Lawrence Wittner / AntiWar.com & The Guardian – 2017-04-25 00:08:51
Why Is There So Little Popular Protest
Against Today’s Threats of Nuclear War?
Lawrence Wittner / AntiWar.com
(April 25, 2017) — In recent weeks, the people of the world have been treated to yet another display of the kind of nuclear insanity that has broken out periodically ever since 1945 and the dawn of the nuclear era.
On April 11, Donald Trump, irked by North Korea’s continued tests of nuclear weapons and missiles, tweeted that “North Korea is looking for trouble.” If China does not “help,” then “we will solve the problem without them.” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un responded by announcing that, in the event of a US military attack, his country would not scruple at launching a nuclear strike at US forces.
In turn, Trump declared:
“We are sending an armada, very powerful. We have submarines, very powerful, far more powerful than the aircraft carrier. We have the best military people on earth.”
During the following days, the governments of both nuclear-armed nations escalated their threats. Dispatched to South Korea, US Vice President Mike Pence declared that “the era of strategic patience is over,” and warned: “All options are on the table.”
Not to be outdone, North Korea’s deputy representative to the United Nations told a press conference that “thermonuclear war may break out at any moment.” Any missile or nuclear strike by the United States would be responded to “in kind.”
Several days later, the North Korean government warned of a “super-mighty preemptive strike” that would reduce US military forces in South Korea and on the US mainland “to ashes.” The United States and its allies, said the official statement, “should not mess with us.”
Curiously, this North Korean statement echoed the Trump promise during his presidential campaign that he would build a US military machine “so big, powerful, and strong that no one will mess with us.”
The fact that both Trump and Kim are being “messed with” despite their possession of very powerful armed forces, including nuclear weapons, seems to have eluded both men, who continue their deadly game of nuclear threat and bluster.
And what is the response of the public to these two erratic government leaders behaving in this reckless fashion and threatening war, including nuclear war? It is remarkably subdued. People read about the situation in newspapers or watch it on the television news, while comedians joke about the madness of it all.
Oh, yes, peace and disarmament organizations condemn the escalating military confrontation and outline reasonable diplomatic alternatives. But such organizations are unable to mobilize the vast numbers of people around the world necessary to shake some sense into these overwrought government officials.
The situation was very different in the 1980s, when organizations like the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign (in the United States), the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (in Britain), and similar groups around the world were able to engage millions of people in protest against the nuclear recklessness of the US and Soviet governments — protest that played a key role in curbing the nuclear arms race and preventing nuclear war.
So why is there so little public protest today?
One factor is certainly the public’s preoccupation with other important issues, among them climate change, immigration, terrorism, criminal justice, civil liberties, and economic inequality.
Another appears to be a sense of fatalism. Many people believe that Kim and Trump are too irrational to respond to reason and too autocratic to give way to public pressure.
Yet another factor is the belief of Americans and Europeans that their countries are safe from a North Korean attack. Yes, many people will die in a new Korean War, especially one fought with nuclear weapons, but they will be “only” Koreans.
In addition, many people credit the absence of nuclear war since 1945 to nuclear deterrence. Thus, they assume that nuclear-armed nations will not fight a nuclear war among themselves.
Finally — and perhaps most significantly — people are reluctant to think about nuclear war. After all, it means death and destruction at an unbearable level of horror. Therefore, it’s much easier to simply forget about it.
Of course, even if these factors explain the public’s passivity in the face of a looming nuclear catastrophe, they do not justify it. After all, people can concern themselves with more than one issue at a time, public officials are often more malleable than assumed, accepting the mass slaughter of Koreans is unconscionable, and if nuclear deterrence really worked, the US government would be far less worried about other nations (including North Korea) developing nuclear weapons.
Also, problems — including the problem posed by nuclear weapons — do not simply disappear when people ignore them.
It would be a terrible thing if it takes a disastrous nuclear war between the United States and North Korea to convince people that nuclear war is simply unacceptable. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should already have convinced us of that.
Lawrence S. Wittner (http://lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is a satirical novel about university life, What’s Going On at UAardvark? (Solidarity Press). This article originally appeared on the History News Network.
A Brief History of Nuclear Near-misses
LONDON (April 24, 20170 — With Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un rattling their nuclear sabres, the Guardian looks back at 70 years of near-misses in the atomic age. Though the doctrine of mutual assured destruction (MAD) has brought us back from the brink on several occasions, more worrying are the times when mistakes — both human and technical — have been the cause for the crises.
Why Should Trump — or Anyone â€“
Be Able To Launch a Nuclear War?
Lawrence Wittner / AntiWar.com
(February 28, 2017) — The accession of Donald Trump to the US presidency brings us face-to-face with a question that many have tried to avoid since 1945: Should anyone have the right to plunge the world into a nuclear holocaust?
Trump, of course, is an unusually angry, vindictive, and mentally unstable American president. Therefore, given the fact that, acting totally on his own, he can launch a nuclear war, we have entered a very perilous time.
The US government possesses approximately 6,800 nuclear weapons, many of them on hair-trigger alert. Moreover, the United States is but one of nine nations that, in total, possess nearly 15,000 nuclear weapons. This nuclear weapons cornucopia is more than enough to destroy virtually all life on earth.
Furthermore, even a small-scale nuclear war would produce a human catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. Not surprisingly, then, Trump’s loose statements about building and using nuclear weapons have horrified observers.
In an apparent attempt to rein in America’s new, erratic White House occupant, Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) and Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) recently introduced federal legislation to require Congress to declare war before a US president could authorize nuclear weapons strikes.
The only exception would be in response to a nuclear attack. Peace groups are rallying around this legislation and, in a major editorial, the New York Times endorsed it, noting that it “sends a clear message to Mr. Trump that he should not be the first since World War II to use nuclear weapons.”
But, even in the unlikely event that the Markey-Lieu legislation is passed by the Republican Congress, it does not address the broader problem: the ability of the officials of nuclear-armed nations to launch a catastrophic nuclear war. How rational are Russia’s Vladimir Putin, or North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, or Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, or the leaders of other nuclear powers?
And how rational will the rising politicians of nuclear-armed nations (including a crop of rightwing, nationalist ideologues, such as France’s Marine Le Pen) prove to be? “Nuclear deterrence,” as national security experts have known for decades, might serve to inhibit the aggressive impulses of top government officials in some cases, but surely not in all of them.
Ultimately, then, the only long-term solution to the problem of national leaders launching a nuclear war is to get rid of the weapons.
This was the justification for the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968, which constituted a bargain between two groups of nations. Under its provisions, non-nuclear countries agreed not to develop nuclear weapons, while nuclear-armed countries agreed to dispose of theirs.
Although the NPT did discourage proliferation to most non-nuclear countries and did lead the major nuclear powers to destroy a substantial portion of their nuclear arsenals, the allure of nuclear weapons remained, at least for some power-hungry nations.
Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea developed nuclear arsenals, while the United States, Russia, and other nuclear nations gradually backed away from disarmament.
Indeed, all nine nuclear powers are now engaged in a new nuclear arms race, with the US government alone beginning a $1 trillion nuclear “modernization” program.
These factors, including Trump’s promises of a major nuclear weapons buildup, recently led the editors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to move the hands of their famous “Doomsday Clock” forward to 2-1/2 minutes to midnight, the most dangerous setting since 1953.
Angered by the collapse of progress toward a nuclear weapons-free world, civil society organizations and non-nuclear nations joined together to press for the adoption of an international treaty banning nuclear weapons, much like the treaties already in place that ban chemical weapons, landmines, and cluster bombs.
If such a nuclear ban treaty were adopted, they argued, it would not itself eliminate nuclear weapons, for the nuclear powers could refuse to sign or comply with it. But it would make possession of nuclear weapons illegal under international law and, therefore, like the chemical and other weapons ban treaties, put pressure on nations to fall into line with the rest of the world community.
This campaign came to a head in October 2016, when the member states of the United Nations voted on a proposal to begin negotiations for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons.
Although the US government and the governments of other nuclear powers lobbied heavily against the measure, it was adopted by an overwhelming vote: 123 countries in favor, 38 opposed, and 16 abstaining. Treaty negotiations are slated to begin in March 2017 at the United Nations and to be concluded in early July.
Given the past performance of the nuclear powers and their eagerness to cling to their nuclear weapons, it seems unlikely that they will participate in the UN negotiations or, if a treaty is negotiated and signed, will be among the signatories.
Even so, the people of their nations and of all nations would gain immensely from an international ban on nuclear weapons — a measure that, once in place, would begin the process of stripping national officials of their unwarranted authority and ability to launch a catastrophic nuclear war.
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