Why do conservative oppose Obama’s initiative to eliminate nuclear weapons? Anne Applebaum says it’s because biological and chemical weapons are more of a threat to the US. Presumably, then, the treaties banning biological and chemical weapons are also useless? Charles Krauthammer, that desert of inanity, says it’s because restarting arms reduction talks is “a gift to the Russians”. The seething inferiority complex on evidence here requires no explication.
The really desperate threat posed by terrorism is the threat of a nuclear bomb going off in an American city. That threat is greater than the threat of a major biological or chemical attack, even though those attacks are easier to pull off. The reason is that terrorists are not much attracted to biological and chemical attacks, in large measure because such methods of attack are universally considered cowardly and reprehensible. And that is in large measure because chemical and biological weapons have been outlawed since World War I. Killing people with botulin toxin or anthrax is not more intrinsically evil than killing people with a nuclear blast followed by radiation poisoning; both are similarly horrific and indiscriminate. But for a whole complex of reasons, we abhor the former and accept the latter as simply the most terrible form of warfare. Chemical and biological warfare are unclean, treif, defiled; nuclear warfare is taboo, terrible, awesome and forbidden except to the initiated.
Why is this? It’s partly because of the association of nuclear warfare with the prestige of particle physics and the “nature of the universe”, with all the accompanying religious and scientific connotations. It’s partly because of the accident of history that made NATO nuclear weapons the only realistic counterweight to Soviet conventional military superiority in Europe. And it’s partly the pure semiotics of detonations of massive force as the embodiment of political will and the claim to power; deploying poison and disease just isn’t as effective, especially for acts of spectacular terrorism. But whatever the background, the aim of the project of eliminating and then illegalizing nuclear weapons is to consign them to the same opprobrium as chemical and biological weapons. That’s why Obama’s move to restart that project makes sense. When India set off its nuclear device in 1998, a group of women were famously photographed carrying a banner that read “We Proud On Our Bomb”. No one should be proud of their nuclear bombs; people should be ashamed of their nuclear bombs, and Obama’s initiative is a cost-free step towards bringing that about. And conservatives don’t like it because, at root, they proud on their bomb too.
Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment