The late novelist Kurt Vonnegut recounts the horrors of the firebombing of Dresden, Germany in both the fictional work Slaughterhouse Five and his book of nonfictional essays, Armageddon In Retrospect. Vonnegut was a World War II veteran who had his boots on the ground, so he pretty much knew his subject. He makes a point that the death toll from firebombing cities was not too much different from the two atomic bombs that the U.S. dropped over Japan in August 1945. But with the advent of the hydrogen bomb, mass annihilation is a safe bet today.
How much resistance would there be if an order to launch a nuclear war was given by the uber narcissist Donald Trump? A basic premise of the military is that a person needs to go along to get along and submerge any individual ideas or renegade opinions. That reality provides the backdrop to the conundrum facing people in the U.S. today who are very, very fearful of an unhinged Trump unleashing a nuclear war. Would anyone in the military chain of command, taught to instinctively follow orders, resist such an order of mass annihilation?
Just after the duck and cover drills practiced throughout U.S. schools at the height of the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s, a kind of gallows’ humor took hold about the prospect of how much time a person would have to protect himself/herself following the beginning of a thermonuclear war. Just about enough time to duck and “kiss your ass goodbye” in the parlance of kids growing up in those days was the answer.
Our next-door neighbor in the 1950s built a fallout shelter made from sandbags. He announced to neighbors (neighbors generally communicated and helped out one another in those days) that he would have no problem shooting any person who approached his shelter following the beginning of a nuclear war. In reality, the shelter would have given his family about as much protection as a cardboard box, as two substantial naval bases were less than 20 miles away and a single hydrogen bomb would have vaporized all of us in an instant.
In addition to our next-door neighbor, a more elaborate fallout shelter, consisting of a huge metal container resembling an underground gas-station tank, was prominently displayed in front of the steps of one of the houses on my paper route. A huge hole was dug to place it underground, complete with a periscope-like air vent. Is it still there today?
The psychic harm done to children in those days was palpable. Could it be any different today? Where is a nuclear freeze movement today, as was so vibrant in the early to mid 1980s? Perhaps that movement’s failure to stop the bellicose “Great Communicator” Reagan is a lesson learned?
Do I dare quote the media outlet RT without creating an annotation on a FBI file? Remember that RT now has to register as a foreign agent . . .
Here’s Air Force General John Hyten in his own words. He commands the US Strategic Command (STRACOM) (“General in charge of US nukes says he can defy an ‘illegal’ strike order from Trump,” RT, November 19, 2017):
I provide advice to the president, he will tell me what to do. And if it’s illegal, guess what’s going to happen? I’m going to say, ‘Mr. President, that’s illegal.’ And guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to say, ‘What would be legal?’ And we’ll come up with options, with a mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is, and that’s the way it works. It’s not that complicated.
We’re not stupid people. We think about these things a lot. When you have this responsibility, how do you not think about it? he said.
No doubt that General Hyten has thought through the issue about launching a nuclear war. That was the case during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. The U.S. and the Soviet Union came as close to all-out nuclear war then as could happen in a matter of minutes today. Only the cool head of a commander and intelligence officer on a Soviet submarine most likely prevented the end of the whole show then. Where are the cool heads that would prevail today?
Trump’s administration is so full of military officers, and some aggressive ones at that, that a crisis or something as simple as a misunderstanding or misreading of an intelligence report could end the whole show in a matter of minutes.
The major difference between the Cold War warriors of the Kennedy administration and the atmosphere of the War on Terror during the Trump administration is that there was at least a tacit acceptance and understanding that the rules or laws of war coming down to us from nearly two thousand years made the issue of the murder of innocent civilians in a nuclear holocaust something that was at least in the back of the minds of those in the 1960s. But that argument contains the fact that so-called leaders first have to have minds with which to think out problems and find their solutions. Lots of luck in many cases with that idea today!
The Trump administration is delusional! They would risk a so-called preemptive nuclear attack against North Korea that would result in a nuclear winter covering the planet for years. That is how much they care about human life!
Some say that Trump is a laughingstock, plain and simple. He is also a very dangerous laughingstock.
With years of disinterest by many mainstream Democrats and many liberals, along with Republicans, the antiwar movement has failed to mount any demonstrable pushback against the warring class. Hitching their star to the Democratic Party and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton has made many Democrats more warlike than even some on the right. With Trump ascendant, and the military-industrial-financial-Russiaphobe class in power and making trillions of dollars from war, those of goodwill and those willing to answer this apparent lust for an Armageddon may want to prepare for that last kiss.
Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.