This Cursed Bloody Thing

Most people think they understand the basics about nuclear weapons, but the things they don't tell us about them, might very well kill us all


I am a strange pacifist – a throwback, really. The characters most like me in thinking, are now mostly in their eighties. It has always seemed obvious to me that to effectively oppose war, you have to study and understand it. This means tons of reading, but also a lot of listening to survivors and veterans.

I have some friends who oppose war on a purely emotional level, and I appreciate the position, however we get there, but simple disgust does not inform our opposition, nor does it build the teams we dearly need, in order to be more effective politically and finally change things for the better.

I’ve had friends who served with the Canadian or American military for most of my life, so I had a lot of simple illusions about millitary people dispelled so long ago, I am continually amazed that they persist to this day, all these decades later, especially on the left.

Here are a few key things – as a group, military people are not more likely to be in favour of war than civilians, nor are they more likely to oppose diplomacy. The more of a career they make it (officers, especially), the more likely they are to study history economics and international politics, and many wind up with a far more sophisticated, nuanced and compassionate picture of the world than my leftie revolutionary chums (who no longer consider hard study a key duty, the way they once very widely did).

I am not saying that they all come to the same conclusions about what ought to be done, only that the assumption that the people in the armed forces want to apply a maximum of force to solve most problems is simply wrong, most of them understand the limitations of such action much better than we do.

So – some will quite reasonably ask – how is it then, that we so often end up bringing death to poor people overseas who we don’t understand at all, especially often when their leaders dare to disobey us on a matter of strategic or economic policy?

Simple – that’s the political layer of things, corrupted hugely by war industries, of course.

And just for the edification of my pals who might still think ‘soldier’ means ‘thug’ – two of my veteran pals wrote and recorded anti war music for years, one crafted a comic of many hundreds of pages, satirizing an empire wildly out of control, and three others have shared crystal shards of written trauma from their experience, such as to caution any against the folly in future.

I watched the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s remembrance day ceremony today, and it moved me to tears (rather sweet that we had a low fly-by from a guppy-fat ‘Herc’ – just as the Lancaster graced their proceedings).

War with Russia, potential war with China, war in the Middle East – every single one of these is the result of years of sustained foolishness at the political level. Bringing the wrong tool to the job, over and over, because they have (and want) a warped understanding of the best possible outcome – not a fair balance between all citizens, but absolute control for them.

Do the people who make up this political class represent popular will at all?

Really not, not even in the countries where we pretend we have democracies – the last twenty years have made it brutally clear that they serve the rich only. Politics has become a way for corporations to package consumer belief into handy demographic bundles, for their convenience in processing.

Why do I make the distinction between the political and the military so clearly here? Because we mistake the source of action, all too often, and thus fail to recognize that it is absolutely OUR job to restrain these insane murdering maniacs. I don’t mean it is easy or simple, only that there is no one else to do it.

A taxi driving friend of mine gave me a cool insight many years ago. He said, poor people tip the best, because they instinctively feel like everyone else is probably broke and needs it too.

Of course middle class people showing MUCH LESS COMPASSION for workers was also part of his point, but that one is for the rally Saturday.

The key insight I want you to think about and then apply to yourself, is that projected compassion thing. It is normal (and kind of sweet, for an ignorant starting place) to think that most people share our basic cares and priorities.

This projection of sweetness absolutely does not apply to the political class.

I used to have an entire shelf on nothing but strategic doctrine (entirely aside from the histories), so I’m not guessing about this stuff, and I’m not making it up (really really wish I was).

First, have a little think about the B83 – the pride of America’s nuclear arsenal – the most powerful bomb they still maintain (roughly six hundred and fifty of them). It was introduced in 1983, has a selectable yield from ‘just a few Hiroshimas worth’, right up to a full 1.2 Megatons (sixty times more powerful than those early, already horrific bombs).

It was also the very first bomb in the US arsenal which was considered “one point safe”. What does this mean? It means that there is almost zero chance the bomb will self-detonate and create a nuclear explosion, just sitting there.

Which immediately makes us a bit worried – so wait, up until 1983, all the way through the scariest parts of the cold war, all the nuclear bombs they were messing around with, represented a fantastic danger just to make, hold and store? YES.

So then we are inclined to be backhandedly thankful for this nasty beast – at least it isn’t very likely to nuke us while we store it – and it must have let them quietly retire all of the much more dangerous bombs very quickly, to greatly improve our domestic safety, right? RIGHT?

Yeah no – like I say, those are the kind of decisions human beings would make, not these maniacs. Despite the fact that the B83 was the first one point safe weapon deployed, and it was in service in 1983, far less safe weapons stayed active up until 2011.

They didn’t see that as risking the destruction of North Dakota, they thought it was capability.

Okay so – what’s in a canister? Is is like a cookie jar? Can we call it defence? Will they believe it?

Right up until the Democrats became the pro war party (feels like five minutes ago, but it was actually Albright that started that, under Clinton the first) it was commonplace for my friends on the left to recognize that the roughly eight hundred American military bases around the world make other countries very nervous for good reasons. Now, I have more friends on the right who are openly skeptical about such adventurism and foolish attempts at dominance. Not just “we have enough of our own problems at home” – but also – “who are we, to tell them what to do?”

In any case, the emotional unease with the thing is helpful, but the details of the whole deal make the threat much easier to see, and the perspective of distant others far more sympathetic.

The Patriot “Anti Missile” system may be one of the best marketed military programs of modern times. People think about nasty missiles coming in, hero missiles going out and shooting them down just in time, it all sounds like good sci fi. Protection from death – of course worth any cost.

I could do a whole digression here about the problems with this system (multiple million dollars per shot, just for one thing, and still way less reliable or effective than advertised), but that still misses the bigger point.

The patriot system is actually a generic launcher which works on what they call “canister load.”

You don’t open up the back of the gun and load a shell, like an artillery piece, you just clip a bunch of boxes onto it, connect the cables and you’re set.

Each missile and warhead launches from its own box, so the Patriot as a whole is like a rack full of plain brown paper bags from a sexy novelty shop. No one would ever know what was in them, if not for your guilty expression! ;o)

The use we are supposed to think about is an anti-missile load. But another one of the boxes which fits in there just right happens to be a nuclear armed stealth cruise missile.

Now go have a look at all of those American bases again and draw an imaginary circle around them – thanks to canister load technology, every single one of them now represents a potential first-strike launch area. All of those knives, held to all of those billions of throats.

Really not the sort of call you would make about how to do these things, right? Me neither.

Finally, the second question every kid asks about nuclear weapons, but then sets aside later in life, chalking it up to stupidity waste and greed (all strong explanations for a lot of political stupidity, no question about it). Why are there so many of the damned things?

Here is a spot where we remain strangely hypnotized by cold war propaganda. There were all kinds of films made about atomic war in the fifties and sixties. and the basic idea was usually that the superpowers would shoot each other dead. Cue: narrator – with fine words about vain hubris.

But why stop there folks, when you can play the bonus round for those big big prizes?

Yeah again, I’m terribly sorry but I’m also very serious here – the reason the superpowers have always maintained crazy numbers of nuclear weapons isn’t so that they can nuke each other. They could do a really great job of that with a couple of dozen a’piece.

Remember – they aren’t like you and me – they don’t want to get along get by and be nice.

They demand control of economic and political power, and have repeatedly proven they are willing to murder anything up to and including millions of civilians, in order to get or maintain it.

So yes of course, the obvious level of the problem is blow up the other guy – but then they get thinking about the day after – so okay, we’re mostly dead and THEM is mostly dead – how will we ever be able to keep the lesser powers in line? How can we guarantee that we’re still on top, even if we’re half-dead?

You putting it all together yet? Nuclear war doesn’t just mean bombs on Moscow and Washington, it means vaporizing Mumbai and Kuala Lumpur, Seoul and Marrakesh. Neutrality or remoteness won’t save you. New Liskeard won’t get their own, but they’ll miss ‘the big smoke’ something fierce, eh?

If they can’t maintain their own control and power, these bastards treasured strategic plan is to kill all of the other players at the table – absolutely deliberately and thoroughly – using multiple generations of your invested tax money to do it.

Remember that kid no one liked? Total psycho brat? Wrecked any game that he couldn’t win?

They aren’t like you and me – they are like that – but hate them even more than that.

Warriors didn’t ask for this. Crazy politicians demanded, and our own avarice and denial enabled it.

Like I say – not our job to take them on because it’s easy or hopeful – but because there is no one else to do it.
(and no thing else at all, if we get this wrong)

I am always curious about what you are thinking

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