Nuclear Firecrackers for the Fourth of July

W.J. Astore

Did you know the U.S. is developing a new land-based ICBM? That’s intercontinental ballistic missile, and back in the 1980s we pretty much considered them obsolete in the Air Force. That’s because they’re the least survivable “leg” of the nuclear triad, which consists of ICBMs, nuclear bombers like the B-2 stealth, and submarines like the current Ohio-class ones armed with Trident missiles.

But never mind all that. When I visited Los Alamos National Laboratory (home of the Manhattan Project) as an Air Force captain in the spring of 1992, the mood there was glum. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Los Alamos was facing major cuts in funding, since back then we naively believed there was going to be a “peace dividend” and the U.S. would return to being a normal country in normal times. We wouldn’t have to “invest,” as our military likes to say, in more nukes. We had plenty already; indeed, more than enough to end life on earth.

But that was then and this is now and the Biden administration, joining the previous Trump and Obama administrations, is “investing” up to $1.7 trillion over the next thirty years in more nuclear weapons to destroy the earth. It’s a job-creator, don’t you know. And rural areas with nuclear missile bases, like Wyoming and North Dakota, don’t want to lose jobs or the billions in federal dollars that flow to their states in the stated cause of nuclear deterrence. Deterring who or what is uncertain.

Americans love things that blow up while lighting up the sky and causing the heavens to glow. We witness it every year at this time. Let’s just hope the nuclear firecrackers stay stashed away. Some firecrackers are too dangerous to contemplate.

I remember back in 1992 walking around the desert at Alamogordo, New Mexico, site of the first atomic blast that preceded Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There’s not much left of the tower where the bomb sat: just the concrete base and some twisted metal. Walking around the area, you can still find sand that’s been fused into glass by the heat of the atomic blast. I didn’t take any home with me as it’s still radioactive. People were walking around with masks before masks became a thing with Covid. It was an eerie experience.

We don’t spend much time, if any, on July 4th thinking about all our weapons that are designed with great care and ingenuity to blow up and kill, whether it’s one person or millions (or perhaps even the planet itself). But I urge you to set aside a few minutes to read Tom Engelhardt’s latest article at TomDispatch.com. He writes about his own eerie and disturbing experience visiting Japan and Hiroshima and thinking about the unthinkable.

Here’s the link: https://tomdispatch.com/an-all-american-horror-story/

Isn’t it high time we finally ended our distinctly American nuclear horror story?

Please — no nuclear firecrackers

13 thoughts on “Nuclear Firecrackers for the Fourth of July

  1. I’m sure someone in The Pentagon would point out the nuclear arsenal is the only part of the military that can be counted on to do the job in an efficient manner. “Satisfaction Guaranteed!”

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  2. Very good article regarding the insanity of nuclear weapon and war. One point to keep in mind that was not mentioned is the ‘almost’ nuclear wars that have happened.

    The Cuban missile crisis of 1962 is a story not many know. One Soviet submarine captain was all that was in the way of a nuclear war. The code for the nuclear weapon on the sub was divided between the captain, his first officer and the communist party member assigned to that sub. The first officer and party member were in favor of using the nuclear weapon on the U.S. fleet, but the captain was not.

    Everyone probably knows of the computer program glitch in the 1980s. Someone at Cheyenne Mountain Complex loaded a training program without notifying anyone. This program simulated multiple ballistic missiles coming at the U.S. over Canada. The mistake was found with only minutes to go, or we would have launched missiles at the Soviet Union.

    There may be other close calls that we do not know about.

    As long as there are nuclear weapons, there will be a nuclear war. It is like playing Russian roulette ( no pun intended ). Eventually a launch will happen either deliberately or by mistake.

    I know we can not eliminate nuclear weapons unilaterally, but an incremental decrease can be done without compromising our military standing vis a vis Russia or China.

    John Lennon’s words sound just as true now as then “Give peace a chance”.

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    1. There are quite a few more close calls we do know about – enough to almost give me retroactive terror induced insomnia when I think about them. You have the Soviet submarine incident during the Cuban missile crisis almost right: the captain decided to launch a nuclear armed torpedo as a response to the depth charges being dropped by a US destroyer, the political officer on board agreed and in normal circumstances that would have been all that was required but by a stroke of luck the second in command executive officer was actually the flotilla leader so his assent was required in this case as well. Fortunately for us all, he was against it.

      A short list of incidents is on wikipedia (not the best source but a convenient one): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nuclear_close_calls

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  3. 1.7 trillion now is it? Impressive – just a few years back at the end of the Obama administration it was a mere trillion. At that rate we will be looking at nearly 3 trillion by the time of the next presidential election. Interesting too that there’s no “how are we going to pay for it?!?” wails from those who are ostensibly so concerned with fiscal responsibility when it comes to things like health care, infrastructure, education, preventing the planet from boiling etc.- you know the sort of things which would actually benefit the majority of citizens.

    The US military spending attitude reminds me of that old joke about a ragged, destitute man approaching someone on the Vegas strip and saying “Please can you help me? I’ve been living on the streets for months, my shoes are falling apart, I haven’t had anything to eat in days… can you spare me any money?” ” Well, if I give you money how do I know you won’t just go blow it on gambling?” “Oh, I GOT gamblin’ money!”

    The US government always seems to have limitless amounts of killin’ money but living money is perennially scarce.

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  4. I was speculating about what it would look like if an enlightened President was miraculously elected with a secret agenda to scrap the nuclear arsenal and actually spend the endless funding on things that matter. My husband said, “What would happen? Nothing.” Of course he’s right: if such a President were not immediately assassinated upon announcing the intent to de-nuke the country, he or she would be taken out in short order by the invocation of the 25th amendment.

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    1. As long as it requires millions of dollars to even run for office, let alone to get elected, I think the thought of “an enlightened President” needs must be filed along with the search for the Christian Kingdom of Prester John (I use “Christian” not in the contemporary sense but in its historical context because the idea of such a place originated before The Great Schism, when there was only The One True Church in Europe).

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    2. I think if we don’t De-Nuke the World as you could possibly imagine as well as I believe it will not end well… As “Nuclear Winter” will envelop the Planet for countless centuries as Carl predicts, but the Silver Lining will be the end of Mankind, and the Earth will eventually recover, and replenish itself…

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  5. I think there should be a theme song for the Pentagon…”everything old is new again”

    You’d think they sit around wondering what system they can re-energize for spending. The comments here relate how close we’ve come to disaster, including situations that didn’t involve pending conflict.

    An accident is sure to happen. A Navy vet and coworker of mine used to talk about the need to make things “sailor proof” when he was in the service. There should be a supreme rule worldwide: a detonation brings investigation. That’s because of the hair trigger response we have ready 24/7 for all time to come almost automatically brings total response. An accident would bring immediate and wild speculation and assumptions that would demand action. Use it or lose it! Remember how how we couldn’t hold off attacking Afghanistan when there was no immediate danger and we had plenty of time to think about it.

    To think that the nuclear decision on that Russian sub could be made at that low tactical level is terrifying.

    Here’s the American Friends (Quaker) take on the new ICBM effort.

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  6. In 1985, I read a 3×3 Newspaper report the Prime Minister of New Zealand was going to debate Jerry Falwall of the Moral Majority on “The Morality of Nuclear Weapons” at the Oxford Debating Union. It didn’t say who was for or against, but I knew Falwall would be for them.

    Long before Internet, I sent the Prime Minister an envelope via airmail, enclosing many of my writings on the subject, and was surprised to get this reply, using such explicit wording.

    He won the debate.

    On his death, New Zealand TV reported winning that debate was a highlight of his life.

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