On Thermonuclear War.


The Creator has a very soft spot for Don DeLillo, considering White Noise one of the funniest novels of the past fifty years, and Cosmopolis one of the best-crafted stories of the same period. However, DeLillo’s ostentatious and self-proclaimed masterpiece, Underworld, has a huge flaw even though it seems a bit less posturing than its model, Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. Underworld, apart from the hilarious digs at J Edgar Hoover (who comes out looking a bit like Stalin in Solzhenitsyn’s The First Circle) and at U.S. security agencies generally, has a simple core. Like the Pynchon book it is about war, but this time the Cold War. The implication of the book is that the Cold War has come to an end and we are all safe and sound, that the terrible shadow of war has lifted from the planet. The last phrase of that sentence is usually expected to end with the word “forever”, although DeLillo doesn’t actually say that. The book ends at the Kazakh test site where nukes are being detonated to destroy hazardous waste (as, arguably, they were intended to do).

The trouble is that the Cold War has not come to an end and we are living in a darkening shadow of war, all the darker because nobody is bothering to look up at the cloud.

A few years ago the Creator had a debate with the gentle but rather passive web-logger who went by the name of Jeanne D’Arc and ran a weblog called Body And Soul dedicated to peace and Billie Holiday. (It’s strange how many gentle avowedly female web-loggers have gone off the Net; is there a gender issue here?) The Creator was protesting that in the post-Iraq War situation we had a growing danger of nuclear war; “Jeanne” did not think so. It seems that North Americans, who twenty-five years ago were happy to stand on the shores of Lake Superior and speculate on whether one would see the warheads on their way down (answer: yes, for three seconds, after which you would be dead), are now afraid to even acknowledge the possibility of turning into skidmarks on the shattered walls of their cities (though modern cities are so jerry-built that there would be few surviving walls on which to leave thermal shadows).

The reason why the Creator knows that nuclear war is impending was, at the time, displayed by the growing military recklessness of the U.S. government. It may be forgotten that the U.S. dismally failed, when it had the chance under Clinton, to dismantle the old Soviet nuclear arsenal. The reason for this was firstly that a Republican Congress wouldn’t stump up the money to decommission the warheads (which Yeltsin, being drunk, was quite happy to do) and, secondly, that the Clinton administration privatised its nuclear material manufacturing plant, which is a bit like going down to the corner cafe and handing a group of the local tsotsis a couple of bottles of nitroglycerine.

Meanwhile, Clinton fired missiles in all directions, and bombarded Serbia (annoying the Russians and accidentally starting two near-confrontations, both in the “accidental” bombing of the Chinese Embassy, and when Russian special forces occupied Pristina airport in Kosovo). George W Bush got off to a good start when he sent spyplanes puttering down the Chinese coast, getting intercepted by the Chinese and having to land in China when one collided with a Chinese interceptor. As if annoying the Chinese wasn’t bad enough (they also trumped up spying charges against a Chinese professor, in good McCarthyite tradition). And then came the invasion of Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq and the proxy invasions of Haiti and Somalia.

There had been invasions, and there had been proxy invasions (like that of Rwanda into the DRC) under Clinton, but there did seem to be a fresh glee and eagerness about the way the Bushites were behaving. It was as if they did not believe that they could ever be threatened, as if they could not possibly be called to account. The reason for this was simple; the United States was, and had been since the 1980s, trying to protect itself against nuclear-tipped missile attack. It was, or believed itself to be, the only country in the world actually capable of doing this. Therefore it deployed the missiles in question in Alaska, and also tried to deploy more primitive technology elsewhere, particularly on or near the Russian border. It was fairly obvious from this that they were not concerned, as they claimed, with “rogue states”, but were rather concerned to destroy the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which had prohibited the U.S. and the old U.S.S.R. from getting into the kind offensive-defensive race which characterised the naval race between Britain and Germany in the run-up to World War I, and the air race between Britain and Germany in the run-up to World War II.

So: two big issues. One, the U.S. was growing more reckless and unconcerned about the consequences of its violations of international law. Two, the U.S. was under the dangerous delusion that it could protect itself against any such serious consequences with a great shield of missiles. The combination of recklessness and self-deception seemed to imply that sooner or later the U.S. would do something which would threaten the national security of a country capable of hitting back. What would happen if neither side backed down? China and Russia already possess the power to destroy the U.S.; India is undeniably working on getting such a power, and is probably much more nervous about the U.S. in the twenty-first century than it was in the late twentieth. Also, Bush’s aggression encouraged more and more countries to develop nukes, or at least ramp up their residual capacity to do so, as South Africa has done. It seemed inevitable, between these factors and their interactions, that the United States would eventually take actions which would trigger a war between nuclear powers which would probably escalate.

Ironically, one reason for this was simply that the public no longer believed that nuclear war was possible, and therefore nothing prevented politicians from risking it; megadeath had ceased to be a political liability.

Now, things have changed a little. American aggression has not been checked, but it has become a little less unthinking. The resistance in Iraq has raised a serious political problem for American aggression — fresh aggressions are met with the question “Are you getting us into another Iraq?”. Also, as it turned out, the U.S. military simply lacks the power to take action on the grand scale which it managed when it had a vast conscript base. It can bomb a country’s infrastructure, but to occupy that country is an entirely different story. (In the long run, the probable development of cheap anti-GPS transmitters will make the U.S. supremacy in accurate bombing a temporary thing — and without the ability to drop bombs accurately from above effective anti-aircraft range, the U.S. lacks any special capacities.)

So it would appear that the Creator was wrong — but this is not at all true (as usual). In the back of the Creator’s mind was a suspicion that the trend was likely to continue in the same direction. It was obvious that at some stage the U.S. would step into deep shit with its aggressive policies. But these aggressive policies are absolutely essential to its plan for global domination; it’s not something which a new administration can wish away, which is why President Obama’s foreign policy amounts to a sort of “compassionate genocide”. Also, there is now a potential troika of forces which are suspicious of the U.S. — China, Russia and India — who might be inclined to make a little greif nach weltmacht themselves. In fact, if they are to maintain their independence, they will have to do so. Hence, while there is a temporary lull in U.S. aggression (much like the lull in Clinton’s first term) this is not likely to last, and other players may get into the act first.

What’s much worse is the collapse of the global economy. This is getting rather frightening at the moment, with the U.S. job market contracting while its population continues to grow and all the trends displacing money from poor towards rich continuing to apply. The Creator predicted a depression, and this is precisely what the situation is becoming.

Yes, this is scary. But what of the impact this will have on inter-state relations? States are going to become much more economically violent towards each other than before. The West will try to use the Bretton Woods institutions and the WTO to squeeze money out of poor countries, but poor countries won’t be willingly squeezed. Middle-level countries may well default on loans, or nationalise companies without compensation, and dare the companies’ parent states to do anything. As Ronald Reagan once remarked, “How many divisions has the World Court?”. Big businesses will do their best to pressure the wealthy governments to act as their enforcers. It’s a time when there is going to be more, not less, international stress. The possibility of small wars — sometimes surrogates for big ones — looms ever larger.

The Creator was most recently incarnated as a 1980s leftie, and therefore occasionally listens to old Billy Bragg records, like “Between the Wars”:

Theirs is a sky all dark with bombers,

Mine is the green fields and the factory floor;

Theirs is a Land Of Hope And Glory —

And mine is the peace we had between the wars.

It’s not difficult to argue that this is piffle, claptrap, codswallop and drivel (which, coincidentally, is the name of the firm of solicitors the Creator patronizes) based upon the Labour Party’s delusory pacifism under Lansbury; that when the sky actually grew dark with bombers, it was only the fact that Baldwin and Chamberlain had “brought prosperity/Down at the armoury” which enabled Britain to fend off the Wehrmacht. And, of course, if they had not done that, then Hitler would have conquered the USSR and it’s impossible to guess what our lives would be like right now. (We may discuss Dr. Charmley’s thesis a bit later.)

But again, “the peace we had” is a bit of a loaded term. If you think of the period 1929-September 1939, it started with the U.S. invasion of Nicaragua, whereupon followed the annexation of Manchuria and the bombardment of Shanghai. We could go on through the Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay to the invasion and occupation of Abyssinia, the Great Power proxy conflict in Spain, the Japanese invasion of coastal China, and then some people might recall that Mr. Hitler got up to some stuff in central Europe, not altogether without the threats of military aggression. Oh, and the Japanese invaded the USSR, although nobody seemed to mind except Cde. Stalin, General Zhukhov and a hundred thousand dead Japanese soldiers. In the background was, let’s not forget, the USSR kicking off the decade with the campaign against Ukrainian peasants and ending it with the Yezhovshchina, the purge which killed more than a million people including (eventually) the adorable Mr. Yezhov himself. And a couple of little problems were being stored for the future, such as South Africa abolishing voting rights for black people and the British Army in Palestine training and equipping Jews to help crush an Arab revolt. Yeah, right, peace. That’s the kind of thing we can expect in the next decade, while thermonukes are pretty well available to anyone who really, really asks Santa for them. (Conveniently, Professor Khan of Pakistan’s Khan Laboratories has just emerged from house arrest. Send him the dosh and he’ll send you the necessary blueprints by return mail.)

No, the Creator is not investing in any long-term projects. Do you need to ask why?






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