Monitor archives:
Copyrighted material

The Return of Nuclear Insanity

by Randolph T. Holhut

on reaction to Bush "Posture"
(AR) -- Madness. Total, utter madness.

What other reaction could a sane and rational human being have over the news that the Bush administration has ordered the Pentagon to prepare contingency plans for the use of nuclear weapons against not only the "axis of evil" nations of Iran, Iraq and North Korea, but also China, Russia, Syria and Libya?

It gets worse. The Bush Administration directive known as the Nuclear Posture Review (details of which were recently leaked to the Los Angeles Times) tells the Pentagon to prepare for possibly using nuclear weapons in future crises such as an attack on Israel by Iraq, a Chinese attack on Taiwan or an invasion of South Korea by North Korea.

Nuclear weapons may also be used in retaliation for a chemical or biological attack on the U.S., for attacking targets that can't be destroyed with conventional munitions and for "surprising military developments," such as terrorists getting hold of "weapons of mass destruction." The review also tells the Pentagon to start planning for the development of smaller "tactical" nuclear weapons and to again arm cruise missiles with nuclear warheads.

Decades of efforts to reduce the proliferation of nuclear weapons are now in the process of being wiped out to serve the military needs of the ongoing "war on terrorism." Our long-standing policy of considering the use of nuclear weapons only as a last resort may now be over. The leaders of our nation now believe they have the right to use America's unquestioned military dominance to turn any nation it pleases into a smoking crater.

Madness. Total, utter madness.

Is threatening to wage a nuclear war against any nation we don't like avenge the dead of Sept. 11? I say that it is not. Lowering the threshold for the use of the most destructive weapon ever devised will do nothing to make this nation more secure.

Since 1945, the unspoken policy was Mutually Assured Destruction -- any country who dared to launch a nuclear attack on the U.S. would likewise be destroyed. This was enough to deter the likelihood of a nuclear war. The policy now considered by the Bush administration makes the use of nuclear weapons a lot more likely.

As for the years of effort to keep the nuclear monsters in the box, if the U.S. decides to resume testing and development of new nuclear devices, what's to keep India, Pakistan, Russia and China from starting testing again and touching off another arms race? Even dumber than that is targeting countries are now supposedly our allies in the "war on terrorism" -- Russia and China. How long are they going to stay on our side if our military policy pretends that the Cold War never ended and that Russia and China are still threats to our national security?

Madness. Total, utter madness.

Anyone who has ever seen the photos and films of the aftermath of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 knows the destructiveness of nuclear war. Now imagine the use of weapons more powerful and more sophisticated thanks to more than five decades of research and development.

But maybe something good can come from this. Remember back in the 1980s, when the Reagan administration was talking about "winable" nuclear wars against the Soviet Union and wanted to deploy more tactical nuclear weapons in Europe? That was the last time we heard such loose talk about using nukes. One result of the Reagan years was the nuclear freeze movement that helped to transform the dialogue about foreign policy.

The proposal to freeze the Soviet and U.S. nuclear stockpiles started in Europe as a reaction to their desire to not be incinerated in a shootout between the superpowers. It then quickly spread to the U.S. In 1981, about one in three Americans supported the worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons.

By 1983, the figure was four out of five. From affirmative votes at town meetings in Vermont to nuclear-freeze referendums that passed in eight of nine states, American public sentiment against nuclear weapons was huge. As a result, the Reagan Administration quietly abandoned its talk about nuclear "superiority" and toned down the harsh rhetoric against the Soviets. Eventually, both nations reduced their nuclear stockpiles and the Cold War ended with the world no longer facing imminent destruction.

I still consider it a miracle that we got through the 1980s without a nuclear war, and I think the nuclear freeze movement was a big part of that miracle. In spite of all the red-baiting and demonizing of the conservatives, most Americans realized that reducing the risk of nuclear war was just plain common sense.

We need a similar movement today. We need to let our leaders know that there is no military contingency that requires the use of weapons of mass destruction. We need to let President Bush know that he doesn't have the right to wage unlimited and undeclared war against the evildoer du jour. We need to make it clear that the events of Sept. 11 do not justify the Bush administration to recklessly threaten other nations with nuclear attack and further fuel anti-American sentiment around the world.

It's not going to be easy. We've seen how effectively dissent has been squelched by the pro-war folks. But the U.S. is squandering whatever moral high ground it had after the Sept. 11 attacks. The Bush administration seems to be committed to a military policy that makes us as much of a "rogue state" as any of the countries on President Bush's nuclear hit list.

It is time to stop the madness. We need to speak up now and oppose the Bush doctrine of unlimited war and the possible use of nuclear weapons, before it's too late.

Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader"

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor March 17, 2002 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.