Thermonuclear Masochism: on Britain’s Nuclear Weapons


“I have come to the paradoxical conclusion that technology must be protected from Man.”

— Leading engineer of the Chernobyl project, Valeri Legasov.

Those who wouldn’t be bent to his will were burned, crushed and torn asunder by Cormac McCarthy’s Judge, and this, apparently, is exactly what we’re looking for in a leader. The recently departed David Cameron graced our television screens just long enough (before darting off, as he does) to tell us what a cold, murderous bastard he would be given half the chance. How weak and simpering, he went on, is the alternative, that Jeremy Corbyn fellow. He possesses no intention of committing, and in turn inviting, genocide through the catalyst of Trident.

The press provided the echo, asking readers if they knew what possible mental defect had consumed the peace-mongering leader of the Opposition. Regurgitating with approval the Conservative reassurance that, yeah, they were still fully committed to lending the Rapture a helping hand, “want to make something of it?” (Omitting, in doing so, that they could only do so should the Americans demand it, with treaties stating so going back to Atlee. Highlighting a curious master-slave relationship that the anti-EU crowd never raise objections to.)

The living embodiment of War may be too grandiose a comparison but Dave and co. certainly share something with the McCarthy plagiarism: sadism.

If you think this analogy strained reflect on this: Dave has imagined circumstances in which he would be willing to conscript every British man, woman and child into an international game of Russian Roulette (with the added excitement of every cylinder being loaded). Scenarios, it must be said, which must have occupied the dreams – for the giddiness of their delivery suggests they aren’t experiencing terrors in the night – of many a democratically-elected leader since 1945.

And yet how eager we find the silo fodder. The Tory press, eager to remind all of their tradition’s familiarity with both edges of the sado-masochist dialectic, pledged their allegiance to mutinous military men against the man who wishes to bring them back in from the front-line.

“And the fact Jeremy Corbyn is currently taking a hammer to them represents a much greater threat to British parliamentary democracy than any off-the-record military braggadocio. It is not the generals who are currently mounting a coup against the British constitution, it is Jeremy Corbyn mounting a coup against the British constitution.”

Dan “Googly-eyes” Hodges

(That same piece shared the figure that 79% of Telegraph readers “could push the button”. Apparently they don’t even need a reason.)

All this may be baffling but it’s hardly surprising. Nuclear weapons have provided insignificant men with an opportunity to project a macho image from their very inception. When wiser men were calling for caution (including those whose brilliant intellect had brought about the Atomic Age, Einstein and Oppenheimer), the stupid Harry S. Truman was preparing to launch B-52s at Hiroshima, gifting the inhabitants of the surrounding countryside with a blinding light show and their children with birth defects, and their children ad nauseum.

In what George Carlin diagnosed as the Bigger Dick Foreign Policy problem, Truman committed the heinous act of disintegrating two Japanese cities – and for what? A show of force to Stalin, who was committed to a much-dreaded (on both sides of the Pacific) invasion of the island nation. Thus mutating the end of history’s most destructive war, which should have been a time of reflection and quiet celebration, into the Half-Century Dick-waving Contest (known to the politically-correct as the “Cold War”).

The most likely “exchange” – a euphemism which manages to be clean, capitalist, child-friendly – Britain will be partaking in is with the Russia born from that engagement. Ukraine, Syria, the Middle East as a whole… it’s these proxy wars between NATO and Putin which has Geiger counters everywhere wincing.

Thanks in large part to two Slavs, Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov and Khrushchev, we haven’t achieved mutual incineration already. The second of that pair was willing to risk Soviet face rather than the planet during the Cuban Missile Crisis. A comparative slight which proved that bit too much for John F. Kennedy. Contrary to what many choose to believe, the Boy Wonder, adored by liberals everywhere, almost destroyed the planet in 1962. Letting his personal vendetta against Castro reach the obscene level of state terrorism – not to mention attempted invasion – he was then willing to apply pressure to the small island’s patron, causing a stand-off that he was warned by his own had a betting chance of culminating in all-out war.

When Khrushchev offered Kennedy an out early on in the Missile Crisis, in the form of disarming Cuba in (here’s that word again) exchange for having Turkey neutered of its American nukes – dated arms which they planned on replacing with far deadlier subs anyway – the BW beat his chest and in that squeaky way of his replied “nah”. Coked and dazed, JFK ignored those few doves allowed to perch upon White House mahogany and followed the lead of his insane generals, one of whom was responsible for reducing the architecture and citizenry of Tokyo to smouldering ash.

I’m reminded of that Christopher Hitchens’ quip, “Like everyone else of my generation, I can remember exactly where I was standing and what I was doing on the day that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy nearly killed me”. It was your and my very existence he was gambling with in between fucking the mistresses of mobsters, maids and Marilyn Monroe. And for some reason most people will still be more outraged, if at all, by the second half of that.

His crony McNamara assures us now that he regrets some of his criminal behaviour at the side of that drug-fuelled megalomaniac, and takes the opportunity to remind the people of the 21st century that they’re bloody lucky to have made it this far.

And Putin, remember, is no Khrushchev. He pines for the Great Bear the other sent into hibernation.

As absurd as Kennedy’s nuclear policy was, it made sense politically. As Noam Chomsky and others have pointed out, in a time when domestic and foreign policies weren’t so easily disentangled, the nuclear build-up enhanced the state’s power to such an extent that, by the time Kissinger (Nixon’s sub-turned-dom) entered that frat house on Pennsylvania Avenue, a lone sadist had to power to begin and end wars. Although the “doctor’s” speciality was always the former.

Orwell, with characteristic prescience, and with an eye on the political, saw that this intolerable extension of the State lay just behind Ernest Rutherford’s discovery.

“Ages in which the dominant weapon is expensive or difficult to make will tend to be ages of despotism, whereas when the dominant weapon is cheap and simple, the common people have a chance.”

Picture the Ancien Régime with Browning Automatic Rifles rather than the common musket and you should get the idea. By extension, imperial presidencies today can only be maintained with the specter of Nuclear Holocaust looming above this and that directive out of D.C. And the threat isn’t without force. Nixon, an excellent Inner Party representative, threatened to unleash nukes at Indochinese peasants after-all, completely subverting established arms race rules.

And still the Nuclear Question has the power to shape the debate. Dormant as it may be in the majority of geopolitical discourse, it remains a steady and apparently reliable gauge of character in the sickly game of personality politics. To prove their pluck, contemporary American presidential nominees must declare their undying love for the bomb. Bids for the Oval Office have gone the way of Fat Man when a candidate has dared to display reservations. This laid-back approach to species suicide is meant to convey just how tough and hard-headed our prospective Commander-in-Chief is. How bloody his grip, how steely his will. The fatherly figure who never tires of reminding us how we’re kept from death because he allows it, that’s who we want.

“I am not—I am not taking cards off the table”.

— Trump on whether he would employ nuclear weapons in Europe and the Middle East

Toryism needs Trident. We, in Britain, may not have an imperial presidency to uphold but there’s always that position on that Security Council we regularly ignore. And never, never overlook the special relationship, the junior role in which WMDs make up for a loss of BOTs (British Overseas Territories). An Army representative showed us just how dear these trinkets are held by those on Right, and warned of a coup – no less – should the public ever dare to elect the Jez, the Great Confiscator.

“The Army just wouldn’t stand for it. The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent that. You can’t put a maverick in charge of a country’s security.

“There would be mass resignations at all levels and you would face the very real prospect of *an event which would effectively be a mutiny.”

Anonymous Army General

Every now and then a line is uttered which you’re sure will occupy a coloured box in future history textbooks (if England doesn’t deteriorate into Airstrip One, that is) and this Chilean moment was one such occasion. The Army just wouldn’t stand for it. Our watch-dogs didn’t pay this anywhere near its due. The conservative/reactionary side could be excused, occupied, as they were, celebrating in the club’s lavatory. For the Left, however, there’s no excuse. Where’s the counter-punch? Where’s the piss and vinegar?

Those who think the anti-fascism cause is an unnecessary one in the 21stcentury need to take a hard look at General Sir Nicholas Houghton and his ilk. The mere whiff of democratic socialism – the prospect is, remember, five years away – and, Heaven forbid, seizure of their apocalyptic penis replacements and they’re morphing into Pinochet. (It must bother them no end that it was a Cockney copper that saw to the general’s detention.)

The Nuclear Question is finally being debated with the introduction of Corbyn to the Shadow Front Bench. Good. For too long it has been sheltered by the Consensus and Tommies with a clear disdain for us on this side of the constitutional divide. When coming to judging who best lead us in 2020 and – I suggest this optimistically – beyond, the British voter should perhaps think about the Judge’s sort and how, in the end, they’ll bugger you right into the ground.

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