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General News    H3'ed 12/15/22

Tomgram: William Astore, Going Nuclear (Again)

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

It was a backlit wonder of a plane on what looked like a Hollywood set " though the location was actually a Northrop Grumman plant in California. The workers from that giant weapons maker were there, too, chanting "USA! USA!" And so was Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin who "unveiled" it. Only one thing was missing: any emphasis on the fact that the new, ultra-secret B-21 stealth bomber being rolled out for the first time was the latest entry in the potential nuclear destruction of this planet.

But why dwell on that or even go out of your way to mention it? The Washington Post's coverage was typical. The word "nuclear" only appeared in the caption under an all-too-dramatic photo. ("Northrop Grumman Corp. rolled out the first plane in a new fleet of long-range stealth nuclear bombers for the U.S. Air Force on December 2.") Similarly, Austin introduced the new plane with an almost 1,300-word statement, but only used the word "nuclear" once. ("The Raider is designed to deliver both conventional and nuclear munitions, with formidable precision.") Otherwise, the retired Army four-star general preferred an ancient military code word for a world of nukes, "deterrence." ("Ladies and gentlemen, this is deterrence the American way.") And tell me that doesn't make sense. After all, at such a celebratory moment, why remind anyone, no less us taxpayers who unknowingly spent a fortune creating the plane, that our money is being squandered on a weapons system geared to ending it all?

Honestly, it almost might have been funny, if " well, if" but don't let me spoil the good times! After all, they've been going on for so long. Hey, it all began with the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending World War II, when I was one and the progress was already remarkable by the time I was a boy. In fact, as Robert Jacobs wrote in his book The Dragon's Tail: Americans Face the Atomic Age about a 1954 Strategic Air Command (SAC) briefing, "The optimum SAC war plan" called for 150 B-36s and 585 B-47s to drop 600-750 atomic bombs on the Soviet landmass" with the result (in the impression of one Navy captain present), 'that virtually all of Russia would be nothing but a smoking, radiating ruin at the end of two hours.'" And remember, that was before intercontinental ballistic missiles even made it onto the scene!

Imagine what a fleet of B-21s could someday do to Russia or China (or who knows where else) or what the weaponry of such countries could do to us. Or rather, be smart and don't imagine it at all. Instead, like those Northrop Grumman workers and Austin, just let the good times roll. If, however, you're a masochist like me, then take a moment to check out retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, historian, and TomDispatch regular William Astore's rundown on this country's nuclear "triad" and what it all adds up to these days. (More than three, believe me!) Tom

Peace Is Not Our Profession
The Madness of Nuclear Warfare, Alive and Well in America


Hey, cheer up because it truly is a beauty! I'm talking about this country's latest "stealth bomber," the B-21 Raider, just revealed by Northrop Grumman, the company that makes it, in all its glory. With its striking bat-winged shape and its ability to deliver a very big bang (as in nuclear weapons), it's our very own "bomber of the future." As Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin put it at its explosive debut, it will "fortify America's ability to deter aggression, today and into the future." Now, that truly makes me proud to be an American.

And while you're at it, on this MAD (as in mutually assured destruction) world of ours, let that scene, that peculiar form of madness, involving the potential end of everything on Planet Earth, sink in. As a retired Air Force officer, it reminded me all too vividly of my former service and brought to mind the old motto of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), "Peace Is Our Profession." Headed in its proudest years by the notorious General Curtis LeMay, it promised "peace" via the threat of the total nuclear annihilation of America's enemies.

SAC long controlled two "legs" of this country's nuclear triad: its land-based bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs. During the Cold War, those Titans, Minutemen, and MX "Peacekeepers" were kept on constant alert, ready to pulverize much of the planet at a moment's notice. It didn't matter that this country was likely to be pulverized, too, in any war with the Soviet Union. What mattered was remaining atop the nuclear pile. A concomitant benefit was keeping conventional wars from spinning out of control by threatening the nuclear option or, as was said at the time, "going nuclear." (In the age of Biden, it's "Armageddon.")

Luckily, since the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the world hasn't gone nuclear again and yet this country's military continues, with the help of weapons makers like Northrop Grumman, to hustle down that very path to Armageddon. Once upon a time, the absurdity of all this was captured by Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece, the satirical 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, which featured a "war room" in which there was no fighting, even as its occupants oversaw a nuclear doomsday. Sadly enough, that movie still seems eerily relevant nearly 60 years later in a world lacking the Soviet Union, where the threat of nuclear war nonetheless looms ever larger. What gives?

The short answer is that America's leaders, like their counterparts in Russia and China, seem to have a collective death wish, a shared willingness to embrace the most violent and catastrophic weapons in the name of peace.

Nuclear Bombers and ICBMs Return!

There's nothing magical about the nuclear triad. It's not the Holy "Trinity," as a congressman from Florida said long ago. Even so, it's worshipped by the U.S. military in its own all-too-expensive fashion. America's triad consists of bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons (B-52s, B-1s, B-2s, and someday B-21s), those land-based ICBMs, and that most survivable "leg," the U.S. Navy's Trident-missile-firing submarines. No other country has a triad quite as impressive (if that's the word for it), nor is any other country planning to spend up to $2 trillion over the next three decades "modernizing" it. The Air Force, of course, controls the first two legs of that triad and isn't about to give them up just because they're redundant to America's "defense" (given those submarines), while constituting a threat to life on this planet.

Recently, when the Air Force unveiled that B-21 Raider, its latest nuclear-capable bomber, we learned that it looks much like its predecessor, the B-2 Spirit, with its bat-like shape (known as a "flying wing" design) driven by stealth or the avoidance of radar detection. The Air Force plans to buy "at least" 100 of those planes at a projected cost of roughly $750 million each. Count on one thing, though: with the inevitable delays and cost overruns associated with any high-tech military project these days, the flyaway cost will likely exceed $1 billion per plane, or at least $100 billion of your taxpayer dollars (and possibly even $200 billion).

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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