Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sunday Reading

Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki — Gareth Evans, former Australian foreign minister, reminds us that nuclear weapons are still a threat.

People sometimes forget that the boy who cried wolf ended up being eaten. True, nobody has been killed by a nuclear weapon since the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 65 years ago this month. And with Cold War tensions long past, it’s all too easy for policy-makers and publics to resist the doomsayers, be complacent about the threats that these weapons continue to pose, and to regard attempts to eliminate them, or contain their spread, as well-meaning but futile.

But the truth is, it’s sheer dumb luck – not statesmanship, good professional management or anything inherently stable about the world’s nuclear weapons systems – that has let us survive so long without catastrophe. With 23,000 nuclear weapons (equivalent to 150,000 Hiroshimas) still in existence, more than 7,000 of them actively deployed and more than 2,000 still on dangerously high launch-on-warning alert, we can’t assume our luck will hold indefinitely.

We know now – with multiple revelations about human error and system breakdown on both the American and Russian sides during the Cold War years and since – that even the most sophisticated command and control systems are not foolproof. We know that some of the newer nuclear-armed states start with systems much less sophisticated than these. And we know that, across the spectrum of sophistication, the risk of destabilizing cyber attack beating cyber defence is getting ever higher.

So it should be obvious that maintaining the status quo is intolerable. Moreover, there’s the real risk of proliferation, especially in the Middle East, multiplying the dangers that nuclear weapons will be used by accident or miscalculation as well as design.

More below the fold.

Scapegoats — Matthew Ygelsias on the fearmongering going on this summer.

Politics always seems to get a bit off-kilter when the temperature goes up. But instead of the familiar silly-season stuff of years past — made-up scandals and who-cares gossip — the past two summers have been filled with vitriol. Last year we had town halls gone wild, fueled by the threat of death panels pulling the plug on Grandma. This year, us-vs.-them controversies are proliferating, linked by a surge in xenophobia. This is our summer of fear.

So far, the summer of fear has featured a charge, led by Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and former New York congressman Rick Lazio, to block the construction of the Cordoba House Islamic cultural center (which is to include a mosque) a few blocks from the site of the World Trade Center. Meanwhile, with frightening speed, we’ve gone from discussing the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform to watching congressional Republicans call for hearings to reconsider the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of citizenship to anyone born in the United States.

Many liberals think they spy simple election-year opportunism. And of course, where there’s an election, there’s opportunism. But these prominent Republicans wouldn’t be doing any of this if xenophobia weren’t playing well politically.

Politicians are making hay out of the mosque only because public opinion seems to oppose it. They are reflecting, as well as stoking, a groundswell of public hostility toward outsiders. This hostility is not about the midterms; it is a consequence of the economic downturn, every bit as much as foreclosures and layoffs. When personal incomes stop growing, people become less broad-minded, and suspicion of foreigners and other ethnic groups grows. We have seen this time and again, in this country and in others.

Fear, in essence, begets fear. The loss of a job, or the worry that one might be lost, raises anxiety. This often plays out as increased suspicion of people who look different or come from different places. While times of robust growth and shared prosperity inspire feelings of interconnectedness and mutual gain, in times of worry, the picture quickly reverses. Views of the world turn zero-sum: If he wins, what do I lose? Any kind of change looks like decline — the end of a “way of life.”

Doonesbury — the old college try.