Friday, May 20, 2016

ThingsThat Go BOOM

The Ironic Cherry reads...

Command and Control
Eric Schlosser

As we all sit agape listening to Donald Trump mouth off about the crash of EgyptAir and terrorism, I finish reading the incredibly well-researched and heart-pounding book about the development of nuclear arms and its history.  Like I wasn't scared enough, there's Trump riling up his already angry and stupid followers.

Of course, the presumably more intelligent and thoughful number two candidate, Ted Cruz, proposed to "carpet bomb" ISIS and find out whether "sand can glow in the dark."

It appears that it is the thrill of war (and the assumption of winning) that motivates the careless aggression of Trump and his followers.  Similarly, there are all those folks -- family, neighbors and co-workers -- who believe that the right to bear arms anywhere and everywhere equates to life and liberty.

I can't imagine a world without Bruce Willis or Schwartenegger, but that is my escape, not my reality.  These days I wonder at toy guns just as bubble gum cigarettes no longer make sense.  And yet it seems that those who are safest among us, and yes, that typically means white men, are the ones most obsessed with arms.  Guns, missiles, pretty much anything that explodes, the bigger the better.

The history of the nuclear arms race is one fraught with fear, misperception, bad decisions, and outright error.  The conflict has not just been against potential enemies, but military versus civilian control, safety versus potency, even regulation versus ennui, as bored crews cut corners in their scheduled maintenance of weapons that could kill millions.  And of course money, with the installation of safety features being passed over for the development of bigger and newer bombs.  Even as we have recognized the failure inherent in nuclear weapons, we have let them languor, rusty and inadequately guarded, rather than waste resources to protect or safety disable them.

The book tells two parallel and intersecting stories:  that of the history of nuclear weapons, and of the accident that occurred on September 18, 1980, near Damascus, Arkansas, during a routine maintenance procedure on a Titan II missile.  Along the way, Schlosser describes innumerable close calls resulting from dumb human error or negligence or compluter glitches.  Along the way, generals, presidents, and leaders of foreign countries have had to make decisions about what appeared to be nuclear attack.  We have been very, very lucky.

But with luck comes the sense of infallibility.  Those who have recognized the tremendous danger of nuclear arms have continued to meet the resistance of those who believe war is the only way to peace.

As I read this book, the movie Dr. Strangelove kept coming to mind.  The only possible rationale for imagining the success of a nuclear strategy is insanity.

During so many of the accidents and glitches that have been sprinkled over our years in which we -- and our allies and enemies -- have been keepers of this deadly power, we have survived catastrophe because the people in charge were aware of its potential and have kept their heads.  Donald Trump is a narcissistic, stupid and impulsive man.  He should never, ever, be anywhere near a decision that could result in such death and destruction.

Meanwhile, as we wait on the edge of our seats for November, I strongly recommend Command and Control.  Because nuclear weapons are not going away, and too many Americans have no clue about the risks of bombast and ego in this nuclear age.


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