Aside from the very real threat of nuclear war being sparked by ‘accident’, nuclear conflict is no longer ‘unthinkable’.

The media and much of the public seem to shrug their shoulders and accept that nuclear weapons are essential and the mass murder of sections of humanity is perfectly acceptable in the face of some fabricated, whipped-up paranoia about ‘Russian aggression’ (or Chinese, Iranian or North Korean – take your pick).

Many believe nuclear weapons are a necessary evil and fall into line with hegemonic thinking about humanity being inherently conflictual, competitive and war-like. Such tendencies do, of course, exist, but they do not exist in a vacuum. They are fuelled by capitalism and imperialism and played upon by politicians, the media and elite interests who seek to scare the population into accepting a ‘necessary’ status quo.

Co-operation and equality are as much a part of any arbitrary aspect of ‘human nature’ as any other defined characteristic. These values are, however, sidelined by a capitalism that is inherently conflict-ridden and entangled in its own contradictions and which fuels wealth accumulation for the few, exploitation (of labour, peoples and the environment), war and a zero-sum class-based system of power.

Much of humanity has been convinced to accept the potential for instant nuclear Armageddon hanging over its collective head as a given, as a ‘deterrent’. If the 20th century has shown us anything, it is that elites are adept at gathering the masses under notions of the flag, ‘the bomb’ and king or god (or whatever) and country to justify their terror.

There is an alternative

Instead of accepting it as ‘normal’ when someone like May advocates mass murder in the name of peace or she and others accuse those who refuse to comply as being a danger to the nation, it is time to move beyond rhetoric and for ordinary people to take responsibility and act.

Writing on the Countercurrents website, Robert J Burrowes says this about responsibility:

Many people evade responsibility, of course, simply by believing and acting as if someone else, perhaps even ‘the government’, is ‘properly’ responsible. Undoubtedly, however, the most widespread ways of evading responsibility are to deny any responsibility for military violence while paying the taxes to finance it, denying any responsibility for adverse environmental and climate impacts while making no effort to reduce consumption, denying any responsibility for the exploitation of other people while buying the cheap products produced by their exploited (and sometimes slave) labour, denying any responsibility for the exploitation of animals despite eating and/or otherwise consuming a range of animal products, and denying any part in inflicting violence, especially on children, without understanding the many forms this violence can take.

Burrowes concludes by saying that ultimately, we evade responsibility by ignoring the existence of a problem.

Of course, not everything can or should be laid at the door of capitalism. Human suffering, misery and conflict have been a feature throughout history and have taken place under various economic and political systems. Indeed, in his various articles, Burrowes goes deep into the psychology and causes of violence.

He is correct to argue that we should take responsibility and act because there is potentially a different path for humanity. In 1990, the late British MP Tony Benn gave a speech in parliament that indicated the kind of values that such a route might be based on.

Benn spoke about having been on a crowded train, where people had been tapping away on calculators and not interacting or making eye contact with one another. It represented what Britain had become under Thatcherism: excessively individualistic, materialistic, narcissistic and atomised.

The train broke down. As time went by, people began to talk with one another, offer snacks and share stories. Benn said it wasn’t too long before that train had been turned into a socialist train of self-help, communality and comradeship. Despite the damaging policies and ideology of Thatcherism, these features had survived her tenure, were deeply embedded and never too far from the surface.

For Tony Benn, what had been witnessed aboard that train was an aspect of ‘human nature’ that is too often suppressed, devalued and, when used as a basis for political change, regarded as a threat to ruling interests. It is an aspect that draws on notions of unity, solidarity, common purpose, self-help and finds its ultimate expression in the vibrancy of community, the collective ownership of common resources and co-operation.

The type of values far removed from the destructive, divisive ones which mainstream politicians and their backers seek to protect and promote.

Making America Feared Again:  The Trump Administration Considers Resuming Nuclear Weapons Testing

Americans who grew up with nightmares of nuclear weapons explosions should get ready for some terrifying flashbacks, for the Trump administration appears to be preparing to resume U.S. nuclear weapons tests.

The U.S. government stopped its atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in 1962, shortly before signing the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963.  And it halted its underground nuclear tests in 1992, signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996.  Overall, it conducted 1,030 nuclear weapons test explosions, slightly more than half the global total.

Nuclear tests, of course, enabled the nine nuclear powers to develop bigger and more efficient nuclear weapons for the purpose of waging nuclear war.  Along the way, millions of people in the United States and other nations died or developed illnesses caused by the radioactive fallout from these tests.

The CTBT, which banned all nuclear weapons tests, has been signed by 184 nations, including the United States.  This century, only North Korea has flouted the treaty, triggering an avalanche of condemnation from other nations.

But the Trump administration now seems to be preparing to ignore treaty constraints and world opinion by reviving nuclear weapons explosions.  A Washington Post article reported that, in mid-May 2020, a meeting of senior U.S. officials from top national security agencies engaged in serious discussions about U.S. nuclear test resumption.  According to one official, the idea was that test renewal would help pressure Russia and China into making concessions during future negotiations over nuclear weapons.

In an apparent follow-up, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) introduced an amendment to the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would give the Trump administration “no less than $10 million” to conduct a nuclear weapons test, “if necessary.”  Taken up by the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 10, the amendment passed by a vote along strict party lines.  Currently, Congress is debating the NDAA.

Meanwhile, during a press briefing in Brussels, the administration’s special envoy for arms control stated that the U.S. government “will maintain the ability to conduct nuclear tests if we see reason to do so.”  Although he said he was “not aware of any reason to test at this stage,” he added that he would not “shut the door on it,” either.  “Why would we?”

Actually, there are numerous reasons why the resumption of U.S. nuclear weapons explosions is a terrible idea.  If the U.S. government began atmospheric nuclear testing, it would violate the Partial Test Ban Treaty (which it ratified), as well as the CTBT (which it signed but, thanks to Republican Senate opposition, has not yet ratified).  Even if U.S. nuclear tests were conducted underground and, thus, violated only the CTBT, the result would be a dramatic loss of credibility for the United States and an escalation of the nuclear arms race.  As Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, has remarked:  “Other nuclear powers would undoubtedly seize the opportunity provided by a U.S. nuclear blast to engage in explosive tests of their own, which could help them perfect new and more dangerous types of warheads.”

In addition, a considerable number of non-nuclear nations might decide that, given the U.S. government’s failure to fulfill its treaty obligations, their adherence to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty no longer made sense.  Therefore, they would begin nuclear testing to facilitate developing their own nuclear weapons arsenals.

Furthermore, U.S. nuclear weapons explosions, whether in the atmosphere or underground, would have serious health and environmental consequences.  Even underground U.S. tests have released large quantities of radioactive fallout, and the U.S. government is still dealing with the devastation they caused to communities near the testing sites.  Furthermore, no method has been found for cleaning up the plutonium and other radionuclides that the tests have left underground.

Remarkably, there is no military necessity for nuclear test resumption.  Not only does the U.S. government possess nearly half the world’s nuclear weapons, which are quite sufficient to eradicate life on earth, but the occasionally-cited justification for testing―that it is necessary to make sure U.S. weapons actually work—is deeply flawed.  The U.S. government has spent tens of billions of dollars on the Stockpile Stewardship Program, a wide range of diagnostic, non-explosive tests, to ensure that its nuclear weapons are reliable.  And every year the directors of the U.S. nuclear weapons labs report that they are.

In fact, the nuclear testing now being considered by the Trump administration is designed with the same purpose that weapons have traditionally had in world affairs:  to intimidate other nations.  Within this framework, it makes perfect sense to use U.S. military might to bully the Russian and Chinese governments into compliance with U.S. government demands.  The problem with that kind of thinking is that military intimidation is a very dangerous game, especially when it’s played with nuclear weapons.

Naturally, nuclear critics have assailed Trump’s new military gambit.  John Tierney, the executive director of the Council for a Livable World, declared that the administration’s reported consideration of nuclear tests “was as reckless as it was stupid.  The United States does not need to conduct explosive nuclear tests and we don’t want anyone else to, either.”  Congressional Democrats have been particularly outspoken in opposition.  In early June, Senator Edward Markey (D-MA), a long-time Congressional leader on nuclear arms control and disarmament issues—joined by 13 other Democratic Senators, including Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer—introduced the Preserving Leadership Against Nuclear Explosives Testing (PLANET) Act, which would prohibit funding for U.S. nuclear tests.

On July 16, Markey joined distinguished scientists and other nuclear experts at a virtual press conference to announce the publication of an Open Letter in Science calling upon the nation’s scientific community to support the PLANET Act and oppose nuclear test resumption.

Who knows?  Under fire, Trump might suddenly declare that he never heard of the idea!

Humanity is an Endangered Species

Have you noticed recently that things are collapsing?

Sure, the right-wing, nationalist rulers of many countries never stop telling us that they have made their nations “great” again.

But we would have to be dislocated from reality not to notice that something is wrong―very wrong.  After all, the world is currently engulfed in a coronavirus pandemic that has already infected over 12.5 million people, taken over 550,000 lives, and created massive economic disruption.  And the pandemic is accelerating, while, according to scientists, new and more terrible diseases are in the offing.

Moreover, we are now experiencing a rapidly-growing environmental catastrophe.  Not only are industrial pollutants poisoning the air, the water, and the land as never before, but climate change is making the planet uninhabitable.  Extreme heat, drought, storms, floods, melting glaciers, and rising sea levels are wreaking havoc on an unprecedented scale.  This June, the temperature in the Arctic reached 100.4 degrees fahrenheit―the hottest on record.

In addition, defying all reason, nations persist in arming themselves for a nuclear war that will destroy virtually all life on earth.  Publicly threatening nuclear war and casting aside or rejecting major nuclear arms control and disarmament treaties, the nuclear powers are currently engaged in an extensive nuclear weapons buildup, with the U.S. government alone planning to spend at least $1.5 trillion on this project.  In response to the looming catastrophe, the editors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recently placed the hands of their famous “Doomsday Clock” at 100 seconds to midnight―the most dangerous setting in its 73-year history.

Even if these disastrous developments fail to snuff out the human race, plenty of mass misery can be expected from the rising economic and social inequality occurring around the globe.  According to a UN study, released in January 2020, 70 percent of the world’s people suffer from growing economic inequality.  In a foreword to the study, UN Secretary General António Guterres declared that the world is confronting “the harsh realities of a deeply unequal landscape,” characterized by “a vicious cycle of inequality, frustration, and discontent.”  Feeding on popular fears and anxieties, racism and xenophobia are on the rise.

But extinction or, at best, mass misery, need not be humanity’s fate.  Thanks to very substantial advances in knowledge over the centuries, plus the efforts of creative thinkers and determined reform movements, human beings have shown a remarkable ability to confront challenges and to improve the human condition.  From the abolition of slavery to the creation of public education, the banning of child labor, the guaranteeing of old age security, the legalization of unions, the recognition of women’s rights, and the defense of gay rights, previously unimaginable changes have been promoted and implemented.

Why should we assume that we are incapable of responding to today’s crises?  Working together, physicians and other scientists have either eradicated or dramatically reduced the range of numerous diseases, including smallpox, polio, guinea worm, malaria, and measles.  Responding to climate change activism, scientists and engineers have developed methods to utilize solar and wind power to replace fossil fuels.  Similarly, critics of the nuclear arms race and wise statesmen have fostered nuclear arms control and disarmament treaties and helped prevent nuclear war.  Furthermore, numerous movements have succeeded, on occasion, in securing a more equitable distribution of wealth and a reduction in discrimination.

Of course, the changes necessary to cope with today’s crises will not be obtained easily.  To successfully battle pandemics, it will be essential to create a far stronger public health system, accessible to everyone.  Combatting climate change will almost certainly require challenging the vast power of the fossil fuel industry.  To avert nuclear war, it will probably be necessary to both ban nuclear weapons and create a stronger international security system.  And when it comes to securing greater economic and social equality, limiting corporate greed, taxing the rich, and reducing deep-seated prejudices remain imperative.

Even if these conditions are met, however, another challenge remains, for implementing these kinds of changes necessitates action on a worldwide basis.  After all, disease pandemics, climate catastrophe, nuclear war, and economic and social inequality are global problems that require global solutions.  As the director general of the World Health Organization remarked in late June, the greatest threat to humanity from the coronavirus is not the virus itself, but “the lack of global solidarity” in dealing with it.  He added:  “We cannot defeat this pandemic with a divided world.”  Much the same could be said about overcoming the other onrushing disasters.

Although there is not much time left before the world succumbs to one or more catastrophes, human beings have been able to alter their behavior and institutions.  Let’s hope they will rouse themselves and do so again.

The Final 100 Seconds

(Courtesy of Globe and Mail)

Never before this year 2020 has the world-famous Doomsday Clock registered only “100 seconds-to-midnight.”  According to the Science & Security Board, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, since WWII, the world has never been so perilous.

Alas, it’s been a long journey (73 yrs) all the way up to 100 seconds to midnight versus the original 1947 setting of seven minutes to midnight. The safest setting was at 17 minutes to midnight in 1991 at the end of the Cold War. The wonderfully famous iconic clock is located in the lobby of the Bulletin offices at the University of Chicago.

Unceremoniously, recklessly the Trump administration carries the indisputable title as one of the most dangerous executives in the history of the country with two key issues that determine the clock’s settings:  (1) climate change deniers and (2) atomic bomb explosion enthusiasts for simplicity of political gain, nothing else.

The Doomsday Clock is set by a board of scientists and professionals with depth of knowledge about nuclear technology and climate science. They are established professionals that often provide expert advice to governments and international agencies. Impressively, the Bulletins’ Board of Sponsors includes 13 Nobel Laureates.

The Doomsday Clock is internationally recognized as an important SOS of impending catastrophe. University of Chicago scientists that developed the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project founded the concept back in 1945. Thereafter, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock two years later.

Accordingly, as of June 2020:

In the view of many, the Trump administration’s proposal to expand spending on nuclear weapons is a sad and dangerous illustration of wildly misplaced federal spending priorities. As it proposed a 19 percent increase for nuclear weapons next year, the White House initially planned to slash the budgets for the Centers for Disease Control by 19 percent and the National Institutes of Health by 7 percent. The Pentagon’s proposal to cut the budget for the Cooperative Threat Reduction program in order to fund weapons modernization amid a global pandemic is shockingly reckless.1

In an incredibly mind-boggling act of near lunacy, senior White House officials have discussed conducting the first U.S. nuclear weapon test explosion since 1992, as a multi-billion dollar chest-thumping gesture aimed at Russia and China.

Several organizations have sent letters to Congress demanding prevention of funding for such boldfaced recklessness, and as a consequence, the likely start of a new nuclear arms race.

Eighty members of Congress have called on Trump to drop the insanity of renewed atomic bomb testing, calling it an “awful” and “dangerously provocative” proposal that would likely re-ignite a new nuclear arms race.

According to former Ambassador Thomas Graham, Jr., who led the successful US effort to indefinitely extend the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, such tests would “undermine 50 years of foundational global agreement that has curbed the spread of nuclear weapons under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. 2

Additionally, Sara Z. Kutchesfahani of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists said:

A U.S. resumption of nuclear tests would send a bad signal to other countries and prompt them to test and create their own nuclear weapons. Moreover, innocent bystanders could be exposed to the radioactive fallout from a nuclear explosion. Tens of thousands of people have been afflicted by leukemia, thyroid cancer, miscarriages, and severe birth defects as a result of past nuclear testing in the United States alone.3

Radioactive isotopes kill and/or maim protoplasm; i.e., living cells in people. A relatively new study by Keith A. Meyers, Danish Institute for Advanced Study, traced the effects of US radiation from 1951 to 1963 from above ground atomic tests in Nevada. Meyers utilized National Cancer Institute records of Iodine 131, a dangerous isotope released in the Nevada tests, found in county-level mortality records, thereby discovering the gruesome fact that US nuclear testing killed hundreds of thousands of people, previously not accounted for.  After all, nuclear emissions or radioactive isotopes drift in the atmosphere or otherwise lodge in soil and water, ending up in udders of cows that produce milk, amongst other horrors and misdeeds committed by radioactive isotopes.

As it happened, development of atomic bombs by the US carelessly created a weapon against its own people. This gruesome fact has largely been ignored by politics of all persuasions, but it’s a crime against humanity. Isn’t it?

For example, US atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed 250,000 people in the immediate aftermath. Whereas, Meyers’ research found the hidden human costs in developing nuclear weapons to be much, much, much larger than ever realized with radioactive fallout responsible for 340,000 to 690,00 American deaths from 1951 to 1973. 4  That’s roughly equivalent to one-half of America’s WWII deaths.

Yet, there remains a missing component to the fallout of radioactivity, as nobody has measured the number of cases of chronic illnesses attributable to America’s nuclear testing in the barren desert. Alas, it is likely impossible to do so. Nevertheless, something anomalous in the environment, maybe radioactive isotopes and/or toxic chemicals in soil and water, or both, are responsible for an outbreak of 150,000,000 cases of chronic illness in the United States (RAND Corporation 2017 study) for example: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, arthritis, asthma, cancer, cystic fibrosis, COPD, Crohn’s disease, heart disease, epilepsy, bipolar disorder, multiple sclerosis, and diabetes. Only a toxic environment can be responsible for such large-scale chronic illnesses of nearly 50% of an entire population!

The truth is that chronic diseases are not a function of infectious diseases like coronaviruses that spread person-to-person. Rather, chronic diseases are largely a result of a combination of a despoiled environment and unhealthy life styles.

America’s unique experience of radioactive isotopes (the Nevada test site conducted 1,021 nuclear explosions from 1951-1992) combined with thousands of chemicals exposed to the environment since 1950 are likely responsible for a major chunk of America’s sickness epidemic of chronic diseases numbering 150,000,000, and still counting.

On August 5, 1963, President Kennedy, along with the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, allowing the Doomsday Clock advisory committee to take a deep breath, Whew!

The Doomsday Clock was designed to warn the public about how close we are to destroying our world with dangerous technologies of our own making. The final 100 seconds doesn’t leave much room for error.

For additional context on nuclear explosions see Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (Columbia Pictures, 1964) staring Peter Sellers and George C. Scott, and reminisce along with the inspirational WWII song “We’ll Meet Again” alongside a montage of nuclear explosions at film’s end, visually exciting but ghastly in person, especially for B-52 pilot Major King Kong (Slim Perkins) riding the nuclear bomb to a Soviet target. That phallic imagery is hugely relevant today.

  1. Kingston Reif, “Debating US Nuclear Spending in the Age of the Coronavirus”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, June 10, 2020.
  2. “The Trump Administration’s Nuclear Test Delusions”, Just Security, June 10, 2020.
  3. Andrea Germanos, staff writer, “80 Lawmakers Demand Trump Ditch Any Thought of Resuming ‘Dangerously Provocative’ Nuclear Tests”, Limitless Life, June 14, 2020.
  4. “US Nuclear Tests Killed Far More Civilians Than We Knew”, Quartz, Quarterly Sector Update, December 21, 2017.