What is the only provocation that could bring about the use of nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons. What is the priority target for nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons. What is the only established defense against nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons. How do we prevent the use of nuclear weapons? By threatening the use of nuclear weapons. And we can’t get rid of nuclear weapons, because of nuclear weapons. The intransigence, it seems, is a function of the weapons themselves.
I have come to the paradoxical conclusion that technology must be protected from Man
Leading engineer of the Chernobyl project, Valeri Legasov
Those who refused to be bent to his will were burned, crushed and torn asunder by Cormac McCarthy’s Judge — and this, apparently, is exactly what we’re looking for in a leader. At the height of the nuclear weapon debate in the UK, PM David Cameron graced our television screens just long enough to tell us what a cold, murderous bastard he would be given half the chance. How weak and simpering, he went on, was the alternative, that Jeremy Corbyn fellow. He possesses no intention of committing, and in turn inviting, genocide through Trident.
The press provided the echo, asking readers if they knew what possible mental defect had consumed the peace-mongering leader of the Opposition. Regurgitating with approval the Conservative reassurance that, yah, they were still fully committed to lending the Rapture a helping hand, “want to make something of it?” Omitting, in doing so, that they could only really do so should the Americans demand it. With UK nuclear policy being tilted heavily in favour of Washington’s wishes; something which goes right back to Attlee. (Highlighting a curious master-slave relationship that the anti-EU crowd never raise objections to.)
The living embodiment of War may be too grandiose a comparison, but Dave and Co. certainly share something with the McCarthyite plagiarism: sadism.
If you think this analogy strained reflect on this: Cameron has imagined circumstances in which he would be willing to conscript every British man, woman and child into an international game of Russian Roulette. Although, the excitement would soon dissipate with all cylinders loaded… Regardless, these are scenarios which must have occupied the dreams — for the giddiness of their delivery suggests they aren’t experiencing terrors in the night — of many a democratically-elected leader since 1945. (At what point up the pecking order does the prospect of holocaust go from unthinkable horror to viable, even good, “deterrence”?)
Yet how eager we find the silo fodder. The Tory press, eager to remind all of their tradition’s familiarity with both sides of the sado-masochist tango, pledged their allegiance to mutinous military men against the man who wishes to bring them in from the front-line.
And the fact Jeremy Corbyn is currently taking a hammer to them represents a much greater threat to British parliamentary democracy than any off-the-record military braggadocio. It is not the generals who are currently mounting a coup against the British constitution, it is Jeremy Corbyn mounting a coup against the British constitution.
That same piece shares the sobering figure that 79% of Telegraph readers “could push the button”. Apparently they don’t need a reason.
All this may be baffling but it shouldn’t be surprising. Nuclear weapons have provided insignificant men with an opportunity to project a macho image from their very inception. When wiser men were calling for caution (including those whose brilliant intellect had brought about the Atomic Age; Szilard, Einstein and Oppenheimer), the stupid Harry S. Truman was preparing to launch B-52s at Hiroshima, gifting the inhabitants of the surrounding countryside with a blinding light show and their children with birth defects, and their children ad nauseum.
In what George Carlin diagnosed as the Bigger Dick Foreign Policy problem, Truman committed the heinous act of disintegrating two Japanese cities — and for what? A show of force to Stalin, who was committed to a much-dreaded (on both sides of the Pacific) invasion of the island nation. Thus mutating the end of history’s most destructive war, which should have been a time of reflection and quiet celebration, into the Half-Century Dick-waving Contest (known to the politically-correct as the “Cold War”).
The most likely “exchange” — a euphemism which manages to be clean, capitalist, child-friendly — Britain will be involved in is with the Russian Federation born from that engagement. Ukraine, Syria, the Middle East as a whole... It is these proxy wars between NATO and Putin which has Geiger counters everywhere wincing.
Most Dangerous Moment
Thanks in large part to three no good Ruskies, Vasili Arkhipov, Stanislav Petrov and Khrushchev, we haven’t achieved mutual incineration already. The last of those was willing to risk Soviet face rather than the planet, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. A comparative slight which proved that bit too much for John F. Kennedy. Contrary to what many choose to believe, the Boy Wonder, adored by liberals everywhere, almost destroyed the planet in 1962. Letting his personal vendetta against Castro reach the obscene level of state terrorism — not to mention that attempted invasion he could’ve stopped — he was then willing to apply pressure to the small island’s patron, causing a stand-off which he was warned by his own had a 1 in 3 chance of culminating in all-out war.
I’m reminded of that Christopher Hitchens’ quip, “Like everyone else of my generation, I can remember exactly where I was standing and what I was doing on the day that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy nearly killed me”. It was your and my very existence he was gambling with in between fucking the mistresses of mobsters, maids and Marilyn Monroe. And for some reason most people will still be more outraged, if at all, by the second half of that.
(His crony, and arch-rationalist McNamara has assured us since in Foreign Policy that he regretted enabling that drug-fuelled megalomaniac, and took the opportunity to marvel at making it to the 21st century. The species, as well as himself.)
I recommend Seymour Hersh’s excellent book for those who are interested in the dingier side of the US’s 35th president. And Putin, remember, is no Khrushchev. He pines for that terrible Great Bear the other sent into hibernation.
As absurd as Kennedy’s nuclear policy was, it did make sense politically. As Noam Chomsky and others have pointed out, in a time when domestic and foreign policies weren’t so easily disentangled, the nuclear build-up enhanced the executive’s power to such an extent that, by the time Kissinger entered that frat house on Pennsylvania Avenue, a lone sadist had to power to begin and end wars. Although the “doctor’s” speciality was always the former.
Orwell, with characteristic prescience, and with an eye on the political, saw that an intolerable extension of state power lay just behind Ernest Rutherford’s discovery,
Ages in which the dominant weapon is expensive or difficult to make will tend to be ages of despotism, whereas when the dominant weapon is cheap and simple, the common people have a chance.
Picture the Ancien Régime with Kalashnikovs in place of the common musket, and you’ll get the drift. As such, imperial presidencies today can only be maintained with the specter of Nuclear Holocaust looming above this and that directive out of D.C. And the threat isn’t without force. Nixon, an excellent Inner Party representative despite what he thought of himself, threatened to unleash nukes at Indochinese peasants, completely subverting established arms race rules¹.
Still the Nuclear Question has the power to shape the debate. Dormant as it may be in the majority of geopolitical discourse, it remains a steady and apparently reliable gauge of character in the sickly theatre of personality politics. What better way of allaying fears of potential sissyness (and original thinking) than by declaring openly, “I love The Bomb”? This laid-back approach to species suicide is meant to convey just how tough and hard-headed our prospective Commander-in-Chief is. How bloody his grip, how steely his will. The father figure who never tires of reminding us how we’re kept from death because he allows it.
Right now, the primary small hand hovering over “the button” is that of a head-strong, air-headed game show star.
I am not — I am not taking cards off the table.
Trump on whether he would employ nuclear weapons in Europe and the Middle East
Perfectly fine candidates running for high office have seen their bids go the way of Fat Man when trepidation was shown. Alexander Cockburn wrote of the left-Democrat Harold Hughes, who lost all legitimacy by answering, “would you use nuclear weapons?” in the negative. He went on to add that should he be informed the Soviets had launched their warheads, he would not retaliate in kind. There was no point in compounding a genocide.
All Filth is Local
Toryism needs Trident. We, in Britain, may not have an imperial presidency to uphold, but there’s always that seat on the Security Council. Without which we would never have been able to stifle action against the Monroe Doctrine’s worst excesses, enable Suharto’s campaign of mass-murder, enforce Iraqi sanctions, or, more recently, elect Saudi Arabia to the UN’s human rights council. (Just what would the world do without us?)
Also, we are now burdened with a generation of MPs who simply cannot envisage life outside the special relationship — the junior role in which WMDs are seen to make up for a loss of BOTs (British Overseas Territories). An Army representative cut to the chase, warning of a coup should the public ever dare to elect the Jez, the Great Confiscator.
The Army just wouldn’t stand for it. The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent that. You can’t put a maverick in charge of a country’s security.
There would be mass resignations at all levels and you would face the very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny.
Anonymous Army General
Every now and then a line is uttered that you’re sure will feature prominently in future history textbooks. If, that is, England doesn’t become chemical dust. The Army just wouldn’t stand for it. Just where was the counter-punch? Where were the unions and fiery journos and the denunciations from Parliament? Where, for that matter, was the fucking Left?
Those who think the anti-fascism cause is an unnecessary one in the 21st century need to take a hard look at General Sir Nicholas Houghton and his ilk. The mere whiff of democratic socialism — the prospect was, remember, four years away (Update: as it happened, it was far sooner: Cameron’s Brexit gamble proved his downfall) — and, Heaven forbid, seizure of their apocalyptic toys, and they’re morphing into Pinochet.
We may have lost on Trident, but the Nuclear Consensus became the Nuclear Question with introduction of Corbyn to the Shadow Cabinet. For too long it had been sheltered by bipartisanship and Tommies with a clear disdain of those of us on the civilian side of the constitutional divide. When coming to judging who best lead us in the next election and — I suggest this optimistically — beyond, the British voter should perhaps think about the Judge’s sort and how, in the end, they’ll bugger you into the dirt.
1 This “Mad Man" strategy later became official policy under Clinton, which can be read in the chilling Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence.