3 thoughts on “Highway to Hell

    • “Russia will escalate as necessary, possibly to nuclear weapons, to avoid military defeat and NATO’s further eastward enlargement. The nuclear threat is not empty, but a measure of the Russian leadership’s perception of its security interests at stake.  Terrifyingly, the US was also prepared to use nuclear weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis, and a senior Ukrainian official recently urged the US to launch nuclear strikes ‘as soon as Russia even thinks of carrying out nuclear strikes,’ surely a recipe for World War III. We are again on the brink of nuclear catastrophe.”

      Whatever hugs and kisses came up and delusions that the Cold War was off just because the Communist USSR had dissolved, neither side decided “Oh, we’ll just drop our nuclear weapons now.” To this day, as when I was a youth, you hear Americans say nuclear threats are ineffectual because the destructive power of a US-Russia nuclear exchange is too vast to be credible; no one would pull the trigger knowing the obliteration to follow. Today as ever, people need to understand that the threats are real and effective because of the increase in chances for an accidental trigger during hair-trigger strategic forces in a crisis. And not one hour since the Cold War “ended” does the US not track Russian nuclear assets. (During the G.W. Bush administration his Sec. of Defense replied to some question that we do not know what nuclear weapons Pakistan has or where they are. Got a laugh from me.)

      US should strike Russia “as soon as Russia even thinks of carrying out nuclear strikes.” Incorrect and naive, on the part of that Ukrainian official. That is not what we have gone by, these many past decades. What the enemy thinks of or talks of is not much for Pentagon decisions. We watch, close as our technology and informants reach, the enemy’s military developing capabilities and daily maneuvers, as they likewise do concerning ours.

      Thanks for this link, Irfan. I think Sachs’ condescension concerning JFK in Oct. ’62 is ridiculous. JFK knew exactly what he was doing. He had the best on retainer, such as Thomas Schelling (THE STRATEGY OF CONFLICT), and he knew this was brinksmanship in which chance accident is a major factor in the calculus. The picture from Sachs that JFK got a surprise wake-up on the nuclear world from a crisis he blundered into is silly. The alternative from the US Air Force was what you would expect (our B52’s were poised to fly to Russia and obliterate it; they still are, as part of the triad). JFK was not the hawk in the room on this side of the world; he was the innovator of another way. I worked for a man in electricity nuclear power who had been commander of one of those aircraft carriers blockading Cuba. He spoke of all the focus on pulling it off with no accidents.

      Small point of common parlance: I notice that Sachs has that lapse into thinking WWIII and nuclear war are one and the same thing. The US and Russia can have an all-out nuclear exchange (each trying to preempt a first-strike on their country by the enemy) without a world war having been the context.

      I don’t recall if I mentioned this last time, but here’s an accidental connection of that evening of Oct. 1962 with some philosophers. While the nation was waiting for the Pres. to make his speech on television (announcing the blockade) and my father (civilian, War Plans) was waiting with the Generals in the War Room at our local locked-down SAC base, Ayn Rand was giving a soiree. It was the last John Hospers would be attending. They were going to all snub him there in retaliation for critical public remarks he had made concerning Rand’s ideas on esthetics. He recalled someone informing Rand that Kennedy was putting in a blockade of Cuba. She replied “good.” I doubt she had much concept of the sophistication and danger in play. I know children in New York seemed oblivious to what was going on in comparison to children in Oklahoma City, especially children in our family. I was 14. When he left for the base lockdown, he knew we might never see each other again.

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      • Well, I have neither a memory of the Cuban Missile Crisis nor any detailed knowledge of it, so I’ll just focus on the first part of your comment.

        I agree with you. I’m shocked at how cavalier people have become about the prospect of nuclear war. It reminds me of the last thoughts I had as a teenage passenger in a car that was headed, at 40 mph, for a direct collision with an oncoming car. “I won’t die,” I thought as our brakes failed and the oncoming car approached, “because I’ve never died before.”

        That, I think, is about the cognitive sophistication behind the confidence people seem to have that nuclear weapons will never be used in any apocalyptic, catastrophic way. We won’t see an apocalypse because, well, we’ve never seen one before.

        I see no serious discussion in “the West” about the dangers of nuclear war. We’re permitted to hang Ukrainian flags outside our doors, and permitted to execrate Putin. But I don’t see any serious reckoning with the risks of nuclear war, or serious discussion of whether intervention in Ukraine is really worth the risks.

        Cuban Missile Crisis aside, we’ve been here before–not that our being here seems to have given us pause. Was the liberation of Korea worth the risks of atomic warfare? Were Quemoy and Matsu worth it? Is the defense of Taiwan worth nuclear war? Israel? We have no track record of discussing any of these questions in a sustained, systematic way–no clear starting points, no agreed-on method of how to think about risks or costs. Since February there’s just been the dogma that Putin is evil, that his invasion must not stand, that Ukraine should get every inch of its occupied territory back, and that talk of risks, costs, or reckoning is all just pro-Russian apologetics.

        But forget nuclear war. Sadder than the refusal to take that seriously is the refusal to take the meaning of warfare itself seriously–and this after uninterrupted decades of it, none of it victorious. Fringes aside, there is no anti-war party left in the United States, and no real way of making an anti-war position heard for what it’s actually saying (rather than for the associations people would like drape around it). The Democrats have proudly adopted the pro-war posture of yesteryear’s Cold War Republicans. The Republicans have confusedly adopted the incoherent posture of yesteryear’s Cold War Democrats. Every consistently anti-war faction within any of the major parties has liabilities that distract attention from its anti-war stand. There is no way to defend the likes of Tulsi Gabbard, John Mearsheimer, or Tucker Carlson compatibly with a belief in human dignity, however correct they may be about this war. But they are.

        In some ways, the only remedy, as I see it, is a version of your paean to Oklahoma. People sometimes ask me if I ever intend to return to academia. Answer: only if I get to leave this country in the bargain. My late wife had the right idea in fleeing to Canada. She just didn’t take it far enough. There’s no way to reason with people as invested in imperialism as Americans seem to be. One simply has to leave them to their own devices, including their nuclear ones. To quote a great sage: “There must be some kinda way outta here…There’s too much confusion. I can’t get no relief…”

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