Mr. Khamenei, tear down that bomb.
“As you read this you are in effect wearing a military uniform and sitting in a very exposed trench. You exist at the whim of people whose power does not derive from your own consent and who you regard you as expendable, disposable.”
One’s blood is bound to run cold, as mine did, when in the first moments of the day, still in bed, a story from the Associated Press breaks out detailing that Iran has now begun to enrich its Uranium stock to a 60% degree of purity. A flashing reminder of the events of an earlier day comes to mind– there had been speculative reports that Israel had sabotaged a nuclear plant in Natanz. The alleged attack came at a tense time when negotiations on a nuclear accord were taking place in Vienna. Unsurprisingly, later that day, as I was settling into my day’s work, the so-called Ayatollah, Mr. Khamenei, dismissed the diplomatic talks as not “worth looking at.” Up until that morning, I had only followed the nuclear question in Iran peripherally. The reputation of the Iranian government precedes itself though, and so does that of the nuclear enterprise.
I attended a convention against nuclear armament a couple of years back. As I sat in the cafeteria between seminars, reading a collection of Socratic dialogues, I was approached by a senior doctor from the ‘physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War’ chapter of the country I was residing in at the time. The doctor noticed my book, and inquired, in a wonderful homage to my own reading, what a philosopher would think about nuclear weapons. I was taken aback, and though I don’t remember my exact words, I will never forget his. He looked at me and after I mumbled something about self-defense and preemptive military action, he said: “the thing is, nuclear weapons are not weapons of war– they have no strategic use in combat. They are weapons of mass destruction”.
The nuclear toil is that of mass destruction– a terrible and chilling specter. There is something intensely sinister about the idea of complete decomposition, not only of the flesh, but of everything around it as well. life is not only terminated, it is annihilated. There is no legacy to be left. No mourning. No family or loved ones to leave behind– no testament to our collective existence. No history. Everything, and I mean everything at all, is leveled with frightening speed and without exception. The threat of nuclear weaponry, in other words, is of the universal destruction of the individual. In this way, the nuclear weapon poses an existential threat to the human collective– it is a gun for the human spirit. It is only through this realization that I have come anywhere near to understanding Oppenheimer’s apothanotosis, and it was the context with which I embraced the news from the Associated Press that morning.
The destruction must be universal ever since the principle of mutually assured destruction was established during the cold war. Under this pretense it is that an uneasy pax nucularis was established, and it is then that we are faced with the following difficulty: every nuclear weapon that exists represents a de facto threat to our chances of survival. More than that, we ought to consider that not all armaments lie in equal hands. And, although I will be the first one to criticize the humanitarian track record of the United States, it would be facetious to compare it to the Iranian regime. The Iranian regime has the compulsive addiction to sponsor terrorism. Among their benefactors we can count such infamous organizations such as Hezbollah, and other jihadi groups such as Hamas. Beyond their proxy endorsements, they have harbored and protected senior Al-Qaeda members (in case the comically vile repertoire wasn’t troubling enough).
So, what now? Denuclearization would be the obvious step forward, but its implementation is sadly, laughably, improbable. The fact is that nuclear weapons exist, now. A ban of nuclear weaponry would have been infinitely more simple at the time the first bomb was engineered — please mind that ‘infinite’ here is a relative word, and, I’ll admit, a sly piece of casuistry from my part. After all, the atom bomb came into the world under the fire of the second world war and of international lawlessness. Today, in the midst of the nuclear age, we have to brace ourselves against the truths of a realpolitik which deals us a difficult hand. A great deal of nuclear warheads exist and that they exist within the control of a diverse cast of regimes with different priorities and different beliefs. I sometimes worry that we overestimate the efficacy of principles like MAD. What happens when an irrational, deluded, or fanatical actor gets hold of an apocalyptic weapon? Regimes, especially the undemocratic kind, are susceptible to empower leadership with these very qualities. If we are to mention the 1940’s at all in this dissertation, we ought to remember the point that Hitchens used to make about the third Reich: we may have been mistaken to think that towards the end of his life Hitler was a rational actor– it may be that he would see his aspiration of a National Socialist imperium realized, or he would sacrifice everything and everyone for it.
I need to emphasize, though, that comparing the Iranian regime with the Nazi state would also be facetious. However, the comparison is not so ridiculous with some of the organizations they are so keen to sponsor. In their sickly relationship lies much of the complexity of this argument and much of the inspiration for my eschatological nightmares. The path forward for nuclear peace is uncertain, but it seems to be bound towards an inevitable reckoning between the people who wield this totalitarian power and those who live at the whim of their will.