Saturday December 04, 2021

No more wars

July 19, 2021

As a peace journalist, I usually begin by focusing on the media. Consider this recent Washington Post piece regarding the use of nuclear weapons. Even though the article is critical of the Trump administration, which in 2018 “expanded the role of nuclear weapons by declaring for the first time that the United States would consider nuclear retaliation in the case of ‘significant non-nuclear strategic attacks’,” the article remains trapped, I fear, in linear, conventional thinking.

Its focus is on the fact that, because of the Trump decision, it’s possible that the recent cyberattacks on US companies, apparently the work of criminal organizations based in Russia, could be used as a justification for a nuclear response. While this is unlikely and utterly insane, “imagine”, the article tells us, “a much worse cyberattack, one that not only disabled pipelines but turned off the power at hundreds of US hospitals, wreaked havoc on air-traffic-control systems and shut down the electrical grid in major cities in the dead of winter. The grisly cost might be counted not just in lost dollars but in the deaths of many thousands of people.”

Wow! This is certainly cruel and evil, almost in the zone of US bombing runs in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. (we’ve dropped 326,000 bombs on various countries since 2001), but the article continues to express profound concern that – in a trigger-happy administration – it could result in a nuclear retaliation, which would not only be wrong but, uh, illegal under international law. The key moral point the article makes seems to be primarily technical.

“While the American public would indeed be likely to want vengeance after a destructive enemy assault, the law of armed conflict requires that some military options be taken off the table. Nuclear retaliation for ‘significant non-nuclear strategic attacks’ is one of them.”

Two things about this paragraph stop me cold. First of all, the assumption that ‘the public’ (whatever that is) would be focused on vengeance after a horrific cyberattack is simplistic, to say the least. The public – you, me, and perhaps everyone on the planet – would be in shock, wounded and grieving, and would be primarily focused on healing, help and the heroism of the many who gave their lives in rescue efforts. When I recall the days right after 9/11, what I think about are people lined up to donate blood, not shaking their fists in cartoonlike demands for vengeance against whomever.

But to slide such an assumption – the public is impulsive and stupid – into an article about nuclear weapons removes the possibility of bringing a larger awareness to the discussion, a public awareness that nuclear weapons should never be used and, indeed, should not exist, in our hands or anyone else's. The Post appears not to want to go that far, instead presuming with its words that our national leaders are the ones keeping things calm and under control, even if they need to be kept in check by international law.

I fear there are far deeper realities loose in the world: a military-industrial complex that will do whatever it can to prevent the world from transcending war; the possibility of a president in political trouble, seeing war (even the nuclear button) as a solution; and the hidden forces of the deep state, exerting pressures on political leaders the public will never know about.

Excerpted: ‘More Intelligence or Nuclear War’