There’s good news and bad news for those who want to end the existence of nuclear weapons in the United States and throughout the world.
The good news is that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is reaching the end of its useable lifespan.
The bad news is that President Obama wants to spend $1.0 trillion over the next 30 years to modernize our nuclear capability, including developing a host of new nuclear weapons and delivery systems. A recent “Washington Newsletter” by the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) lists the new and improved weapons in the plan: intercontinental ballistic missiles, air-launched cruise missiles, gravity bombs, submarines, nuclear-capable stealth fighter jets, and a fleet of stealth heavy bombers.
Which makes President Obama a hypocrite when it comes to nuclear disarmament. When he visited Hiroshima in May he spoke about his commitment to nuclear disarmament for about the hundredth time since he assumed the presidency. While it is true that under Obama our stockpile of nuclear weapons has diminished, his trillion-dollar plan to refurbish our nuclear capability speaks much more loudly than pious homilies and shutting down of what is in the main obsolete weaponry.
It’s going to take an avalanche of letters and emails to convince the incoming president not to pursue this reckless and expensive plan. But we also have to pressure Congress. FCNL reports that Congress is already considering the approval of $85 million to begin research on a new nuclear cruise missiles to replace our current arsenal. That $85 million will quickly turn into $20-$30 billion if Congress agrees to fund the full plans of the Obama Administration to build about 1,000 of these new missiles.
The number “1,000” to describe just one part of this comprehensive program to keep America nuclear frightens the imagination. Think of the death and destruction wrought by just two nuclear weapons dropped 71 years ago. The standard estimate of the number of people the United States of America killed by dropping atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is 129,000, with more than 100,000 other people seriously injured.
I want to quote directly from a University of California at Los Angeles website for an organization called “Children of the Atomic Bomb” on the many ways people died at Hiroshima and Nagasaki (with typos corrected!):
- Very large numbers of person were crushed in their homes and in the buildings in which they were working. Their skeletons could be seen in the debris and ashes for almost 1,500 meters from the center of the blast, particularly in the downwind directions.
- Large numbers of the population walked for considerable distances after the detonation before they collapsed and died.
- Large numbers developed vomiting and bloody and watery diarrhea (vomitus and bloody feces were found on the floor in many of the aid stations), associated with extreme weakness. They died in the first and second weeks after the bombs were dropped.
- During this same period deaths from internal injuries and from burns were common. Either the heat from the fires or infrared radiation from the detonations caused many burns, particularly on bare skin or under dark clothing.
- After a lull without peak mortality from any special causes, deaths began to occur from purpura, which was often associated with epilation, anemia, and a yellowish coloration of the skin. The so-called bone marrow syndrome, manifested by a low white blood cell count and almost complete absence of the platelets necessary to prevent bleeding, was probably at its maximum between the fourth and sixth weeks after the bombs were dropped.
These horrifying descriptions speak to the sheer unthinkability of anyone ever igniting another nuclear bomb. What they don’t do is describe the impact of fallout, the radioactive debris that the winds propel across land and water, which then descends on the rest of the earth after a nuclear explosion. Fallout means that whenever a country drops an atomic bomb on its enemies, it is also hurting its own people. Fallout underlies the concept of mutually assured destruction (MAD), which states that no country would be crazy enough to start a nuclear war, since it would likely mean the annihilation of its own people.
The experts use MAD to justify the development and possession of nuclear weapons. “As long as we have them, no one will mess with us.” But one could just as easily use this reasoning to prove that if one nation has nuclear weapons, no other nation has to have them, since any nation that drops the bomb hurts itself.
The wild card in these game theory machinations about nuclear weaponry is the growing possibility that a nutcase gets hold of the bomb, or worse yet, someone who sincerely holds religiously-based apocalyptic beliefs. We may have less to worry about from a terrorist organization on this score than from a hotheaded loose cannon elected by fluke by a western democracy possessing nuclear weapons.
FCNL is recommending that people write their congressional and Senate representatives and urge them to:
- Oppose the administration’s proposal to modernize the nuclear arsenal.
- Support a pledge by the United States not to make “first-use” of nuclear weapons.
We should also contact Hillary Clinton and the candidates running for federal office this November and make the same demand. Let the candidates know that you are more likely to vote for them if they explicitly come out for a “no-first-use” policy and for continuing to shut down our nuclear capability.
As to Donald Trump, I’m not sure whether it’s worth trying to influence him on the issue of nuclear disarmament. A big man needs big weaponry. Besides, he’s already said that he would never take first-use off the table, as it weakens our position in negotiations. Trump seems to relish the threat that he thinks nuclear weaponry gives him over the rest of the world. Given Trump’s erratic nature and tendency to fly off the handle, perhaps the most significant action anyone can take to lessen the possibility of anyone in the world using nuclear weapons is to vote against Donald Trump in November, which means vote for Hillary Clinton.