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Of Nuclear Buttons And Slippery Screwdrivers

by Ed Raymond | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Gadfly | May 2nd, 2018

So we have reached the stage where we have Little Rocket Man and the dotard Emperor Donald posing their fingers just slightly above nuclear buttons. To give you some solace, ‘tis said the Pentagon chiefs have removed the nuclear codes from the briefcase carried by a guy who follows our Great Leader. We can only hope the briefcase is empty. Emperor Donald fired the government’s top nuclear expert in the first week of his administration. When we look at just two of our Great Leaders meeting to determine the fate of Planet Earth, the whole thing should scare the hell out of everybody on the planet. 

Answer these two questions. Would you loan money to Emperor Donald? Would you send your children on a month’s vacation to Little Rocket Man’s domain?

I have been examining the possibilities of nuclear war for much of my life. I was in first grade when Albert Einstein sent that letter to Franklin Delano Roosevelt about harnessing atoms to create bombs. I was in seventh grade when Robert Oppenheimer, the “father” and director of the Los Alamos Laboratory, watched the fireball of the first nuclear bomb test called Trinity. He immediately recalled a line from Hindu scripture: “Now I have become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” I was in eighth grade when Harry Truman ordered the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th, 1945, destroying two cities and killing as many as 340,000 people from fire and radiation. “Little Boy” was dropped on Hiroshima and the five-ton “Fatman” with the energy of 20,000 tons of TNT was dropped on Nagasaki. The aiming point for “Fatman” was the largest Christian church in the Orient, the Urakami Cathedral. Just before the two nuclear bombs were dropped, we used 325 B-29 bombers to kill 93,000 Tokyo residents with conventional bombs.

I was a freshman in high school in 1946 when world-renown Canadian physicist Louis Slotin was conducting a test at Los Alamos to gather data for the construction of more bombs. He was going to bring the core of a nuclear weapon to the point of criticality, a very tricky operation known as “tickling the dragon’s tail.” He was using a screwdriver to keep the parts slightly apart—when the screwdriver slipped. In less than a few tenths of a second, a blue light contaminated the room and all of its occupants. Louis took the brunt. After his body absorbed 2,100 rems of radiation (500 is often fatal), Louis died after a horrible nine days. His left hand, the closest one to the core, had absorbed 15,000 rem of low-energy X-rays. The hand turned waxy blue and developed huge blisters in a few hours. On day five his white blood-cell count dropped off the charts. He suffered internal radiation burns and his lips turned blue. He went into a coma and died nine days after the accident.

Everybody Should Read “The Strange Death of Louis Slotin” — And Two Books
After serving three years on active duty in the Marine Corps, where I learned about nuclear weapons and tactics, I started teaching English at Fargo Central in 1958. I always had my students read articles about “The Strange Death of Louis Slotin”---and followed it with a lively discussion about the use of nuclear weapons. I thought it was important at the time that high school seniors understand the nuclear world they were living in. Little Rocket Man and Emperor Donald should read the articles before they meet and compare button size. Dr. Gary Kohls of Duluth put the coming meeting (if held at all) in terms we can all understand: “This has been a fake “crisis” that has been orchestrated between a sabre-rattling, third-rate megalomaniacal dictator that has control of a third-rate nuclear power (North Korea), and a sabre-rattling megalomaniacal third-rate president of a first-rate nuclear power (the United States).”

Daniel Ellsberg, the war planner who revealed the Vietnam debacle through his exposure of the top-secret “Pentagon Papers” to the New York Times in 1971, is now important for two books. His first one is “Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers” published in 2002. But perhaps many do not know that that he went to work for the RAND Corporation in 1959 as an analyst in the nuclear planning section. He just published “The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner,” recently reviewed in the New York Review of Books. I haven’t had the chance to read the whole book yet, but the review is extensive because it is the story of nuclear war planning almost from Day One. (Ellsberg and I happened to go through Marine Corps Officer Candidate School at Quantico together and were commissioned second lieutenants at the same time.) Ellsberg father had resigned from a job designing nuclear weapons because he wanted no part in building anything that would be a thousand times more powerful than “Little Boy.” Daniel didn’t know anything about his father’s work because he wasn’t cleared to know!

Ellsberg both loved and hated his work at RAND. It was intellectually stimulating to argue with others about nuclear war planning. But he has never stopped worrying about the use of nuclear weapons. He worried about the planning ability of Air Force General Curtis LeMay, commander of the Strategic Air Command, who devised a 1960 plan to defeat Russia and China. Ellsberg thought the plan for maintaining the peace threatened war so terrible that if mistakes were made the world would be destroyed before the bombers could be recalled.

LeMay’s plan was to take out Moscow with 80 nuclear weapons and to destroy every Soviet city with a population of 25,000 with at least one nuclear weapon. Ellsberg’s boss Herman Kahn called the plan “WARGASM.” China would get the same treatment as Soviet Russia. RAND estimated that such attacks would kill 380 million people in the two countries by the effects of radiation alone. The Joint Chiefs thought that LeMay’s plan was great. But LeMay had retained the right to decide when the attacks would start! When John F. Kennedy and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara were told about the plan they were horrified and insisted that it be changed.

It May Be A Miracle The Planet Is Still Almost Round
Ellsberg always says he is a worrier—and his books prove it. He was particularly worried during the Cold War. The Cuban Missile Crisis was his first big worry. Khruschev’s Russia had placed 38 nuclear missiles in Cuba and JFK had gone on the air promising a “full response” if any of those missiles were fired at the United States. Ellsberg was not sure Kennedy knew what he had threatened. Ellsberg knew that if that happened millions of Russians would die on the first day and hundreds of millions of other people in the world would die later from radiation. Ellsberg and others immediately flew from California to Washington to join the analysis of the crisis.

Ellsberg and his fellow nuclear analysts at RAND constantly worried about accidental “exchanges” over the decades of the Cold War. During that time we and the Russians had thousands of nuclear weapons targeted on one another. Firing procedures on both sides were often on hair-trigger status. We often had radar picking up images of missiles flying when they happened to be high-flying geese or radar images bouncing off a full moon. We are all lucky to be alive—and that General Curtis LeMay was not in charge of the first attack.

During the Cuban missile crisis one of our reconnaissance planes was shot down over Cuba. Robert Kennedy, thinking the Russians had committed the act of war, called the Russian ambassador and threatened to bomb Russia. We learned later that it was Fidel Castro’s forces that had shot the plane out of the skies. Ellsberg uses this incident as an example of how nations go to war “accidentally” because of what a third party does. McNamara learned 30 years later Khrushchev had given the Russian commander in Cuba the authority to use nuclear weapons immediately if we attacked them. This was another “close” one.

Two “Great Leaders” To Meet To Save—Or Destroy—The World
So now in another chapter of humanity’s attempt to blow up the world with nuclear weapons, we have two “religious” cult leaders who plan on meeting soon to discuss our fate. One Great Leader is Kim Jong-un, somewhere around 35 years old, 5’ 7” tall, about 215 pounds, with a distinctive “tsunami” haircut, the current dictator of North Korea and Chairman of The Workers’ Party of Korea, Chairman of The Central Military Commission, Chairman of The State Affairs Commission, and Supreme Commander of The Korean People’s Army. Over 34,000 statues of the Kim dynasty dominate the landscape in North Korea—equal to one every two miles. Like his counterpoint in the United States he loves huuuuge parades with thousands of goose-stepping, rifle-wielding soldiers in between twenty-wheeled trucks toting intercontinental ballistic missiles, and bombers flying overhead. He runs several concentration camps filled with about 200,000 enemies of the state. Entire families are often imprisoned for years. He has killed members of his own extended family. He killed five of the seven men who carried his father’s coffin to maintain power! He has executed at least one uncle, and probably was behind the poisoning of his half-brother in a Malaysian airport by two women. Evidently he has obtained two scholastic degrees, one in physics and one in military affairs at the Kim Il-Sung Military University. He has been classified by many as “strange.”

Across the negotiations table is our Great Leader, the blonde-haired Emperor Donald who at one time was the president of his “incredible, fantastic” and fake Trump University. In the 2016 campaign he called to strengthen our nuclear capability “until the world comes to its senses.” He called for us to increase our nuclear weapons “tenfold.” Emperor Donald has assumed the mantle of a “religious” cult leader by persuading evangelical Christian leaders to follow him to the Oval Office and Mar-A-Lago. In repeating 3,000 lies in over 2,500 tweets since his crowning, he has proven, according to numerous scholars, to be historically, theologically, morally, and scientifically illiterate. It’s impossible to go 24 hours without hearing Trump’s name. He missed the Vietnam War through five deferments and painful bone spurs, but maybe Christian faith healers such as Oral Roberts prayed over him so he could later play golf. As Military Commander-In-Chief he matches his narcissistic twin in North Korea in the character disorders of megalomania, sociopathy, and paranoia. Both leaders leverage political loyalty over human decency and religious standards. The Emperor has no gold statues but his huuuge “TRUMP” signs are everywhere. They are both “strange.”

Ellsberg in his “The Doomsday Machine” reveals how close we have come to committing the unthinkable over the last seventy years. He emphasizes: “WE CAME THIS CLOSE!” He has been at the center of the nuclear argument for many years. He claims nuclear weapons are way too dangerous to have because they are way too dangerous to use. He is right.

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