I recently watched Stanley Kramer's Cold War classic, "On the Beach," where Gregory Peck, Fred Astaire, Ava Gardner, and Anthony Perkins are fated to die along with everyone else after a worldwide nuclear war. It sounded a bit like Revelation Chapter Nine, Verse 15, which predicts that the most destructive war is yet to come. But no, it really reflected Kramer's anxiety about reckless and feckless leaders and the damage they do. At least the film had Peck and Gardner to console the victims on their final destination.
The US has always needed real or imaginary enemies to make its historic addiction to war more palatable. Nowadays it's perfectly acceptable to damn Vladimir Putin as an authoritarian but he's no more authoritarian than some of America's closest allies.
The problem is that, like the US, he commands thousands of nuclear bombs, a subject about which I've been writing since the start of what sounds like another Cold/maybe Hot War era. The hawkish Hillary Clinton compared him to Hitler after Moscow's annexation of Crimea. But Henry Kissinger—of all people—saw through the hot air emanating from Washington's inner circles (echoed by an uncritical media) when he wrote that excoriating Putin was no substitute for shaping a sane policy, which our foreign policy elites have regularly disdained to do, especially after past and present incompetents and worse have caused the deaths of some 38,000 US military in Korea, 58,000 in Vietnam and 7,000 in Iraq, not to mention millions of innocent Asians and Middle Easterners. No VIP has ever been tried or imprisoned for these deaths.
The US noose around Russia began in earnest when our most lethal weaponry began pouring into Russia's erstwhile satellites adjacent to Russian borders, (great news for Merchants of Death stockholders). US troops are now stationed in the Baltics and Poland, targeting Russia and its 8,000 nuclear bombs and history of successfully destroying invaders, even absorbing 27 million deaths fighting and defeating German armies—and thus ironically saving the West from defeat.
The new US commander of NATO, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, seemed oblivious to this aspect of Russian history while sworn in recently as NATO's latest military commander, saying NATO (read the US, its major funder) must be ready to "fight tonight." How many Americans, "amusing themselves to death" in Neil Postman's deathless prose, are ready for that? And "tonight," no less?
For every provocative move by the US and NATO, the Russians have retaliated by recklessly buzzing US naval ships and aircraft. Moscow added that it will send three army divisions to their western borders and, more ominously, nuclear warheads will be placed on its new Iskander missiles and set down near Kaliningrad, close to Lithuania and Poland and targeted at Western Europe just as the US-NATO buildup is aimed at Russia.
The dangerous game goes on between the three powers until someone either devises a diplomatic solution with people they may not like or we slip mindlessly into a nuclear war.
That's Russian Roulette and can easily "lead to miscalculation," noted a NY Times piece.
Igor Ivanov was once Boris Yeltsin's foreign minister and also worked for Putin and now runs a Russian government think tank. "The risk of confrontation with the use of nuclear weapons in Europe is higher than at any time in the 1980s," he told the London Express. Both sides, incidentally, are about to conduct war maneuvers much like the darkest Cold War or pre-1914 years.
"This new conflict is shaping up to be extraordinarily dangerous, entailing a broad confrontation that will play out in various proxy theaters around the world and bringing back the ever-present possibility of nuclear war," warns Samuel Charlap of the Center for American Progress and Jeremy Shapiro of the Brookings Institution in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists' issue (vol. 72, Issue 3, 2016) devoted to US-Russian relations.
"A misreading of this man [Putin]—now one of the most consequential international political figures and challengers to the US-led world order since the end of the Cold War--could have catastrophic consequences."
As Dmitry Kiselyov, director of a Russian TV network put it, pulling no punches. "Russia is the only country in the world which is realistically capable of turning the US into radioactive ash." But Dmitry, please bear in mind that the US can play the same game.
Meanwhile, President Obama has approved all the moves directed at Russia and given a green light to those who want to confront the Chinese, a nuclear power, in the South China Sea, most recently near the Fiery Cross Reef, a miniscule pile of rocks where the Chinese have built an airstrip.
Tit for tat, the US aircraft carrier John Stennis, named after the late Mississippi segregationist, was prevented from docking in Hong Kong. The US says its warships are in the region to protect freedom of navigation but China sees it as the US trying to maintain regional hegemony, with force if necessary.
So the dangerous game goes on between the three powers until someone either devises a diplomatic solution with people they may not like or we slip mindlessly into a nuclear war. Then a brainy entrepreneur can start selling up-to-date bumper stickers reading "Support Our Troops on Fiery Cross Reef"— that is, if anyone is still alive to read it.
While writing this blog Daniel Berrigan, the antiwar, nonviolent Jesuit priest-activist whose life was dedicated to creating "a world uncursed by war and starvation," and Donald Duncan, the Vietnam Green Beret who turned against his war, had died, Dan in May and Don in March. Once discharged, Don joined William Sloane Coffin, Benjamin Spock and David Dellinger in mass rallies where draft cards were burned. He also defended the Green Beret Dr. Howard Levy, who also turned against the war and was jailed by the very liars and murderers whose policies had cost the lives of millions.
Had Dan and Don been physically able in our new Cold War-ish atmosphere they would surely be warning Americans that our policies may well force them and their people into yet another calamitous war, but this time a nuclear war brought to you courtesy of our latest generation of American, Chinese and Russian madmen.