To Be or Not to Be


Michael Gallagher

The lead story in the New York Times a few days ago reported there is little or no likelihood that President Obama, our Nobel Peace Laureate president, will announce a no first use of nuclear weapons pledge, a declaration that seems to have met with a collective yawn.

Though I lack the means to take a poll, I venture to say that some 95% of Americans with regard to nuclear weapons are much like practical atheists with regard to God. Practical atheists—as opposed to true unbelievers—do not make a fuss about God not existing, and the foolishness of believing that he does. It just does not occur to them to give the matter any thought at all.  Ditto 95% of Americans with regard to nuclear weapons and the perils they embody, foremost of which is a world so bleak and desolate that, as Khrushchev once put it, the living will envy the dead.

Their state of mind verifies Einstein’s assertion that everything has changed with the splitting of the atom except the way people think.  The New York Times story could have accomplished something if had gotten one sixteenth of the amount of attention given to the clown show now at center stage: Trump and his wall and Hillary and her e-mails. It might have caught the attention of a significant number of Americans who had forgotten all about nuclear weapons and prompt them to ask their representatives in Congress, as well as Hillary and Donald on the stump, some good questions. Then, again, it might not have.

One would expect a cry of moral outrage from mainline religious groups and the peace institutes flourishing throughout the land at the prospect of the first nation to use the most heinous of weapons refusing to rule out being the second to do so. But I am afraid one would expect in vain. Though all of them deplore modern war—Pope Francis frequently expresses his distaste for it (to no avail, needless to say)—they hesitate to get downright rude about it, to rhetorically kick butt and name names.

What does that mean to you and me?  It means that at any moment—with hundreds of nukes on land, sea, and in the air primed and ready to go—that those of us who survive that first use and the second and third uses that will inevitably follow will find ourselves reduced to circumstances far worse than that of those refugees we cannot avoid seeing on television, try as we might. These wretched souls at least have the hope, however faint, of finding refuge somewhere before they perish. But we will not have even that much. There will be nowhere left to flee.

11 thoughts on “To Be or Not to Be

  1. Last night, 60 Minutes had a segment on “The New Cold War” that showcased a single Trident submarine and its ability to launch 200 nuclear warheads, all of which are much more powerful than the bomb that leveled Hiroshima. In short, one submarine could easily unleash global Armageddon. And we have 12 of them, according to the US Navy:

    Here’s the 60 Minutes segment:

    Now, we’ve had these submarines for decades; nothing new there. What’s new (or old) is the breathless hype about a “New Cold War,” the belief that once again America must be poised, fingers on a nuclear hair-trigger, in case of a Russian or Chinese attack. This belief further supports nuclear “modernization,” the idea that we need to spend as much as a trillion dollars to “modernize” our nuclear arsenal over the next few decades.

    If this isn’t madness, I don’t know what is.

  2. Mutually Assured _Suicide_, when taken seriously by the adults in the room, has kept the peace. When the ignoramuses in the political class (and some military) even begin to hint that they will consider and condone the use of “nuclear tactical” weapons I _know_ they are insane, shallow, or abysmally uninformed. Once the first nuke is used, all of them are sure to follow (our evolutionary simian brain, and its status-seeking, one-up-manship impulse which most folks experience in every human interaction and seem unable to control), and life as we know it will cease to exist. Just as the dinosaurs died off when a meteor hit the Yucatan coast, so a couple of hundred of these radiation-poison bombs will extinguish mankind. I pity the survivors, not only will they experience a nasty, decades-long nuclear winter and starvation, but a very painful and agonizing radiation poisoning.
    Not a pretty prospect. God have mercy on them.

    • socrates2 said:
      ” (our evolutionary simian brain, and its status-seeking, one-up-manship impulse which most folks experience in every human interaction and seem unable to control),”

      You can blame the robust American advertising business that assaults us on all media for that lust for material satisfaction rather than spiritual or intellectual satisfaction.

  3. Thank you for a thoughtful and thought-provoking article. How true it is and how profoundly saddening. Will humanity wake up in time? Don’t count on it, but we must try. . .

  4. Undoubtedly one of the first things a newly-ensconced POTUS does is sit down with the (almost-exclusively, still) boys at the Pentagon to be disabused of any crazy ideas about declaring Peace On Earth. (“Purity Of Essence”? I recently had the pleasure of watching Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove” again. I’m pretty sure it was a documentary [wink].) The lesson of John Fitzgerald Kennedy will never be forgotten. Bucking the system from the highest elected office just isn’t done! Notice how Eisenhower, who knew a thing or two about the desolation left by war, waited until his last days in office to issue his warning about unbridled military madness.

    Carl Sagan, in offering hypotheses to explain our lack of authenticated contact with extra-terrestrial civilizations, suggested (though I doubt he believed it himself) that perhaps when societies reach a certain level of technological advancement they always self-destruct. I reject this notion myself, believing that somewhere in the Universe civilizations have evolved peaceful ways of existing. I applaud the stance of the current Pope heartily, but all the Papal declarations for peace that can possibly be stacked up won’t frighten the war-makers one iota. Shall we take collective pride that homo sapiens has come up with an alternate means for self-extinction by so overpopulating, polluting and heating the whole planet? “To be or not to be, that is the question…” indeed. Apparently the decision has been made for us, in favor of the second option in Hamlet’s famous soliloquy.

  5. It may be that the world’s far sighted politicians who have their hands on the nuclear trigger are short sighted enough to feel they are going to save their citizens from the long term horror of a slow death from global warming by incinerating them quickly in the nuclear ovens. One never knows what goes on in the minds of overly ambitious politicians.
    As Epictetus wrote long ago “No man knowingly does evil”.

  6. I lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, but as a sophomore in high school I didn’t know much about it beyond the lurid newspaper headlines and heavy mouth breathing of U.S. government officials. We “won,” of course, but unfortunately the lesson drawn by successive generations of American officials — especially those infesting the U.S. government today — consists of a single quotation from JFK’s Secretary of State Dean Rusk: “We’re eyeball to eyeball and I think the other fellow just blinked.”

    In the years following this near disaster, I came to understand the details of the trade-off made between Kennedy and Khrushchev: the soviets would withdraw their nuclear missiles from Cuba and the United States would withdraw its nuclear missiles from Turkey. (The U.S. missiles in Turkey have long since returned). The American concessions, however, had to remain secret from the American public lest it come to light that we had “blinked,” too. Yes, we had the military advantage near our own — and Cuba’s — shores, but the Soviets had the military advantage in Berlin and other places closer to their borders. It made sense to do a deal and so a deal got done. Regrettably, though, the United States government could not publicly admit that it had made any concessions because that would have implied “weakness” which would have undermined America’s self-image as omnipotent and destined to prevail in any contest, any place, any time, and for any reason. This deliberately inculcated delusion has now reached almost suicidal dimensions. The United States simply assumes that those nations with their own vital interests to defend will automatically “blink” if only the hyper-militarized American government stares hard and long enough into their eyeballs.

    To refresh my memory, I did an Internet search on Secretary Rusk’s iconic phrase and came across an essay on the subject at the Council on Foreign Relations blog, The Water’s Edge, written by James M. Lindsay, entitled TWE Remembers: Eyeball to Eyeball and the Other Fellow Just Blinked (Cuban Missile Crisis, Day Nine). Short and to-the-point, I think it says a great deal that Americans would do well to keep in mind today.

    As I have watched my country become vastly over-extended militarily — and nearly bankrupt from the gargantuan costs of maintaining an imaginary “full spectrum dominance” everywhere on Planet Earth — I have often wondered why America’s rivals and competitors — I won’t call them “enemies” — don’t simply liquidate in short order some of America’s more obviously provocative yet utterly defenseless outposts as an object lesson to America’s deluded policy makers. Then I remember that scene from The Count of Monte Cristo (2002), a film by Kevin Reynolds, wherein the dissolute aristocrat Fernand de Mondego sits at a casino roulette wheel gambling away his family inheritance. Through an open door nearby, Edmond Dantes and his sidekick Yacopo look on. Observes the laconic Yacopo: “He’s losing at the other casinos, and they’re not even cheating him.”

    Therein, I think, lies the truth of today’s situation for America in the world. Our self-styled “leaders” believe that they need only toot their own horns, pat themselves on the back, squander taxpayer dollars like a drunken Reagan, and stare into other people’s eyeballs until they “blink,” Too bad for our country, the rest of the world has learned to bide its time, patiently, until the United States cheats its own self into well-deserved insolvency and obsolescence. Why even bother doing to the United States what it will do to itself in any event?

    Given Murphy’s Law, the nuclear thing will go wrong in any way that it can, most likely with an electrical short-circuit or computer glitch causing one (or several) of America’s own bombs to detonate in either a missile silo in Nebraska, a B-52 flying over New Jersey, or a submarine moored at Ballast Point near San Diego. Whether anyone else “blinks” or not, it would seem inevitable that the United States will cheat itself to death, one way or another. In Shakespeare’s melodrama, Hamlet could not decide whether to live or die. (Messing around with metaphysical Aristotlean “being” certainly didn’t help clarify things). In the end, he did the latter, as much at his own hands as any other’s. That happens when people believe in ghosts (or, “higher fathers”) and what they say the ghosts urge them to do, whether in Elizabethan England or the United States.

    Finally, whatever President Obama says or does not say matters not at all. Who even listens to him any longer? Certainly not his Pentagon, CIA, or deep-state neocon apparatchiks busy sabotaging his policy at every turn. And since his own government won’t listen to him or take him seriously, why should anyone else? What an obscene joke the U.S. presidency has become. It pretty much sums up the incoherent and incompetent, if not dishonorable, U.S. Government that President Obama hasn’t fired Aston Carter and John Brennan for insubordination or that John Kerry hasn’t resigned because his own president won’t back him up when he makes deals with foreign countries. T.S. Elliot once wrote that the world will end “not with a bang, but a whimper.” Certainly the Obama administration will end with its tail tucked proudly between its legs, but nothing guarantees that the world and the Obama administration won’t end simultaneously, with both a whimper and a bang.

    “How to blink without appearing to do so?” Therein lies the real question for America’s self-infatuated “leaders.”

    • Two events that just transpired in Washington DC will certainly do nothing to burnish Obama’s legacy/reputation: 1.) on behalf of the thoroughly corrupt rulers of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia he signed a bill to prohibit American survivors of terrorist actions that might be traced to the Kingdom from trying to sue KSA–it’s said there’s a very good chance Congress will successfully override his veto; 2.) and in a scene directly from Bizarro World we see a photo of Barack and Michelle Obama clowning around with none other than George W. Bush at the official dedication of the National Museum of African American History. Why such a creature would even be invited to attend this event stretches credulity way beyond the breaking point. Perhaps the museum contains the airplane from which Bush distantly observed the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina on the poor black residents of New Orleans? Or maybe it features a copy of the World’s Shortest List: Civil Rights marches attended in his youth by George Walker Bush. (I imagine Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s lists would be equally short, I hasten to add!)

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