Public Comment

Commentary: Nuclear Weapons

By Marvin Chachere
Tuesday June 05, 2007

From time to time we read news stories about nuclear non-proliferation but seldom does the media attend to the general risk involving the existence of these “doomsday weapons.” The reason the media avoids this angle may be similar to the reason New Orleaneans avoid talk about hurricanes yet to come and Californians don’t talk much about earthquakes. Precisely because it is inevitable, forecasting regional destruction is uncertain and media reports arouse unnecessary un-ease. A more likely reason is cowardice: analyzing the possibility of total extinction exposes the absolute futility of everything else.  

Imagine a forested landscape where the atmosphere, under certain conditions, will produce a nuclear storm, total annihilation, by accident maybe but maybe not. Given this prospect, trees (standing for domestic and international problems) don’t much matter.  

Have we lived with the nearness of nuclear horror for so long that we can afford to forget about it or to take it for granted? Perhaps we as a nation think that being the world’s foremost nuclear power makes us secure.  

Ninety-two days after 9/11 president Bush officially withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, thereby paving the way for resurrecting Reagan’s “Star Wars” boondoggle. The president’s action, consistent with the “second coming” of the neo-cons, enticed taxpayers into believing that maintaining nuclear superiority is a vital part of national security.  

Recently, ignoring criticism from scientists and rejecting protests from Russia, the White House announced that it will modernize and expand our country’s huge nuclear arsenal; it plans to develop new RRWs (reliable replacement warheads) and to install new missile sites in Poland and radar sites in the Czech Republic. This places us on the verge of an outer space arms race. 

When the Cold War ended our MAD (mutual assured destruction) foreign policy morphed into carrot-stick agreements, pledges, promises and pacts, relying on honor among nations to block the use and curtail the proliferation of nuclear weapons.  

From a practical point of view “non-proliferation” has meant (and still means) maintaining the status quo and especially our lead position. (The lead position, in every arena, is the hardest to hold and the most frequently attacked.) 

Needless to say, nuclear bombs separate us who have them from others who do not and although this may give us an edge it is a tenuous one because every nation today has access to the science, if not the capability, of releasing energy locked in the nucleus of atoms. 

Having been the first and so far the only nation to use this awesome weapon we struggle to retain the world’s respect. We did what we did in a worthy cause, we say. In other words, we claimed moral power sufficient to deploy the means (atomic bombs) deemed necessary to achieve the end (defeating Japan).  

If the ends justified the means in that instance, it may do so again. Thus, for us, double standard is our standard—all right for us but not all right for you.  

The Bush administration goes further. It proliferates even as it demands non-proliferation; neo-cons do not trust others – China, Russia, North Korea, Iran—but they insist that others trust them.  

Alas, conservative policy makers, having no precedent for controlling the spread of nuclear weapons, resort to analogies. Laws restricting the possession of handguns are not very effective and so, unable to keep guns out of the hands of bad guys, some conservatives, invoking the Second Amendment, advocate putting them in the hands of good guys. This despairing attitude is echoed internationally: so-called “rogue nations” must not be allowed nuclear weapons.  

Nuclear armament, however, introduces something infinitely more lethal than hand guns, and to curtail their spread, whether to rogue or non-rogue nations, requires much more than fine tuning analogous control mechanisms. Nuclear non-proliferation is a new species of problem for it involves devising some way to prevent the spread of scientific knowledge. We could more easily prevent the flight of a cloud.  

Consider how we got where we are. 

The top secret detonation of the first atomic bomb before dawn at Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945 exceeded the predictions of the team of scientists who brought its awesome potential to fruition. That explosion was so stupendous it effectively blasted a hole in time disconnecting everything that was there before from everything that came after. On that day science brought forth the “destroyer of worlds.”  

In less than a month atomic bombs destroyed most of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and a few months later scientist developed nuclear bombs of more breathtaking capability. As time went by the Soviet Union, France and Great Britain joined the nuclear weapons club, then came the Peoples Republic of China and today there are three more, Israel, India and Pakistan.  

Nuclear bombs have the potential to reverse time and send the earth itself back to its initial condition as cosmic dust—Apocalypse now!  

When (not if) North Korea and Iran, crash their way, as India and Pakistan did, uninvited into the club, others will no doubt do the same because the “destroyer of worlds” is as unstoppable as the cloud of ideas that created it.  

The enormous magnitude of a nuclear explosion belittles earthquakes, hurricanes, floods; the prospect of it overshadows global warming. Nuclear Armageddon will make the future irrelevant; it would not just interrupt time but erase it altogether.  

Nuclear weapons color every contention with the dark possibility of annihilation. The “destroyer of worlds” obliges nations and indeed all mankind to measure themselves, their priorities and their relationships sub specie aeternitatem, from the standpoint of eternity. 

Two millennia ago another event occurred that slowly spread and irreversibly changed the world. Its mighty force is symbolized even today in the way we, in western culture, track and record time—B.C. for the run of years before, and A.D. for the run of years after the birth of Christ.  

Christ’s followers believe their power derives from a God who is the creator of life, while nations in the nuclear armaments club can release “the destroyer of worlds” with the press of a button and thereby obliterate the very possibility of life!  


Marvin Chachere is a San Pablo resident.