Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Nuclear Holocaust - Whether We Like it or Not

I'm reading some rather grim reports today. Maybe it's because I'm listening to Sunn O)))'s new album Monoliths and Dimensions. But I can't help be feel a certain need to predict, based on the information cobbled between these two articles and the readings from Michael Hardt and Judith Butler, that there will be a world government-type entity within the next 100 years. That there would be such a government, in itself is not grim for me. What I find grim is that there might not be one - because there might not be the need (given the inadequate human population) for any kind of State at all.

I started reading Wired's wonderful blog, Danger Room, and came across this teaser article from this month's issue Inside the Apocalyptic Soviet Doomsday Machine.

The above article tells us a bit about Dead Hand, technically it's called Perimeter, a zombie nuclear retaliation machine developed by the Soviet Union to destroy the United States after the U.S. has attacked. How will the zombie system know when to strike? Hopefully none of that fails; they keep upgrading the system so hopefully it's overcome the limits of 1984's computing technology and it's not being run on an Apple IIe or something.

Then, from the discussion below the above article I was pointed toward Daniel Ellsberg's article at Truthdig "A Hundred Holocausts: An Insider’s Window Into U.S. Nuclear Policy"

From Ellsbueg's article I noted several interesting lines that reminded me of the discussion we'd been having in Judith Butler's class. Specifically I'm thinking of the question she shares with Arendt, what kind of Law can we have when immorality is the morality of the land? What kind of crime can we charge Eichmann with when there is no legal precedent for the new kind of person that marks our contemporary moment?

To be sure, Americans, and U.S. Air Force planners in particular, were the only people in the world who believed that they had won a war by bombing, and, particularly in Japan, by bombing civilians. In World War II and for years afterward, there were only two air forces in the world, the British and American, that could so much as hope to do that.
Ellsberg's pointing to a problem that reminds me of Arendt's questions about Eichmann and genocide in her Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship:
How can you think, and even more important in our context, how can you judge without holding on to preconceived standards, norms, and general rules under which the particular cases and instances can be subsumed? Or to put it differently, what happens to the human faculty of judgement when it is faced with occurrences that spell the breakdown of all customary standards and hence are unprecedented in the sense that they are not foreseen in the general rules, not even as exceptions from such rules? (26)
Although the idea that the US Air Force might decide that not only is it acceptable to implement and enact on plans to destroy civillian non-combatants as a key to victory is not immediately related to the Arendt questions above (I mean, if we're already accepting that war is a solution to problems why not), the following statements by Ellsberg that proceed from his thinking do begin to resonate with Arendt and her Eichmann project.
I knew personally many of the American planners, though apparently—from the fatality chart—not quite as well as I had thought. What was frightening was precisely that I knew they were not evil, in any ordinary, or extraordinary, sense. They were ordinary Americans, capable, conscientious and patriotic. I was sure they were not different, surely not worse, than the people in Russia who were doing the same work, or the people who would sit at the same desks in later U.S. administrations. I liked most of the planners and analysts I knew. Not only the physicists at RAND who designed bombs and the economists who speculated on strategy (like me), but the colonels who worked on these very plans, whom I consulted with during the workday and drank beer with in the evenings.
That chart set me the problem, which I have worked on for nearly half a century, of understanding my fellow humans—us, I don’t separate myself—in the light of this real potential for self-destruction of our species and of most others. Looking not only at the last eight years but at the steady failure in the two decades since the ending of the Cold War to reverse course or to eliminate this potential, it is hard for me to avoid concluding that this potential is more likely than not to be realized in the long run.
The chart to which he refers above is the chart that he will be handing to the President that states that at a minimum 325 million people would be killed in the USSR and China were the U.S. to enact general nuclear war in 1961. But he recognized that the Joint Chiefs of Staff were not including the collateral deaths that would have to be included due to nuclear fall out. The reply from the Joint Chiefs of Staff was 600 million dead. One hundred Holocausts within six months in the northern hemisphere. But that was back when we had the less powerful nuclear war heads of 1961, and so few!

As we can see from the recent scholarship on the unaccounted-for fires that accompany nuclear blasts, we can expect all life to be destroyed within about 60 square miles of the blast itself. From Whole World on Fire (Cornell, 2004)
Average air temperatures in the areas on fire after the attack would be well above the boiling point of water, winds generated by the fire would be hurricane force, and the fire would burn everywhere at this intensity for three to six hours. Even after the fire burned out, street pavement would be so hot that even tracked vehicles could not pass over it for days, and buried unburned material from collapsed buildings could burst into flames if exposed to air even weeks after the fire.
Those who sought shelter in basements of strongly constructed buildings could be poisoned by carbon monoxide seeping in or killed by the oven-like conditions. Those who sought to escape through the streets would be incinerated by the hurricane-force winds laden with firebrands and flames. Even those who could find shelter in lower-level subbasements of massive buildings would likely die of eventual heat prostration, poisoning from fire-generated gases or lack of water. The fire would eliminate all life in the fire zone [40-65 square miles is not unreasonable to expect]. (35-36)
To help you understand what 60 square miles looks like, here's a map of the city of Atlanta. Everything within the the Perimeter (the ring that marks I-285) will be on fire and producing hurricane-force winds for three to six hours. That means you can probably include all the suburbs on fire within the first day, especially in tree-city.

View Larger Map
all of this on fire.
Let's juxtapose some quotes from Ellsberg and Arendt:
"What was frightening was precisely that I knew they were not evil, in any ordinary, or extraordinary, sense. They were ordinary Americans, capable, conscientious and patriotic." Ellsberg
"The indictment implied not only that he [Eichmann] had acted on purpose, which he did not deny, but out of base motives and in full knowledge of the criminal nature of his deeds. As for the base motives, he was perfectly sure that he was not what he called an innerer Schweinehund, a dirty bastard in the depths of his heart; and as for his conscience, he remembered perfectly well that he would have had a bad conscience only if he had not done what he had been ordered to do....Their case rested on the assumption that the defendant, like all 'normal persons,' must have been aware of the criminal nature of his acts, and Eichmann was indeed normal insofar as he was 'no exception within the Nazi regime.' However, under the conditions of the Third Reich only 'exceptions' could be expected to react 'normally.' This simple truth of the matter created a dilemma for the judges which they could neither resolve nor escape."
Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, 25-6.
I just can't help but feel that Arendt's consideration of the anomaly of Eichmann must be extended to the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. I think that the world, whenever possible, will seek out a central authority and I believe the nuclear crisis will bring that central authority to power. The world will cry out for it, assuming that the majority of the world's life were to survive this crisis.

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