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The World Is Changing: China Launches Campaign for Superpower Status

America’s Still Strangelovian Schemes to ‘Win’ Nuclear Wars

“Global Thunder: Bombers practice for nuclear war.” – Air Force
Times
, five days ago.

The headline
itself, its casual yet confident language – and that it barely raises a collective
eyebrow – desperately deserves deconstruction. But in practice, this madness
involves the definitionally a-strategic U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM)
– in conjunction with British and Australian personnel – sending big bombers
like B-52 Stratofortresses, out on an annual nuclear command and control
exercise known, therefore, as Global Thunder 21. STRATCOM’s, news release
said
Global Thunder 21 provides “realistic training activities against simulated
targets” to allow forces to train in “all” mission areas, but
what they really mean – and admit – is on “nuclear readiness.”

Will we never learn?

A full 56 years after Peter Sellers roasted America’s nuclear absurdity in
Stanley Kubrick’s dark comedy classic Dr.
Strangelove
, Pentagon planners remain dedicated to delusions. That old
Pete’s three-role – in three nationalities – performative evisceration of the
fantasy that nuclear wars can be won didn’t stick raises serious questions about
human nature, and our species’s survival prospects. Don’t take my word for it:
just six years ago Eric Schlosser, author of Command and Control: Nuclear
Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety
, penned
a piece
in the New Yorker titled “Almost Everything in ‘Dr. Strangelove’
was True.” Give it a read next time you’re wondering whether to take a
chance on love or otherwise live in the moment. It’s 2,500 words-worth of mindfulness
motivation.

And if you haven’t seen the film – seriously, do so immediately. It holds up
at least as well as your leaders’ diagnosable derangement. Get cracking guys,
because – in the formulaic
lingo
of the same military planners dutifully designing doomsday – there’s
an “occasional probability,” with “catastrophically severe consequences,”
that Washington’s next spin of the nuclear roulette wheel may land on red. According
to the U.S. Army’s trusty little four-by-five line (“idiot-proof,”
as soldiers say) “matrix,”
that equates to a “high risk” of potentially extinctive war. Who’s
feeling lucky?

Worst Case Combo

It is an old formula indeed. Tried and true. Any state wishing to convince
its teenagers to kill another’s country’s teenagers must do two things: exaggerate
the threat from an ostensible enemy, and gradually dehumanize its people. Language
inextricably links the two mass murder prerequisites. Listen closely to the
hawks in any American administration. Catch the subtext, and – channeling classic
songwriter Gordon
Lightfoot
– “If you read between the lines, you’d know that”
they’re just trying to make you understand that the enemies “others”
aren’t quite like us…I mean not really. Their military-age sons and daughters,
even their babies, aren’t as precious as ours, you know?

It is only thus that American parents can breezily sprinkle powdered sugar
on their childrens’ French toast as their government simultaneously sanctions
starvation
for 100,000 Yemeni kid – in their name, of course. Our’s is a vague democracy,
after all, isn’t it? And it is only through subtle state-bestializing of foreign
foes – and their families – that the citizenry could countenance nuclear brinksmanship
at the current, and to some degree unprecedented,
levels.

Usually the dehumanization messaging is more subliminal in this pretended PC-age.
Not even imperial-nostalgic GW-Bushies dared deliver the sort of racial and
religious rancor common in our past military adventures. I’m thinking, for example,
of Major General John Pope’s orders
to his subordinate officers during the Great Sioux uprising of 1862: “They
are to be treated as maniacs or wild beasts, and by no means as people…”
Then there was the Philadelphia Ledger’s description
of Filipinos in the wake of the Spanish-American War: “It is not civilized
warfare, but we are not dealing with a civilized people. The only thing that
they know is fear and force, violence and brutality.”

There are even Americans alive today who might remember a Marine Corps’ Leatherneck
magazine cartoon depicted
the Japanese as lice, with a caption stating “Before a complete cure may
be effected the origin of the plague, the breeding grounds around the Tokyo
area, must be completely annihilated.” The drawing was published in March
1945, the same month that the US Air Forces killed at least 85,000 mostly
women and children in a single night’s raid on Tokyo. Such overt mass-dehumanization
was beneath Bush, certainly Obama, and most presidents since VJ Day, at least.
Not that they stopped killing mostly brown and black civilians, naturally –
they were just more genteel in their justifications.

The Trumpsters are another story. These cats still like to kick it old school
– or Old Testament, given the infusion of six
apocalyptic end-times fundamentalists in the president’s inner circle. Mike
Pompeo, as ever, is the ideological vanguard of the enemy-exaggeration and Cold
War throwback team. While mainly avoiding racialized insults – through his boss
has a penchant for “Chinese virus” and “Kung Flu” digs –
Pompeo’s point is that the problem with these Asian hordes is that they don’t
think like us. They’re basically brainwashed, incapable of rational calculation
– unlike we freethinking Americans.

In a July speech
at the Nixon Presidential Library – in which Mike insulted even Tricky Dick’s
family by lambasting his entire “Go to China” legacy – the secretary
of state billed Beijing as a “Marxist-Leninist regime,” and General
Secretary Xi Jinping as “a true believer in a bankrupt totalitarian ideology.”
Forget the fact that China long ago leaned into (admittedly state-directed)
capitalism and is a top trading-partner with much of the world. Pompeo is trapped
in the Disneyified and sanitized cinematic world – think Red Dawn meets
Top Gun – of the Reagan era.

And why not? Those were what Bruce Springsteen would call – in a song released
just two years prior – his “Glory Days.” Have you heard Mike was valedictorian
of his 1986 West Point class? Don’t worry – he’ll tell you! And he sure did
in the recent speech, kicking Cold War nostalgia into full throttle with this
super useful offering: “I grew up and served my time in the Army during
the Cold War. And if there is one thing I learned, communists almost always
lie.” At the very moment he’s speaking of, mind you, Soviet Premier Gorbachev
was expressly not lying about his genuine desire to end the Cold War
standoff – which he soon did. Maybe Mike knows something we don’t?

But sure, let’s go with that: communists almost always lie. Well, so does your
boss, Mike. So does his Democratic opponent. And so do you.

Point is, this combination of racial-religious dehumanization, and ideological
othering would be bad enough, but when combined with practical policies grounded
in the distinct delusion of winnable nuclear wars – then you’ve got a lethal
combo.

Strange Behavior for a Putin Proxy

One would think a Russian colluding “asset,” “toady,” or
“useful idiot” – take your pejorative pick – would bend to Moscow’s
will on all matters, especially the more existential. Only that hasn’t been
The Donald’s game at all. Curious, that. This presumed patsy of a president
has, for
starters
: refused to extend the New START Treaty – the last remaining Russo-American
nuclear reduction pact; accelerated already ongoing and expensive US nuclear
modernization; and deployed new, lower yield, “more usable” nukes.
These “lower the threshold of use” – rendering nuclear annihilation
a bit more palatable, at least. Small mercies, as they say.

Now, of late, Trump’s Pentagon has been just streaming
super-bombers designed to carry super-sized thermonuclear payloads on super
scary sorties all around the Russian periphery – from the Arctic to the Baltic,
and all the way over to the Sea of Okhotsk, “an offshoot of the Pacific
Ocean surrounded by Russian territory on three sides.” As a result, the
world’s situation coheres closer than ever to that described
a few years back
by known hippie William Perry – who served as President
Clinton’s defense secretary – “the danger of a nuclear catastrophe today
is greater than it was during the Cold War.”

On nuclear policy, the Trump team is unsavory, unsafe, and unhinged a trillion
ways from Tuesday. Yet its path was paved and it stands on the shoulders of
nine administration’s worth of mental midgets – who lent new and inverted meaning
to the trope “failure of imagination.” Recall that even that paragon
of polite and urbane liberals everywhere, Barack Obama, bowed
under pressure
and refused to make a “no first strike” pledge.
In other words, that weak-sister peacenik president, reportedly considered assuring
his fellow Earthlings that the nuclear hyper-power he helms wouldn’t, you know,
be the first to vaporize toddlers naughty enough to utter their first words
in Russian, Mandarin, or (gasp!) Farsi. Such a sissy; Thanks Obama!

Here’s how crazy it gets, though: at the same time a nearly lame-duck Nobel
Peace laureate president was kicking off a 30-year, $1 trillion “nuclear
modernization
” program, candidate Trump was running to the left of
Obama on the issue in debates with Hillary Clinton. Not that he’s followed through,
but in one exchange
Trump pledged “I would certainly not do first strike…Once the nuclear alternative
happens, it’s over.”

Unfortunately, since then, nuclear lunacy has been the one Obama legacy that
Trump has actually sustained – and, wouldn’t you know, skyrocketed! And, until
China became the favored bad boy of the moment, his main nuclear strong-arm
target had been Russia. Only Muscovites are supposed to be his buddies, chums,
handlers, masters even. Rather peculiar, no? Unless that’s precisely what The
Donald wants you to think – who knew Keyser
Söze
slept in the White House?

Look, the polite left must decide: either Trump is a monstrous moron – Putin’s
perfect useful idiot – or he’s a secret evil genius masking his Russian fidelity
through extra hazardous hawkishness. He can’t be both, friends. Channeling
a far more recent fictional muse of mine, the great Walter Sobchak: “Smokey
this is not ‘Nam, this is bowling. There are rules.”

Or are there? Because this is nuclear policy we’re talking about here,
after all…

Danny Sjursen is a retired U.S. Army officer, contributing editor at Antiwar.com,
senior fellow at the
Center
for International Policy
(CIP), and director of the soon-to-launch
Eisenhower Media Network (EMN). His work has appeared in the
NY Times, LA
Times, The Nation, Huff Post, The Hill, Salon, The American Conservative, Mother
Jones, Scheer Post and Tom Dispatch, among other publications. He served
combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at West Point.
He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War,
Ghostriders
of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge
and Patriotic
Dissent: America in the Age of Endless War
. Along with fellow vet
Chris “Henri” Henriksen, he co-hosts the podcast “
Fortress
on a Hill
.” Follow him on Twitter @SkepticalVet
and on his
website
for media requests and past publications.

Copyright 2020 Danny Sjursen



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