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Duck & Cover All Over Again

2017 February 22

Don’t worry, it’s only a test…

How many of you are old enough to remember “duck and cover?” Or maybe you’ll remember it better as “get under the desk, put your head down, and kiss your ass goodbye.”

We laughed and joked about it, but we were scared, too, and our fear was not irrational. Nukes were new, and very frightening, and it wasn’t all that long since our parents’ war, WWII. But that was “over there,” and they didn’t seem to want to talk about it much. In the absence of any media capable of conveying the reality of Coventry, Dresden, Hiroshima, we really had no sense of what modern warfare – even without nukes – had been like. But now the “Ruskies” had nuclear weapons too, and we had to come to grips with the reality that Hiroshima and Nagasaki could be us. We had to, but we really never quite succeeded.

Though we were repeatedly told that our nuclear tests were necessary to our security, they mainly seemed intended to demonstrate that “ours are bigger than theirs.” That was supposed to make us feel better. I didn’t feel better, I felt terrified. All the time, though, we and the Soviets and other powers were increasing our stockpiles. So we pledged allegiance, said our prayers, ducked and covered, and had nightmares.

…..
In the years since then – though the threat has only increased year after year – we’ve slowly been conditioned to put it out of our minds and get on with our lives. There were so many other issues that seemed more pressing. We came to accept – if not really believe – that the so-called “balance of power” would keep us safe…for now…maybe. But balance was never really the goal. It was dominance, and if détente depends on predictability, dominance depends on its opposite.

Unpredictability has always been a favored tactic of wife beaters, child abusers and schoolyard bullies. As both they and their victims know, it’s a tactic that only works if their violence is unleashed from time to time. For Donald Trump unpredictability isn’t a tactic, it’s the product of a mind that can’t think beyond 140 characters at a time, and now he’s walking around followed by a military aide with the attaché case containing the nuclear launch codes. They callSuitcase it the “football.” Isn’t that cute? It almost makes me glad that – for now, anyway – he’s buddies with Putin. Almost.

To be honest, I haven’t been giving much thought to this issue for a long time. There’s plenty else to worry about. But a long time ago, when I was in college, I canvassed around eastern Massachusetts against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. I stood in doorways trying to explain what an attack would mean for the folks I was talking with, showing them maps of impact zones. I’d mostly get a respectful hearing, but then people would want to know what they were supposed to do about it. I didn’t have any better answers then than I do now.

Coincidentally, an article in the latest issue of Boston Magazine, (“How Much of Boston Would Be Destroyed in the Impending Nuclear War?”) provided me with a nuclear impact map very similar to the one I was carrying around back then, though of course updated to reflect today’s far more frightening realities.NukeMap2Here’s a piece of it, at left. Take a look right near the bottom, along the edge of the gray “impact zone.” See a little blue spot. That’s Jamaica Pond. My house is a block away.

Of course, when it comes to nukes, we could be in as much danger from our friends as from our enemies. Any efforts I might have made to ignore the ongoing threat came to a sudden end a few days ago, when we got the news that our bosom ally, Britain, came within a hair of hitting the U.S.A. with a Trident II missile last June – and tried to keep mum about it.

The Trident, built in Britain by U.S. company, Lockheed Martin, is the principle armament of the Vanguard-class submarine. Each sub can carry 16 Trident missiles and each missile can carry eight nuclear warheads to targets thousands of miles away. Though they’re supposed to be extremely reliable, this one, which was meant to land in the ocean off Africa, somehow headed for Florida instead. (As if Florida didn’t have enough problems from global warming.)trident-3

But it was only a test, we’re told, so no need to worry. Besides, both British and U.S. missiles tests are under the “control” of our very own Naval Ordnance Test Unit at Port Canaveral, which informs us that these “Demonstration and Shakedown Operations” are meant to “evaluate and demonstrate the readiness of a strategic weapon system and crew before operational deployment.”

Apparently, British Prime Minister Theresa May, who took power not long after the incident, didn’t want the Brits to worry either, so she didn’t disclose it until six months later – and only after she had delivered an address to Parliament in June, requesting the equivalent of $49 billion to fund a new generation of Trident-armed subs.

Meanwhile the British have at least one “operational” and fully armed Vanguard nuclear sub patrolling the seas at all times.

Unfortunately, I’m too old and stiff now to get under my desk.

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