The Impending Nuclear Elephant (Revelation 15:2)
31 DECEMBER, 2015 BY ANDREW THE PROPHET
Can We Talk For a Minute About the Nuclear Threat?
Getty National Archives
By Charles P. Pierce
Dec 30, 2015
Here in the shebeen, we’ve been talking a lot about fear, reasoning, and unreasoning these days. The other night, my son recalled a story he’d heard from his high school social studies teacher, a guy who’d grown up around Worcester a half-generation ahead of me. At one point, somebody published a list of the Soviet Union’s first-strike targets in the event of a nuclear war. Worcester was fifth place on the list, probably because it was where the Wyman-Gordon Company made the engines for the B-52 bomber. (Was this a genuine story, or a plant from U.S. intelligence? It hardly matters now.) Some local wags made up buttons that said, “We’re Number 5!” I do remember the list coming back into the news during the two nervous weeks of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Call me a sucker for boomer nostalgia, but a bunch of guys in second-hand pickup trucks still don’t scare me as much as the fact that there’s a death-load of nuclear material and nuclear weapons still floating around out there on a somewhat open market. Comes now William Perry, a former Secretary of Defense, to share my concerns.
”Every day that I went to the analysis center I thought would be my last day on earth,” he writes in a newly published memoir, ”My Journey at the Nuclear Brink.” He says he believed then and still believes that the world avoided a nuclear holocaust as much by good luck as by good management. In the interview, he recounted a harrowing incident in November 1979 when, as a senior Pentagon official, he was awakened by a 3 a.m. phone call from the underground command center responsible for warning of a missile attack. The watch officer told Perry his computers were showing 200 nuclear-armed missiles on their way from the Soviet Union to the United States. ”It was, of course, a false alarm,” Perry said, but it was one of many experiences throughout the Cold War and beyond that he says have given him a ”unique and chilling vantage point from which to conclude that nuclear weapons no longer provide for our security — they now endanger it.”
Perry’s warnings come not long after a Republican presidential debate in which the nuclear “Triad” once again became a thing because it was clear that He, Trump didn’t know fck-all about it. The other candidates — especially Chris Christie and Marco Rubio — leaped in and joined in a call for a new, modernized Cold War. This is exactly what scares the hell out of William Perry.
Perry thinks the US nuclear force no longer needs land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, and can rely on the other two ”legs” of the force — bomber aircraft and submarine-based missiles. ICBMs should be scrapped, he says, adding, ”I don’t think it’s going to happen, but I think it should happen. They’re not needed.” He opposes the Obama administration’s plan to build a nuclear-capable cruise missile. He looks at Russia’s nuclear modernization and US plans to spend hundreds of billions to update its nuclear arsenal and sees irrational competition. ”I see an imperative to stop this damn nuclear race before it gets underway again, not just for the cost but for the danger it puts all of us in,” he said.
This puts Perry far ahead of our national politics on this subject which, when they deal with nuclear weapons at all, largely talk about them in the context of the “war” on terror, of suitcase bombs and deadly container ships. Perry is properly concerned with these scenarios, but he’s also sending up flares to the effect that the United States and Russia may be careering toward the days of Fail Safe and Dr. Strangelove again, the days of accidental apocalypse.
In his first book, co-authored in 1999 with the man now running the Pentagon, Ash Carter, Perry argued that the demise of the Soviet system meant nuclear disaster was no longer an ”A List” threat. By 2014, his optimism faded, in part because of the collapse of cooperative relations between Washington and Moscow, which ended any realistic prospect of arms control agreements and, in his view, has put the countries on a dangerous path toward confrontation. ”We are facing nuclear dangers today that are in fact more likely to erupt into a nuclear conflict than during the Cold War,’‘ Perry said in a recent speech. A soft-spoken man not given to hyperbole, he is on a crusade to persuade people that nothing less than the future of civilization is at stake. What worries him most is few seem to notice. ”Our chief peril is that the poised nuclear doom, much of it hidden beneath the seas and in remote badlands, is too far out of the public consciousness,’‘ he wrote in his memoir.
This one goes on the must-read list for 2016. It’s time to differentiate between the real threats and the monsters that lurk in the hedgerows of the Id. I wonder where Worcester is on the list these days.