Here We Are, In The Calm Before The Storm


There was a time when we had an idea
whose time hadn’t come
They kept changing its name, so we could still pretend
it was not really gone
We heard our screams turn into song
and back into screams again and here we are again
Here we are in the calm before the storm, oh

–Lou Reed/Ruben Blades

(I will be returning to my promised discussion of good and evil fairly soon.  But (besides the need to repair my keyboard, now accomplished) other things have intervened.  One of them is the realization that however much things have changed, things haven’t really changed.)

This morning on the radio, there was (yet another) a discussion of the need to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.  This rings especially powerfully for me because I was there.  Honestly don’t think the idea of nuclear weapons resonates for a lot of people.  It has been almost a quarter of a century since the collapse of the USSR, the state against which the US built a nearly unbelievable arsenal of nuclear and thermonuclear weaponry.  Most of the people who browse the internet, I suspect, were either not yet born or not yet conscious of the implications.

I was perhaps fifteen when I realized that we weren’t having tornado drills, but bombing drills.  I’ve discussed my fondness for apocalyptic stories before, so  it should come as no surprise that I was constantly cognizant of the possibility of immolation on 20 minutes’ notice.  And I started to try to do something about it.

I wrote letters.  I marched.  I participated in meetings and conferences.

And then, the teetering balance between the US and the USSR

stopped teetering.

When the USSR dissolved in 1991, we heaved a sign of relief; it was as if the world had changed, and it had, in many important ways.  Two years earlier, Nelson Mandela had been released, and South Africa was changing.  The Gulf War came–and went–without nuclear exchanges, and indeed, with the then-tottering USSR trying to calm the situation and restrain Baghdad.

We heard our screams turn into songs

The world felt like a much safer place; for about a decade, it was possible to believe that we were going to escape the WWIII of fiction, the “Flame Deluge” of Walter Miller.

Then came 9/11.

And back into screams again

But this time, we had been attacked, we had a noble cause.  And we went and destroyed the “enemy.”  Or did we?  Mission accomplished.

But far more important, we gave our military-industrial complex a new lease on life.  And I suspect that that may have played a role (though it really doesn’t matter) over the past decade and a half of the increasing bellicosity of the “Former Soviet Union,” i.e., Russia.

But now, Russia is only one of a number of nuclear states, and countries like North Korea and Iran would, if they are not already, very much like to be.

And back into screams again

How did we get here?

Well, neither of those states was on particularly good terms with the US to begin with.  But when the US reached out and smashed another country–or what was left of another country–I suspect that things changed.

Because nuclear weapons, since the time that the Soviet Union developed them, are not weapons of offense.  They are, ultimately, weapons of suicide.  Suppose that Iran developed nuclear weapons.  Suppose that it then used nuclear weapons on, let’s say, Israel.  Is there any doubt in anyone’s mind that Israel would retaliate with nuclear weapons?  Or that, assuming that literally nothing was left of Israel, that the United States would so respond?

And back into screams again

Do you honestly think that the leadership of Iran–or for that matter, anyone in Iran–is that insane?  Or better, that we are any less insane?

Once the nuclear monopoly ended, nuclear weapons were useful only insofar as they were not used.  They became guarantors of non-aggression.  A state with a nuclear arsenal, however small it may be, is like a Fugu Fish.  Nature says “don’t touch.”  Iran wants nuclear weapons–I think–not so as to be in a position to threaten their use against Israel or the United States, but so as to be secure against invasion.  North Korea, for all of its sword-waving, is likely operating in much the same way.

And back into screams again

Nuclear weapons are not going away.  Not until we change the world in such a way that states need no longer fear invasion.   There is a related point:  nuclear weapons are far less useful against internal revolt or revolution.  They can be used to end a revolution only at the risk of ending everything.

Maybe these are the ramblings of an old man who never thought he’d see thirty.  Or maybe they’re not.

But I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in the calm before the storm.

It may look like I’m exploiting fear here.  But I’m not telling you to live in fear–and certainly not to avoid change because of fear.  I’m telling you there might be something better.

Let’s go find out what it is.

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2 Responses to Here We Are, In The Calm Before The Storm

  1. Marty Hiller says:

    This is why I believe social justice is such an indispensable part of any viable transition to sustainability. Without it, crash-and-burn strikes me as inevitable.

    • I think you’re right, but I think there’s something more; there’s a slogan “not in my name,” but it’s taking that slogan to its logical (?) extension: the point where we require the state to have positive permission to act. That’s going to be a challenge…

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