The Madness of More Nukes and Less Rights in Pandemic Times

Another perilous pandemic is sweeping the country in the midst of the coronavirus one, and it has been lurking in the shadows for years just itching for a fear-ridden moment like this to break out forcefully. Right-wing repressive forces are using this unprecedented crisis to impose unconstitutional denials of abortion rights; to drastically lower voter participation rates; to grant sweeping new powers of indefinite incarceration without trial to the Department of Justice; to relax or even abolish regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency; and to criminalize fossil fuel protests should they ever recur in the wake of the March 31 decision to proceed at full speed with the controversial Keystone Pipeline project. In these dark times, American democracy itself has fallen victim to COVID-19 and is now on life support.

At the other end of the grim life-death spectrum, nuclear weapons, ones which would end in omnicide if ever used in war, recently received a tremendous new lease on life by the Trump regime. Two weeks before Trump declared the coronavirus pandemic to be a “hoax” hatched by Democrats, he proposed a 25% hike in spending for modernization of US nuclear weapons. And on March 20, as the US officially marked 255 deaths by the coronavirus pandemic and 18,965 confirmed new cases, Trump formally submitted a request for nearly $50 billion in the next fiscal year to be split between the Department of Defense and Department of Energy for nuclear weapons development and deployment. Specifically, some of the key allocations for an enhanced US nuclear triad call for over $12 billion to the National Nuclear Security Administration and billions more for Columbia-class ballistic submarines; B-21 Raider strategic bombers; W87-1 warheads; modernized intercontinental ballistic missiles and air-launched cruise missiles; and B61-12 gravity bombs, a megaton-class warhead, to be deployed in Europe. A new era of nuclear weapons proliferation is upon us.

Even without these new or expanded nuclear weapons, the current US nuclear arsenal already contains the destructive equivalent of 130,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs. From 1940 until 2019, the US government has spent a conservatively estimated $8 trillion to develop its gargantuan nuclear arsenal. Nevertheless, the US is on track to spend some $494 billion more on a new generation of nuclear weapons over the next decade.

From a human needs perspective, this is sheer madness. To squander such colossal amounts of public funds on weapons of mass destruction is not only profoundly immoral, but doubly deadly. It massively deprives our overburdened healthcare system of funds and equipment desperately needed to sustain life, while simultaneously directing those funds into the creation an omnicidal potential.

Giving voice to those misguided policies and the grave dangers they invite was none other than a former US President and Five-Star General, Dwight Eisenhower: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children..This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron”. While still threatened today by the cloud of nuclear war, the cross of the coronavirus has radically changed the calculus. One of the bitter ironies of the current worldwide war against the coronavirus pandemic is that the enormous arsenal of weapons, especially nuclear ones, developed at enormous cost is utterly useless in containing, let alone vanquishing, this novel invasive invisible enemy of unknown origin.

Terribly misplaced priorities squandered trillions of dollars on non-useable weapons while leaving our social safety net, especially the failing healthcare system, in shambles. A gargantuan military arsenal does absolutely nothing to stem the deadly coronavirus pandemic, but a resultant weakened healthcare system certainly enhances its potency and accelerates its path. The US healthcare system, foolishly built upon the overriding principle of maximizing private profit, is the most inefficient and dysfunctional one in the modern world. Despite having the highest per capita medical expenditure in the world, our health outcomes regarding longevity, infant/maternal mortality. obesity and other conditions are deplorable. Basic medical supplies such as testing kits, ventilators and masks as well as hospital beds, all badly needed to combat the coronavirus, are in short supply due to years of institutionalized neglect. Yet the US government spending on healthcare has been and remains comparatively low while our military spending is, by far, the highest in the world. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to increasingly ravage our land, the US strategic stockpile of medical supplies is virtually empty while the US strategic stockpile of nuclear weapons is filled and growing, a decisive indictment of institutionalized values and misplaced priorities.

The dream of a world freed of nuclear weapons is as old at the Nuclear Age. Hundreds of millions throughout the world in the 1950s signed the anti-nuke Stockholm Peace Appeal, launched and coordinated in the USA by an embattled and elderly W.E.B. Du Bois. Over one million peacemakers filled the streets of New York City on June 12, 1982 demanding the abolition of nuclear weapons. In 2017, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, and in the same year 122 nations formally adopted the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the first legally binding resolution to ban all nuclear weapons. Obviously the Trump regime regards itself above international law and remains hell-bent on massive production of weapons of mass destruction. If there ever was a time to demand an end to this mad march to collective annihilation, surely it is now when humanity collectively hangs on a cross of the coronavirus pandemic.

Werner Lange is a retired professor of sociology and a lifelong peace activist.