Ado About Very Little
June 6, 2002
By Michael Shannon
there a more oxymoronic term in the English language than
the "rules of war"? Not only do I think not but it is such
a wholly flawed concept that to define it merely as a contradiction
in terms is to give it far more legitimacy than it deserves.
It is more aptly defined as the total absence of lucidity.
War is by definition the antithesis of all that life under
the rule of law implies. The thought that it can conducted
within the genteel confines of some Marquis of Queensberry
style guidelines is delusionary at best.
Whenever I hear someone use the term I think of Moe Howard.
Have you ever seen Moe refereeing a fight between Curly and
some guy who looks like he could kill him just by looking
at him? Before the bout begins, Moe will calmly explain what
is and is not allowed. And every time he says, "we'll have
none of this" -- be it eye gouging, ear pulling, stomping
on feet etc -- he demonstrates on poor hapless Curly, much
to his painful chagrin.
In the real world, when it is all said and done, it really
doesn't matter how you choose to kill your enemy. They are
equally dead whether or not the preferred weapon is a fifty
caliber bullet, a laser guided bomb or mustard gas. Still,
"civilized" states have attempted to control/eliminate any
number of methods of mass execution over the years. Some have
been seemingly effective. That is until the other side resorts
to some previously outlawed method of mass murder or even
insinuates that they will resort to it.. Then -- it you permit
me to use another celluloid based metaphor -- it becomes painfully
obvious that, as Butch Cassidy once said, "There are no rules
in a knife fight."
The debate within "civilized" circles over what is or is
not acceptable when it comes to annihilating your enemy was
recently re-engaged with chilling immediacy in the aftermath
of the public dissemination of the contents of the Defense
Department's Nuclear Review Plan. For those not familiar with
this extraordinary document; it is the Bush administration's
declaration that the United States retains not only the power
to use nuclear weapons but that we have chosen to expand the
parameters of what scenarios and circumstances would warrant
a nuclear response.
While the release of this document was met with widespread
derision amongst both friend and enemy alike, the most recent
news in regards to nuclear weaponry has been bathed in far
more favorable light. Unfortunately, once your eyes adjust
to the glare what you see is not all together a pretty picture.
It's not that I want to be a spoil sport. And I will admit
that a little progress is better than none at all. But this
treaty the Bush administration is so joyously trumpeting as
a major breakthrough in nuclear disarmament is one gift horse
whose mouth is not very appealing.
The gist of the agreement is that the United States and Russia
will reduce the number of their respective strategic warheads
by 65 percent. On the surface, I admit it does sound like
a heck of a deal. However, there are a number of rather serious
caveats. First; the word "strategic" is a key word in this
arrangement. The treaty only covers those warheads which are
mounted on intercontinental missiles. It does nothing to reduce
the thousands of "tactical" warheads both sides still have.
Secondly; the two parties will have up to ten years to make
these cuts. Why so long you ask? I haven't the slightest idea.
And third; at the insistence of the United States, these warheads
are not to be destroyed but rather they are to be put into
storage just in case some unforseen development down the road
makes us wish we still had them handy.
It has long been a concern of people in the know that the
ability of Russia to maintain state of the art security over
their nuclear stockpile has been severely diminished by their
economic difficulties. So much so that the United States has
already spent upwards of a billion dollars to help the Russians
keep these monstrosities out of the hands of you-know-who.
And now here we are asking them to keep several thousand more
safely tucked away. Now as bad as all this is, there is even
There will still be enough nukes sitting on the top of missiles
capable of reaching the United States to kill practically
everybody you know and all in a matter of a few short minutes.
Let's crunch a few numbers to see if that assertion shakes
According to my unscientific census analysis there are approximately
250 cities in the United States that have a population in
excess of 100,000 people. There are maybe another hundred
or so whose greater metropolitan area also exceeds that number.
Using the median figure of 2,000 -- the treaty calls for a
reduction to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads. A remarkably
wide variance, don't you think? -- this means that even if
they threw 5 at each of our ten biggest cities with the detonation
of 400 warheads they would be able to obliterate every single
major population center in the United States and still have
1,600 warheads left over.
And in case you're saying to yourself, "This is exactly why
we need to build a missile defense shield," I hate to burst
your bubble but by our own -- read, even the most stalwart
supporters -- admission, no shield would ever be able to stop
a full fledged Russia nuclear onslaught.
In other words; while the newspaper headlines may seem reassuring,
as long as we have political leaders who believe in the viability
of a nuclear deterrence the future of humankind will remain
balanced on the head of a pin.
A pin whose prick is beyond imagination.