Trump, Elaine Scarry, Thermonuclear Monarchy, 5-5-2016

 True story.

A single young mother was having a party with her druggie boyfriend.

No problem.

I try not to moralize.

Her two young children were in attendance. One child was 3. I don’t know how old the other one was, but I am sure about the age for the three-year old.

It is important for the story.

She has to be big enough to run around an apartment unencumbered by her mother.

She has to be small enough to fit in that oven in the kitchen.

Because that is where the drug addled boy friend put her during the party.

Now as long as no one turns on the oven everything can be OK. Her mother could come in, act rationally,  turn the oven off, take the three-year old out; a little bruised perhaps, but nothing serious.

But if someone turns the  oven on, well, that is going to be some death.

Because a three-year old is not being thrown into a fire. That oven is going to get hotter and hotter nice and slow.

She is being cooked.

Increment by increment.

Of course I am telling the story because the little girl cooked.

The cop who looked into that oven had trouble sleeping that night. And maybe for a lot more nights.

The value of the story; the centrality of the story  to a discussion of nuclear weapons is this: You cannot count on a miracle. Everything that I write about nuclear weapons circulates around that little girl.

Stay with this. Look into that oven.

I would like to stage a debate between myself and Professor Scarry. If anyone knows Professor Scarry tell her that I would like to try to raise money for a debate on Youtube.  I am not sure that I could do it, but maybe I could. Would $5,000.00 or $6,000.00 be enough? Please let me know if you know her.

The central virtue of   Elaine Scarry’s Thermonuclear Monarchy:    Choosing Between Democracy and Doom,  is its immediacy; a catastrophy on it’s way.

I really admire the book. She has drawn attention to a serious problem that needs a lot more attention. She has  done great work.  A new vocabulary will emerge.

Professor Scarry  creates a powerful,  thoughtful  and intelligent vocabulary; an architecture for the reality which appeared with a gleeful shout in 1945, and in less than a half a century grew to a dirge that could destroy 15 thousand years of human civilization. In one hectic afternoon.

You should read the book; don’t rely on my partial analysis. You are living your life out 40 minutes from that oven. You owe it to yourself to pay attention to that oven; and the various narratives about that oven.

The nuclear oven is less than an hour away from every three-year old in the world; including three-year olds in America.  Sixty years ago that was not the case. Sixty years ago the United States could, using a bomber fleet and bombs, destroy Russia and China, and Russia and China could not have destroyed America. That has changed. America can still shovel Russia and China into an oven, in a matter of hours; but Russia and China can also shovel America into an oven; also in a matter of hours. The last 60 years of nuclear weaponry have not advantaged America; they have advantaged America’s enemies. This is where Elaine Scarry misses the point, and so joins the long list of Americans who have been and remain dangerous on the subject of nuclear weapons.

The vocabulary and rational that has marked the story of advancing nuclear terror since 1945 cannot continue for another 60 years. The world is too small, and the risk (read “Talent”)  is too big.

But more on that later. First I want to congratulate Professor Scarry on a spectacularly original and imaginative entry into the world of nuclear terror, and try to summarize her basic arguments.

The really original and imaginative feature about Professor Scarry’s approach is that she collects nuclear weapons as a behavioral abstraction , and then walks around trying to see how that abstraction fits  with other political, social and economic behaviors. The significant templates includes Anglo-American political theory and practice; values about injuring or killing others;  historical practices, particularly American, about war and peace;  and theories and practices about behaviors in emergency situations.

For people roughly my age, 70 or older, the book has a nostalgic whiff. It brings back old grainey  newsreels showing a lot of intense women marching.  The word “Sane” walks out of the mothballs.

But the Cold War is over  We are beyond that?

Well maybe not. In fact maybe things are much worse than in the day of the marches for Sane. Professor Scarry seems to think so. And she thinks that, as security deteriorates, dramatic action must be taken to completely eliminate nuclear weapons. And she offers a set of tools to unpack the rationale for nuclear weapons.


I. Nuclear Weapons Violate Anglo-American Political  Ideals.

Sometime after I had finished the first and most important part of the book, it occurred to me that it was a kind of love song directed first to English, and then, to derivative American political institutions. Beyond that, one senses a kind of love for the English and their history.

For her, democracy, the practice, seems to presuppose an actual event, the “social contract” was a historical event.  After I had read the first part of the book I wondered what Professor Scarry ‘s major was as an undergraduate. I would guess that she took a lot of political science or government courses.  A government major myself, her discussion of Hobbes brought me back to 1957-1961.

it was a long time ago, and my memory is cloudy. But her description of the common misrepresentation of Thomas Hobbs fits with what I thought  about him. I guess I would say that he was not  the philosopher that seemed most familiar and agreeable to my teenage self: John Locke,  whose writings have been described as  a major source of the American constitution.  The impression that has remained from those classes is that Hobbes was the reverse; an apologist for the rights and privileges of the ruler.

This impression may be wrong. But because Hobbes may have been the most consequential political theorist in British history, his ideas are the subject of intense study even today.

“Scanning the ‘standard image’ of Hobbes in the classroom at the end of the 1980s, D.J.C. Carmichael found that in the preceding decades the ‘standard picture of Hobbes’ had three features: his ‘political theory [was] rigidly authoritarian, anchored in a repellent view of human nature and argued with more precision than anyone can bear.’ . . .But the distorted image of Hobbes is still available to those who champion thermonuclear monarchy and our permanent state of nuclear readiness. How, given the fact that Hobbes issues statements about peace on every third or fourth page,  is it possible that his center of gravity could be ignored-omitted as is usually the case or, alternatively, mentioned but mentioned as though it were itself an inert idea  with no implications?” p. 182.

Hobbes saw the “state of nature” as a “state of war.” p. 160 And it was on this issue that Professor Scarry sees Locke and Hobbes on the same side of the argument. “The absolute power Hobbes conferred on the sovereign was the power to do one thing: stop injury.” p. 161.

Hobbes sees the social contract, democracy, requires a most basic, if unnatural practice.  All men must be treated as if, in fact, they are of equal worth.   “Most important  is the equality of all people in the formation of the social contract.  A contract for peace can only be achieved if, as Hobbes writes in Leviathan, all participants are equal, or are treated as equal to one another.”  pp. 161-162.

She deals at length with political equality.  But Professor Scarry posits another type of equality which has a direct relevance to nuclear weapons.

“As international relations theorist Hedley Bull saw four decades ago, an individual group of people might hope to achieve “inequality” by acquiring a “superior” power to injure. But before long a second group of people will inevitably acquire the same weapon (as  Russia acquired the atomic bomb soon after the United States did). Then six more will acquire the weapons (as Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, and Israel have now done).” (p. 163)

She glides by the most important behavioral fact about nuclear weapons. Why is it the ability of an enemy to “acquire” a nuclear weapon so much different from the enemy’s ability to acquire any other known weapons system in the history of the human race? Let us say that both China and Russia can afford to acquire one nuclear carrier fleet each; and that America can afford 6 or 7 of the same. Then, America is not at risk.

What is different about that cylinder with a nuclear warhead? We will discuss this behavioral reality later.

I am not sure that I am being fair to Professor Scarry here. But it is not clear to me that she makes the distinction that is warranted in Hobbes’ writings between the need for a strong executive to tamp down civil wars, on the one hand, and to promote peace between nations more generally.

“But the whole reason for championing a powerful sovereign legislature or a sovereign executive is to eliminate dissension and ensure peace and safety – the peace and safety of the people, salus populi.   It is inconceivable that he would have accepted a monarch armed with the power to annihilate the species.” p. 164.

I assume that many of the early followers of Hobbes would have been in the tradition that supported the expansion of British imperialism. There is no logical requirement that a Hobbesian supporter of a strong executive to suppress  civil war could not also support a nuclear program so long as the program could kill everyone outside the homeland, without actually endangering  the British population.

Now, Scarry asserts that Hobbes personal aversion to war  was not limited to civil war, although  “civil war was the form of war Hobbes most dreaded.” p. 177.

Hobbes “scathing descriptions of war . . . extend as well to wars between nations.” p. 177.

But everyone is a critic of war in general. The British Empire was created by a population which, following Hobbes,  may have stated that it hated war, but was very good at it when it became time to build a world-wide empire.

Scarry’s description of Hobbes reveals a very  British; in fact  a very blond characteristic.    He was not simply a familiist. His country, his people meant a lot to him.  Anyone interested in English history should read her chapter on Hobbes hometown.  The section is headed : Malmesbury: The Simultaneous Creation of a Town, a  Country, a King, and a Parliament. 

Hobbes apparently saw British political history the way Professor Scarry sees it: the establishment  of British individualism through the social contract. “For Hobbes, the town into which he was born and baptized was a dramatic exemplar of the social contract.” p. 167.

Professor Scarry sees the social contract as a real historical event , not only in England, but on the continent.  “Legal scholars describe how, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, many of the 500 major European cities came into existence as mutual aid societies to protect the inhabitants against external sources of human aggression. The cities did not accidentally emerge. They came about through explicit acts of oathtaking and contract making. ‘A solemn collective oath, or series of oaths,’ writes Harold Berman, ‘[was] made by the entire citizenry to adhere to a charter that had been publicly read aloud to them.'” p. 179.

More, “In the thirteenth century, the link between war making and the growth of representative assemblies in England and Europe  becomes increasingly visible. Historian Gaines Post shows that it was precisely occasions of military ’emergency’ or ‘necessity’ that required the king, in the midst of raising taxes and armies, to get the consent not just of the landed barons but of the ‘lesser freemen in the communities of shires and towns.'” p. 204

More, “The social contract tradition inaugurated by Hobbes and continued by Locke, Rousseau, and Kant helped to bring about the array of democracies whose aversion to war has been celebrated by Bruce Russett and countless other observers.” p. 181. So, it is clear, for Professor Scarry democracy was not an ancient ethnic blond practice; it was an intellectual innovation.

Unlike some, who credit the horror of nuclear weapons as the reason Russia and the U.S. never went to war, Professor Scarry does not see any silver lining.   “This phenomenon of democratic  pacifism – and its sabotaging by nuclear weapons . . . ”  p. 181.

Professor Scarry seems to say that Hobbes, if transported to the 21st century, would be strongly against the development or threatened use  of nuclear weapons. But there are exceptions.

Of course.

“But what if someone in our midst does  break the no-injury prohibition? Or what if an entire group of foreigners from outside our midst breaks the no-injury prohibition and threatens to invade our shores?”  P. 183.

How much force would be justified to stop the invader?

Hobbes says “[In] declared  Hostility, all infliction of evil is lawful.” P. 184.

So I am not sure that Hobbes would say that nuclear weapons would logically be proscribed on the grounds that they would be too destructive a medium.

None of us today imagine that a long dead political philosopher could, or should, limit our ability to defend ourselves today But it is an interesting exercise to try to measure modern practice against the template he helped create. On the “encumbering deliberative gate” P. 185 issue, who knows how Hobbes would vote in the 21st century?

The technology that demanded an instant,  “monarchic,” response was the intercontinental ballistic missile. Let’s say that the nuclear tipped missile followed Hiroshima by about a decade.  I was in the Air Force in 1962; and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crises remains a vivid memory. It made the nuclear threat visible to Americans in  ways unimagined in 1945.  Suddenly, for want of a better term, nuclear weapons had become “real” to the average American.

If Hobbes were to reappear in 2016 I think that I could fashion an argument for nuclear weapons that could be as effective as any arguments that Professor Scarry could mount against them.  First I would point out that as a democratic power, America has to be conceded the role of the “good guy.” The main adversaries, China and Russia are not equally democratic, so even Professor Scarry, believing that democracies are inherently more pacifistic should allow the U.S. to carry at least as big a revolver as the adversary.

Second, Hobbes himself states in effect that there are no rules to limit injury once a war begins between states. Isn’t that what all infliction of injury means?

Third, missiles require an instant response as a matter of defense.  As long as the enemies have nuclear weapons on a hair-trigger, the U.S needs the threat of a hair-trigger response as a deterrence. Professor Scarry does not present any evidence that Hobbes would reject these arguments.

Now Scarry posits a “clogging” barrier to excessive force. Note in the quote above   the term “declared” is emphasized, it necessarily implies “acts of judgment and declaration.” p. 184.  “[O]ne can make war only after being explicitly and laboriously released from the never-injure rule.” p. 187.

Her level one clog to war is the social contract. p. 187. The second level clog emanates from the people, “At level two, the population acts as a brake on the government, making it difficult for the government itself to be released from the overarching never-injure rule.” p. 189.

But why did Professor Scarry write the book that she wrote?

She thinks that her ideas and the book have practical substance. She thinks that there is a solution to nuclear weapons terror: The United States Constitution.

“Yet, though it might seem too good to be true, a concrete object exists that enables us to reacquire our powers of self-government and to dismantle the nuclear arsenal simultaneously.

It is as if there had suddenly fallen from the skies into our midst an object – a dazzlingly beautiful object, like shards if many-colored glass –  that would let us undertake the needed repair, requiring only  that we bend over and pick it up.  The object that lies on the ground at our feet is the United States Constitution and the way it outlaws nuclear weapons (or any out-of-ratio weapon that decouples the military might of the country from the population) . . .  To reacquire our democratic country and to release us from an unspeakable moral error we need only take this object in our hands and use it.” p. 23.

Now when I first read this, I said “WHHHAAAT.” As a lawyer I know that you cannot fashion a case challenging the right of the executive to conduct military policy through political theory arguments. My first reaction was that is what Professor Scarry intended. I do not think that I was alone. Professor Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law School in a back cover blurb says, “Even someone unpersuaded by Elaine Scarry’s constitutional analysis . . .”

Now, the Acknowledgement section tell us that she spent a considerable amount of time  doing research at  first tier law schools . And she is a Harvard professor. I would bet that she has a better handle on the requirements  for a constitutional challenge to nuclear weapons than most lawyers.

So, after reflection, I see that there is another way to look at her analysis, and her ambition. She is not logically restricted to using the United States Constitution as a lawyer uses it. She can use it as a polemicist could use it, to advance the case against the encroaching disaster.


ll.  The Theoretical Bridge From Political Theory to Constitutional Substance.

I assume that having established the basic claim that nuclear weapons are inevitably at odds with the central historical democratic propositions undergirding the Constitution,  Professor Scarry discusses consitutional specifics as a way of energizing political debate and action against nuclear weapons.

“Two provisions of the United States Constitution are radically incompatible with nuclear weapons. The first is the constitutional requirement for a Congressional declaration of war. The second is the constitutional requirement  that distributes to the entire adult population shared responsibility for use of the country’s arsenal – the provision we know as the ‘the right to bear arms.'”  (p. 31)

The key word in the title, “Monarchy,” presages the argument.  How many people decide to fire the nuclear arsenal, and start the destruction of civilization: One.

The most important  “misfit” between nuclear weapons and American ideals is measured on the template “democracy.” It is a key value for Professor Scarry. I would say a fair reading of the book would place democracy as her most important value. The constitution reserves the  war-authorizing power  to the biggest collection of people in the national government, “the full Congress.” p. 31.

We see her argument. The founding fathers wanted to make the decision to engage in war very difficult. That is why they required both the House of Representatives and the Senate to engage the issue.

Now she makes an interesting observation about the transfer of power, in the case of nuclear weapons a “monarchic” power, from the legislative to the executive. At least in certain dramatic instances, the legislative branch seemed not to mind.

“In fact, the Formosa resolution by which Congress on January 29, 1955, authorized (without a declaration of war) the use of armed forces . . . . The resolution opened by authorizing the president to use the military ‘as he deems necessary’ and closed by empowering him to dissolve the resolution which ‘shall expire when the President shall determine that the peace and security of the area is assured.'” p. 52.

However, it was commonly understood that the Formosa Resolution did not extend to the use of atomic weapons.A half century ago people saw the difference between authorizing war, and authorizing nuclear war.   p. 52.

In addition to the threshold issue that the Constitution is clear that the legislature is the entity that is authorized to declare war, she makes a curious argument that the second amendment makes nuclear weapons illegal,  “[T]he Second Amendment guarantees that no war can be fought unless it has received the authorization of its population.” p. 86  Why did I find this curious?

I assume that Professor Scarry is a liberal. So I would expect that she did not like the Supreme Court holding that  the Second Amendment protected the rights of individuals to own firearms. But I was wrong.

She sees the right of the citizenry to own guns as an affirmation of her constitutional analysis.   The amendment “distributes”  arms and the power that travels with weapons to the citizenry.  The amendment is a polemic against the type of centralization of power that has accompanied nuclearization.

But it would not be fair or correct to see her as an apologist for the NRA. “We have allowed ourselves to be preoccupied ourselves to be preoccupied with subsidiary issues embedded in the amendment that have wholly distracted us from keeping the major issue in clear view. The history of its formulation and invocation makes clear that whatever its relation to the realm of individuals and the private uses they have devised for guns, the amendment came into primarily as a way of dispersing military power across the entire population.”  p. 98. Thus, the direct challenge of the title of her second chapter, “Nuclear Weapons Violate the Second Amendment.”

In her discussion of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Second Amendment she acknowledges that the earlier decisions stress collective rights and military responsibilities. The most recent decisionDistrict of Columbia v. Heller  – held that the individual right of self-defense was also included in the amendment.

Now, her discussion of the  amendment made me appreciate something that I had not really seen in its “fullness.” Given the historical importance of conflict and  war, If you and I were meeting on that first morning in 1775 about a document that would determine the political structure of our country,  defense would be the first item on both of our lists, First, and most important, we must survive. Second, the need for a structure to help us survive, must not allow for the construction of a force that could grow to devour  the values that will make up our Constitution.

“We have seen that the right to bear arms seeks to ensure that however much injuring power the country has (whether very large or very small) it will be equally divided among its citizens. . .This ability to hold military power within the frame of the citizenry is synonymous with social contract; that is why ratifying the contract was conditional on the right to bear arms being accepted,” p. 107

“The fundamental logic of John Locke’s social contract theory was to differentiate societies brought about by contract from those brought about by force of arms. ” p.107

The term “militia” is a curiosity today:  an archaic term for an unfamiliar antique structure. But  the debates about the establishment of a unified and centralized military force versus decentralized militias, were at the center of the national concerns surrounding the ratification of the constitution.

Professor Scarry uses the 18th century preference for militias to support and advance her thesis that the Second Amendment prohibits nuclear monarchy.  “The right to bear arms is widely recognized as going hand in hand with the long-standing distress over standing armies. The pre-Revolutionary American arguments against the standing army-as well as the longer tradition of british arguments-had as a single goal their opposition to the concentration of the military power in the hands of a monarch, president, or any other occupant of an executive site. They were thus themselves distributive arguments, urging a decentralization of the military by means of the militia. ”   p. 108

She makes a dramatic and on point comparison with nuclear weapons.    “A free standing missile is the realization of everything that ever was feared in a standing army. It permits he concentration of a militar force in a central location.  It is attached to executive will rather than to the will of the people. Its structures are permanently in place and depend little on historical situations, leaving no room for improvisations and debate.  It is inanimate and depends on the population for nothing. . . We have lost our power of authorization over the arms. The contractual society has fallen back into the blur of precontractual coercion.” p. 112-113.

So this is the intellectual heart of the argument that Professor Scarry advances: a political theory/constitutional polemic.  I use the “social contract” as the thread that ties the arguments  together.

But it does not exhaust her effort. She persuades through appeals as variable as emphasizing the physical vulnerability that we all carry in front of a nuclear fire, and  an extensive discussion on the right of combatants to refuse to participate: in fact to desert.

However I found them off point and less interesting that her specifically political argument.   But I will briefly take up her last major argument, “Thinking in an Emergency.”


III.  Thinking in an Emergency.

While I found Professor Scarry’s analysis spectacularly original, I gather that she was not first.

“In his mid-twentieth-century book on Constitutional Dictatorship, Clinton Rossiter predicted that the atomic age would soon be governed by emergency rule and a solitary executive figure. He was right. . . . All eight [nuclear states] have ceded control of nuclear weapons to their presidents or prime ministers: all eight have permitted their legislative assemblies and their citizenry to disappear.”  p 315

The quote appears in a section headed, “The Seduction to Stop Thinking.”  Now it is true that instant response requires a decision that will not admit a lot of debate. It isn’t just the United States; it comes with the territory “ICBM.” The legislative branch, representing deliberation, gives way to the executive, representing action.

She attacks  the notion that  emergency requires a suspension of deliberation. She restates her political theory arguments that fuse governance to deliberation.

But she would have us go beyond the obvious specifics of nuclear threat  and consider that people have designed procedures for dealing with emergencies in various fields that could apply to nuclear terror.  She review such diverse phenomena as CPR, a medical procedure; mutual aid societies in Canada,  civil defense in Switzerland and others.

It is the Swiss defense system against nuclear attack that is most germane here.  The system  is shaped by three assumption: The first is that civilians will be the overwhelming majority of casualties.

The second is  that a shelter system will be effective; in fact it will “almost certainly  save the country.” p. 353.

The third is that every citizen must be be treated equally.  The solution must be distributed across the entire population. p. 354.

Fine. But why is “habit” introduced into a discussion of civil defense for nuclear weapons? A couple of reasons.

First,  “In an emergency, the habits of ordinary life may fall away, but other habits come into play and determine whether the action performed is fatal or benign.” p. 324.

Somewhat related,  “Habit  is closely associated  with materialization. The emergency procedures looked at throughout this chapter often take an externalized or materialized form: . . . an emergency kit, a fallout shelter with thick walls and a ventilation system,  a written contract with the specification of a twenty-foot ladder to be brought to the disaster site and the nae of a person who will carry it there.” p. 391.

Second, because the system requires practice to be effective.  Swiss law requires males between 20 and 35 to 50 depending on certain variables,  to practice approximately four days a year and refresher training from two to seven days.

She contrasts the Swiss program with America’s  feeble effort.  The civil defense effort in Switzerland has been promoted and funded with serious resources and it has overwhelming support.  The law requiring that every house build and maintain a fallout shelter was ratified by the population “…with 80.6 perent voting in favor,”  p. 355. She seems to be in favor of he Swiss system; “coherent action.”

The widespread participation and the overwhelming acceptance of the civil defense burden is compared with American realities.   “During these same decades in the united States, the population – without actual debate or deliberation or medical research – somehow came to the conclusion that shelters were useless and ony increased the chance of going to war.” p. 357.

It seems to bother her that there is no nuclear defense system for the general population, but there is a very expensive and apparently quite grand system for the government leadership.  “[T]he government leaders of the United States, the very individuals who had the nuclear arsenal at their disposal, continued to spend billions of dollars on an extensive shelter system for themselves in Mount Weather in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, a man-made cavern large enough to contain three story buildings, and a lake . .  “‘[A] lake,’ as one journalist observed, ‘large enough for water-skiing.'” p. 358.

Further, “One of two things is true. Either fall out shelters are useless, in which case neither the population nor the government should have them. Or they are useful, in which case both the population and its leaders should have them. Only a monarchic political structure could excuse an arrangement that has for its citizens no civil defense . . . while lavishing elaborate structures over their own heads.” p. 360.

She believes that the imposition of a very large mandatory civil defense systems, and their concomitant inconveniences,  might force the American populace to wake up, see the real danger that they are in, and force the political elite to change.

“Exercises designed to test White House evacuation to Mount Weather have called into question whether member of the executive branch will be able to reach the Blue Rudge Mountains, since their path to the shelter is likely to be blocked by roadways clogged with people trying to flee the East Coast.  . . .[I]n another instance a presidential cavalcade was brought to a standstill by a farmer’s truck loaded with pigs coming toward them on a narrow road. . . [T]he president’s ability to get through a clogged road will  require the population’s assistance and consent. Were there to be frequent exercises for the use of the governmental shelter, the unjustness of the arrangement  would become so vivid that it would no doubt increase the pressure to eliminate the country’s vast nuclear arsenal altogether, giving the United States (for the first time) a reasonable position from which to ask the rest of the world to abstain from obtaining such weapons.”  pp. 358- 359.

The picture of the farmer’s truck prompts a smile, but in the real world we all know that the American military has vast resources at its disposal. It does not need roads to put the political elite into safety; helicopters will do just fine. Plainly put, the government does not need the population’s assent in a nuclear dry-run or an actual emergency.

While I agree with Professor Scarry that nuclear weapons are growing into a threat that will require a different vocabulary and a different approach, she does not deal with the conventional arguments that, for over half a century, defend and promote a very aggressive nuclear weapons program. We have heard the arguments for 60 years: A large inventory of terrifying nuclear weapons is the best defense against war and nuclear holocaust.

What arguments could be made in defense of the current policies? I can think of four.

First, America and Switzerland look very different in terms of size and population density. Maybe what was possible in Switzerland just would not be economically possible in the U.S., or other large country.  Professor Scarry tells us that the political leaders of the United Kingdom reached precisely that conclusion after reviewing the possibilities for 25 years; 1945 to 1970. p. 363.

She is critical of the decision but  does not present any evidence to show that the decision was based on faulty data.

Second, a civil defense system for the country’s leadership, even if  one cannot afford a similar system nation wide, offers deterrence against an enemy sneak attack with nuclear weapons.  If the potential enemy were aware that enough of the elite remained in control of America’s weaponry to unleash a devastating response, he would probably be deterred from his assault.

Third, a really complete population civil defense system in times of stress could complicate the problems of unwinding the tension. Assume that, during   some really terrifying future Cuban Missile Crises Russia and the U.S. each had an effective shelter system. One party  begins a large-scale population transfer to the shelters.  What would the other party think?

Fourth, and related to the third, a reasonable argument could be crafted for the position that all of the non nuclear powers should follow Switzerland’s lead and build nuclear shelters.

And none of the countries that possess nuclear weapons should build them.

BUT, FINALLY, PROFESSOR SCARRY IS WRONG AND DANGEROUS. The horrifying thing isn’t that America has become too strong because of nuclear weapons. The horrifying event of the past half century is that America has become vulnerable because of nuclear weapons. That vulnerability was predictable.


IV.  Reality: America Has Become Vulnearable Because the Behavioral Realities of Nuclear Weapons Favor America’s Enemies.

The following Boeing ad appeared in the April 23, 1956 issue of Newsweek . 

“At any moment, day or night, SAC’s training operations can be changed into combat operations, unleashing mighty retaliatory  nuclear strikes against the war making power of any aggressor, anywhere.”

Nuclear weapons when they were infants: Optimism.

And one recognizes a few themes about nuclear weapons that remain constant in American political discourse over half a century later. First theme is that nuclear strikes are second stage, defensive instruments designed to punish the bad guy. Second theme is that the United States, alone, will be be the sole arbiter of good and bad; the policeman.  Perhaps there is another, implied message: SAC with its nuclear arsenal is the ultimate deterrence. Surely no one will be so rash as to challenge SAC.

Now, my major problem with Professor Scarry’s analysis is that it argues that the nationalistic 1956 American confidence has been basically confirmed by 60 years of nuclear history.  That is, what is wrong with a nuclearized world is that America is too powerful.  She uses an intense and diverse vocabulary to picture American threat.

The first metaphor that she uses to describe American threat is a power that has placed a trap door under the feet of every other country and could, “in a single day, eliminate the population of that rival country.” p. 1.  She labels that situation the Flexible Floor Doctrine.

“It is easy to see that the Flexible Floor Doctrine has hideous disadvantages for all countries on earth other than the one controlling the floor levers.  . . .Given the colossal asymmetry in the power to injure between the solitary leaders with access to the floor levers and the millions of inhabitants standing on those imperiling floors, the inhabitants will find themselves, whenever possible, trying to remain on good terms with those foreign leaders, their political acts, their economic decisions, even their moral descriptions.” p. 2.

The nuclear weapon category  is special; special and different.

“Out-of-ratio weapons – any form of weapon that allows a tiny number of people to kill many millions of people – bring about . . . an unprecented moral harm and an atavistic and infantalizing form of government . . .”  p. 5.

“The foreign peoples of earth (as surely as if there were a flexible floor under their feet) stand in danger of being gravely harmed by our country’s weapons and we ourselves have no power to intervene, to reach into the mechanism to disable it.” p 23.

Her anger at American arrogance underscores her repeated  condemnation of Nixon’s celebration of nuclear power killing 70 million people:

“I can go into my office and pick up the telephone, and in 25 minute 70 million people will be dead.” p. 14.  p.39.

“President Nixon’s announcement about his ability to kill 70 million people in 25 minutes had the important effect of calling attention within the government to the presidential  first-use arrangement which had previously gone largely undiscussed.” pp. 124-125.

“Because democratic weapons have always allowed some rough equivalence between the ratio of those injured and those authorizing the injury, perhaps the number required for launch authorization ought to be set by those figures – Nixon’s 70 million, for example.” p. 128.

“Nixon recognized that merely by lifting his hand to his face he could bring about 70 million deaths in twenty-five minutes.” p. 387.

Professor Scarry has what party has become vulnerable, exactly backward.

Russia, North Korea, and China were enemies of America in 1956 when the ad from Boeing appeared, and they are enemies in 2016.  What has happened with nuclear weapon technology in the past 60 years  has enormously advantaged each of the three. There is no doubt that in 1956 the United States could have completely destroyed China and North Korea with nuclear weapons delivered by bombers with no repercussions. The case for Russia is not quite as clear, but anyone who was in Air Force ROTC in the late 50’s will remember the series of impressive systems in Canada, in Europe, and in the air which were designed to give America ample warning that Russian bombers were on their way, and the waves of fighters ready to destroy them long before they reached America.

Moreover,  Professor Scarry tells us that President Eisenhower considered using nuclear weapons in the 1959 Berlin crises. p. 15. I have read that Pentagon officials considered a nuclear response in the Cuban Missile Crises but were deterred by the fact that Russia had 4 to 6 ICBMs.

In a nutshell, one understands how the intercontinental missile changed evrything.

I suspect that no one associated with the ad would have guessed that the assumptions behind the Boieing ad would lead, 60 years later, to a world where the bomber would be followed by missiles, submarines, and instrumentation that would lead to where we are today: when there would be two countries besides America that could destroy  hundreds of millions of people in one afternoon. More curious from the persective of 1956, a small poor country of about 20 million people might soon have the ability to kill millions of Americans.

Now she does wave at how missiles have changed the equation on the need for immediate action on the part of the executive, but she deflects the central hard reality.   In the early 1950’s nuclear war meant bombers. Once the intercontinental missile became the delivery system, “deterrence” necessitated a further shift in power toward the executive, toward monarchy.

A. IQ and the walk from the peasantry to the school.

I argue that nuclear terror should not be thought of as either a problem or a scourge, but as a condition that the numan race will have to live with for centuries. Nuclear weapons will remain as a very special type of threat to everyone for two reasons. First, once school systems were introduced in Russia, China and other peasant societies what happened was predictable from IQ theory. Some of the newly educated boys were very intelligent. The peasant villages that they had been part of for centuries were “behavioral monotones;” there was no reliable way to actually see the differences in IQ among the population because there was no school system.

It is possible to see the change a school system makes within peasant populations by looking at data within America. This change is at the heart of the reason that America’s three year olds are as vulnerable as Russia’s and China’s three year olds.

According to Wikipedia Indiana is 86.8 percent white.  Based on he 1980 ancestry 42 percent of the state was German, 32 percent was English and 24 percent was Irish. Protestants of various denominations accounted for a large majority of the state.

Contrast this with Wikipedia’s demographic figures for Rhode island. In 2011 the state was 76 percent non-Hispanic whites.   In 2014 Italians were the largest single ancestry group making up 18.6 persent of the population. Irish represented 18.5 present, English 11 percent, French or French Canadian were about 15 percent and Portugese were almost 10 percent.   Rhode Island has one of the highest percentage of Roman Catholics in the country; 43 percent identify as Catholics while 27 percent identify as Protestants.

Now, I identify Indiana as America and Rhode Island as “every place else.” Obviously there have to be mistakes in this approach. But for me to be right on the issue of explaining current American vulnerability to nuclear technology; and predicting the increasing vulnerability that will certainly arrive, I do not have to be perfect. I have to be “close enough.”

The nicest thing about comparing Indiana and Rhode Island SAT scores is the very similar percentages of the students in both states that take the SAT test.  In 1985, 47 percent of Indiana students took the SAT, while 61 percent took it in Rhode Island. The verbal score in Indiana was 415, and 429 in Rhode Island. Very similar.

Roughly 30 years years later the proportion of students taking the SAT was 71 percent in Indiana and 73 percent in Rhode Island.     The reading score , 497, was exactly the same in both states.  (Average SAT Scores by State (Most Recent),  Allen Cheng, December 18, 2014).

One hundred years ago no one would have guessed that a state in which Italians plus French plus Portuguese were over half the population of non-Hispanic populations  would have  scored as well as a state in which roughly three quarters of the state were English and Germans.  I do not argue that this proves that Germans and English are not smarter than French Canadians, Portuguese or Italians. Germans and English may very well be smarter, but the heart of my argument is that the IQ fit is reasonably close.

Accordingly Germans and British, which is to say Americans,  are not smart enough to justify what is going on with nuclear weapons.

What happened to Catholic ethnics; Irish, Italians, French Canadians and Portuguese in Rhode Island mirrors what happened to peasantries all over the globe in the 20th century.  Virtually all of the male children were forced into school systems. As that happens the IQ distribution becomes visible.

The differences represented in the IQ distribution are inexorably tied to the employment realities in their societies. The far right side of the IQ distribution is the source of the professional classes in their respective societies.

More important,  that small area of the distribution is the nuclear threat aimed at America. That small population of young men at the far right end of the scale lives in a lot of places. Many of those places were not visible in 1956; including, China.

Not to mention, North Korea.

B. The fit between IQ and the industrial realities that support  nuclear terror.

The simple fact ,  maybe the central fact of national experience, is that some  countries have grown and prospered because they were able to sustain a very superior power to injure. The country that Professor Scarry admires so much, England, practicing  democracy,  created a world-wide empire precisely because it enjoyed and demonstrated a superior power to injure.

What is crucial in this shift from bombers to missiles is how it operates in a world of specific countries, defending specific interests.

The United States as the heir of the English and Germanic populations and industrial techniques has enjoyed a tremendous advantage in the ability to injure.  Talent and capital grew together. Of course.

By the 1970’s “The U.S. had accumulated approximately one-third of the world’s physical capital and roughly the same share of the world’s human capital-based on the level of post-secondary education. But it supplied only 4% of the world’s labor.” (“Understanding the Trump Trade Agenda,”  Phil Gramm and Michael Solon,  The Wall Street Journal ,    December 2, 2016, p. A15).

At the end of World War 2 in the 1940’s America produced about  one-half of the world’s industrial production; today, 70 years later, the percentage is about one-quarter. So the figure of one-third in the 1970’s seems roughly correct.

What happpened  to America’s security in the 70 years between the end of WW II and 2016?  In 1945 the United States was unique; it had demonstrated that it could create and deliver nuclear terror and no other country had a nuclear capability .

Now, if nuclear weapons were behaviorally like the weapons systems that preceded them, the United States would be infinitely safe. But nuclear weapons are not like the weapons systems  that preceded them.

In 2016 there are two nuclear powers that could destroy a large percentage, or even virtually all, of the American population. There is a realistic fear that soon North Korea, a small poor Asian countries, could have the ability to kill millions of Americans using nuclear power.

Let’s say that you would place a carrier fleet just under  nuclear weapons in terms of military technological sophistication.  My position is, that carrier fleet has more in common with the caveman’s club on the floor of the military history museum than it has  with that story just above the carrier; the floor that is occupied by nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons are too cheap. They cannot advantage the United States precisely because they are too cheap.

The familiar American Establishment’s aproach to nuclear weapons in the hands of its two biggest adversaries, Russia and China, is to look at the issue through a conventional lens: economics.

Consider the following from The Wall Street Journal in an article that conveys its conclusion in its title, “Russia Is Punching Above Its Weight.” (December 16, 2016, p. A10.)  ” By most economic and demographic measures, Russia is a country in decline.”

While Russia has suffered from sanctions “[I]ts economy suffers a more fundamental defect: a dependence on raw materials, especially energy, for which prices have slumped.”

“Russia’s  population has been falling and most projections see it singing further, from 144 million people now to 100 million before the end of the century.”

“A study from IHS Jane’s released this week said the country fell a notch to sixth place among global defense spenders in 2016, behind the U.S.,  China, the U.K., India and Saudi Arabia. Its annual defense expenditures of $48.4 billion amount to less than a 10th of the U.S. defense budget of $622 billion. . .”

Now,  if nuclear weapons were like the weapon systems that preceded them, the economic data would be dispositive. That is, Russia would be totally vulnerable to the United States.  If the U.S. can produce 8 or 10 revolvers, or 8 or 10 nuclear submarines, or 8 or 10 carrier fleets for each one  Russia produces; Russia would be infinitley vulnerable and the United States would be infinitely safe. It would be 1956 again.

Now America can kill virtually everyone in Russia, but Russia can also kill virtually everyone in the United States. The ability of America’s enemies to deliver nuclear fire through missile delivery opened a yawning canyon in America’s defense posture.

Very Intelligent young men, newly admitted to school systems, threaded in with missiles  and nuclear technology, have trumped America’s economic advantage.

The key to understanding American growing vulnerability to nuclear weapons systems is to understand how few  really gifted young  engineers it takes to create an introductory  Ford Falcon economy brand entrant  into the nuclear product family.

– A survey designed to locate the engineers responsible for creating the first two nuclear bombs in 1940’s America identified about 6000 engineers and scientists. Average age – 26.

-The Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics was founded in 1958 and is the manufacturing and research center for Chinese nuclear weapons. It has a number of facilities in various locales. The totanumber of technical staff has been  estimated at somewhat  over 8,000.00.  Wikipedia.

-The average age of Chinese nuclear scientists and engineers has been estimated at 30. “Defense Industry of Russia.” Wikipedia

-The defense industry of Russia employs 2.5 to 3 million people. It accounts for 20% of manufacturing jobs. However one agency, Sevmash, which produces all of Russia’s nuclear subs. only employs about 27,000 people.

Now, if one takes these numbers, 6,000 or 8,000, on the low end and about 25,000 on the high end one sees in a nutshell that there was a reason that American vulnerability to nuclear terror increased exponentially in the 60 years since that optimistic  Boeing ad of 1956.  It was predictable. Nuclear weapons are too much about talent, and too little about economics. Russia, China and even North Korea can come up with 6 to 26,000 extremely capable engineers to develop a nuclear answer to American interference. They are doing it every day.

But they could not have an answer to American military might if nuclear weapons were removed from the equation. Consider the nuclear propelled carrier fleet which in my mind represents the pinnacle of conventional weapons and sits just underneath that space that marks the leap to nuclear weapons.  The United States has 8 or 9 and may eventually have 14 or 15 fully equipped fleets. China and Russia may have 1 or 2. And if one looks at the literature their one ship does not match any of America’s ships.

Through the economics lens, one sees in one conventional military system the mismatch between the U.S. and everyone else: It is 1956 again. The U.S. is completely safe, and its enemies are similarly vulnerable. However economics don’t determine the arc of the nuclear story. For the U.S. the nuclear terror has increased, decade by decade.

Professor Scarry repeatedly deplores Nixon’s brag that he could kill 70 million people with a phone call.  Of course, 40 odd years later,  the number is much bigger than 70 million.  But she completely misses the larger point, Russia and China cannot destroy everyone on the planet; but they can do something that they regard as much more important, They can kill upwards of 100 million Americans.

Consider what has happened in the past few years in Russia, North Korea and China.

Russia’s Yasen class submarine was completed in Septembr 2011. Any submarine systme is among the most survivable of sny country’s military arsenal.  The Yasen class submarines could be armed with tactical nuclear missiles. (Dave Majumbar 5 Russian Nuclear “Weapons” of War the West Should Fear, January 31, 2015).

“The Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missile, a variant of the land-based Topol-M SS-27, is one of the most expensive Russian weapons programs and intended to be the cornerstone of the sea-based component of Russia’s nuclear triad., , , The Bulava is specifically designed to evade Western ballistic missile defense shields. It can engage in rapid evasive post-launch maneuvers, deploy decoys, and launch other countermeasures to avoid interception.”   “Confirmed: ‘Russia’s Deadliest Sub’  Test Fires 2 Ballistic Missiles.” The Diplomat, November 18, 2015.

“Jeffrey Lewis, a North Korea specialist the Middlebury Institute for International Studies at Monterey, in California, recently noted the grim implications of a test-firing onn land that featured the debut of a powerful new engine.

‘That means that, rather than simply hitting the West Coast, an operational North Korean could probably reach targets throughout the United States, including Wahington, D.C.’ ”   William J. Broad, “North Korea Will Have the Skills to Make a Nucler Warhead by 2020, Experts Say,” September 9, 2016.

North Korea is particularly interesting. I may have misunderstood him but on January 3, 2017 I was watching Fox News and  I thought I heard Charles Krauthammer say that he thought America’s most serious security problem was the North Korean nuclear weapons program. He indicated that America had 3 options.  He thought that the first two; economic sanctions and military invasion, would have either been ineffective or too dangerous.

He advocated threatening that the U.S. would encourage  Japan and South Korea to develop their own nuclear weapon programs, unless North Korea abandoned its program.

Now, I am riding only one pony in this field: Nuclear weapons are behavior; engineering products that reflect   talent.  I would be against Dr. Krauthammer’s recommendation because the evidence we have suggests that once countries have the ability  to produce nuclear weapons, they do not abandon the field.

South Korea and Japan have their own history of mutual hatreds. If one retained its program. we could count on the other to do the same. And, since they both have great engineering talent, we could expect a shadow terror contest to become visible very early.

Finally, China, the international story of the twenty-first   century, and it effort to build a secure submarine based second strike capability against the U.S.

In building the Jin-class SSBN fleet, however, China appears more to mirror the nuclear postures of the United States, Russia, Britain and France rather than demonstrating a clear purpose and contribution of the SSBN force to China’s own security and crisis stability in general.

As a new second-strike capability added to the Chinese nuclear arsenal, the Jin SSBN fleet only makes strategic sense if it is more secure than the Second Artillery’s land-based ICBM force. Its justification must be based on a conclusion that the ICBMs are too vulnerable to a first strike and that a more secure sea-based second-strike force therefore is needed.

The ultimate test of the Jin SSBNs will be whether they can survive long enough at sea in a hypothetical war situation to provide a back-up deterrent at all.   Hans M. Kristensen, “China SSBN Fleet Getting Ready – But for What?,  Federation of American Scientists (FAS), April 25, 2014.

How finally to address why we are all less than an hour from that oven? Consider Professor Hobbes:

“It is therefore Hobbes, as others have urged us to see,  who is the philosopher who might best have helped us as we stood on the threshold of the nuclear age, and it is Hobbes who even at this late hour may  help us now. Along the way, we will try to come to terms with the wy the nuclear age deformed the principles of Hobbes to turn him into an apologist for the very condition he identified as the worst possible outome of total nongovernance: the massacre of a population.”  p. 165

“It has been observed that Hobbes’s great inventon is peace and Locke’s great invention is liberty.” p. 156.

The Chinese submarine will work. They can shoot straight. The Chinese  will not accceot any British philosophers, no matter how gifted or heroic, using force inside China.

R. Peppe  2/01/2017


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