Like plump poisonous mushrooms
Lure humans toward death.
Outside my window is a Hawthorn tree covered with bunches of red berries supporting dollops of new snow. Every year in the middle of January thirty or forty Canadian robins will flock to its branches. After two or three days the birds will move on, every berry eaten, leaving the branches empty, colorless, and grey. Thus will be the end and the beginning of New England’s life cycle: barren branches soon bursting with buds announcing spring, the shade of green leaves softening the summer heat, followed by speckled leaves and emerging berries of frosty Fall nights.
Over breakfast and coffee last Sunday the dependability and joy of this view was overshadowed with two articles in the Concord Monitor. The first was a report of the missile alert mistake in Hawaii that sent the population scrambling for cover. The second article reported plans to increase the number of long-range ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads on Trident submarines.
These articles followed earlier news reports that over the coming years the Pentagon plans to spend another $1 trillion to build a new generation of nuclear bombs and delivery systems. All of this is in the context of the debate over the wisdom of a President being able to make the unilateral decision to launch a nuclear attack.
There also is Congressional legislation being offered to control the use of nuclear weapons. Senator Edward Markey and Representative Ted Lieu have introduced HR 669 and S. 200 Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017. It “prohibits the President from using Armed Forces to conduct first-use nuclear strike unless such strike is pursuant to a congressional declaration of war expressly authorizing such strike” (Congress.Gov).
Senator Edward Markey and Representative John Conyers have introduced S. 216 and HR 4140, No Unconstitutional Strike Against North Korea Act of 2017. It seeks “to prohibit the introduction of Armed Forces into hostilities in North Korea without declaration of war or explicit statutory authorization and for other purposes” (Congress.Gov).
The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, NPT, prohibits all but five states—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—from possessing nuclear weapons. However, India, Israel, and Pakistan also possess nuclear weapons but are not signatories of the NPT.
The reality is that these proposed congressional bills and the nuclear nonproliferation treaty leave the United States with approximately 2122 deployed nuclear weapons. They include 470 ICBM warheads, 1,152 submarine-launched ballistic missiles, 300 bombs, and 200 air launched missiles. Also, there are 2530 more nuclear warheads on reserve and 2530 waiting dismantling. Many of these US warheads have explosive yields 20 to 40 times larger than those of the warheads that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 (Union of Concerned Scientists). These numbers do not include the nuclear weapons held at the ready by the six other countries known to possess them.
The reality is that “half of 1% of the explosive power of the deployed nuclear arsenal can create nuclear darkness. 100 Hiroshima-size weapons exploded… would put 5 million tons of smoke in the stratosphere and drop average global temperatures to Little Ice Age levels. Shortened growing seasons could cause up to 1 billion people to starve to death” (nucleardarkness .org). A nuclear war would result in “widespread damage to human health, agriculture, and terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Killing frosts would reduce growing seasons by 10–40 days per year for 5 years. Surface temperatures would be reduced for more than 25 years due to thermal inertia and albedo effects in the ocean and expanded sea ice. The combined cooling and enhanced UV would put significant pressures on global food supplies and could trigger a global nuclear famine” (American Geophysical Union). And my hawthorn tree would be a leafless, berryless, spiky skeleton.
I write this not to create fear. I write to suggest that for the past 73 years we have been living as a nation with a psychological blind spot: living with the belief that we can use nuclear weapons to protect life. We are like a person with a bomb strapped to their body believing that setting it off will kill the enemy but save the individual who explodes the bomb. Our nation is tied to nuclear weapons. We do not see that the emperor wears the clothes of death.
The Union of Concern Scientists calls on the United States to lead a global effort to prevent nuclear war by: “renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first; ending the sole, unchecked authority of any president to launch a nuclear attack; taking US nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert; cancelling the plan to replace its entire arsenal with enhanced weapons; and actively pursuing a verifiable agreement among nuclear armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.”
These methods to prevent nuclear war are important to support. However, they divert from the reality that any use of nuclear weapons: response strike, first strike, or threatened strike; will not save us. Believing that possession of nuclear weapons contributes to our safety is a national psychosis. The use of nuclear weapons is a suicidal mission contributing to the death of the world. There are no winners.
Our national leaders need to focus on the realistic humanitarian choice of eliminating all of our nation’s nuclear weapons, now. This will free up the $1 trillion dollars currently planned for nuclear weapons. This money could be used for foreign long-term development and humanitarian aid. In 2015 the United States allocated 26 billion to development and humanitarian foreign aid. Imagine what an additional $1 trillion would do for U.S. relationships with people in need around the world. We would not only be refusing to be complicit in the mutual assured destruction of the world, we would also be contributing to the health, nourishment, and safety for the people of the world. At the least, we would not be participating in our own nuclear destruction and at best, other peoples and nations would be reluctant to destroy a country committed to the wellbeing of all people.
How would that be for money well spent? And perhaps, just perhaps, other nuclear weapons nations would follow the U.S. lead. Then perhaps, just perhaps, my hawthorn tree will stand laden with berries to feed those robins for another cold New England winter.