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Global Warming? We Should Be So Lucky

10.18.2006 05:46 | DISPATCHES

Slow cooking sure beats being flambeed at ten million degrees in a nuclear attack.


There's little doubt that the nuclear weapon programs of North Korea and Iran constitute clear and, if not present, someday-soon, dangers. But they also serve a purpose: moving nuclear weapons to the forefront of the national consciousness, where they haven't been since the Nuclear Freeze Movement of the 1980s.


To war hawks who have failed to evolve since the days of General Curtis LeMay, nuclear weapons were simply an extension of conventional warfare. To others, they're a deterrent.


Their use as a deterrent, however, was rendered obsolete when the Cold War ended and states even more insular, self-involved and unpredictable than the United States, like Israel and Pakistan, acquired nuclear weapons technology.


But the US blew a big opportunity when we failed to match Gorbachev's pledges to reduce Russia's nuclear weapons to almost nothing. We also failed to take advantage of the "peace dividend" (which might have made the prosperity of the 90s more democratic) that scaling back our arsenal might have afforded us. Instead, we continued to build missiles.


In "House of War" (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), James Carroll writes: ". . . nuclear arms control is dead; America killed it."


But, beyond their use as a weapon or, at one time, a deterrent, what are we really talking about when we speak of nuclear arms?


This question must be met with -- however annoying -- another question, one as fundamental as they come: What's the worst way of death? Some might respond: torture. Others, the usual: shooting, knifing, AIDs, drowning, cold.


And then there's fire.


Nobody wants to die by fire. In a house fire, if you're lucky, smoke inhalation gets you first. In a nuclear attack, we're talking about a Joan of Arc or Buddhist-monk-immolating-himself death for those who don't die during the blast.


Is that what we want for ourselves or -- gasp -- our children? But we're inviting just such a flesh-frying, skin-peeling scenario by failing to adhere to a disarmament-begins-at-home policy.


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