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Issue #1697      August 12, 2015

Taking Issue by Rob Gowland

Preparing for nuclear war

I watched a televised US news program in amazement last week, as various experts debated the pros and cons of modernising the US Navy’s fleet of nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed submarines. Not even the entire fleet, just the big subs, the ones with the arsenals of cruise missiles with multiple warheads.

Lest you think that no one would deliberately use nuclear weapons against a civilian population, remember that that is precisely what the US did at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The chiefs of the Navy want to replace the existing long-distance nuclear subs with new generation subs at a cost of many hundreds of millions of dollars. So costly is the proposal, that it could not be accommodated even within the USA’s bloated “defence” budget. The Navy wants Congress to establish a separate, special fund to pay for the new subs.

The new subs would be even bigger, would carry more missiles and the missiles would have even more warheads. A war-hawk’s wet dream. Put it together with the intensifying Cold War against Russia and China, and we have a new nuclear arms race – towards Armageddon.

Some US commentators understandably focused on the colossal cost. Bear in mind that the subs are only part of the picture: as the Quaker Dr Joseph Gerson noted in Common Dreams on July 31, “the US is now on track to spend one trillion dollars to ‘modernise’ its nuclear arsenal and delivery systems”.

The US economy is already in serious trouble and has been for a considerable time. Manufacturing for war is the only thing that keeps much of the population in jobs. But sustaining a huge military budget has been inexorably dragging the US economy down for decades, and as the military budget expands the drain on the economy expands also.

However, financial cost is not the only factor. As David Krieger wrote in Truthout:“On the 70th anniversary of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is past time for the United States to lead the world in negotiations to achieve the elimination of nuclear weapons, rather than pursue current plans to modernise its nuclear arsenal.”

Past time it certainly is, but don’t hold your breath. Despite his pledge in Prague, President Obama has retired fewer nuclear weapons that any other US President despite the supposed ending of the Cold War. The Soviet Union in the 1960s proposed peaceful co-existence with non-military competition between capitalism and socialism, but the US and its imperialist allies saw that as proof that their policy of forcing an arms race on “the Reds” was working.

While there is no doubt that the cost of meeting imperialism’s military threat placed a tremendous burden on the Socialist countries’ economies, had they not done so the West’s war hawks would have unleashed the most horrifying war imaginable on humanity. What alarms all civilised people is that they still contemplate it. They are just waiting until they have achieved some form of military advantage. Hence the new subs, etc.

Quoting Joseph Gerson again, “During wars and international crises, the US has prepared and/or threatened to initiate nuclear war on at least 30 occasions – at least 15 times during the Korean and Vietnam Wars and crises with China, and at least 10 times to reinforce US Middle East hegemony. And each of the other eight nuclear powers has made such threats or preparations at least once.”

Dr Gerson’s most recent book is Empire and the Bomb: How the US Uses Nuclear Weapons to Dominate the World, so he should know.

Lest you think that no one would deliberately use nuclear weapons against a civilian population, remember that that is precisely what the US did at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Neither city was bombed “to end WW2”.

“US Secretary of War Stimson had advised Truman that Japan’s surrender ‘could be arranged on terms acceptable to the United States’ without the atom bombings. … Senior US wartime military leaders including Admiral Leahy and General (later President) Eisenhower thought ‘It wasn’t necessary to hit them [the Japanese] with that awful thing.’

“But, as General Leslie Groves, the commander of the Manhattan Project, told senior scientist Joseph Rotblat, the bombs came to be designed for the Soviet Union … to intimidate Stalin and other Soviet leaders by demonstrating the apocalyptic power of nuclear weapons and Washington’s willingness to use them – even against civilians. Little Boy and Fat Man, as the bombs were named, announced the beginning of the Cold War.

“The myths that the A-bombings were necessary to end the war against Japan and that they saved the lives of half a million US troops remain widely believed. The myths serve as the ideological foundation for continuing US preparations for nuclear war, which in turn has served as the primary driver of nuclear weapons proliferation and the creation of deterrent nuclear arsenals.”

Which brings us once again to the bizarre situation in which the USA is preparing to cripple its own economy even further in the vain hope of gaining a significant military advantage over Russia and China. But, of course, there are tremendous profits to be made from a staggeringly expensive nuclear arms race.

And the allure of those huge profits will be the only factor that matters to the all-powerful military-industrial complex in the USA. War – and preparations for war – has always been good business and as weapons systems have become exponentially more complex and sophisticated – and more destructive – they have also become exponentially more expensive and consequently correspondingly more profitable.

However, the likelihood of anyone being able to enjoy those profits in the aftermath of a nuclear “exchange” would be slim indeed. Recent scientific studies demonstrate that even a “small” exchange of 50-100 nuclear weapons targeted against cities would result in smoke from fires that would cause global cooling, and up to two billion deaths from famine.

As Nikita Krushchev said of the survivors of a nuclear war, “The living would envy the dead.” Strangely, that does not seem to perturb some capitalists. But it should strengthen the resolve of the rest of us to put an end to wars of conquest once and for all.

Next article – “It’s a story of corruption, greed and ineptitude”

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