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How I Never Learned to Stop Worrying and Always Hated the Bomb

Photo by RestrictedData | CC BY 2.0

In 2012, at a local chapter meeting of a national veterans group soon after the article “The Legacy of the Nuclear Freeze Movement” appeared at CounterPunch, the chapter head of the organization criticized me for downplaying the ongoing threat to world peace that nuclear weapons posed. The major premise of the piece was that the Nuclear Freeze Movement of the early 1980s was only a marginally effective campaign against nuclear weapons and their proliferation. In 2012, it seemed to me that the threat of their use was not high on the list of a cause for action. By then, the peace movement was so weak that the threat of nuclear war was not high on the list of those who still were antiwar protesters.

Fast-forward to Donald Trump’s meeting on October 5, 2017 with military leaders. Speaking to reporters, Trump said, “This is the calm before the storm.” When questioned about what he meant by that statement, Trump’s retort was “You’ll see.” (“In meeting with military, Trump talks of ‘calm before the storm,’” Reuters, October 5, 2017).

Democracy Now’s co-host Amy Goodman categorized Trump’s statement as a “cryptic threat” in an interview (“Nuclear Ban Group ICAN Wins Nobel Peace Prize as Trump Threatens to End Iran Deal & Nuke North Korea,” October 6, 2017) about the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize award to the group ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons).

With good reason, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved their Doomsday Clock to “two and a half minutes to midnight” in January 2017.  A militaristic and bombastic Trump presidency and great upheavals across the globe appear to be no laughing matter to the atomic scientists who have closely and carefully monitored the threat of nuclear war since 1947 and have adjusted the clock accordingly in response to that threat. At the height of the Cold War in 1953, the Bulletin’s scientists moved the clock to two minutes to midnight. To date, there has only been one government that has used nuclear weapons, and those weapons were used primarily against a civilian population.

The militaristic and doomsday bombast of a narcissistic reality TV show host and real estate mogul turned politician is no laughing matter. It is deadly serious business! When Trump threatens that we will soon see what happens after the calm, (The fact that Trump views his administration at being “the calm before the storm” is quite a telling observation.) humanity has much to fear. His administration, his sycophants in Congress and elsewhere in the military-industrial complex, and his Democratic Party enablers (remember how tough Hillary Clinton promised to be in regard to Russia?) could bring the curtain down in the final act of civilization.  His bellicose threats to North Korea and his probable decertifying of the Iran nuclear deal are real U.S. policy decisions. Trump may have the entire world in his sights: There is a clear and present danger from a nuclear holocaust. Rather than reducing the threat of a nuclear holocaust, the U.S. is aggressively modernizing its nuclear arsenal. Weapons are always made to be used. That’s what Hiroshima and Nagasaki were about.

Just before his death, Yippie co-founder and political organizer Abbie Hoffman spoke at Vanderbilt University about the legacy of the decade of the 1960s and early 1970s and student activism and protest. He said that the system would never roll back the rights of women, reverse the hard-fought gains won in the civil rights struggle, and would never send a large military force overseas to fight U.S. wars after the debacle of the Vietnam War. How strange that Abbie was wrong on all three counts, but perhaps his despair at seeing the nearly vanished protest movement of the sixties at the end of the decade of the 1980s is a cautionary tale for all to heed.

In terms of the struggle for civil rights, voter suppression is widespread, police violence against black people takes place across this nation, and mass incarceration of black people has been a fact of life since the late 1970s. As far as war is concerned, the U.S. now fights endless wars simultaneously in several places and the threat of military action by the U.S. is a ever-present reality throughout the world.

The movie Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) has a clearheaded President of the United States portrayed by Peter Sellers, while others around him bumble, stumble, and stand by while a wild-eyed general sets in motion the actions that will bring about a nuclear holocaust. Trump is stranger than fiction and he may be about to “fire” the entire world.

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Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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