COMMENTARY: There is a mainly unseen and undiscussed danger in America. It is that we are subject to irrational fear in some areas. And our enemies know this. What do we fear the most? Atomic bombs.
The Soviet Union and our country engaged in a War of Fears during the Cold War from a principle known as Mutually Assured Destruction, or MAD. Growing up in the 1950s I became aware that my life would be over in minutes if any madman pushed the button. In October 1962 that almost happened.
The central idea of deterrence was that you and your enemy, if either use nuclear weapons, would both be completely destroyed. It worked. We haven’t had a nuclear attack in 70 years of nuclear weapons.
But now our country faces a dilemma: If some terrorist organization explodes a nuclear weapon on American soil what is our national response? We do not have an articulated policy.
No one is talking about the threat of a nuclear attack, yet rouge states have fissionable material and making a bomb, while complicated, is possible. It is not my intention to unduly scare Americans, but there is a lot of the material already made. And Iran, along with North Korea, have been making more for bombs.
It would seem to rational Americans that it isn’t a question of if, but rather when, some terrorist attacks our country with a nuclear bomb. I would predict widespread panic that will bring our nation to its knees. America would be hurt more by the panic than by anything else.
A nuclear bomb doesn’t need to be the size of the first bombs. It can fit in a suitcase. So the question is: What is America’s policy about being attacked? What is our response to nuclear attack by terrorists?
Rather than trying to come up with a policy while in ashes, it would seem that we need an articulated policy that we would really do. Would we bomb some enabling country into the 12th Century, or is our response to send a protest letter to the United Nations?
MAD worked with the Soviets, but the threats are terrorist groups and their sponsors. How can America respond if say ISIS sets off a nuclear bomb in our country?
To end World War Two, the Allies had to do three things: First, defeat and disband the armies of Germany, Italy and Japan. Second, the Allies had to displace the leadership of those three countries. Finally, they had to change the culture of those three countries so that a new generation of fascists did not arise.
We are engaged in multiple places in our world in a war of small-scale domination. It is not like Germany taking Europe, but there are similarities. Most notably, any method was fine with the Nazi Government. Likewise, there seems no restraint of our attackers in the Middle East.
At the start of WWII, Admiral William “Bull” Halsey is quoted as saying, “Before we’re through with them, the Japanese language will be spoken only in hell.” The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor sparked that feeling in many Americans.
Thankfully we beat Japan’s dictatorship but after the war joined hands with the Japanese people. Not so much at first but they became good trading partners. I lived in Japan for three years and enjoy their culture.
We must have a plan for the threat of nuclear attack and what we will do after the first nuclear attack on America to ensure that no other attack ever comes. Perhaps we can stop the threat entirely if we have the right policy.
That will require a ruthlessness that matches our enemies, since that is all that they know. Importantly, it is not the ground people that enable such attacks; it is the nations that supply money, training and hardware to the terrorists. That is who we must intimidate into inaction.
For that reason, our leaders in Washington must be clear that an attack on America with nuclear weapons will result in catastrophic damage to the nations that enabled that attack. This must happen even though innocent lives in those countries would be taken.
We must have a rational response policy if we are to deter attack.
Michael Swickard is a former radio talk show host and has been a columnist for 30 years in a number of New Mexico newspapers.