Talkin’ World War III Blues…Again

Photograph Source: Robert Couse-Baker – CC BY 2.0

It bears underscoring: We’ve been at war with Russia since we double-tapped the Japs to impress the Russkies, more than 75 years ago, and got the Nuke Race going, using Russia’s supposed desire for world domination as a catalyst. Hello, Mr. Rorschach, aren’t you looking fetchin’ today. The pot, Capitalism, calling, Communism, the kettle black. My entire life “we’ve” been working the sickle and the hammer, which is to say, the Working Man. In the USSR with grandiose promises of day old Charnel House bread dipped into hot steaming pee soup, and, in America, union-bashing, with day old Better Dead Than Red™ bread dipped in steaming hot bullshit stew.

In 1957, the Russians seemed to have shot one across our bow by getting the Sputnik into orbit.  But in 1959, a CIA satellite, known as Keyhole, snapped startling images of Russia that should have assuaged US military fears rather than fanned the fires of future warfare.  Around the same time, and coincidentally, in October 1959, Lee Harvey Oswald, just discharged from the Marines, emigrated to Russia. In 1960, CIA pilot Gary Powers was shot down over Soviet airspace.  In April 1961, the failed Bay of Pigs, Cuba, invasion took place.  In January 1961, just before JFK’s Inauguration, President Eisenhower warned Americans of the rise of the Military-Industrial-Complex (MIC). In October 1961, the hair-trigger Checkpoint Charlie  incident occurred in Berlin. In October 1962, the world delighted in the teeth-chattering Cuban missile crisis that Daniel Ellsberg brings to astonishing clarity in his crises account, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner (2019).

Ellsberg, a former and redeemed Master of War (off the same Dylan album) himself, points out a slew of startling insider information in his must-read TDM. He suggests strongly that available information at the time told the Pentagon that bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not a military necessity:

The atomic attacks seemed to vindicate that pattern by the sudden ending of the war against Japan that followed almost immediately and which, so far as the public and troops knew (in ignorance of our secret intercepts of Japanese communications), had no other way of being achieved. (p.302)

This was a lie. And Ellsberg and the other planners knew it. Further, he writes, the Pentagon attempted to justify a squeeze on the Soviets by pretending they had visions of world conquest in mind (p.189) and claimed the Russkies were ahead of America in ICBM inventories. But this, too, was untrue:

Four missiles had actually been seen, and photographed, at one site at Plesetsk by our most highly secret intelligence system at the time, the Corona satellite program. (p.185)


Four missiles in 1960–61 was strategically equivalent to zero, in terms of such an aim…Their four operational missiles, at one fixed site aboveground, were thinskinned and liquid-fueled, with highly volatile fuel that couldn’t be stored and that would take hours to load. A single U.S. missile warhead, landing several miles away, would destroy all four with near certainty. In 1961, at the high point of the Berlin crisis, in terms of actual survivable missile capability against the United States, the Soviets had no deterrent at all. (p.190)

In actuality, writes Ellsberg, the US had a 10-1 ICBM advantage, but claimed that the Russkies had the advantage to advance their own MIC agenda. It was laughable from the beginning.

Early Bob Dylan lampooned the space race and what if the Russians got up to Heaven first (“Wowie, pretty scary”) in his Guthrie-esque ditty, “Talkin’ World War III Blues.” Probably driven by the black comedy version of the best-selling novel, Fail Safe, known as Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (that Ellsberg described as a “documentary” in TDM), in1965, Hollywood started laughing at the tension and took a cheap shot at the U2 shoot-down with the wacky tobacky-driven John Goldfarb, Please Come Home, in which with Richard Crenna and Shirley MacLaine camped up “funny and sexy.”  William Peter Blatty (The Exorcist) wrote the fun dud. Composer John Williams, of Star Wars fame, wrote the music and went by the name Johnny back then (and so did I).

And my first glimpse of Alan Arkin’s strange wit was on display in 1962’s The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! which details the paranoid antics of villagers when they learn a Soviet sub is stranded on a sandbar off the coast of Gloucester, and panic as they watch the Reds put-putting in boats for help (a tow boat?), and maybe a cup of coffee. We discover that at least one girl in Gloucester is prepared to “kiss at” one of the handsome Slavic invaders — better a Red than libidinally dead.  She was ready to give her stranded, strapping U-boat lad a depth charge he’d never forget. Man, the torpedo! You got the impression that Hollywood was finally shaking off the red scare of the McCarthy era that had ruined so many lefty lives in Hollywood.  It was the 60s! And way before Rodney King posed the question, comical flatfoot Jonathan Winters pleaded:

They don’t make flatfoots like that any more. And now we’ve gotten all grumpy again about the Russkies.

Here we go again. Depending on how you want to keep count, we are nearing another Cuban missile crisis-type situation with Russia — maybe our third such confrontation.  Third, you ask?! your sinews tuning high strung. That’s right. According to Ellsberg again, the US came alarmingly close to a nuclear exchange with the Russians at the Iranian border in August 1980 during the Carter administration, while the hostages were still in the Embassy. he writes,

Serious White House and JCS consideration, in August 1980, of the possible imminent use of tactical nuclear weapons if a secret Soviet buildup on the Iranian border led to a Soviet invasion of Iran, followed by the expression of explicit, secret nuclear warnings to the Soviet Union (a hidden episode, spelled out in a professional military journal and by articles in the New York Times, that remains virtually unknown to the U.S. public and even scholars, though presidential press secretary Jody Powell was quoted as describing it as “the most serious nuclear crisis since the Cuban missile crisis”). [my emphasis]

Again, Ellsberg’s book is a must-read insider’s look at what the government keeps from American citizens.

So, we could be looking at Cuban Missile Crisis Number 3. The Russians don’t want Ukraine to join NATO. The Russians don’t want the US to threaten to cut off the spigot off Nord 2 line to Germany (just completed), forcing the Russians to continue using Nord 1 that goes Ukraine and could a provide a future pretext for the US government to “defend” Ukraine against Russian denial of access to the gas to Ukrairnians. The US (CIA), having “supported” a coup in Ukraine back in 2013, are determined to see Ukraine established as a NATO country, a result that would see massive amounts of weapons and soldiers brought into Ukraine with the specific task of threatening Moscow. America did not like it much when the Russians deployed nukes in Cuba 60 years ago. We almost destroyed the world to protect the right to posture. Ellsberg, who knows more about what went down in Cuba than anyone I’ve read (he even blames his own political role back then as a catalyst), fears American warriors may be unable to hold back their fascist tendencies. (See my review of The Doomsday Machine.)

And yet the war drums roll. In most of the publications I frequent for reads, one headline after another suggests a war footing posture is appropriate, similar to the Munich Agreement that was meant to keep Hitler’s Germany from expanding at the cost of ceding the Sudetenland.  I read:

* Joe Biden thinks Russia will attack Ukraine – but will face a ‘stiff price’  – Guardian

*Washington’s Bi-Partisan Russia-Bashers Are Determined to Start a War – Ron Paul

*U.S. Allows Baltic NATO Members to Send Arms to Ukraine – WSJ

*Breathe Easier: Blinken, Lavrov Meet Friday – Antiwar

*How far would the United States go to back Ukraine? WaPo

*Biden Strengthens Words on Ukraine After Flustering European Partners – NYT

*Bill Clinton’s Role in the Crisis Over Ukraine – Counterpunch

These stories followed quickly in the footsteps of previous pretextual approaches to the “crisis” Between Ukraine and Russia, such as last week’s report that Russians were mounting cyber attacks on Ukrainian companies and government offices.

And the MIT Technology Review had a piece on the potential ripple effects of such cyber aggression: “How a Russian cyberwar in Ukraine could ripple out globally.” – MIT Technology Review

They all seem to add up to a serious threat to a NATO war with Russia. Although as ex-spooks have warned and Assange has pointed out, the CIA could easily have conducted the attack and blamed the Russians — Wikileaks published the how of this process. Back when the American Intelligence Community (IC) was “out to get” Trump they claimed that the Russians had hacked Burisma Oil, the controversial Ukrainian energy company that placed Hunter Biden and Cofer Black on its Board of Directors. But one notes that the company that informed the IC that the Russians had hacked into Burisma were led by Blake Darché and Oren Falkowitz, two young “retirees” from the NSA who started their own company, Area 1, and became contractors for the IC, making their conclusions suspicious.

In his memoirs, Biden admitted that his appointment was pointless, as he did nothing for chair and spent his $50,000 per months on sex and drugs and rock and roll.  Black’s role, on the other hand, has never been sufficiently scrutinized, but he was the CIA’s first counter terrorism center chief and a former vice chairman of Blackwater USA — essentially a mercenary rough-and-ready army group. He is now a consultant for OODA Group, which provides spying and “crisis response” services. At the OODA site, his bio details tell us that “He conceived, planned, and led the CIA’s role in the war in Afghanistan.” One can imagine that his role is much deeper at Burisma than the press release report offered up by Huffington Post, which offers nary a single substantial detail of his specific role there, despite the suggestive headline: “Former CIA Director Joins Burisma, and It Is Good News.” One can imagine how the Russians would have felt about the appointment. Black’s no Biden.

But would the US military be berserk enough to go to war with Russia? Again, even a casual read of TDM, and remembering that in that book Ellsberg calls Dr. Strangelove a virtual “documentary” (he even suggests Strangelove was partially based on Edward Teller, father of the H-bomb), the military has some leaders devoted to imperial hegemony and world domination, who don’t blink when advised that millions could die in an exchange of nukes — maybe even everybody, with the nuclear winter that would follow. The US continues to rattle its sword.  Noam Chomsky has explained how dangerous this is:

A longer and more detailed discussion of Chomsky’s take on the US-Russian-Ukrainian border tension can be found in a Truthdig interview with him at “Chomsky: Outdated US Cold War Policy Worsens Ongoing Russia-Ukraine Conflict.

One piece I read a couple of days ago that was thought-provoking if not convincing was Amir Oren’s piece for the Israel progressive newspaper, Haaretz, “America’s Wild ‘World War III’ Plan for Iran, and Israel’s Part in It.” In his long op-ed, Oren cites David B. Crist, the Joint Chiefs’ Senior Historian specializing in Iran and its 43-year conflict with eight U.S. administrations, who posted to the Joint Chiefs website a long-filed-away document, “U.S. Central Command Campaign Planning Against The Soviet Union, 1979-87.”  This document, as Oren explains it, seems to be an extension of the near catastrophic crisis at the Iran border that Ellsberg refers to in TDM. The American aggression described in the document is truly alarming, and Oren’s writing from an Israeli POV, as the potential conflict ahead involved the IDF taking out Russian naval and troop targets in a joint effort to kick Red heinie. Oren writes,

This sounds like the script for a limited version of World War III, with nuclear weapons included. If the plan didn’t call for Strategic Air Command strikes inside the Soviet Union, it did foresee at least tactical nuclear strikes on the USSR and Iran, shelling, mine-laying mines and “demolition packs” –explosive charge carried on an infantryman’s back, saboteur-style, but in this case containing a nuclear charge.

A kind of short term compartmentalization allows military figures to imagine the unimaginable, as if they were merely playing a game of Risk or Stratego.

Iran and Russia signed a military cooperation agreement back in 2015.  It essentially puts Russia in a position to defend Iran in the event of a war with Israel or the US should it be attacked. More recently, Iran and Russia flaunted their partnership. This may account for Oren’s final statement in his piece:

Conspiratorial minds will also see it as a signal aimed directly at Tehran, translating mere saber-rattling rhetoric into concrete combat schemes, complete with assigned units and projected timelines.

Now he’s making fun of the MSM’s constant denigration of any public ideas outside the box of narrow-minded thinking as conspiracy theory (an effective tool for controlling the master narrative). The Crist document seems to suggest: Do you want to rumble? My guess, yes.

It’s too early to say whether the current posturing will be anything more than another bluster storm, but Iran and Ukraine have long been indiscrete objects of desire for American energy hounds and military legacy-seekers. The US already influences Ukrainian politics to some degree and will probably move to secure backdoor power channels as it has in the past, each incremental move an intended intimidation of the Russians. Iran has lots of oil, and western control of their fields would consolidate their position in the region.  If Iran fell, Syria would not be far behind. If the late, not-so-great, CIA henchman Duane Clarridge was correct, the Sunni Saudis have nukes and would be willing to deploy them against the Shiite Iranians. All too speculative, however.

Chomsky has said that the three most significant crises facing humanity in the coming decades are Climate Change, Nuclear War, and the End of Democracy — each of them capable, in their implications, of leading to the demise of our species.

Are we sure there are enough people and leaders who care any more to stop catastrophes in any one of these areas?


John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelancer based in Australia.  He is a former reporter for The New Bedford Standard-Times.