Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2016
By John LaForge
Reprinted from CounterPunch
Last year Donald Trump said on Meet the Press that he’d “absolutely” use nuclear weapons against the Islamic State, reports investigative journalist Richard Hobuss. “It starts with the deployment of four or five of our Ohio-class [Trident] nuclear submarines to the Persian Gulf. … I’m talking about a surgical strike on these ISIS stronghold cities using Trident missiles,” Trump reportedly said.
Senator Barry Goldwater was pilloried for such talk in 1964 (see accompanying story) and went on to lose the presidential election.
But this was Trump-the-blowhard uncorked. Trident missiles can fly 4,570 miles, so they don’t have to sail the narrow and deadly Straits of Hormuz into the Gulf to smash cities in the Middle East. They can do that from the Atlantic. Trump, like all wannabe nuclear gunslingers, should have a better grasp of thermonuclear war power. Then he could properly boast that the US—to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King—is the greatest purveyor of terrorism in the world today.
Some military officers understand this. According to CNN military analyst Peter Mansoor (US Army, Ret.) using nuclear warheads against ISIS-held areas like the city of Al-Raqqah would cause an “astronomically high” number of civilian deaths, Hobuss reported. “Al-Raqqah alone has a population of over 200,000 people, the vast majority of whom are not affiliated in any way with the Islamic State,” Mansoor said. “A strike of this magnitude would … result in the loss of millions of innocent lives….”
General George Lee Butler, former head of the Strategic Command, said 20 years ago, “We have yet to fully grasp the monstrous effects of these weapons, that the consequence of their use defy reason, transcending time and space, poisoning the earth and deforming its inhabitants.”
US warhead metrics bear this out. The smallest nuclear weapon in the arsenal—B61 gravity bombs deployed in the United States, Europe and Turkey—are up to 33 times the power of the city-busting bomb that killed 140,000 people in Hiroshima. The B61s with their 100-500 kiloton “variable yield” warheads can each potentially destroy up to 4.6 million people. The devices Mr. Trump spoke of, 475-kiloton warheads on the Trident submarines, could each turn 4.4 million people into powder and ash. Think of the populations of Boston, or Phoenix or San Francisco—gone.
Looking at geographic consequences, the crude 15-kiloton bomb the United States dropped on Hiroshima pulverized seven square miles. All else being equal, any one of the “forward-deployed” B61 or Trident warheads could burn down roughly 233 square miles. Imagine cities the size of Chicago, or Austin, or Lexington—rubbished.
Nuclear weapons effects
The radioactive mass destruction that Donald Trump is promising was famously outlined by Helen Caldicott in her book Nuclear Madness (Revised, W.W. Norton, 1994). “Population centers would be smashed flat. Each nuclear weapon’s shockwave would come with a searing fireball with a surface temperature greater than the sun’s that would set firestorms raging over thousands of acres. The fires would scorch the earth, consuming most plant and wildlife.”
A 1977 book by the Departments of Defense and Energy titled The Effects of Nuclear Weapons, put it this way: “The frequency of burn injuries due to a nuclear explosion is exceptionally high. Most of these are flash burns caused by direct exposure to the pulse of thermal radiation, although individuals trapped by spreading fires may be subjected to flame burns.”
If target populations had time to find shelter, Caldicott noted, “People caught in shelters near the center of the nuclear blasts would die immediately of concussive effects or asphyxiation brought on as a result of oxygen depletion during the firestorms. Exposed to immense amounts of high-energy gamma radiation, anyone who survived near the epicenter would likely die within two weeks, of acute radiation sickness.”The DoD/DoE study explained: “In addition, persons in buildings or tunnels close to ground zero may be burned by hot gases and dust entering the structure, even though they are shielded adequately from direct or scattered thermal radiation. Finally, there are…harmful effects of the nuclear radiations on the body. These represent a source of casualties entirely new to warfare.” [Well not entirely. By 1977, the study’s writers certainly knew of the radiation effects that were endured by survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.]
“Those who survived, in shelters or in remote rural areas,” Caldicott warned, “would reenter a totally devastated world, lacking the life-support systems upon which human beings depend. Food, air, and water would be poisonously radioactive.” Wind-blown fallout would radioactively contaminate territories and populations not party to the conflict, which—as if mass destruction with nuclear firestorms weren’t criminal enough—would constitute further violations of the Hague and Geneva Conventions, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Beyond the radioactive fallout, enraged resentment directed at the United States would grow worse and spread further than today and make retaliation and reprisals like Paris, Russia’s Metrojet flight 9268—and the 16 terrorist incidents in Turkey just this year—more likely than ever.
Chicken hawks’ warheads at the ready
Although a draft-dodging Chicken Hawk like Trump may not know it, between 50 and 90 US B61 nuclear bombs are now deployed at Turkey’s Incirlik Air Force Base, and are ready for loading onto US jet fighter bombers currently blowing up villages in Syria and Iraq.
Turkey has reluctantly joined this incoherent bombing campaign, and it could justly be afraid of terroristic retaliation for it, especially now that nuclear war hype is being spread by US presidential hopefuls. Indeed, in view of the 2003 US war on Iraq, ISIS could use Vice-President Dick Cheney’s own words to justify pre-emptive attacks against US nuclear weapons bunkers in Turkey and say the attack was “Made in America.”
Trump and his supporters would benefit from reading genuine military hawks like General Butler. Writing for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Gen. Butler condemned the mere thought of initiating nuclear war, saying, “First-use policies are in direct contradiction to our self-interest.” The same year Paul Nitze, a former hardline presidential advisor in the Reagan administration, wrote in the New York Times, “I can think of no circumstances under which it would be wise for the United States to use nuclear weapons.”
The irrationality of using nuclear weapons could hardly be more obvious.