Can’t resist sharing a few more of my Tucson IR Saguaro pictures.

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The camera which shot them was the only mirrorless APSC camera Pentax made — a not-very ergonomic square box camera designed by one “Marc Newsom”. Apparently said Newsom’s trademark was objets coloured bright yellow, something I am very in favour of. But the yellow K-01s were in short supply, and so I got a black one, which a company back east called Digital Silver Imaging converted to infra-red (I think by removing the anti-aliasing filter and putting an IR filter in its place. Thus the sensor records light wavelengths we don’t normally see — such as the brilliant white reflected by chlorophyl.

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For Bill The Galactic Hero DSI converted a Black Magic video camera in the same way – with an 830nm (nanomtetre) IR filter. The numbers determine the amount of regular light versus infrared light passing through the filter.

IMGP8472 copy I have another old Pentax camera – a K10D DSLR – with a 720nm IR filter. This lets more “regular” light through, and can produce some interesting colour effects:

IMGP8599 copy If you were to buy the only black-and-white dedicated digital camera, the Leica Monochrom M, it would set you back about $8,000 (body only, lenses extra). No doubt it is a wonderful camera. But for less than $300 you can buy a used Pentax K-01 (or spend $600 and get the yellow model new). For approx. $200, DSI or another company will install the IR filter of your choice. And for a total spend of around five hundred bucks/four hundred pounds (if you don’t mind doing some post-production work) you will have a very nice monochrome digital still (and video) camera.

IMGP8428 copy (My K-01 survived a brief drowning in the Klamath River. It is not waterproof or water-resistant and after getting wet it died. Patience, a screwdriver, an oven, and a plastic bag of brown rice brought it back to life, but I don’t recommend this experiment. )

Merry Xmas, and a happy new year!



While in the desert outside Tucson, AZ, I worked on the Billy the Kid script and took infrared pictures of the vicinity…

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The camera is a Pentax K-01, converted to read infra-red light as well as the light we perceive, by means of a filter. The lens, for the most part, is the 40mm pancake which came with the camera.

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In addition to turning green things white, the IR filter gets the best out of the sky. Even a mediocre cloudy day acquires mystery…

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The above is the frontispiece for the Billy the Kid screenplay. It has a certain antique weirdness, I think.

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Saguaros are irresistible subjects.

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As is Pearl, seen here returning from la chasse.


Since TOMBSTONE RASHOMON was finished, I’ve been working on a couple of new projects — a book about THE PRISONER, which I think was the best TV show ever made, and a script about Billy the Kid.

The PRISONER book is titled I AM (NOT) A NUMBER, and is published by Kamera Books in the UK. They’ve published three other books by me – my Spaghetti Western history, my Kennedy/Oswald chronology, and, most recently, my Intro to Film. Kamera are a great company, in my estimation, and I recommend checking out their entire catalogue – much of it film-related, and Noir fiction under the Oldcastle imprint. I won’t go into my PRISONER analysis here, since the tome is now available both in hard copy (a limited edition with some very cool and expensive-to-print black pages between the chapters!) and as an e-book. Suffice it to say that in the book I analyse the episodes in the order in which they were filmed – something which has not been done before. At the outset, I don’t think anyone involved knew who ran The Village, who or what Number 1 was, or even how many episodes there would be. THE PRISONER was an organic masterpiece, which developed over eighteen months of shooting. At the outset, it seemed to be a project shared between Patrick McGoohan and George Markstein, the script editor, who had quite different ideas about who Number 6 was, and where the series was going. By the start of the curtailed second season, THE PRISONER was McGoohan’s, and McGoohan’s alone.

I’ve posted a short video about the series and its meaning here.

Since the book was done I’ve been working on a script about Billy the Kid, entitled THE THUNDERER, to be shot in the vicinity of Tucson, AZ. There seems to be less published material about the Kid than there was in the case of the OK Corral incident, but there are still a couple of good books. Walter Noble Burns (of Tombstone Iliad fame) wrote a particularly florid one, Ashton Upson ghost-wrote a biography of Billy for Pat Garrett; and Robert M. Utley wrote a nice, complete history of the Kid, A Short and Violent Life.

Rudy Wurlitzer (who wrote the difinitive script, PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID, and WALKER, and much more besides) sent me a link to an article which recently appeared in that notorious purveyor of Fake News, the New York Times. The headline is “A Photo of Billy the Kid Bought for $10 At A Flea Market May Be Worth Millions.”

BTK_NYT_Photo_PicMaybe so, but perhaps not this particular photograph, which can be compared in the original article with the “historic” picture of the Kid with his rifle. Apart from a prominent adam’s apple, I don’t think the two faces have anything in common. Even less likely is the author’s claim that the picture includes both Billy the Kid and his executioner, Pat Garrett. Garrett and the Kid may have known each other, during Garrett’s days as a Lincoln County bartender. But Garrett was famously tall – six foot four, or more – and the Kid was diminutive: around five foot, nine inches. The individuals in the New York Times photograph are all seated, so one can only judge their body height, but the one identified, by an “expert”, as Garrett appears to be average in height, while the one claimed to be the Kid looks about three inches taller.

Right now I’m Tucson for an acting assignment. Once that is done I’ll have more to report, I hope, on THE THUNDERER.


The United Nations did a fine thing last week, as the majority of its members – the nations of the planet – voted to approve a Treaty which outlaws nuclear weapons. The final draft treaty, distributed on 6 July, had benefited from considerable input and is quite different from the draft convention of 22 May, which was less definite and clear. It seems an excellent document.

What is the use of it? The cynic or world-weary may enquire. The nuclear weapons states — the US, Russia, China, perfidious Albion, France, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea — refused to participate in the discussions. One country, Holland, which illegally houses American nuclear weapons on its soil, voted against the treaty. Singapore abstained. 122 countries voted to outlaw nukes. But so what? None of them have any!

It may all seem pointless, and symbolic. But only a few years back, the US and Russia and England all proudly developed biological weapons, and stockpiled poison gas, and manufactured landmines, and cluster bombs. Determined campaigns against them, and international outrage at the horrible things, led to the United Nations treaties outlawing them. Biological weapons were banned in 1972; chemical weapons in 1993; landmines in 1997; and cluster bombs in 2008. Today, while many landmines and cluster bombs still scatter the homelands of our allies and enemies, their manufacture is now internationally banned. The major nations have destroyed their stockpiles of poison and nerve gases.

The US, Russia and England already have obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (which they signed in 1968) not to export nukes to other countries, nor to assist or encourage other nations to acquire them. The US has been a persistant violator of the NPT, aiding India, Pakistan and Israel in the acquisition of nuclear weapons, and continually deploying its nuclear weapons abroad. In 2017, American nuclear bombs are stored at Aviano and Ghedi in Italy, Buchel in Germany, Incirlik in Turkey, Kleine Brogel in Belgium and Volkel in Holland. All three countries possess nuclear weapons submarine fleets, whose travels routinely violate the NPT.

The NPT also contains a commitment by all signatories “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” General disarmament! Not just nuclear! So England, Russia and the US are already committed by treaty obligation to “pursue negotiations in good faith” with and end to the arms race and disarmament as a goal.

Are they doing this? No. Does this mean that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is just more worthless symbolism? Not necessarily.

The nuclear powers stand on extremely shakey ground. Their mechanical war-making infrastructure  was conceived, and in some cases built, half a century ago. It depends on incredibly expensive, very dangerous technology with a limited life expectancy, and a legacy of highly toxic radioactive and chemical garbage which must be guarded and somehow safely disposed of. Obama commited a trillion dollars to the US Nuclear Weapons upgrade, partially as a traditional taxpayer give-away to weapons corps like Boeing and Raytheon, partially because of Americans’ ongoing fascination for the shiny and the new, and partially because — at least in the case of the land-based Minutemen missiles — the nuclear weapons infrastructure is falling apart.

Now Presidents Trump and Putin have met, and as a Russian writer observed, it is quite funny and shocking to see the liberal media excoriating both of them, with the New York Times, the Bezos Post, The Guardian and Rachel Maddow all united in their condemnation of the boorish, orange-tinted bozo and the James Bond super-cyber-villain. Liberals worry about climate change, which they think of as global warming. Conservatives don’t believe in climate change. Yet one way to guarantee climate change – in the form of a nuclear winter provoking worldwide famine – is to start a nuclear war. Presidents Trump and Putin, as commanders-in-chief of the greatest arsenals of mass destruction the world has ever known, are our number one protections against nuclear war between the US and Russia.

Think about that. We rely on those two gentlemen to get along, and not to be provoked into detesting each other, or into provocative “shows of credibility.” In such circumstances, the UN Treaty keeps up an admirable pressure on the two of them, and on all nuclear-weapons states. Obviously, a lot more money is being made from nuclear weapons than was made from nerve gas, or cluster bombs. But each diabolical weapon had a powerful constituency; and in each case it was defeated. No country can “afford” a nuclear war. Not even the one percent can escape its consequences.

The fact that the US, UK and France issued a joint press release condemning the treaty, blaming North Korea for the world’s perilous nuclear imbalance, and reaffirming their commitment to the NPT, which requires them to disarm, and which they continue to ignore, is a good sign. They came over like silly billies, babbling nonsense in the face of an increasingly impatient world. The fact that Russia and China didn’t condem the treaty outright, may be a good sign too.

Don’t count on the mainstream media to get the word out about the Treaty, though. Silence prevails, as usual, or else outright misinformation, as when NPR’s “Democracy Now” host reported that the UN had banned the “use” of nuclear weapons. The Treaty bans the possession and distribution of nuclear weapons. (I have a friend who works as a bud-trimmer during pot season here in Oregon. She and her colleagues operate in Victorian working conditions, grooming buds of pot for hours on end for minimum wage. I had assumed they would be listening to Bob Marley. But no! The cruel dope grower boss has the radio permanently switched to NPR. I consider that an oppressive work environment.)

I just had to add one more link — to the story about the apparent “long time Clinton family ally” Paul Begala. No idea who this bazooka is but yesterday, on CNN, he called for a debate in the United States as to “whether we should blow up the KGB, GSU, or GRU.” As the DNC/Clinton faction grows increasingly McCarthyite, its push for a confrontation with Russia – not just in Syria or Ukraine – appears to have elscalated. The United States routinely meddles in other countries’ elections — via CIA, NED, straightforward military coups, and “visits” from US Senators bringing oppostion leaders scads of bribe money in diplomatic bags. Now Russia is accused, by anonymous CIA sources, of doing the same thing. The Clinton camp’s response? Bomb Russia. As the Daily Beast remarked, “What could go wrong?”



Last week the media sabers were rattling for a war between the US and North Korea. The president of one of those countries announced a massive “armada” was “steaming” towards the adversary (though it turned out that rather like a British Trident missile it had gone in the opposite direction). The president of the other country threatened nuclear armageddon. Things like this send the mainstream media, and their timorous readers, into a tizzy of fear lest hydrogen bombs come raining down on California. So just for the reality-based community, it’s worth remembering that North Korea has no reliable delivery system to get its handful of nuclear weapons anywhere near the United States.

This kind of fear-mongering is typical of the New York Times, Bezos Post, and BBC — ignore the facts and concentrate of whipping up a frenzy of outrage against some dark-skinned foreigner and his deadly WMDs. None of the mainstream reporting of last week’s events addressed the key matter of delivery systems – i.e the Minutemen ICBMs and B2 Bombers and Trident submarines which get nukes from the mad scientists’ launchpad to the civilian population they are designed to kill. North Korea’s latest attempt at launching an ICBM ended in failure, as its previous efforts have. Whereas the United States has some 2,000 nukes attached to presumably-reliable delivery systems which can reach anywhere in the world.

Consider just one US Ohio-class submarine. It has the capacity to carry 24 Trident D5 missiles. Each D5 missile can carry 8 nuclear warheads. So one American nuclear sub can launch almost 200 nuclear weapons — enough to destroy multiple nations and cause incalculable climate change. And the US has fourteen of these boats, ten of them on patrol at all times.

Meanwhile the British Prime Minister is prepared to launch a nuclear ‘first strike’ according to its “Defence” Secretary, Michael Fallon. Fallon told reporters that Teresa May is prepared to launch Trident missiles in “the most extreme circumstances”, even if Britain itself is not under nuclear attack.

What circumstances could those be? Circumstances in which the Americans tell her to, perhaps? Such as a surprise first strike on Russia? George Orwell, that old Russia-hater, was more prescient than he wished to be, perhaps, when he renamed Britain “Airstrip One.”

But England isn’t the only insane nuclear toady on the block. Step forward the reliable Netherlands — whose representative at United Nations talks to declare nuclear weapons illegal has insisted that the UN vote must be consistent with Holland’s obligations to NATO. Which is absurd: since NATO is a nuclear-armed alliance whose stated purpose is to deter/fight a war with Russia, it will be an illegal operation once the UN votes. All of the nuclear-armed powers except North Korea have boycotted the UN talks, which will resume later in the year. And the US satraps will again be throwing spanners in the works — Holland is one of the lucky countries to house American nuclear weapons, and thus a primary target, or rather a secondary target, if the Americans and the English strike the Russians first.

Americans are remarkable beings. Not only are they exceptional (as we are constantly told) but they are more than twice as resistant to the effects of radiation as any other people in the world! This amazing news comes via the Federal Register of 27 December 2016, which announced that American nuclear workers may continue to safely receive up to 50 milliSieverts of radiation every year. There is, as you probably know, no “safe” dose of radiation: the EPA states that “any exposure to radiation can be harmful or can increase the risk of cancer.” However, in the rest of the world, the maximum “safe” radiation dose is considered to be 20 milliSieverts per year. The US was to have adopted the international maximum last year, but pressure from the nuclear power and weapons industries had the predictable results. This was done during the Obama presidency, not the current one.

And finally some good news. President Trump’s scrapping of Obama’s Clean Power Plan means that special favours to the nuclear industry (on the deranged grounds that it is “carbon neutral”) will no longer occur. As a result the US industry is scrambling to gain other tax breaks and to make friends with “environmentalists.”

The very idea that nuclear power generation is “carbon neutral” is absurd, as previously discussed here. The claim doesn’t take into account the highly-carbon-based building and decommissioning of nuclear plants, nor all the gasoline and diesel consumption involved in maintaining them when they function or panicking when they fail, nor the long-term  environmental and climate costs of all the radioactive garbage they create, and its safe disposal. Renewables – wind, solar and water, at least for now – have been embraced by the big energy corporations. Coal isn’t coming back: it can’t compete with renewables or with “natural” gas. Nor is nuclear, if its tax breaks and public underwriters get taken away…



In the films and tv shows I’ve seen, when the detective arrives at the scene of an unsolved crime, he or she usually asks the question, “Cui Bono?” He/she may not have asked it in Latin, but the meaning was, “Who benefits?”

When a great war crime is committed, it’s even more worth asking, “Who benefits from this?”

In the case of the greatest crime of all, the stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons, there are surprisingly few beneficiaries. In the US the development and maintenance of nukes has been a great boon to a tiny handful of big companies: Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and General Dynamics. Between them, these five scooped up one third of all Pentagon nuclear weapons contracts.

There’s a good discussion of the enormous money made by a handful of big nuclear war companies, their army of lobbyists in Washington DC, and the political inertia which leads to endless spending on nukes, here.

Of course, many other corporations profit from nuclear weapons tech: high on the second-tier list are the Carlyle Group (which took over UC’s nuclear programs and has had former President George W. Bush and Prime Minister John Major on its board), Honeywell, General Electric (until recently the owner of NBC and Universal Pictures), and Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s company.

Most of these beneficiary companies have shareholders, and so their shareholders, whether individuals or pension funds, might be said to benefit, if the share price rises. In this way many people participate in taxpayer-funded preparation for nuclear war. But in the wider world beyond the stock exchanges, most humans don’t have shares in anything, and gain nothing from the trade.

Do individuals benefit? Some do. Werner Von Braun was a Nazi scientist who fired rockets at London and the Netherlands. He ran his own concentration camp, Dora, where prisoners were worked to death, and hung. It would have made sense for him to be tried with the other Nazi war criminals. But Von Braun was no fool. He fled the advancing Russian troops and surrendered to the Americans. The US military swiftly brought him to the States, acquired him citizenship, and put him to work designing and building ICBMs — long range missiles which could carry nuclear warheads to Russia. Von Braun become something of a celebrity in the US, promoting rocket ships and nuclear platforms in space and being declared Time’s “Man of the Year”.

Another beneficiary, apparently, is Michelle Obama, the former First Lady. In August 2016 she “christened” a General Dynamics Virginia-class nuclear submarine. The boat was named Illinois, in honour of her home state. What did Ms. Obama think she was doing? Has this presumably intelligent person no imagination? No moral compass? One US nuclear submarine carries enough warheads to kill pretty much everybody in the world: just a couple of nukes could render her home state uninhabitable. Yet there was no outcry. In the “floating world” which professional politicians and opinion-formers inhabit, there seems no downside to promoting genocide: no horror or repulsion at the thought of what the boat she “christened” has been designed and equipped to do.

And another beneficiary of the nuclear-industrial economy was Sam Cohen, a physicist who worked with Edward Teller at Los Alamos. Sam was most famous as the designer of the Neutron Bomb – a radiation weapon designed to kill everyone in the vicinity, with minimal physical destruction. As the character in REPO MAN observed, “It kills people but leaves buildings standing.” The notion of a bomb which destroys life but respects property is entirely hideous, but to Sam it was not so. He was proud to be thought of as the “father” of the Neutron Bomb, which he insisted was a humanitarian weapon for which he had received a Peace Medal from the Pope. This last was absolutely true: Sam showed me his award, and left to his daughter in his will.

Are nukes really worth this nonsensical eccentricity? Profits for a small number of rich companies? Sam with his medal, Michelle “christening” a holocaust boat, Werner avoiding the gallows and going to work for Walt Disney?

Fortunately, there is an alternative.

If you live in the US, or England, or France, or Russia or China, or one of the other nuke nations, you might despair and think there’s no way out: your politicians are too stupid, too hooked on power and “credibility”, too fearful of their own military and intelligence agencies…  But for most of the planet, this is not so. Most humans live in countries which don’t have nuclear weapons. Somehow, lacking even the most modest nuclear deterrent, they all manage to survive. Most nations don’t have nukes, and don’t want them. Entire continents – South America and Africa – are nuclear-free zones.

Narcissistic politicians backed/dominated by generals armed to the teeth with hydrogen bombs are neither desired nor respected by the people of the wider world, and so, this year, the United Nations will debate and vote on a proposal to outlaw nuclear weapons.
The negotiations will take place at UN headquarters in New York from 27 to 31 March and from 15 June to 7 July 2017. In the UN General Assembly, 113 nations have already voted in favour of the resolution that established the mandate for the negotiating committee. The treaty, which will almost certainly be passed by a massive majority, will likely prohibit a range of activities relating to nukes, including their use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention and transfer, as well as assistance, encouragement or inducement of anyone to engage in any of these prohibited activities.

Now, I’m as cynical as the next poor fool, and I know this sounds like pie-in-the-sky. The US, Russia, Britain, France, and most of the other nuclear powers oppose the treaty and can be expected, initially, to ignore it (promisingly, China has welcomed the treaty negotiations and has abstained rather than vote against them). These countries also opposed treaties banning land mines, poison gas, cluster bombs… at the outset. But the world-wide rejection of these devilish devices, codified in international treaty form, has had an actual effect. Russia and America have destroyed their substantial inventories of nerve and poison gas. Land mines have been outlawed, world-wide. And the US is increasingly isolated in its production and export (to that haven of democracy and women’s rights Saudi Arabia) of cluster bombs.

Even if the “great powers” don’t sign up for the treaty, they will be influenced by it, and by the world opinion it clearly conveys. We who live in the nuclear weapons states must not let our “leaders” forget that they are under an obligation – Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty – to act “in good faith” to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

A year before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King said, “a nation that continues, year after year, to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

The US government currently gives 54% of federal discretionary spending to the Pentagon. This is almost half the entire world’s military outlay. President Trump intends to give the Pentagon and military contractors even more, and to continue with President Obama’s trillion-dollar nuclear “upgrade.” In America, genocide has always been a bi-partisan affair. In 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War, Dr. King described the US government as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” With the US currently bombing several other countries, occupying Afghanistan and Guantanamo, and maintaining a web of 800 military bases around the world, things are even worse today.

I live in rural Oregon near three towns which the local paramedics call the “Crankster Triangle.” Unemployment is high, wages are low, and nutrition is terrible. Meth and heroin (from far-off Afghanistan!) are readily available. And there are for-profit jails in neighboring poor rural towns, ready and waiting.

This beautiful country is falling apart, abandoned by elites who don’t give a damn about any place without a private airport and a ski resort.

Can it be turned around? Yes. I think it can. It will be a tall order and will take a lot more than the abolition of nukes – only a fraction of the huge American military budget, but still an enormous saving of taxpayers’ money which could be applied instead to…

Environmental clean-up and remediation.


Writing off student debt.

A guaranteed minimum wage.

Single-payer health care.

If you’re a hardcore libertarian or conservative you may oppose all of the above. In which case, why not abolish nukes and simply lower taxes?

One of the smartest people I know is an English lawyer who lives outside Cambridge. In all his life he has only voted Conservative, or Green. He believes in conservative principles, which for him include actual conservation. Conservation. Beyond that, the differences he and I might have don’t matter very much. We both think that conserving and protecting the environment is humanity’s obligation, and most important goal.

Yes, global warming is real and disastrous. But – as Marianne Faithfull observed – nuclear war could come at any time, and there’s no point worrying about global warming if the climate change we’re looking at is a nuclear war-based ice age. And that’s what’s on the agenda this year, at the UN.

If the nine nuclear nations can come to their senses, and be shamed, or flattered, into reducing their hideous stockpiles, then there may be a foreseeable future. Only then will it make sense to prepare for the consequences of a warming climate change.

If you are a British citizen or resident, you can add your name to a petition instructing Parliament not to boycott the United Nations vote here.

(Ms. Faithfull’s Broken English video was directed by Derek Jarman, a wonderful man and a moral film director. He is greatly missed)


Who threatens us – the nuclear-armed states? I return to this question because an external threat is the politician’s fallback position, justifying possession and possible use of atomic bombs.

There is a clear and present danger that a nuclear weapon could be launched by accident, by any state which possesses such weapons and has the means to hurl them into the air. But which of the nuclear powers is threatened by a potential foreign invader – England? France? The United States? The US is the largest military power in the world. Its two neighbors, Canada and Mexico, cannot threaten the USA. No “rival” power masses troops or military equipment on America’s borders. Britain and France, for all their disastrous colonial adventures, remain at peace. Perfidious Albion has made enemies in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya, in Ireland, and many other places. But none of these countries is in a position to invade or militarily threaten London.

Okay, the politician might reply, but if we had no nuclear weapons, nuclear powers could dominate us. Yet other powers already dominate us. Multinational corporations are richer and more influential than most nations. Germany determines the economic policy of the EU and the Eurozone. The Americans tell the rest of us what to do. Big nations dominate smaller ones.

Step forward, then, the squirrely politician’s last respite: Russia. Russia is a threat! For many years Americans were encouraged to fear the Soviet Union, which followed the malicious creed of Communism. The Cold War dragged on for decades. Many people in the US and Western Europe made careers out of it – in “intelligence”, in academia, in journalism. It was a War with comparatively few casualties as each side formed a “defensive” alliance against the other, conducted witch-hunts, and stockpiled tens of thousands of nuclear bombs.

In 1990, the Cold War ended with victory for the Americans and their allies in NATO: the Soviet Union fragmented into various countries, the Warsaw Pact dissolved, and the Russians renounced communism. Americans assisted in securing the Russian nuclear weapons stock. Progress was made at reducing the enormous inventory. In the early twentieth century disarmament by the nuclear superpowers slowed, halted, and then reversed.

What does the United States have to fear from Russia? That Russia is its “rival” as a major power? CIA claims that Russian agents “hacked” the election? That its leader is a cold-looking character like out of a James Bond film? That people will prefer Russian cars and cilvil aircraft rather than American ones? That the Russians don’t automatically do what we say?

None of these fears is worth anything. Certainly not worth going to war over. The only fear that has any validity is that Russia has giant arsenal of nuclear bombs, many on high alert, waiting to be unleashed on us at any moment. That is something worth worrying about.

No doubt the Russians are equally fearful of the Americans’ and Europeans’ giant inventory of nuclear bombs. That would make sense. But do they, I wonder, have any other reason to be fearful, or to distrust the Americans?

Historically, they do — from the continuation of the First World War, which the Western powers dragged on for two more years in an effort to beat the Bolsheviks; through the creation of NATO – an American-led, anti-Soviet alliance which has now grown to Russia’s borders; via the nuclear arms race; the disastrous Yeltsin years; radar inferiority which leaves the Russian Pacific open to an American First Strike; to the US trillion-dollar nuclear upgrade, and the Pentagon’s development of insanely unnecessary and destabilizing weapons like the CPGS – “Conventional Prompt Global Strike” missile — the Russians have a number of reasons to fear the United States, and to distrust its intentions.

Right now, after the latest round of NATO expansion, in Estonia there are 800 English, Danish and French NATO troops and four German Typhoon military jets. In Latvia is a NATO battalion of 1,200 troops from Canada, Albania, Italy, Poland, Spain and Slovenia. In Lithuania is a German-led NATO battalion of 1,200 troops from Belgium, Croatia, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands, and Norway, supported by four Dutch F-16 fighter jets. In Poland, there is a NATO battalion of 4,000 US troops, with heavy armor including 25 tanks, and Bradley fighting vehicles. 300 US marines are on rotation in Norway. As of this summer, four RAF Typhoon jets will be based in Romania to support NATO.

NewSTART is a diplomatic measure to somewhat reduce the US and Russian operational nuclear inventory. Instead of about 2,000 weapons, each side would have only 1,550 ready-to-go nukes. This is what the two Presidents discussed last week on the telephone. It is something, and almost nothing at the same time. Even if NewSTART is implemented, the numbers of nukes remain obscenely excessive, a genuine existential threat to both “sides”.

After his conversation about NewSTART with Mr. Putin, President Trump held a press conference and remarked,

By the way, it would be great if we could get along with Russia.
Just so you understand that. Tomorrow, you will say, “Donald Trump
wants to get along with Russia; this is terrible.” It is not terrible.

Nuclear holocaust would be like no other. They’re a very powerful
nuclear country, and so are we.

If Russia and the United States actually got together and got along —
and don’t forget, we’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are they.
There’s no upside. We’re a very powerful nuclear country and so
are they. I have been briefed. And I can tell you one thing about a
briefing that we’re allowed to say because anybody that ever read
the most basic book can say it, nuclear holocaust would be like no other.

They’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are we. If we have a
good relationship with Russia, believe me, that’s a good thing,
not a bad thing.

The President’s words were reported by Vox, under the headline “9 things it’s hard to believe the president of the United States just said.” (Jeff Stein, Feb 16, 2017)

The reporter is not a fan of President Trump, and presumably disapproves of these sentiments. It is, indeed, unusual for an American politician to discard the pious bombast and tell the press that Russia deserves respect and that a nuclear war between the US and Russia would be an inconceivable “holocaust”.

This portion of the President’s press conference was not widely reported.


Nuclear Power

As the United States expanded its nuclear weapons infrastructure, nuclear power was proposed as a concomitant benefit. Nuclear engines, we were told, would be installed in cities, homes, aircraft and cars. Nuclear power stations would provide energy “too cheap to meter”…

The reader already knows that this did not occur. Nuclear power plants proved subject to enormous cost overruns. Some failed catastrophically and had to be entombed in concrete. Some were abandoned before they were complete. The power stations which were constructed provided very expensive electricity. No matter, as far as the mandarins were concerned: nuclear power was the icing on the weapons cake — essential icing, nevertheless, since without nuclear plants and fuel cycle facilities there would be no Highly Enriched Uranium, and no Plutonium.

The history of nuclear power is one of optimistic lies, accidents, near-disasters, and cost overruns. Its legacy, literally, is toxic garbage.

There are many good sources if you’re interested in nuclear power, its failures, and its enthusiastic promotion by the nuclear weapons states. Let me turn to just one — an interview in the Bulletin with Brice Smith, a professor of physics at the State University of New York and the author of Insurmountable Risks: The Dangers of Using Nuclear Power to Combat Global Climate Change. The interview ran in the Nov/Dec 2007 Bulletin.

Smith points out three “classic risks” of nuclear power: 1) the link between the fuel cycle and nuclear weapons proliferation; 2) the issue of reactor accidents; 3) the disposal of nuclear waste.

1) nuclear power generation is expensive and inefficient, but it puts the possessor of the facility well on the road to building an atomic bomb. This is why Israel bombed the Iraqi nuclear power facility at Osirak in June 1981, and why the US and Israel are obsessed with Iran’s attempts at atomic energy generation. Cuba began construction of a nuclear power plant in 1983 but never completed it. Fidel Castro’s son, Fidel Jr., trained as a nuclear engineer – I had the pleasure of meeting him a few years back and he is still an enthusiastic proponent of nuclear power. But the Juragua nuclear project was abandoned in 1992.

On the other hand, America’s allies are still encouraged to develop nuclear power complexes, and successive presidents winked as Israel, India and Pakistan all turned their nuclear power projects into weapons programs. Currently, with US approval, the United Arab Emirates is building nuclear power plants, while Saudi Arabia has also “embarked on a commercial nuclear power program that makes little economic sense, but could, if it becomes reality, aid a Saudi nuclear weapons program” (online Bulletin, 12/17/2013).

US policy of encouraging its client states to develop nuclear power is singularly stupid, since they don’t remain clients indefinitely, and before long will need to be bombed. In the early 1970s the Americans encouraged their proxies, the Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, to develop nuclear power – using American technology, of course. In both cases a US ally soon became a US enemy. At which point the response was violence or apocalyptic threats — a good way to guarantee a blowback of violence and apocalyptic thinking in return.

Thirty-two countries that do not currently possess nuclear weapons own sufficient fissionable nuclear materials to construct them, some in a relatively short period of time. If one wishes to reduce the danger of nuclear weapons proliferation, one should remove the “fig leaf” of nuclear power.

2) if nukes as a means of electricity generation were left to the “invisible hand of the market”, they would not exist. Smith observes that reactor accidents are unique in the energy system as they are of statistically low probability, but potentially extremely catastrophic. There is literally no way to say how much damage – immediate and long-term – a power plant melt-down can cause. Chernobyl is still with us, its temporary concrete tomb cracking and in need of replacement; Fukushima is an ongoing disaster which continues to flood the atmosphere and ocean with radiation. Neither disaster has been contained, and there is no consensus as to the number of people killed or injured, nor as to the extent of the damage, nor what the final cost of “clean-up” – if it ever takes place – will be.

In circumstances where liability is unforeseeable and unlimited, no private insurance company will issue a policy. Thus it is with nuclear power: it is the state, not State Farm, who is the “insurer of last resort” – in other words, to have a nuclear power program, the government must guarantee that the taxpayer will pick up the entire tab when something goes wrong.

Ironically, nuclear power is anti-capitalist, a technology so risky and dangerous that the insurance marketplace won’t take a chance on it. So it relies on limitless taxpayer subsidies in order to survive.

3) waste disposal is probably the worst problem of all three, as it is so long-term. Since the time of the Manhattan Project, nuclear power has been generating volumes of extremely high-level radioactive waste. No one knows what to do with it. It is all still with us.

Smith says that the waste issue is even more problematic as “we don’t have a good way of understanding what it means to have a waste product whose peak risks occur thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of years in the future.” Consider that for a moment. When general readers such as you or I read about atomic “half life”, we tend to assume that the decay of nuclear material happens uniformly, and in a downward direction, and that as time passes the material becomes less dangerous, not more. This is not the case. Some forms of nuclear waste increase in radioactive toxicity as the years pass: Smith points out that much of the nuclear garbage military and civilian reactors have already accumulated is growing in toxicity, and will continue to do so for millennia.

In other words, stuff which is deadly now, and which we don’t know how to deal with, will be many times more deadly ten thousand or a hundred thousand years from now.

Consider what this means for us, as a species. What we call civilization is a few thousand years old. Christianity and capitalism have coexisted for two thousand years, at most. Most of the technology we use and think we cannot do without only appeared within the last two or three hundred years. Unless you believe a Divine Being is guiding humankind towards that City on the Hill, there is no reason to imagine our civilization will survive any particular length of time. Nuclear war, conventional war, disease, resource depletion, climate change, overpopulation — any one of these, or more likely a combination of several, could exhaust or even extinguish our current civilization within a few hundred years.

But the nuclear garbage will still be there, growing in poisonous toxicity, long after its creators have forgotten what it is.

And where will it be growing? The US plan has been, for several decades, to store its most toxic nuclear garbage under Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Poor Nevada! This lovely desert state has been the most ravaged of all by the military-industrial complex. A drive from Reno to Las Vegas will take you through a landscape of bunkers surrounding Hawthorne (which proudly proclaims itself “The World’s Largest Ammo Depot”), past the town of Mercury, which you are not allowed to enter and which is the dead centre of the US nuclear testing range, and skirting Creech Air Force Base (“Home of the Hunters”) where USAF Reaper and Predator drones are flight-tested.

How did Nevada get to be so lucky? Big state, small population, and an entirely predictable nexus between the mob, who run the brothels and casinos, and the military, who are among their customers.

Somehow, though, the plan to turn yet more of Nevada into a radioactive military playground has become bogged down. Patriotic to the core, Nevadans still aren’t keen on seeing their state turned into the permanent home of America’s most toxic nuclear waste.

The New York Times reassures its trusting readers that the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site is “now deemed safe.” US representative John Shimkus (a Republican from far-off Illinois) has declared: “Nuclear waste stored under that mountain, in that desert, surrounded by federal land, will be safe and secure for at least a million years.”

Only an American politician could come up with such positive, decisive, and exceptional thinking. A million years? Really?

In fact, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not yet approved Yucca Mountain as an underground repository for nuclear waste. When the site was chosen it was believed to be dry, but Yucca Mountain has turned out to be full of underground channels of flowing water. The canisters holding US nuclear waste are metal and subject to corrosion. Their life expectancy, according to the Energy Department, is one thousand years – after which the radioactive garbage will leak out and enter the water channels and the environment.

But worry not! The Energy Department has proposed a plan to the NRC to make Yucca mountain a viable dump after all: corrosion-resistant, titanium-alloy “drip shields” which will sit above the canisters of nuclear waste, preventing them from getting dripped on.

Given the enormous cost of these titanium shields, and the difficulty and precision of their installation, the Energy Department doesn’t plan to install them for a hundred years – presumably to spread the enormous cost of the repository over several generations. The idea is to stick the nuclear waste in there now, and forget about it. Then, in a hundred years time, robots will go in, carrying the five-ton drip shields, and meticulously install them.

That is the official plan. Stick the nuclear garbage under Yucca Mountain now, forget about it for 100 years, and then robots will fix it. Robots which don’t currently exist. Because the canisters will already be leaking radioactivity, and it won’t be safe for humans to venture into those tunnels for hundreds of thousands of years…

“Realistically, a century into the project, the underground tunnels would have deteriorated considerably and collapsed in part. Dust would sharply limit visibility. The tunnels would have to be cleared of rubble for a remotely operated underground rail system to transport robotic equipment and the five-ton drip shields to the waste canisters. The shields would then have to be installed end-to-end, so as to form a continuous metal cover inside the tunnels, obviously a delicate, complex, and extremely expensive operation. Is it reasonable to believe that after 100 years, with the nuclear waste in the repository long out of the public mind, that Congress would appropriate enormous sums of money for the Energy Department to go back into the tunnels to install the shields? Can we really rely on an agency that hasn’t yet cleaned up a nationwide radioactive mess that dates from World War II to keep a promise that it will do something a century into the future? Will there even be an Energy Department in 100 years?”

Those were the words of physicist Victor Glinksy, who worked for the State of Nevada, which opposes the insane robots-will-save-us scheme. You can read his excellent piece about the current state of Yucca Mountain here.

Climate Change

Over the last decade or two there’s been a trend among some Greens to say that nuclear power should be forgiven its terminal vices, and embraced as a “carbon-neutral” or even “carbon-friendly” energy source, given the threat of global warming. The nuclear industry and its media supporters have promoted such claims with vigor, but they have not brought about a nuclear power renaissance.

There are two clear objections to this argument, I think: 1) George Monbiot’s new-found enthusiasm notwithstanding, nuclear power is far from “carbon free” or “carbon neutral” and 2) the nuclear power and weapons industries are interlinked, and if a nuclear war occurs, all bets are off regarding climate change.

1) The claim that nuclear power is eco-friendly is easily addressed. It’s the same fallacy as the notion that having your groceries delivered by solar powered drone helps the environment.

Mechanical things like cars or power plants don’t just exist at the moment of fueling, or fuel consumption. They have to be made. They have to be maintained. And, when no longer useful, they have to be disposed of. Where were the metals in your Tessla mined? What powered the plastics factory? The true environmental cost of a thing must include both manufacture and disposal. So, in the case of nuclear power, the plant has to be built, with metal and concrete and plastics and glass and cement mixers. Construction of a power plant consumes an enormous quantity of gas and diesel and electricity. Once the nuclear plant’s built, it has to be protected – by fire trucks and security guards in cop cars and armored vehicles, for the duration of its life.

None of this is ‘green’. If it takes tonnes of burned carbon to make a brand-new car car, imagine the carbon contribution of a brand-new nuclear power plant to the atmosphere.

And then there is the waste. Which no one knows what to do with. So, long after the plant has ceased to operate, it sits there, under guard, or gets trucked around the country, or gets dumped illegally, in a landfill or off-shore.

2) Nuclear power produces the fire-power for nuclear weapons: HEU and Plutonium. To rely on nuclear for power generation guarantees a continued supply of material which can be used as  warheads, or as bombs. The more nuclear power plants, the more countries developing nuclear power facilities, the more likely the spread of nuclear weapons technology, and of nuclear weapons.

Since Lynn Eden’s book was published, other authors have delved further into the results of mass fires started by atom bombs and a picture has emerged of their likely impact on the climate.

It is the exact opposite of what scientists currently anticipate as “climate change.”

A majority of scientists believe that global warming is taking place, and that it is mainly caused by man. It’s the scientific consensus that temperatures are rising as a result of anthropogenic releases of carbon, methane, and other gases into the atmosphere. If the temperature continues to rise at its current rate, there will be mass extinctions, and a rise in sea-levels which will make many coastal areas uninhabitable. The rise in temperature will stress agriculture, and almost all the surviving life-forms.

Despite the efforts of the Fossil Fuel Party in the United States, most governments of the world acknowledge that the temperature is rising, that this climate change is man-made, and have begun to make some small efforts to combat it. World-wide, politicians, scientists and the media focus on the danger of global warming and the need to mitigate it, or combat it. Some activists call for a declaration of “war” on climate change. As a pacifist and a Green I’m not keen on that particular characterization of the struggle, but I have a more fundamental criticism of this heroic focus on global warming.

It may not happen. A belief that the planet’s temperature will rise by five degrees by the year 2100, say, is predicated on an expectation of continued capitalist growth and human population increase. Most academics and politicians are drawing up plans to combat global warming – with the best intentions – based on the notion that ahead of us lie eighty years of relative world peace. Perhaps their calculations include a number of regional, non-nuclear wars, fought also with the very best intentions. But they cannot include a serious nuke war in their calculations, because that would cause an entirely different catastrophe.

If a nuclear war takes place, instead of a gradual, predictable global warming, the northern hemisphere (which is where that war will occur) will undergo a sudden, unpredictable but severe cooling. The ensuing climactic changes will affect the entire planet.

Steven Starr, the Director of the Clinical Laboratory Science Program at the University of Missouri, has written a paper on the state of scientific understanding – in 2008 and 2009 – of the environmental consequences of nuclear war. He also discusses a right-wing backlash to the original notion of nuclear winter which seems to have operated very effectively two decades ago. His piece is titled The Catastrophic Climactic Consequences of Nuclear Conflict.

In the case of a “small” nuclear war, in which two countries attack each other’s cities with 50 Hiroshima-size bombs, Starr writes:

“Although there would not be enough sunlight blocked to create a “nuclear winter”, the massive smoke emissions from the fires of a small “regional” nuclear war would cause a global climate change unprecedented in human history. In a matter of days, average temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere would become colder than any experienced during the last 1000 years. Growing seasons in the middle latitudes would immediately be significantly shortened, completely eliminating some crops that had insufficient time to reach maturity.”

So a war between India and China would result not only in millions of deaths in both countries and widespread radiation, but also harvest failure, disruption of agriculture, and famine. (Researchers believe that as many as a billion people might be threatened by famine following this “small” nuclear war).

Starr reports that for three years, the temperature worldwide would drop by 1.25 degrees Celsius. For ten years, the ozone layer would be seriously depleted, with unpredictable results.

Using more powerful computers, the same researchers modeled the climactic results of what they called “moderate” and “large” nuclear wars between the US and Russia. In the “moderate” scenario, one third of the global nuclear arsenal (1,667 megatons) was used. In the “large” war scenario, the whole arsenal – 5,000 megatons – was exploded. Following the “moderate” war, the world’s temperature would drop by 4 degrees Celsius. The “large war” would be followed by a temperature drop of 8 degrees. Researchers with even more powerful software found these figures conservative, and estimated that a “large” war would be followed by temperature drops of 20-30 degrees.

No matter what the scenario, then, nuclear war between the United States and Russia means the end of civilization, and possibly the end of the species itself. Agriculture would fail completely and daily minimum temperatures would be below freezing…

Starr concludes: “we cannot allow our political and military leaders to ignore the grave threats which their nuclear arsenals pose to the global environment and human existence… The environmental consequences of nuclear war must be included as primary considerations in the ongoing debate about the abolition of nuclear arsenals… The US and Russia must recognize the senselessness of continued planning for a nuclear first-strike, which if launched would make the whole world – including their own country – uninhabitable.”

Global warming or a post-nuclear ice age? Which does the reader think more likely: decade upon decade of world peace? or a nuclear war?


For almost sixty years perhaps the very best source of information about nuclear power and weapons has been the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. First published in the 1940s by Manhattan Project scientists from the University of Chicago, it was a magazine written by atomic scientists. Their style was comprehensible by any English-speaker, and according to Kennette Benedict, the former publisher, the magazine’s purpose was “to inform as many as possible about the dangers of a nuclear arms race. Then as now, the goal was to stimulate facts-driven international discussions, leading to policies and treaties that would protect all of humanity and the planet we inhabit.”

Excellent goal! And the Bulletin, at its best, did exactly that. It reported on nuclear weapons developments in layman’s terms. It counted the numbers, estimated the megatonnages, calculated the throw-weights. It reported on efforts at nuclear disarmament It covered nuclear power, inevitably. And, as of June 1947 it carried a graphic by Martyl Langsdorf – the Doomsday Clock.

The Doomsday Clock is – unfortunately, maybe – the artifact for which the Bulletin is most famous. Over the years, as the danger of nuclear war has grown greater, or seemed to recede, the minute hand of the Clock has moved forward and back. In 1984 it was three minutes to midnight — midnight being the outbreak of nuclear war. In 1991, after the fall of the Soviet Union, it stood at sixteen minutes to midnight. Since then, that minute hand has crept steadily forward. Last year it was three minutes to midnight. Last week the clock went forward by thirty seconds.

It was even worse in 1952, when the President authorized the use of American nukes against North Korea, and the clock moved forward to two minutes to midnight. But two and a half minutes to midnight is not a good sign.

Indeed, Langsdorf’s Doomsday Clock graphic is so strong that it’s tended to be the only thing reporters note about the Bulletin, and to overshadow all the good writing and reporting produced therein. For most of its life, it remained focused on the general reader, growing from a  home-made production to an impressive glossy magazine. I picked up a copy in that Santa Monica bookstore and was transfixed. This was the most amazingly informative magazine – about the most important subject possible: nuclear weapons and war. As long as I lived in Los Angeles I would drop by Midnight Special to pick up my bi-monthly copy. I lost track of the Bulletin while I worked in Nicaragua and Mexico, but reconnected with it and took out a subscription.

For facts about nuclear weapons and nuclear power, it was a great resource. It covered some issues persistently and in depth, and ran a great series of articles about nuclear weapons production at Rocky Flats and the entirely bogus “remediation” of the poisoned plant. In reporting like this the Bulletin spared no one – not the government, nor the contractors. It was equally hard-hitting about the military nuclear base at Hanford: a sub-headline from a 1988 article about that plant reads, “Plutonium production has been contaminating the Northwest for decades… Patriotic citizens who have lived near the reactors feel betrayed.”

This was a magazine which took a position – often a position of outrage against the conniving cupidity of contractors and the supercilious stupidity of the state. Over time, it changed. Perhaps keeping up a head of steam against the nuclear-military establishment indefinitely was impossible. Maybe there were changes on the board. As the years passed, particularly post-9-11, the magazine broadened its focus, including reportage on other matters – intelligence issues, biological warfare, nanotech, the origins of Picasso’s Guernica, and in particular non-nuclear terrorism and climate change. I’m sure these articles were of a high standard, but they weren’t necessarily the remit of the Atomic Scientists, or why one bought the magazine.

But what a mag it was!  The cover of May/June 2006 issue — a graphic masterpiece, depicting yellow robotic cans of nuclear waste articles against an orange sky — is worth the eight dollar price alone. And then the articles! About the far-from-finished nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mtn, NV; about Nixon’s response to the Israeli nukes; about John Kennedy’s handling of demands from all branches of the service for more nuclear weapons (in 1962, the US had 27,000 nuclear weapons stockpiled); plus letters, book reviews, high-quality graphics.

And only eight bucks.

Great magazines which you can hold in your hand are an endangered species. Where is Garbage? Covert Action? Lobster? ZAP Comix? For the Bulletin, the virtual axe fell in November 2008: “the Bulletin is taking an exciting next step in its evolution and will now be an entirely digital publication.” Oh, whoopee. It continues in online form and if you are at a university or other institution with a paid subscription to academic publications you may be able to access the full version. A more limited Bulletin is available for the general public. Often abridged versions of articles lack citations, or are simply on-going talking shops between “experts”.

As times get more dangerous, the public needs access to the best and most accurate information (as opposed, say, to a diet of unsubstantiated allegations and truthiness). It also needs to hear a strong moral voice speaking out against genocidal evil. On the news stand, the Bulletin provided that reach. And – especially in its early days – it provided that voice. No multiple “expert” opinions on off-topic matters, no academic firewall, but strong words like these from Jonathan Schell:

“… nuclear weapons and nuclear strategy, which actually
trade on genocide for political purposes, called mutually
assured destruction, threaten not just individual people,
in however large numbers, but the order of creation,
natural and human, and that is something new.”

In a piece tilted Genesis in Reverse in the Jan/Feb 2007 edition (five minutes to midnight), Schell continued,

“Let me quote something that Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice said a few years ago about the possibility that Iran would
obtain nuclear arms. ‘If they do acquire WMD their weapons
will be unusable because any attempt to use them will
bring national obliteration.’  She did not threaten them with
defeat, or even with regime change, but with ‘national
obliteration’ – a perfect synonym for genocide.

“But such threats have been the stock in trade of nuclear
policy for more than 60 years.”

The Bulletin (Jan/Feb 2004) introduced most of its readers to Prof. Lynn Eden’s groundbreaking book Whole World on Fire: Organizations, Knowledge, & Nuclear Weapons Devastation via a long extract, entitled City on Fire. Eden shows how the US military, in calculating the damage likely to be caused by nuclear weapons, was very specific in its estimates of blast damage, but made no estimates at all of damage from fires. In the event of a nuclear blast above combustible material – a city, a factory, a forest – there is going to be a fire, almost certainly massive and uncontrollable. How far it extends and how much it destroys depends to some extent on the weather and the season, but could have been modeled; instead it was ignored.

By neglecting to calculate the effects of mass fires and add them to their estimates of nuclear devastation, US war planners misled politicians and the public as to the consequences of nuclear war and were able to demand a far larger nuclear arsenal than “necessary.”

City on Fire describes the effects of one 300-kiloton nuclear blast above Washington DC. Eden is an extremely good writer and you must read her terrifying description for yourself. I can’t do it justice via any paraphrase.

Unfortunately it is no longer available to the general reader. If you search for it on the Bulletin site you will find yourself directed to “Taylor and Francis” academic rip-off-land, where 24 hours’ access to the article will cost you twenty bucks – or you can buy a month’s access to the entire issue (originally priced at eight bucks) for one hundred and two dollars. The same is true of Jonathan Schell’s article, cited above. For a mere forty dollars the general reader can gain access to both pieces for an entire day! (City on Fire was reworked for the online Bulletin as the depiction of an 800 kiloton blast over New York but this iteration is briefer and less powerfully written than the original, even though the event described is technically worse.)

The most awful aspect of her depiction is the “hurricane of fire” which arrives ten minutes after the blast. Gigantic mass fires create their own environment, Eden observes, and don’t require external winds.

Eden wrote: “Washington, D.C., has long been a favorite hypothetical target. But a single bomb detonated over a capital city is probably not a realistic planning assumption.

“When a former commander in chief of the U.S. Strategic Command read my scenario, he wanted to know why I put only one bomb on Washington. ‘We must have targeted Moscow with 400 weapons,’ he said. He explained the military logic of planning a nuclear attack on Washington: ‘You’d put one on the White House, one on the Capitol, several on the Pentagon, several on National Airport, one on the CIA, I can think of 50 to a hundred targets right off. . . . I would be comfortable saying that there would be several dozens of weapons aimed at D.C.’

“Moreover, he said that even today, with fewer weapons, what makes sense would be a decapitating strike against those who command military forces. Today, he said, Washington is in no less danger than during the Cold War.”

City on Fire was a high point of the old, print-copy Bulletin: intelligent, moral, informative, unafraid to depict the insane horror of nuclear weapons without equivocation, for the sake of “all humanity and the planet we inhabit.”


If you encounter news about nuclear weapons in one of the mainstream newspapers, or online, or see them mentioned briefly on TV, most likely the focus will be on Iran – which has no nuclear weapons – or on North Korea, which possesses fewer than ten.

We’re warned, by politicians and the mainstream media, of the great danger Iran poses (or would, if it had any nukes), and the existential threat we face from Kim Jong Il’s regime, and the need to maintain crippling economic sanctions against both countries. Think of the grave danger their nukes present! The Iranians have none. The North Koreans have eight, maybe, but no reliable delivery system. While the United States has four thousand viable nukes, almost two thousand of them on operational alert.

So we live in fear.

But fear of what? Fear of imaginary or hypothetical dangers? Or fear, perhaps, of our own political class and military-industrial complex — that they may not be able to maintain their “balance of terror” much longer, and that the nuclear war-fighting structure they have built with our money may yet end up being used.

A nuclear war sparked by accident, by a computer error, or through exasperation and in defense of “credibility” by fallible, not-too imaginative humans, is possible. An English government spokesman put it thus:

“North Korea seem to think possessing a nuclear
weapon makes them safe. In fact it’s the opposite.
Having a nuclear weapon makes them a target.”

That was the then-foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, commenting on a North Korean weapons test. But his statement applies to England too – a major nuclear target for her “enemies” because of her inventory of nukes and the presence of American military bases in the UK.

England’s nukes are aimed, one assumes, at Russia. The Russians know this (almost certainly they know more about English nuclear weapons and war-fighting plans than the English public does), and so they have presumably targeted air bases, power stations, and population centers in Britain, with thermonuclear bombs.

Rich nations which have substantial armed forces and face no danger of foreign military invasion. So they have brought danger on themselves, of an even worse kind, by developing nuclear weapons. As Strath observed, it might only take a dozen bombs to cause societal collapse, a small investment of Russia’s total nuclear capital.

Nuclear weapons invite war in three ways: by their use, by accident, and as targets for other nuclear weapons. As the British foreign minister said, possession of nukes invites preemptive strikes by one’s enemies.

Why do we have enemies? On a personal level I have very few, in fact I cannot think of one. If I encounter people of whom I don’t approve, I move on. There are so many nice people in the world! Why do nations have to have enemies? It might be argued that nations are not people, and can’t be dealt with on the same terms. I would agree: part of the problem is when societies fall for the notion of national “character” and end up acting like a bully or the neighbourhood sociopath.

President Kennedy said:

“No government or social system is so evil that its people
must be considered as lacking in virtue. In the final analysis…
we all breathe the same air… and we are all mortal.”

No nation is inherently bad. When politicians expend energy demonizing a foreign country, intelligence agents and media concubines go to work. Destabilization campaigns – like many government projects – take on a life of their own, and continue long after the politician who initiated them is dead, or in prison. Consider US Caribbean policy: the overthrow of the governments of Cuba, or Nicaragua, were long term projects with military and political support, involved alliances with drug dealers and other mafiosi, and required many media hours and written pieces demonizing the small country’s government, and by extension the country itself.

Fortunately neither Nicaragua nor Cuba was or is a hair-trigger-alert nuclear power. Let us consider Russia: a larger nation with vast resources and its own industrial base. Russia has a much smaller military than the United States, but compensates by possessing nuclear weapons equal to those of the Americans, and 25 times larger than anybody else’s.

Who threatens Russia? Only the United States. And the US’s allies in NATO – nuclear powers Britain and France, plus Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, who store American nukes, plus Poland and the new NATO countries bordering Russia, where the US “Strategic Defense Initiative” is being deployed.

Who does Russia threaten? All of the above, presumably.

Who else do the US and NATO threaten? Pretty much every other country in the world, in the light of the Bush Doctrine, by which President George W. Bush reserved the right to use any and all weapons, preemptively, against any adversary. But this was likely always the case.  And in reality the US and NATO are unlikely to attack Venezuela, or Argentina, or most other countries, with atom bombs. China is a different case, given her great size and economic power, and her territorial claims to Taiwan and elsewhere, which the US disputes. China has a slowly-growing nuclear weapons force, not on hair-trigger alert. China’s possession of nukes is presumably for “credibility” – possessing 200+ nuclear weapons of her own, she is less likely to submit to nuclear blackmail, even by a greater power.

Who threatens Israel, possessor of 80 to 100 nukes? A current nuclear threat to Israel is hard to conceive of. Will other Middle Eastern states acquire nukes to counter a perceived Israeli advantage and assert their “credibility”? Saudi Arabia has close ties to Pakistan and its nuclear-armed military. While western journalists focused on Iran, the Emirates have been developing their own nuclear power capability.

Who threatens India, and Pakistan? Both countries have similarly-sized arsenals, with which they threaten each other. In October 2015, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aitzaz Ahmad Chaudhry said Pakistan was prepared to use “tactical” nukes in a conflict with India. And in April 2016, the Indian Army conducted massive war games – designed to counter nuclear bomb attacks – in the desert bordering Pakistan.

It all sounds so terrible and doom-laden… until you step back and realize that we are only talking a handful of nations here. Some very big nations are included, but there still aren’t very many nuclear-weapons powers.

The majority of countries do not own nuclear weapons and don’t seek to acquire them. It’s possible to be a highly successful and productive nation state without them: Canada, Scandinavia, Japan, Brazil and South Korea all manage this.

“Ah, but Japan and South Korea are protected by the US nuclear umbrella!” This theory as threadbare as the nuclear triad theory or the domino one. Who threatens Japan and South Korea? Presumably China and North Korea. Has the US “umbrella” prevented China and North Korea from developing nuclear weapons, or has it encouraged them to do so?

In every case, acquiring nukes or basing your policy around their use makes you a target. It does exactly what you don’t want — it encourages your enemies to acquire nuclear bombs.

Two last ditch arguments in favor of nuclear weapons: Rogue States, and Terrorism.

Kim Ryan and I went to see the Conservative Party shadow defense minister back in New Labour days. He bought us a canteen lunch in the House of Commons and we asked him why London wouldn’t show the way by dumping Trident, taking the high road, saving a lot of money, etc. His answer: “Saddam.” That was the official thinking. What if some foreign dictator got their own nuke, and we had none? They could blackmail us!

This was not profound. It is still very difficult to create a nuclear bomb. This is one reason only national governments with advanced technology have them. Satellites and other intelligence operations give intelligence agencies a very good idea of what is going on, all over the world. It would be impossible for a “rogue state” to develop a nuclear weapons industry from scratch, in secret (unless they already have a nuclear power industry, in which case it’s much easier — as we shall see). And if some foreign tyrant were able to secretly build a nuclear bomb, he or she would still need a delivery system for it to reach its target.

But what if “Saddam” succeeded? What if his boffins built a dirty bomb, and brought it over in a shipping container, and exploded it in one of our cities, like in that Ben Afflick movie, THE SUM OF ALL FEARS? Well, it would be horrible – much worse than the Hollywood nuclear-terror-lite Ben had to stumble through. But it would be a one-off. And the retaliation against the perpetrator state (even absent nukes, the US military would still be the world’s largest, by a massive proportion) would be devastating, non-nuclear or not.

What about nuclear terrorism, then? What if terrorists built a bomb?

Again, building an atomic bomb is very difficult. A greater danger is that a nuke might be stolen, or acquired on the black market — something which can’t happen once they are decommissioned. And again, how does possession of nukes prevent one from being attacked with nukes? In the event of a terrorist attack, possession of nukes by the victim state is a propaganda victory for the terrorist, underlining the nuclear power’s impotence — how can it respond proportionately, using its nuclear might, against a non-state actor?

Nukes are city-busting weapons. They are inappropriate and useless against small networks of individuals who don’t stay in one place or respect borders.

To raise the rogue state or terror argument is to make the case for nuclear disarmament.

(Today the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists announced it was moving the hands of its “doomsday clock” half a minute closer to midnight.)



Re. Trident

The press has just reported a June 2016 attempt to fire a Trident missile off the coast of Florida, which went catastrophically wrong. The Vanguard-class nuclear submarine, HMS Vengeance, fired a nuclear-capable missile in the direction of West Africa. But a computer malfunction sent the Trident missile in the opposite direction, towards the US mainland. The test was aborted, and the missile destroyed.

Trident missiles cost 17 million pounds apiece, so HM Government doesn’t test them very often.

The Guardian defense correspondent, Ewen MacAskill, writes (Jan 22 2017), “the case made by proponents of the nuclear weapon is that any attack on the UK will result in inevitable retaliation. The whole basis of the argument is undercut if the UK cannot guarantee that it is capable of hitting the right target or even the [right] country.”