By Rodney Reynolds
NEW YORK (IDN) – As the U.S. presidential elections gather political momentum, one of the key issues that has triggered a provocative debate revolves round the very survival of humanity: the looming threat of an intended or unintended nuclear war.
Come November 8, the U.S. will be making a choice between two contenders: former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a candidate of the Democratic Party; and Donald Trump, a self-proclaimed billionaire businessman from New York, a candidate of the Republican Party.
While Clinton has remained restrained, even as she has vowed to continue the nuclear policies of outgoing President Barack Obama, including the modernization of the American nuclear arsenal, Trump has been described as “reckless” and “out of control” on the use of nuclear weapons by the United States.
As one sceptic points out: “It’s sometimes said that Trump has no core political views, no grasp of policy, no position that he won’t reverse 15 minutes later; he’s changed party registration at least seven times.”
The New York Times quoted Clinton as saying: “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”
The U.S. President, as the country’s commander-in-chief, has only minutes to decide whether to fire as many as 925 nuclear warheads with a destructive force greater than 17,000 Hiroshima bombs, according to Hans M. Kristensen, the director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists, who was quoted in the Times on August 4.
The only U.S. president who ordered a nuclear strike against another nation – Japan – was Harry S. Truman back in August 1945 during the final stages of World War II.
Asked about a future nuclear scenario involving the U.S., Norman Solomon, Executive Director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy told IDN: “I have no confidence that issues related to nuclear weapons will be coherently and prominently discussed by the major candidates in the presidential race.”
“Donald Trump is frighteningly reckless with his rhetoric, while Hillary Clinton has indicated that she favors continuity with the Obama administration's dangerously irresponsible plans to initiate a massive new generation of U.S. nuclear weapons at a cost of $1 trillion during the next three decades.”
While Trump exudes the scent of madness, he noted, Clinton exemplifies what the sociologist C. Wright Mills called "crackpot realism".
“She is within the mainline consensus that prevails in Washington, and therefore the conventional media wisdom is that she is reasonable and responsible,” said Solomon.
In fact, her support for a huge nuclear-arms development buildup is embodying its own kind of madness that stays within the boundaries of what the most powerful political forces in the United States depict as sober rationality, he noted.
“What is especially dangerous about Clinton is that her support for further U.S. nuclear weapons development and deployment is coupled with a belligerent approach to Russia, as NATO has approached its borders and implicitly threatened what the Kremlin views as Russia's national security,” he argued.
“If there is to be a consistently constructive contribution to public discussion of nuclear-arms policies, it will come from voices apart from the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates”, said Solomon, author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.
Speaking from Hiroshima on August 4, Joseph Gerson, co-Convener of the International Peace and Planet Network and member of the International Peace Bureau's Board, told IDN that throughout the election campaign, telling questions and related fears about Donald Trump's ignorance, his brutal approach to people and situations, and his emotional imbalance have been raised.
The report by Joe Scarborough, an American TV and radio host, that during a briefing by an unnamed expert, Trump repeatedly asked why the U.S. cannot use its nuclear weapons during crises and wars, seems to confirm these fears, Gerson pointed out.
As expected, Trump denied the story.
Earlier, Gerson said, Trump had made it clear that he didn't know what the U.S. nuclear triad is, and he refused to rule out the possibility of using nuclear weapons against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Trump's reported questions about the possible use of nuclear weapons were made at a time when William Perry, the former U.S. Defense (War) Secretary, is warning that the dangers of the use of nuclear weapons are greater now than during the Cold War.
“Given Donald Trump's statements, this certainly seems to be the case,” Gerson warned.
“Given what we have long known about nuclear weapons: that human beings and nuclear weapons cannot coexist; that it would be impossible to mount a meaningful response to the humanitarian consequences of the detonation of even a single nuclear weapon on a city; and that even a small incident at sea, let alone a nuclear attack, could trigger escalation to general and omnicidal war, Trump's statements are reminiscent of Dr. Strangelove's nuclear madness” (as depicted in the 1964 Hollywood satire 'Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb'.)
“Here in Hiroshima, and certainly in the critically important third session of the UN Open Ended Working Group on nuclear disarmament, Trump's statements will frighten ordinary people, activists and senior government officials across the globe.”
Gerson said Trump’s words and actions have already raised questions and fears about what the United States has become.
“Worse, his words will reinforce pressures toward nuclear weapons proliferation, reinforcing the perceived need to develop nuclear forces that can deter an aggressive United States.”
One would need to be much closer to Hillary Clinton, a woman who has said that nuclear weapons can be eliminated "in some century", not this one, and her senior advisers to know if and how she might exploit Trump's statements and reports about them.
Gerson said it would certainly seem that the situation is ripe for an advertisement along the lines of the girl picking daisy petals in the countdown to oblivion that was so effectively used in the 1964 election by (US President Lyndon) Johnson's campaign against Barry Goldwater.
“It might serve as the final nail in the coffin of Trump's election campaign.”
“One can only hope that the expert to whom Joe Scarborough referred will have the courage to step forward and to tell us Trump's questions and their context precisely. It could cost this man his or her job, but it could also save humanity,” declared Gerson. [IDN-InDepthNews – 08 August 2016]
Photo: Panoramic view of the monument marking the hypocenter, or ground zero, of the atomic bomb explosion over Nagasaki. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.