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Nukes and Consequences

14 March 2002

Thinking about nuclear weapons is sort of like looking directly at the sun: If you do it for more than a split second, you go blind. Or insane.

Our government is now contemplating such a ne plus ultra of idiocy that it's enough to make one yearn for the dear, departed days of MAD (mutual assured destruction). MAD was such a sane policy.

We are about to get a new nuclear-weapons policy - cute nukes. Teeny-tiny nukes. I was betting the Pentagon would name them "precision nukes," but I have once again underestimated our military's ability to obfuscate with mind-numbing language. The cute nukes are ``offensive-strike systems."

Now here's a sane sentence from the Pentagon's new Nuclear Posture Review: "Non-nuclear strike capabilities may be particularly useful to limit collateral damage and conflict escalation." That means we won't wipe out entire populations and start WW III if we stick to non-nukes. A point to consider.

But our busy military planners like to plan for all contingencies (except terrorists with box-cutters) and are proposing "a new generation of nuclear weapons" - just what we need. The cute nukes are to be ``employed against targets able to withstand non-nuclear attack (for example, deep underground bunkers or bio-weapons facilities)."

The drawback to cute nukes is that they're more "useable" than the old, clunky kind. Cute nukes do have the same charming property - they're made of lethal radioactive materials no one on God's green Earth knows how to get rid of.

When the Cold War ended, we really did think we could finally start "building down" the world's supply of the ungodly weapons. So who signed us up to build a whole new generation of them? Anybody recall Bush mentioning cute nukes while he was running for office? Since we have to pay for it, don't we get a say?

Naturally, the rest of the world thinks we're nuts, and they're not even using diplomatic language to say so. Here are the questions: What do we think we are doing? What kind of country do we want to be?

According to the State Department, the 1949 federal budget for international aid and diplomacy (that is, efforts to settle conflicts peacefully) was $66.4 billion. In 2002, it is $23.8 billion (from Harper's Index). We spend less on foreign aid per capita than any other industrialized country. Japan spends $3.5 billion more in total than we do.

We are also neglecting our own people. How pathetic is it that we're going to put another trillion dollars into the military while we cut back on child-care for women moving from welfare to work?

We are the most powerful nation on Earth. How do we want to use that power? Do we really think that we can make the world a better place by building a new arsenal of nukes? And how much money does that take away from building democracy, human rights and global prosperity?

In the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, at the end of the relentless tragedy, one says to the other, "There must have been a time, somewhere near the beginning, when we could have said no."

We've been down the road of spending insane sums for unspeakable weapons before. We know where it leads. The state of the world today is not much of a recommendation for it. Before we lurch off again, let us at least stop and think, and ask questions and demand answers and consider alternatives. Let's stop. And think. Because this may be our only chance to say no.

Molly Ivins
Published in the Miami Herald © 2002 Creators Syndicate, Inc

'War on terrorism' index page

Nuclear weapons - general issues index


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