Thursday, June 02, 2005

Loose Nukes
Erica Jong: Loose Nukes

As usual, Bill Maher is right. How can anyone keep a straight face in America today? Memorial Day comes and goes and we are hearing all about “brave fallen” while nobody seems to give a shit about the Downing Street memo that got us into the bloody Iraq mess in the first place. Then, Memorial Day is over and we are deep into 30 year old news. “Deep Throat was Mark Felt.” Nora Ephron is hilarious but it remains ancient news even if Woodward and Bernstein did protect their sources. They’ve gotten endless market share and moulah from that fact and good for them. I love it when writers make money, but the real news of the last two weeks has been mostly ignored. The nuclear nonproliferation treaty is dead for another five years. Do we have another five years? And not only are there those loose nukes all over the place (even Bush and Kerry agreed on this in the 2004 Presidential campaign) but there are also several suicidal terrorists ready to lob them at cities like New York, LA, Chicago, Miami, London, Madrid, Rome, Berlin, etc. Hello? I know that Condi Rice couldn’t bother to go to these talks but Duarte said himself they set the cause of nuclear nonproliferation back years and we would have been better off had the talks never occurred. And now we are off and running about a Vanity Fair story that recounts yet again the atrocities of the Nixon administration.

I know, I know. Anonymous sources matter. And God knows it’s no fun to think about nuclear incineration. It’s really depressing. I look at my 16-month old grandson, Max, and I try to wrap my mind around a nuclear accident in New York and my mind just doesn’t want to go there. But let’s get real. Tim Russert did a “Meet The Press” program last Sunday in which a bunch of gray-haired, sober-sided guys -- Senator Sam Nunn, Senator Richard Lugar, Senator Fred Thompson, Lee Hamilton, and Tom Kean of the 9/11 commission -- basically all agreed that we are in danger. The materials are there. The terrorists are there. Nine countries have nukers and counting. Bush wants bunker-busting nuke-cular bombs bigger than the ones we’ve already got -- and the world goes on about a 91 year-old guy confessing about a 30 year old event. I am baffled. Of course, I know you can’t predict the future. Nuclear Armageddon could come from an American, a Russian, a North Korean, an Israeli, an Iranian mistake, a deliberate strike, or (even) a suicidal terrorist with a loose nuke. Kim Jong IL (not a relative) won’t rule out preemptive strike and neither will Bush and Cheney. What we do know is the more materials out there the more the percentages against our survival go up. Think about New York in case of some kind of Chernobyl happening here. Multiply 9/11 times a million. People die, get radiation poisoning, children die or get cancer, the stock market tanks, the world stops dead, nobody worries about "Deep Throat" or Martha Stewart or whether the vote count in Ohio was fudged. Paris Hilton’s engagement is of interest to no one. GMA and the Today Show are still neck-in-neck, but nobody is watching.

Why is nobody focusing on this? What will it take to get us to focus? As we used to say in the 60’s, what do you do in the case of a terrorist with a loose nuke? “Bend over and kiss your ass goodbye.”

It’s hard to think about the future and we almost always get the details wrong. It’s true that most great empires were surrounded by prognostications of decline and fall, and chose to do nothing about them. Rome didn’t fall in a day. Nor did Greece and Sumer. But Rome, Greece and Sumer didn’t have nuclear weapons and people ready to employ them. Even in the 50’s, that ancient age when I was in grade school, we were told to prepare for the nuclear holocaust by putting our oilcloth under our desk on the floor, kneeling below our desks like Muslims in prayer, covering our eyes, waiting for the boom and then…what?

Tim Russert’s “Meet The Press” the other day had a 1950’s general in charge of civil defense say with a straight face, that if the A-bomb fell in America we should all a) go down into our bomb shelters b) eat canned food and drink bottled water for a while and c) be sure to shower frequently to get rid of the radiation. He didn’t say when we should come out of those bomb shelters. The great French sage, La Rochefoucauld said, “Neither the sun nor death can be looked at steadily.”

The sun is blinding and it’s perfectly human to turn away from death. But even if Condi Rice doesn’t want to think about these things and President Bush’s attitude is “we’ll all be dead anyway,” don’t you think somebody should be paying attention? I sure hope we’re not counting on John Bolton to protect us.