Apocalypse Soon?

January 26, 2007

Robert McNamara - Apocalypse Soon?

I’ll let Robert McNamara, the former Defense Secretary of the U.S., to lay it out for me instead:

It is time—well past time, in my view—for the United States to cease its Cold War-style reliance on nuclear weapons as a foreign-policy tool. At the risk of appearing simplistic and provocative, I would characterize current U.S. nuclear weapons policy as immoral, illegal, militarily unnecessary, and dreadfully dangerous. The risk of an accidental or inadvertent nuclear launch is unacceptably high. Far from reducing these risks, the Bush administration has signaled that it is committed to keeping the U.S. nuclear arsenal as a mainstay of its military power—a commitment that is simultaneously eroding the international norms that have limited the spread of nuclear weapons and fissile materials for 50 years. Much of the current U.S. nuclear policy has been in place since before I was secretary of defense, and it has only grown more dangerous and diplomatically destructive in the intervening years.

I am no fan of McNamara’s lasting legacy – the Vietnam War, the “metrics” of the time, how many were killed on both sides just to prove who was right… but that does not mean the guy does NOT know what he is talking about. This is not Donald Rumsfeld: at least McNamara grew wise in his later years, while Rumsfeld apparently got more power-hungry. He knows what apocalypse can look like, and it ain’t pretty:

The destructive power of nuclear weapons is well known, but given the United States’ continued reliance on them, it’s worth remembering the danger they present. A 2000 report by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War describes the likely effects of a single 1 megaton weapon—dozens of which are contained in the Russian and U.S. inventories. At ground zero, the explosion creates a crater 300 feet deep and 1,200 feet in diameter. Within one second, the atmosphere itself ignites into a fireball more than a half-mile in diameter. The surface of the fireball radiates nearly three times the light and heat of a comparable area of the surface of the sun, extinguishing in seconds all life below and radiating outward at the speed of light, causing instantaneous severe burns to people within one to three miles. A blast wave of compressed air reaches a distance of three miles in about 12 seconds, flattening factories and commercial buildings. Debris carried by winds of 250 mph inflicts lethal injuries throughout the area. At least 50 percent of people in the area die immediately, prior to any injuries from radiation or the developing firestorm.

Of course, our knowledge of these effects is not entirely hypothetical. Nuclear weapons, with roughly one seventieth of the power of the 1 megaton bomb just described, were twice used by the United States in August 1945. One atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Around 80,000 people died immediately; approximately 200,000 died eventually. Later, a similar size bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. On Nov. 7, 1995, the mayor of Nagasaki recalled his memory of the attack in testimony to the International Court of Justice:

Nagasaki became a city of death where not even the sound of insects could be heard. After a while, countless men, women and children began to gather for a drink of water at the banks of nearby Urakami River, their hair and clothing scorched and their burnt skin hanging off in sheets like rags. Begging for help they died one after another in the water or in heaps on the banks.… Four months after the atomic bombing, 74,000 people were dead, and 75,000 had suffered injuries, that is, two-thirds of the city population had fallen victim to this calamity that came upon Nagasaki like a preview of the Apocalypse.

Why did so many civilians have to die? Because the civilians, who made up nearly 100 percent of the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were unfortunately “co-located” with Japanese military and industrial targets. Their annihilation, though not the objective of those dropping the bombs, was an inevitable result of the choice of those targets. It is worth noting that during the Cold War, the United States reportedly had dozens of nuclear warheads targeted on Moscow alone, because it contained so many military targets and so much “industrial capacity.”

Of course, the president of the United States can’t just launch a nuclear war without Congressional authorization, can he?

The whole situation seems so bizarre as to be beyond belief. On any given day, as we go about our business, the president is prepared to make a decision within 20 minutes that could launch one of the most devastating weapons in the world. To declare war requires an act of congress, but to launch a nuclear holocaust requires 20 minutes’ deliberation by the president and his advisors. But that is what we have lived with for 40 years. With very few changes, this system remains largely intact[…]

Believe it or not, if someone is crazy enough to push “the button”, we could be in an all-out nuclear war in less than an hour. In other words, all of us can die and not even know why. Is it too much to ask, please keep Bush & Cheney under adult supervision at all times?

By the way, the picture above is for the movie The Fog of War, which won the 2004 Oscar for Best Documentary. The picture above is very symbolic: an old man standing alone, who doesn’t look like much, but once upon a time was practically the gatekeeper of a nuclear world. Again, I am against all McNamara stood for in the Vietnam War, but contrary to Rumsfeld, he grew up, so to speak, and needs to be listened to. As of now, he is in the same position as in that picture: standing alone, without being listened to.

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