Einstein’s Worst Fear Has Come True
In December 1938, the world changed when two German physicists split the uranium atom, making the development of atomic bombs a theoretical possibility. Those in the U.S. who were most alarmed by this development were the scientists who had escaped from Nazi-occupied Europe, fearing that a racist and fascist dictator hell bent on world domination, would get his hands on a such a weapon. With Albert Einstein’s help, fellow scientists urged President Roosevelt to authorize an atomic bomb research program. Following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many of these same scientists dedicated their lives to nuclear disarmament. Indeed, Einstein later admitted, “I made one great mistake in my life — when I signed that letter to President Roosevelt recommending that the atom bombs be made.” Now, Einstein’s worst fear has come true. Donald Trump alone controls America’s nuclear arsenal. Should he decide to start nuclear war, he could do so in minutes. There are no legal safeguards to stop him.
While nuclear weapons do not discriminate in who and what they destroy, the same cannot be said of those who possess them. That said, Donald Trump is certainly not the first president to express racist beliefs while controlling nuclear weapons. Indeed, the first and only president to drop an atomic bomb, Harry Truman, wrote to his wife in 1911, “I think one man is as good as another so long as he’s honest and decent and not a n*gger or a Chinaman…It’s race prejudice I guess. But I am of the strong opinion that Negroes ought to be in Africa, yellow men in Asia, and white men in Europe and America.” Throughout his adult life, Truman consistently referred to Jews as “kikes” and boasted of his hatred for “Japs.” His biographer, Merle Miller revealed that “privately Mr. Truman always said ‘n*gger.’” Much of Truman’s racism however, remained in the dark for nearly sixty years until his diary was discovered.
Unlike Truman, we do not need to wait years for a diary, or in Trump’s case, Apprentice tapes to reveal his views on race. Trump’s potential cabinet could be labeled a “Dream Team” for white nationalists. This includes Rick Perry, Trump’s nominee for Energy Secretary who will oversee the nuclear arsenal. Throughout his political career, Perry brought fellow lawmakers and supporters to his Texas hunting camp named “N*ggerhead.” Trump’s nominees however, have nothing on him when it comes to bigotry. Indeed, Trump’s actions throughout the campaign earned him the coveted Ku Klux Klan endorsement. When Trump was not boasting about his love for “The Blacks” and “The Hispanics,” he called for a ban on Muslims, labeled Mexican immigrants “rapists and drug dealers,” contended a judge born in Indiana was Mexican and therefore could not perform his job, and argued the “Central Park 5” were still guilty, (they were cleared through DNA evidence), not to mention his long documented history of housing discrimination.
Although there are enough nuclear weapons to threaten all of civilization, it is clear that with Trump in control of the nuclear arsenal, the risks for nonwhite people around the world will grow exponentially. Trump has asked numerous times why he cannot use nuclear weapons since “we have them” and continues to demonstrate an utter disregard for nonwhite people, especially those of Middle Eastern descent. Trump has made clear that he would not only, “bomb the shit out of terrorists,” but also kill “their family members.” Moreover, Jeremi Suri argues that if Trump backs out of the Iran nuclear deal, Israel could attack Iran, which may prompt other Mideast countries to develop their own nuclear weapons. In Asia, Trump has suggested that South Korea and Japan develop their own nuclear weapons.” In response to Trump’s phone call with the president of Taiwan only a week after the election, China, in a rare occurrence, flew a “nuclear-capable bomber outside its borders.” When North Korea announced it was getting close to testing an ICBM, rather than exploring the possibility of diplomacy, Trump simply tweeted, “It won’t happen.”
In terms of the economy, Trump plans to massively cut taxes for the wealthy while calling for a reduction in the national debt and spending $1 trillion on the nuclear triad, which combined means one thing: cuts for the poor and black communities. We have seen this economic policy play out under Ronald Reagan. When Reagan took office, he was not in favor of nuclear disarmament. In fact it was just the opposite. He immediately called for a substantial strategic nuclear buildup to “regain and sustain a military superiority over the Soviet Union,” which included the MX missile, Strategic Defense Initiative, neutron bomb, and Trident submarine. To finance these new weapons, Reagan dramatically cut spending on social programs that largely benefitted African Americans. From 1981 through 1984, the administration cut $140 billion in social programs while increasing military spending by $181 billion.
Reagan’s nuclear spending had a dramatic effect on children. His administration significantly reduced spending on the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, food stamps, child nutrition programs, maternal and child health programs, and family planning. Federal funds for daycare were sharply cut back, as were training and employment programs such as the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, which was eliminated. In the early 1980s, 24 percent of children under the age of six lived in poverty. Free school lunches were eliminated for one million poor children. Over twelve million children entered the ranks of the officially declared “poor.” Black children were four times as likely as white children to grow up on welfare, which was reduced to $500-$700 a month and in parts of Detroit, one third of the children were dying before their first birthday.
The New York Times recently reported that under Trump, the U.S. could restart nuclear weapons testing. Nuclear testing has devastated nonwhite people around the world. Examining the effects of U.S. nuclear testing on Native Americans, Valerie Kuletz explains that we now know how nuclear contamination travels through the food chain, water supply, and air in the form of radiation. Since Native Americans rely more on “obtaining sustenance from the land than most, they are far more exposed.” As a result, tribes like the Navajo, Western Shoshone and Southern Paiute, and others have experienced a significant increase in cancer, thyroid, kidney, and lung disease, as well as birth defects and stillbirths. One cannot assume Trump would consider the well-being of these populations in the slightest, considering he supports the Dakota Access Pipeline and the only time he mentioned Native Americans during the campaign was in an attempt to insult Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) by calling her “Pocahontas.”
The most revealing and dangerous aspect of Trump’s views on race and nuclear weapons can be found in his ties to Russia and adoration for President Vladimir Putin. Putin backs Marine Le Pen’s Front National party in France and Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party. Brad Reed explains, “many white nationalists look at Putin’s deep alliance with the Russian Orthodox Church and anti-LGBT stances as a defender of European Christian values.” White nationalist Matthew Heimbach told the Business Insider, “I really believe that Russia is the leader of the free world right now. Putin is supporting nationalists around the world and building an anti-globalist alliance, while promoting traditional values and self-determination.” “I’ve always seen Russia as the guardian at the gate, as the easternmost outpost of our people,” white supremacist Sam Dickson told the New York Times. “They are our barrier to the Oriental invasion of our homeland and the great protector of Christendom.” Richard Spencer, who Casey Michel describes as “the current face of this white nationalist movement,” argues that Russia is the “sole white power in the world.” Moreover, David Duke contends Russia holds the “key to white survival.” According to the Anti-Defamation League, Duke sees Russia as the country to “help protect the longevity of the white race.”
In his most alarming statement to date, on December 22, 2016, Donald Trump said, “the United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.” When questioned the following day, Trump doubled down boasting, “Let it be an arms race,” causing many to fear that we are moving closer to nuclear war with Russia. However, analyzing his relationship with Putin, another more plausible and frightening theory has emerged. Journalist Sara Kendzior, whose research focuses on authoritarian regimes, explains that on the same day Trump announced his intention to “expand” the nuclear arsenal, Putin did likewise in almost identical language. Kendzior suggests that Trump and Putin may not be heading to war with each other, but rather heading into war together. Kendzior explains that Trump has been obsessed with nuclear weapons for several decades, and has expressed his desire to coordinate with Russia on nuclear policy since the 1980s. Indeed, in 1987, Trump made his goal of Russian collaboration clear when he called on the Soviet Union and U.S. to partner and form a “nuclear superpower” with the intention of intimidating other countries into dropping their own nuclear plans.
While Trump proposed his nuclear partnership with Russia as an unusual form of deterrence in the 1980s, today, Kendzior writes, “his stated goal is to use nuclear weapons on other countries.” If this is true, then we now have two authoritarian leaders controlling most of the world’s nuclear weapons, joining together to promote a white nationalist world-view.
Increasingly, many in the disarmament community are looking to the 1980s for guidance. Some have taken a more optimistic, and perhaps naïve view, suggesting that Trump may work with Putin and adopt a nuclear policy resembling Ronald Reagan. However, it is important to remember that when the U.S. and Russia had the greatest chance to jointly eliminate nuclear weapons, Reagan’s refusal to abandon “Star Wars” caused negotiations to crumble. Others have called for a new disarmament movement resembling the FREEZE campaign.
If the disarmament community turns to the 1980s as the blueprint to stop Trump, there are two pieces of history that must not be ignored. Reagan would not have changed course on nuclear weapons if he were not pushed. As Reagan sought to increase the nuclear arsenal, he faced the largest antinuclear movement in U.S. history. Part of that movement was the FREEZE campaign, which focused on “halting the testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons.” It was simplistic in language and had a unifying message. The FREEZE campaign and overall disarmament movement reached its zenith in the now famous June 12, 1982 march when approximately one million people filled the streets of New York City demanding an end to the arms race. Examining the possibility of a new FREEZE campaign, John Carl Baker argues the FREEZE movement challenged the Reagan administration to “temper its rhetoric and engage with the Soviets.” Baker contends that, “along with other peace movements around the globe, it helped bring the world back from the brink of nuclear war.”
Baker is correct. In response to the actions of the global disarmament movement, Reagan’s National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane said, “You had to have appropriations, and to get them you needed political support, and that meant you had to have an arms control policy worthy of the name.” Secretary of State George Schultz agreed: Given the political climate in the U.S., we could not keep pace in modernization, production, and deployment of these deadly weapons.” The president’s wife, Nancy, felt strongly that the administration’s disarmament initiatives were “not only in the interest of world peace, but the correct move politically.” Even President Reagan admitted that one of his main motivations for his shift in nuclear policy was that “from a propaganda point of view, we were on the defensive.”
To create a new disarmament movement in the 21st century that replicates the size and scope of the 1980s, Baker argues it must be “intersectional, digital, and confrontational.” I agree and would stress that nonwhite voices are a critical piece of this movement, as has been the case since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since 1945, many in the black community fought for nuclear disarmament arguing that nuclear weapons, racial equality, and colonialism were inextricably linked. Like the overall movement, black participation increased in the 1980s. As a result of Reagan’s cuts to social programs and increased military spending, ordinary citizens, prominent athletes, artists, musicians, and activists from the black community rose up in calling for end to the arms race. In Congress, Rep. Ron Dellums (D-CA) led the fight against developing the MX missile. And while some white, middle class leaders attempted to marginalize black activists, the day of the June 12th march fifty percent of the leadership was black, with thousands of African Americans in attendance, due in large part to the work the Rev. Herbert Daughtry and the Black United Front.
If we are to have any chance at success then we must emulate those activists who joined together to ensure nuclear war would not happen on their watch. We must continue the fight of those scientists who knew the danger of a fascist getting his hands on a nuclear weapon. We must accept that if we do not act now, we may not live to look back and analyze the Trump years, and that we the people may be the only true failsafe left.