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  • James W. Carden

Apocalypse Soon?

As if things weren’t bad enough, the ongoing wars in Gaza and Ukraine have, in recent days, occasioned a lot of loose talk about the use of nuclear weapons. 

Washington’s most reliable peddler of dangerous ideas, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, has taken to the notion that because President Harry Truman, against the advice of his most senior military advisers, committed two unprecedented war crimes on August 6 and 9, 1945, that that somehow provides moral cover for the ongoing slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent civilians in Gaza. 

At a hearing on Capitol Hill last week, Graham asked Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Charles Q. Brown Jr. whether they would have supported dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the Second World War. 

Show hearings such as these are quite often a race to the bottom, and in this particular case the participants floored the gas. In response, Brown declared, “Well, I’ll tell you, it stopped the World War.” Graham, correctly sensing that Brown possessed neither the knowledge nor courage to utter the correct answer, then moved in to make his point:

If we stop weapons necessary to destroy the enemies of the state of Israel at a time of great peril, we will pay a price. This is obscene. It is absurd…. Give Israel what they need to fight the war they can’t afford to lose. This is Hiroshima and Nagasaki on steroids.

Graham reiterated his message over the weekend. Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, he blustered, “Why is it okay for America to drop two nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end their existential threat war? Why is it okay for us to do that? I thought it was okay.” 

Graham’s hysterical descent into a kind of Strangelovian madness comes at a time of heightened tensions across Eurasia. Last week, the president of the Iranian Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, Kamal Kharrazi, told Al Jazeera that Iran has the “capability” to make a nuclear weapon, but they have “not made the decision to produce a nuclear bomb.” “However,” he continued, “if the Iranian interests are threatened in this manner, we may change this doctrine.” This pronouncement comes on the heels of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that Russia plans to hold military exercises simulating the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons. 

Amidst all of this nuclear saber rattling comes a new book, Nuclear War: A Scenario, by the distinguished investigative journalist Annie Jacobsen. The fact that the book is currently climbing both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller lists is perhaps proof that sanity still prevails—at least in some quarters. 

Indeed, Jacobsen’s might be the most important contribution toward raising awareness about the ever-present risk of nuclear catastrophe since the publication of John Hersey’s harrowing on-the-ground reporting from Hiroshima 80 years ago.  

The book sketches out a fictional (so far, anyway) scenario that examines what a 72-minute journey to nuclear apocalypse might look like. Based on interviews with 46 on-the-record sources, dozens more on background and bolstered by newly declassified documents, Jacobsen constructs a minute-by-minute timeline towards catastrophe that begins with a nuclear attack on the U.S. by North Korea that, within a very brief time, brings in Russia. As Jacobsen points out, “It takes 26 minutes and 40 seconds for a ballistic missile to get from a launchpad in Russia to the East Coast of the United States. That was true in 1959–60…and it’s true today.” 

According to Jacobsen, there are currently enough forward deployed ‘launch-on-warning’ nuclear armed missiles to kill around 5 billion people. Of the scenario she sketches out with terrifying precision, Jacobson notes,

I haven’t had anyone who actually runs these scenarios for NORAD take issue with the choices that I’ve made and the way in which the decision trees unfold, which makes it all the more frightening.

Still worse, our elected representatives have been MIA on the issue of nuclear disarmament since at least the late Reagan years. As Melvin Goodman, a former CIA analyst and professor of government at Johns Hopkins University, recently observed,

Despite the end of the “Cold War” three decades ago and the realization of the illusion of “limited” nuclear or the suicidal aspects of “mutual assured destruction,” there is still no comprehensive approach toward nuclear disarmament…President Bill Clinton abolished the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency nearly 30 years ago, and currently there are fewer Foreign Service Officers in the Department of State than there are members of military service bands.

Jacobsen’s new book is a much needed wake-up call. But will our governing elites, at long last, hear it?


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