What Would It Mean to Have a “Madman” In the White House With His Finger on the Nuclear Trigger?
December 26, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
“Nuclear war would wipe out most of life on Earth, as we know it. Humankind and most of the animal life would disappear because of the rising of the dust and smoke and fire of a nuclear mushroom cloud. The sun would be blocked for a significant, long period of time. The Earth would begin to freeze, literally. We would not be able to grow food. Radiation sickness would be everywhere. So we’d either die from the radiation sickness, or we’d die from hunger, very quickly. Life on Earth would essentially stop.” (See “Interview with Bruce Gagnon of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, on the Danger of Nuclear War: ‘The planet would survive. But humankind would disappear’.”)
Mushroom cloud over Hiroshima.
Nagasaki mail carrier Sumiteru Taniguchi's back injuries, taken in January 1946, from the U.S. atomic bomb attack on August 9, 1945.
On December 22, Donald Trump tweeted:
The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.
When questioned about this by an MSNBC reporter, he said
Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.
The “fuck you” tone, the fascistic threats of “strengthening and expanding” nuclear weapons, the threats of an arms race, and the obscene brazenness of these threats, is not only a cold statement of aims—but it imminently escalates the danger of nuclear war—by design or accident.
Trump’s Finger on the Nuclear Trigger
Nuclear weapons were introduced into war when the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. At Ground Zero in Hiroshima, almost everything was simply destroyed and every human being died. Even two miles from the blast, human skin was severely burned. The wind blew at 1,000 miles per hour—shattering the bodies of thousands of people as it hurled them through the air or brought buildings crashing down upon them. When the firestorm died down, the former city was a scorched plain. A heavy black rain brought radioactive dust back down to earth. Some of the dead had been vaporized, many others lay where they died, in their thousands and thousands. When President Harry Truman was told of the Hiroshima bombing, he said, “This is the greatest thing in history.” (See “American Crime Case #97: August 6 and 9, 1945—The Nuclear Incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”)
In the decades that followed, there were repeated incidents that came within a hair trigger of setting off such a nuclear war, including during the Cuba Missile Crisis, in 1962. (See “Massive Death by Nukes... And Close Calls.”)
Since the 1980s, it has been the policy of both the U.S. and Russia to decrease their stockpiles of nuclear weapons. That has not, actually, decreased the danger of nuclear war. During his administration, Barack Obama moved to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal. He installed missiles in Eastern Europe that have been seen as a provocation to Russia. He has instituted a trillion-dollar program to upgrade the U.S. nukes. And the U.S. has built up “missile defense” systems that increase the viability—at least in the eyes of the U.S. military—for “winning” a nuclear war. In that sense, Obama has built and handed a loaded nuclear gun to Trump.
Under Obama, drones, invasions, occupations, assassinations, and coups (and the threat of nuclear attack) have been combined with diplomacy, sanctions, and other forms of “soft power” that advance U.S. interests, including projecting the U.S. as the global champion of human rights and democracy. The Iran nuclear deal—a product of vicious sanctions aimed at creating suffering among the populace and squeezing the regime—put severe restrictions on Iran’s nuclear technology capacity. It is a model of the Obama approach. And it is reviled by the Trumpites because, in their eyes, Iran and other countries that challenge U.S. power need to be pulverized, not just restrained.
And Obama has been careful, in that context, to avoid overtly expanding the U.S. nuclear arsenal. He has insisted his goal is to “reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy.”
Let’s stipulate, for the minute, that it is part of the insanity of this system that these different imperialist and regional powers gamble with the continued existence of humanity as part of their calculations as to how to advance their own narrow, exploiting-class interests. It’s crazy, it’s sick, and it’s part of why this system has to be overthrown and something far better put in its place. Having said that, in one tweet and an explanation, Trump has made that much worse—perhaps exponentially worse. He has at best destabilized what was already a criminally unstable status quo.
Even before he has assumed office, Trump has thrown out the window all pretenses that the U.S. is trying to prevent nuclear war. He rants, “Let it be an arms race.” And he brags that in a race to destroy human life, “We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”
There’s no mystery about whether rival powers and other challengers to the U.S. will stand by while the U.S. builds up overwhelming nuclear weaponry. Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association, characterized Trump’s tweet as “Pouring more gasoline on the fire is exactly the opposite of what is needed.” And calculations are being made now by the rulers of other countries as to what risky moves they might need to make now to preempt nuclear blackmail by the U.S.
Method and Madness
There is a “logic” behind the madness Trump is projecting around using nuclear weapons.
If you are coming from the interests of humanity, there is a very clear answer to why the world cannot tolerate a nuclear arms race. Because nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction whose objective is to massacre huge numbers of humans, are a crime against humanity. They should be “forever banned,” right now. Not “strengthened” and “expanded.”
But in the eyes of the Trump-Pence regime, “strengthening” and “expanding” the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and making it clear they won’t hesitate to use it, is essential. When Donald Trump talks about “Making America Great Again,” he, and the sections of the ruling class who have rallied around him, are talking about dramatically reinforcing and strengthening U.S. domination over other imperialists and the world as a whole. When they talk about bringing the world “to its senses,” they mean other countries going along with that domination. And, in their eyes, this requires profound, violent recasting of the way things have been for decades, including rewriting the rules not of whether, but how overtly to threaten humanity with nuclear war.
To them, the threat to U.S. power posed by the rise of Russia and China, along with challenges from fundamentalist Islamic Jihad, from regional powers like Iran, and from “wild card” states like North Korea, is close to reaching a point of no return. And these different crises interpenetrate with each other in a volatile mix. As they see it, Obama has been far, far too soft, when what is needed is to project the U.S. as a power that will obliterate all who stand in its way without regard to pretenses of respecting human rights, rule of law, and concern for the danger of nuclear war.
Deeply embedded in the fascist mix around Trump are people like Lt. General Michael Flynn, appointed to the very powerful position of National Security Advisor. Flynn has said Islam is a “political ideology” that “hides behind this notion of it being a religion” and is “like a malignant cancer that has metastasized.” (see video) Think about the implications of that analogy, and the fact that this former general will be a top adviser to Donald Trump. And then think about Trump having his fingers on the launch codes for the U.S. nuclear arsenal!
At the same time, these other powers are not exactly willing to lie down for the U.S. They are working to heighten their ability to counter U.S. military force and themselves cannot necessarily afford to back down—certainly not each and every time.
Here, the madness factor enters in. This is actually an articulated doctrine for behavior of U.S. presidents, attributed to former president Richard Nixon. Nixon told advisers to spread rumors to the leaders of the Vietnamese revolutionary war against the U.S. invasion that he was a madman who had no hesitation to launch nuclear weapons. Trump takes that further. In campaign rallies and interviews, Trump has worked to cultivate that image, with statements like “I would bomb the shit out of ’em,” “I wanna be unpredictable,” and “I love war.” What is even more dangerous with Trump is that it is not at all clear what may be bluster and bluff and what is real—please note again his point at the top of this article, threats to greatly strengthen and expand U.S. nuclear capability and to outmatch and outlast every rival in an arms race.
As for Trump taking to Twitter to overturn existing nuclear weapons policy, the medium is part of the message. Given the understanding among at least sections of people about what nuclear war would mean, every previous U.S. administration has felt compelled to produce long, detailed policy positions on nuclear policy. Great pains have been taken to create the appearance—for the domestic public and global audience—that the U.S. rulers are aware of the risk involved, and would not use nuclear weapons without careful consideration of all factors involved. In announcing his policy, before he is president, in a tweet, Trump advertised how thoroughly he will disdain any and all conventions that have maintained a tense, profoundly dangerous status quo in nuclear weapons.
The situation the world confronts is this: The wide range of obstacles and challenges to actually implementing “America über alles,” combined with Trump’s outlook and threats, are already intensifying the odds that one or another of a whole set of conflicts (or even accidents) could trigger a nuclear holocaust that could end life on Earth.
That regime cannot come to power!
If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.