*But no one wants war.
This year on President’s Day, in our new Age of Enlightenment, it was proposed by an otherwise serious political news outlet that the holiday should be done away with.
Not because U.S. Presidents have been, at best, an imperfect lot- not unlike the leaders of other nations historically and today. Not for reasons relating to Civil Rights, the Civil War or even the Culture War.
No, according to our newest would-be cultural gatekeepers, President’s Day was tainted forever by the tenure of President Donald Trump, who degraded the office so much as to tarnish the holiday beyond repair by his inclusion.
Oh, how soon we forget.
Trump, for all his foibles and faults, is hardly the worst U.S. President we’ve ever had. Anyone who says otherwise has a strange metric, or a short memory.
What about war?
More specifically, what about nuclear war? The U.S. invented it, lest we forget.
The United States was, is, and remains the only nation ever to use nuclear weapons during wartime. Excuses, justifications, and lamentations abound but the fact remains: U.S. President Harry S. Truman made the decision to drop two nuclear bombs on two Japanese cities filled with innocent civilians.
Hundreds of thousands died. Some instantly; some slowly over the next months and years.
Those who argue, even today, that doing so ultimately saved the lives of millions of soldiers and civilians who would have otherwise died had WWII continued are missing the point by a mile.
Those two nuclear bombs didn’t end a war; they invented a new war.
Fat Man and Little Boy plunged humanity into a new and deadlier age of warfare: The Nuclear Age.
It’s the age we are living through now and no one- not U.S. Presidents, not other world leaders, not even the madmen- knows where it might end up.
The U.S. wasn’t the last country to use nuclear weapons in warfare; only the first. On a long enough timeline, a second seems inevitable.
In the old Cold War days of post-WWII, nuclear attacks seemed like a foregone conclusion. That generation, and their children, endured nuclear drills, built bomb-shelters and waited.
Blessedly, Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) kept the Cold War from turning into a hot war for over 50 years. Both the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. were both already powerfully nuclear in those days; both sitting atop a “dead man’s switch” designed to nuke the other country into oblivion even if every man, woman and child were killed in the initial strike.
Those were grim days in the U.S.
Grimmer still in the U.S.S.R. as the soviet collective collapsed and communism died a cruel death. When the Iron Curtain fell, no one needed Boris Yeltsin to declare capitalism the unmitigated winner.
Yeltsin was one of the first high-level officials from the U.S.S.R. allowed to travel to the U.S. As American officials showed Yeltsin and his retinue around the country, it wasn’t Washington, D.C., or Wall Street, or the White House that turned him away from communism.
It was a grocery store- not even a supermarket. Yeltsin was moved to tears by the plentiful variety of food and goods, as anyone might be after enduring decades of privations under communism.
In the plane afterward, Yeltsin remarked to his colleagues that if his countrymen at home could have seen what they just saw, there would be rioting in the streets of Moscow.
Sen. Bernie Sanders toured the U.S.S.R. in a similar fashion around the same time. He glowingly described medical care in the Russian capital city as a mere 10 years behind that of the U.S.
Meanwhile, 20 miles outside the city- far from the finest hospitals only the highest-level soviet politburo could access- peasant farmers were still enduring the tortures of medieval medicine.
Since WWII, since trying and failing to go to war with the U.S.S.R., the U.S. has been a reluctant player in world conflicts, at best. Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan; as conflicts waxed hot and waned in these regions, the rest of the world has enjoyed too much peace and tranquility.
We have forgotten the horrors of war, the privations of austerity measures. In the modern age, we have even allowed ourselves to forget the dread nuclear threat, “the destroyer of worlds,” as Oppenheimer called it, quoting the Bhagavad Gita.
The economic upheaval of the current crisis Russia/Ukraine crisis is going to hurt, certainly. The visuals coming out of Ukraine, like those still pouring out of Afghanistan, are going to hurt much worse.
The threat of global nuclear warfare suddenly hanging about all our heads like the ultimate Sword of Damocles is something we have yet to confront. It is likely to be the cruelest cut of all.
The sword has always been hanging there. The Enola Gay dropped it along with those two fateful nuclear warheads.
Iran has been trying to get The Bomb, as has North Korea. Terrorists want The Bomb, too. The unthinkable scenario- a terrorist with a nuclear bomb- has been with us, like a dark specter, since long before 9/11.
But with the fall of the U.S.S.R., with the level of peaceful trade, cooperation and exchange between Russia and the U.S., the U.S. and China; the grim prospect of nuclear war became more and more distant.
Now, with the invasion of the Ukraine by Russian forces, the world is reminded again that Russia is a nuclear power. Vladimir Putin hasn’t hesitated to hint of his willingness to use nuclear retaliation. There hasn’t even been a veil over most of the threats.
Russia’s shocking military aggression, and the unwelcome news that China is marshaling a force near Taiwan, have reminded us all of the unavoidable fact that there is no such thing as war anymore.
There is only nuclear war, now.
That’s the reason the U.S. can’t help the Ukraine with military support, much as its leaders might like to.
Every nation in possession of The Bomb, and there are far too many to mention, knows exactly how to bring an end to any conflict by scaring their opponent into submission.
The worst thing is that most of us suspect the truth is even more terrifying that worldwide nuclear warfare, if that is possible.
Chemical weapons, biological weapons, mysterious energy weapons, stealth weapons. Since the dawn of civilization, from the hand axe to the horse-drawn chariot, from the Iron Age to the Information Age, human beings have been using emerging technology to devise new and more effective ways to kill on another.
Two questions haunt us as war rages in the Ukraine like a wildfire threatening to catch the whole world:
How far have we gone and how far will we go?
Enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world several times over, check; biological and chemical agents that can engineer starvation, disease, mass deaths, check; EMP blasts so powerful as to knock us back into the Stone Age, check: But what are we really facing?
The idea that it may be a combination of our worst fears, plus ones we haven’t considered, haunts us, as well it should.
The two nuclear bombs deployed in wartime by U.S. forces against Japan at the close of World War II aren’t footnotes in a history which has already been written by the victors.
Those two nuclear bombs are featured in a history book that is far from finished. And in history books, the victors of one chapter often become the vanquished in the next.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)