BOOK REVIEW: Peter Watson’s “Fallout” shows how the nuclear world we got didn’t have to be this way—and doesn’t

As the Justice Department investigations and Congressional hearings into Watergate closed in, Richard Nixon—as a brag—once said something to the effect of, “I can go into my office and pick up the telephone and in 25 minutes, millions of people will be dead.”

That was when he was sober. In the depths of his stress and depression, the U.S. president was also mixing alcohol and sleeping pills, and his natural paranoia became even worse.

“He really got paranoid when he got three drinks in him. There are things I’m not even going to discuss that were said, but they were the result of drinking. He could not handle drink,” one of Nixon’s political strategists said.

This is a man who semi-regularly “beat the hell” out of spouse Pat Nixon. Considering that more than half the mass shootings in the United States involve attacking a former or current romantic partner, it’s not implausible that a too-drunk Nixon might have gone too far hurting his wife and decided to kick off the destruction of humanity by picking up a phone to kill 70 million Russians half an hour later. Legally, there was nothing anyone might do to stop him, except perhaps invoke the just-passed 25th Amendment.

Otherwise, all United States presidents since Harry S. Truman have had and still have the legal authority to translate a vicious, narcissistic whim into genocide, and along the way, America’s nuclear arsenal grew so that power became omnicidal, capable of unilaterally ending all human life on earth without requiring any return shot.

Since the end of the Cold War and dissolution of the Soviet Union, the reasoning for that godlike authority remaining vested in a single person no longer exists: there is no longer a prospect of an unannounced first strike that’d have no ability to respond to without deliberation.

Yet, by inertia, the imperial presidency of the United States still has this capacity, and it seems unlikely any White House willingly would devolve such a power back to a legislature or extend the process to involve oversight and review.

As a candidate, publicly and presumably as a president, privately, Trump has expressed some befuddlement at the idea of the United States having nuclear weapons but not being able to use them except in a retaliatory exchange. Our only reassurance is that he’s said a lot of things on nuclear weapons; we sleep at night assuming the best interpretation of those inconsistencies and not the worst.

The Roman emperor Caligula thought he was a god, but Caligula couldn’t end the world in reaction to an especially scathing sketch on a re-run of Saturday Night Live.

* * *

Time’s arrow being such as it is, cause and effect being understood such as they are, each discrete step makes sense from conceptualizing the nucleus of the atom and discovering fission to release theretofore unimaginable energy, all the way till now where all trace of human achievement rests on one emotionally brittle septuagenarian not exercising his veto on the existence of complex terrestrial life.

Young Millennial and Gen Z humor tends toward a particularly absurdist flavor of nihilism, which dovetails quite well with our entire conscious lives involving inescapable, looming murder—from mass shooters to nuclear catastrophe—for no reason other than “that’s just the way it is”.

People with power could make direct and obvious changes for the better, but the status quo is easier and most benefits those who currently have power.

So here we are.

* * *

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: Peter Watson’s “Fallout” shows how the nuclear world we got didn’t have to be this way—and doesn’t”

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‘So why can you be transgender but not transracial?’

‘Race’ isn’t real in the sense that we use it. ‘Mongoloid’, ‘Negroid’, ‘Caucasoid’ are fictions of racism that don’t align with any evidence-based reality.

Sub-Saharan African populations are more genetically diverse than the rest of the planet combined; Aboriginal Australians are separated from by 60,000 years of descent, and Tamils and Melanesians all dark-skinned therefore would be identified as ‘black’ if living a society built on racism.

Racism isn’t grounded in reality, but it creates a reality people live in.

Continue reading “‘So why can you be transgender but not transracial?’”

The South will rise again, then Sherman will reincarnate

It’s the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, all this year and for the next four, and it started, really, really, with April 12 and Fort Sumter. Now we’re getting into the sort of thing mustachioed Southern men can actually re-enact, and be interviewed about while dressed up on the History Channel.

(Or rather, be interviewed about on the History Channel as it existed 15 years ago.)

This is the good part of the Civil War, the one everyone likes with its gallantry and troop movements, and “Oh, brother-against-brother; they had such courage on both sides, and who really knows who was in the right?”

Continue reading “The South will rise again, then Sherman will reincarnate”

Liberators: The truth, or some of it

I was browsing wikipedia the other day (several years ago) and happened across this picture. I don’t remember exactly how I got there, really. These things happen. Immediately, I fell in love with it.

liberators

On one level it’s not hard to see why. It’s 50-freaking-stories-tall, wields a tommy gun, and has a bomb for a foot. Suck on that Optimus Prime.

On another, on the level of my political sensibilities, it may not. I’m not a fascist, leftist radical, or even anti-American. I rather like us. But, I like the picture and what it has to say about us as a nation, at that time certainly, but very much now as well.

It is racist, Nazi (well, basically Nazi) propaganda, and like all good propaganda, tells half of one truth and none of another. In this example, the United States is destroying the good Ol’ World by bombing the crap out of it. Oh it’s true, but the other half is that Germany conquered and looted it first (and declared war on America). That completes the picture. And of course the poster says nothing at all about the Nazi regime’s treatment of Jews, Romani, and other undesirables. I think it neglects that state’s activities altogether.

By the standard of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, it does not do well, but is it a lie, except in the literal sense that America did not possess a 50-story-tall monster? No. And that’s why I’m so fond of it.

The Second World War is widely seen as “the last good war” for a lot of Americans, probably as much for the totality of our victory than the moral clarity of the situation. But what moral clarity there was! Japan bombed us, Germany immediately declared war on us, and from Abyssinia to Nanjing to Auschwitz, the Axis powers proved themselves very bad folk. The Allies were clearly the good guys. Well, except for the Soviet Union. But they were on good behavior during the war. Except for the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Russo-Finnish War, mass rape of German women… Anyway, the French and the British didn’t do any of that stuff. Besides, they were democracies. Okay, yeah, they were also empires with vast colonial holdings that exploited millions kept in grinding poverty to maintain the homeland’s standard of living. But those citizens at home could vote.

America, though, didn’t have an empire then, or at least not a substantial one, anyhow. There weren’t many Hawaiians still around, and the Philippines had settled down. And hey, the vast majority of the population lived in the continental U.S., and we’d achieved universal suffrage there. Even in the South, black people could vote, they just didn’t for some reason. Or hold any elected offices. Or go to the same schools. Or drink from the same water fountains.

I don’t need to mention Dresden or Hiroshima or internment camps; those get thrown around enough, and I’ve made my point, I think. It is the same point I take from, although not intended by, that poster.

As George Orwell (I like George Orwell) said way back in 1940 and of England, “If I side with Britain and France, it is because I would sooner side with the older imperialisms — decadent, as Hitler rightly calls them — than with the new ones which are completely sure of themselves and therefore completely merciless. Only, for Heaven’s sake let us not pretend we go into this war with clean hands. It is only while we cling to the consciousness that our hands are not clean that we retain the right to defend ourselves.”

The United States then was the Klan and the gangster, the jitterbug and the banker, and the bomber and the war profiteer, and the vain woman and lecherous man, and the Zionist Jew, too. A melting pot of crime and corruption and “mongrelization” and ulterior motives. The Nazis were right to poke fun at calling a war bomber, a machine designed to rain down indiscriminate destruction on what’s below it, “a Liberator.” Sure. But that’s not all we are. We are many good and laudatory things we like to remember, and so they’re easier to remember. It’s just dangerous to forget and deceive the self. Better, better, a thousand times better to deceive yourself and believe you’re something better than what you are than to cease striving and revel in your failure, but better than both beyond compare to be honest and continue striving.

So it’s not as though the Holocaust and Jim Crow have moral equivalence or are so similar we can’t judge Germany poorly for their actions. Obviously, we must. But there is no one good, no not one, and it’s just as important to remember the concentration camps we liberated as we do the ships full of Jews fleeing the Nazis we turned away. Not because that makes us just the same as the Nazis but because by recognizing we have fallen short, rather than staying content as we are, we can be sure to get closer to the ideal.