Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Have Americans Lost Their Consciousness Of Nuclear Armageddon?

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'Duck and cover' scene above similar to what I had to endure with classmates in 1952.
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Trump issuing reckless threats of action against North Korea which have about as much use as teeth on a hen.

Asked by an interviewer from WTMJ - Wisconsin yesterday whether Americans should be concerned about thermonuclear war - with the rising tensions with North Korea- Trump responded:

"Look, you always have to be concerned. You don't know exactly who you're dealing with."

In fact, anyone with an IQ over room temperature  (especially a leader),  would  know  the consequences if WHO he is dealing with is the head of a nuclear-armed state. Thus,  making one wrong move would surely lead to the total obliteration of civilization and its reduction to radioactive ash.  Trump's absurd response shows he has no business with the nuclear codes given his answer conflated the way he's currently dealing with North Korea (arrogant brinksmanship), and the way a tense situation with a nuclear -armed state can quickly get out of control with one wrong move.  Alas, to our great detriment, Trump is no JFK - who had to deal with the Cuban Missile Crisis.

But Trump's off the cuff,  dumbo answer elicits a question that has surfaced with some left pundits (e.g. Lawrence O'Donnell): Do most Americans have any consciousness of what it means to be exterminated in a nuclear war? Do they have a sensible reaction of trepidation when tensions rise between nuclear-armed nations? Given that 90% of Americans alive today never lived in a nuclear standoff era the answer is most Americans don't and hence are likely to reflect Trump's blasé  attitude.

Back in 1952 such nuclear war consciousness was an abiding feature of our lives as first graders at St. Leo's Parochial School in Milwaukee. Then, almost every afternoon we had to be ready for a 'duck and cover' exercise.  Nobody told the nuns - or anyone else evidently - that ducking under a desk and trying to cover with one's hands would be next to useless if an actual A-bomb dropped on your city. As for an H-bomb, you'd be incinerated within microseconds of any air blast. But never mind, these exercises created a kind of "nuclear consciousness" that you didn't want your country recklessly starting a war it wouldn't be able to win.

Flash forward to October, 1962 and the Cuban Missile Crisis when that nuclear extermination consciousness was embedded in the brains of millions for real.  At that time I was a junior at Monsignor Edward Pace High School in North Miami when the Principal, Brother Leo, arrived in our classroom at about noon, notifying us of suspension of classes:

Boys, we are dismissing school right now. Please go home and make whatever preparations you need to with your families. Let us hope and pray we have a world to come back to when this is all over.”

On arriving home, my parents got their  five offspring together and had us praying the rosary in front of a grotto to the Virgin Mary in the living room. It was serious stuff, and though I later grew into atheism, I understood that at that time this was the only response possible. Shelters were no use, not for long anyway, and besides in Florida - barely above sea level - they were a lost cause.

We all knew the reality of the nuclear threat as well, because we'd been following it on one of three major stations: ABC, CBS or NBC. There was not a plethora of alternative cable news stations back then, nor the capacity to create fake news like now. So when tens of millions of our fellow citizens tuned into one of the stations they all left with the same consciousness of the threat posed by Russian ships heading for Cuba with a U.S. blockade in their way.  No subset of citizen consciousness diverged from the whole as is the case with our balkanized media now.

None of this is hype or bull, but LIVED history, as opposed to merely read or contrived history. Living in Miami as the 13 days of the crisis unfolded my brothers and I saw the Nike missile carriers being drawn through the streets of Miami. Even the strip joints and peep flicks on NW 79th St had been shuttered.

Subsequent release of the tapes made during that time confirmed the gravity.  For those that want all the details of what went down day by day, get hold of: ‘The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis’, by Ernest R. May and Philip K. Zelikow (1997, President and Fellows of Harvard College). Therein, on p. 347, for ’10:00 A.M. Oct. 24” the diligent reader will read:

At the same time the quarantine became effective, the Strategic Air Command moved from the general Defense Condition 3 to Defense Condition 2, the level just below general war. In addition to ICBMs and submarine-based ballistic missiles, every available bomber – more than 1,400 aircraft- went on alert. Scores of bombers, each loaded with several nuclear weapons and carrying folders for pre-assigned targets in the Soviet Union, were kept continuously in the air around the clock with shifts- refueled by aerial tankers, taking turns hovering over Northern Canada and the Mediterranean Sea. The Soviet government was presumed to be aware of these developments.”

How close did we come to perdition? Very! But the degree of proximity to nuclear holocaust was mostly learned only decades later with FOIA released files. For example, we learned Kennedy was under enormous pressure from the Joint Chiefs and especially Air Force Gen, Curtis Lemay to launch a bomber strike against Castro and an invasion.

On p. 183 of the 'Kennedy Tapes' book, one sees Lemay saying that "we have got to do more than take out the missiles" and he demands a massive air strike as well. By Oct. 1992, when Robert McNamara was interviewed on 'Today' he observed that only ex post facto did the Kennedy situation room and Pentagon learn that all 93 odd IRBMs in Cuba were already armed with single megaton warheads, and had JFK followed Lemay's directives all hell would have broken loose.

McNamara learned of this while on a conference visit to Havana in 1992, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the crisis. McNamara had asked Fidel what he would have done had the U.S. invaded Cuba. Castro didn't hesitate, informing him that over 100 armed (with single megaton warhead) missiles would have been sent flying.

Flabbergasted, McNamara pressed him: "You really would have destroyed your country?" and Fidel replied, "Yes, and you would have too in a similar situation!"

Here's how that would have played out: At the first hint of U.S. attack planes picked up on Cuban radar most or all of the 93 IRBMs would have been launched. The targets would mainly have been U.S. east coast cities: Miami, Baltimore, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, but a number of the missiles would have struck interior cities including Cleveland, Detroit, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Chicago and possibly Milwaukee.

Even as those missiles were in flight, the Kennedy White House would have been forced to go to Defcon 1, or full war condition, even as the Soviets - also now acknowledging what was happening (realizing Cuba's missile launch would make them a target), launched their own missiles. In the space of about 30 minutes, as McNamara pointed out, some 500-odd missiles would have been in the air headed for targets in the USA and USSR. 

Since most warheads at that time were in the 5-10 megaton range, the full nuclear exchange - lasting maybe an hour would have resulted in possibly 300 million dead and massive clouds of radiation polluting the rest of the planet via the trades and other winds. Within a year, plausibly most humans would be dead or dying - if not of radiation sickness then from lack of food crops due to nuclear winter - with billions of tons of dust in the atmosphere blotting out sunlight.

Those of us who lived those days retain the consciousness of how a nuclear holocaust can and might occur on a hair trigger decision, or lack of one. Fortunately for us all, we had JFK at the helm then and his abundant intelligence, excelling comprehension of facts and history enabled him to surmount the pressures of his generals. However, many of us are uncertain the hollow shadow of a man at the helm now also has those properties. By all recent evidence he doesn't, he lacks the fundaments of sound judgement and is the very type of incandescent idiot who might well trigger the incident that gets us into a thermonuclear war.

The fact this nitwit didn't even know where his naval attack "armada"  (the Carl Vinson carrier strike  group)  was when he blurted it was "on its way" to the Korean peninsula  shows he is a clueless buffoon with no accountability or leadership mettle. Worse, his illustrious staff (including NSC honcho H.R. McMaster and defense secretary James Mattis), supposedly the "adults in the room",  echoed the same nonsense. So either they were outright lying when they claimed the Carl Vinson carrier group was "approaching the Korean peninsula" - when it was three thousand miles south near Australia  - or they didn't know. Either one is cause for alarm, almost as much as the brinksmanship with North Korea.

These are the goobers now in charge of managing a real, ongoing nuclear crisis with North Korea, who don't even know where their carrier strike group is.  Conversely, JFK - unlike this Trump clown car- always insisted during the 13-day Cuban Missile Crisis that he know where every ship and plane was as well as troop movements. Under no circumstance did he want to send an accidental message to the Russians causing them to believe the U.S. was planning a first strike.

Ask me why I am as worried now as I was during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and I will ask that you re-read this post again, and then get hold of the Kennedy Tapes book. As long as Trump is fouling the White House no one should "breathe easier", or sleep the sleep of the just.

See also:


"we have to understand that situation has changed in a fundamental way. North Korea now has nuclear weapons, which means that North Korea is a nuclear weapons state. US policy-makers need to repeat that to themselves and let it sink in. It changes the calculus entirely. When one realizes that the North now has the power to reduce Osaka, Tokyo or Seoul to smoldering rubble with one flip of the switch, that has to be taken seriously. In practical terms, it means the so called “military option” is off the table, "

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