The American will to wage war — endless war, pointless war, total war — is, I fear, impervious to public opinion and even political action. It remains alive deep in the underground bunker of American militarism, protected from sanity.
This goes beyond the staying power of our loser generals, who have ever freer rein in the Trump administration to expand the war games of the 21st century. There is a quiet determination among those who serve the god of war — or so it seems — to engage in, and presumably win, a nuclear war.
This, at any rate, is the conclusion one could draw from an essay that ran last month in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, by Hans M. Kristensen, Matthew McKinzie and Theodore A. Postol, who point out how the U.S. military has circumvented the global nuclear disarmament movement by increasing the accuracy — and thus the “kill power” — of the missiles it still holds onto, in the process intensifying the threat the United States poses to Russia (as the beloved Cold War returns) and minimizing the “security” of mutually assured destruction (MAD).
“Under the veil of an otherwise-legitimate warhead life-extension program,” they write, “the U.S. military has quietly engaged in a vast expansion of the killing power of the most numerous warhead in the U.S. nuclear arsenal: the W76, deployed on the Navy’s ballistic missile submarines. This improvement in kill power means that all U.S. sea-based warheads now have the capability to destroy hardened targets such as Russian missile silos, a capability previously reserved for only the highest-yield warheads in the U.S. arsenal.”
Furthermore: “The capability upgrade has happened outside the attention of most government officials, who have been preoccupied with reducing nuclear warhead numbers. The result is a nuclear arsenal that is being transformed into a force that has the unambiguous characteristics of being optimized for surprise attacks against Russia and for fighting and winning nuclear wars.”
This is happening, as they say, “outside the attention of most government officials.” That may be the most unnerving piece of data in their essay, implying a complete lack of public input into, let alone control over, American militarism, even at the level of nuclear war.
Suddenly I’m thinking, yet again, about George McGovern, who said as he accepted the Democratic nomination for president in 1972: “I have no secret plan for peace. I have a public plan.”
That consciousness has been laid to rest. In America, peace is classified. The future is classified. And those who question this arrangement — those who question the military’s capacity to protect through domination — have been on the social margins for 45 years now. And now Donald Trump is president.
The only Trump action that hasn’t been a media disaster has been tossing missiles around. Tom Engelhardt calls it “the honeymoon of the generals,” noting:
“Above all, President Trump did one thing decisively. He empowered a set of generals or retired generals — James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis as secretary of defense, H.R. McMaster as national security adviser, and John Kelly as secretary of homeland security — men already deeply implicated in America’s failing wars across the Greater Middle East. Not being a details guy himself, he’s then left them to do their damnedest.”
And Trump is “anything but an anomaly of history. Quite the opposite. Like those generals, he’s a logical endpoint to a grim process … When it comes to war and the U.S. military, none of what’s happened would have been conceivable without the two previous presidencies. None of it would have been possible without Congress’s willingness to pump endless piles of money into the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex in the post-9/11 years; without the building up of the national security state and its 17 (yes, 17!) major intelligence outfits into an unofficial fourth branch of government; without the institutionalization of war as a permanent (yet strangely distant) feature of American life …”
And complicating the matter is the absence of a mainstream watchdog media — a media that refuses to serve as the military’s public relations arm. Currently this means weaving a revitalized Cold War into the war on terror, a.k.a., the war on evil, which has already established itself as endless. And it means, of course, never mentioning the U.S. nuclear weapons program, just North Korea’s.
Yet, according to the peace website Roots Action: “North Korea has repeatedly offered to abandon its nuclear weapons program if the United States and South Korea would stop flying over North Korea practicing to bomb it as well as engaging in other explicitly threatening military exercises nearby.”
I fear something is dangerously loose at the American core: a need for endless war combined with a nuclear recklessness uncontained by public scrutiny. The Trump presidency may have the potential to unleash this recklessness beyond the carefully set bounds of status quo militarism, but at the same time it can open our awareness to what is really happening.
The resistance has to go deeper than Trump. At its center we need a public plan for peace.
Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.