Nuclear Danger: Trillions For Mass Murder
Raghav Kaushik Interviews Dave Hall
10 December, 2015
Dave Hall, a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist trained at the University of Washington, served on the national Board of the organization Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) from 1991-1998 and 2003-2006, and was national president in 1997. He currently serves on the Board of the Washington chapter of PSR. His area of focus and expertise is nuclear weapons abolition.
Dave has recently authored a book titled “Nuclear Danger - Trillions for mass murder” available on iTunes. The fact is that in 2015, the investment in nuclear weapons is increasing, bringing the famous doomsday clock maintained by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists to 3 minutes to midnight (midnight is the end of civilization.) The book draws urgent attention to an issue we ignore at our own peril. In this interview, Dave answers questions not only about the book, but also about the anti-nuclear movement and his personal motivation to keep going for more than 3 decades.
Q1: It’s going to be 25 years since the end of the cold war, yet here you are writing about the issue of nuclear weapons. Describe the motivation for this book.
DH: I have spent my family and professional life nurturing love and respect, and have become expert in searching out the emotional logic behind people’s self-defeating behaviors. I am also a third generation physician whose grandfather organized the first ambulance corps from the West Coast of the US to World War I, and whose father spent 30 continuous months as a Navy surgeon during World War II most of the time as commander of a small landing hospital that followed US troops across the Pacific toward Japan. As a conscientious objector to war during Vietnam, I did my alternative service and have continued this work as an extension of that service to my country. Since learning about nuclear weapons when my children were in preschool and remembering the “wisdom” about children surviving a nuclear war by climbing under their desks, I have lived with the awareness that all I do professionally and as a parent could be gone in a flash. Add to this, Washington State is homeport to the most lethal concentration of deployed weapons of mass destruction on the planet just 20 air miles from Seattle on Hood Canal (Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor), AND we have the largest toxic waste site in the Western Hemisphere, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation on the Columbia River, where US plutonium was produced. As local citizens we have a special responsibility to speak out on behalf of life on Earth.
Q2: The book discusses the history of nuclear disarmament. While there is a drop in the number of nuclear weapons over time, what can we say about their destructive ability?
DH: Modernization of nuclear weapons and the systems to launch them have made them much more accurate, reliable, and usable while reducing the reaction time allowed to a potential adversary to assess whether their technologies are reporting a real invasion. Add to this improvements in missile shield technologies and we have created real concern for an adversary that we could attack them with multiple weapons and destroy their retaliatory missiles, thus sending the message that we can launch a “successful” nuclear invasion. Planners in the 1950s and 1960s, when decisions were made to build thousands of these weapons, knew little about environmental consequences beyond what they saw in Japan in 1945. Given the mind-boggling destructiveness of even a single modern hydrogen bomb and the fact that we still have thousands of these weapons ready to launch within minutes means we are still at risk for nuclear winter and nuclear famine from even a hundred of these weapons used against cities.
Q3: The book also criticizes the logic of deterrence. Describe the problems with the logic of deterrence, and why total abolition is really the only sane option.
DH: What drives the nuclear arms race as I have come to understand it is a dense mix of legitimate fear, national/ethnic pride, power grabs, propaganda, and financial gain. Count Machiavelli was a humanist in the sixteenth century who worked for and studied princes and their exercise of power, and concluded that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Nuclear weapons are a form of absolute power, and they have corrupted the moral core of world decision-makers to the point that threatening civilization as we know it has become “legitimate” as a form of so-called “self-defense.” This is the angry middle-schooler saying in a school-yard fight “I’m going to kill you” magnified to global proportions. It is insanity in the best sense of the word spoken by so-called rational leaders. When the US President says “all options are on the table” he (so far only he) means nuclear weapons are among his choices of action. We expel children from school for threatening to kill other children. Only because we are numbed to the reality of modern nuclear warfare do we allow our leaders to threaten to use these potentially omnicidal weapons, which violate every humanitarian law ever written. Deterrence relies on a rational evaluation of threat and danger. It relies on nuclear weapon decision-makers, in our case the US President and his advisors, to understand the futility of attacking another nuclear-armed nation with nuclear weapons because the environmental devastation will expand to destroy all of us. That is Mutual Assured Destruction, the central tenet of deterrence. If you try to destroy me, I will retaliate with enough destructive force to destroy you in return. So we both know we had better not start this game of chicken. What’s not accounted for in this scenario is the suicide bomber or suicidal leader who is willing to risk his entire country for some misunderstood possibility of gain, the possibility of cyber attacks on nuclear launch systems, accidental detonations, and false alarms taken as real attacks requiring retaliation. In dealing with the US/NATO alliance President Putin seems to be using his nuclear arsenals like powerful pieces on a chess board to redress the conventional power imbalances Russia faces with the US/NATO forces lined up on its borders with Europe. Nuclear weapons would seem to allow less militarily powerful nations to hold at bay more powerful nations. Ultimately we will need negotiated non-military solutions to national confrontations if we are ever to live at true peace with each other. Nuclear weapons are the tip of the military spear. For true Peace we must put down the spear.
Q4: Place nuclear weapon modernization in the context of general military modernization, e.g. the Prompt Global Strike systems. Should we view the anti-nuclear movement as part of a larger movement to reduce military spending?
DH: Since World War II US Congressional leaders have tended to give the Pentagon a blank check for military preparedness. This is understandable following the global catastrophes of the 20th Century war years. Since then military contracts and installations have created a separate economy with huge infusions of money into each of the 435 Congressional districts. So long as military contracts are as lucrative as they are, and our political decision-makers are willing to spend us into debt without limit, military spending will continue unchallenged and supported by all those whose incomes depend on military jobs. Military jobs building weapons of mass destruction systems should remind us of the Topf factories building crematoria for the Nazis. The counter argument that these weapons will never be used begs the question how many are necessary for true deterrence. The answer has been, there are never enough. Well over half the discretionary budget for the United States is spent on current and past military plus a significant portion of US national debt. This unlimited military spending comes at the expense of basic societal needs. It is maintained with relative ease by raising the specter of a heartless unprovoked attacking enemy. This is the ever-ready tactic military proponents use to quiet or even ridicule dissent. The risk we fuel with this militarizing of the economy and societal values is the impoverishment of our own citizens and those of other countries, which fuels unrest and the desperation that fosters violent responses to social injustice. The clearest example of this was the punitive nature of the Versailles Treaty in its leaving Germany severely impoverished at the end of World War I and thus ready for Hitler to lead them into World War II. In many ways the Cold War has impoverished Russia’s citizenry. Fortunately we have many better means of communicating with the Russians than we had for communicating with the Nazis in World War II. But have we learned the lessons of Versailles well-enough to keep the welfare of Russia’s population in our calculations? President Putin is clearly using his nuclear weapons to counter the conventional weapons imbalance that the Russians feel when faced by US/NATO forces. So yes, general disarmament is an important goal, and it is explicitly enshrined in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Anti-nuclear movement accomplishments
Q5: One of the biggest stumbling blocks in the anti-nuclear movement is how overwhelming the issue appears and how little it seems we can do about it. What would you describe as the biggest accomplishments of the anti-nuclear movement?
DH: The military-industrial-Congressional juggernaut has maintained and expanded its power over military spending and nuclear armaments. Serious public outcries have periodically influenced events. President Nixon may well have backed away from his explicit plan to use nuclear weapons to isolate North Vietnam from China in part because of the public protests against the war (the public was unaware of his plans to use nuclear weapons.) The Freeze movement impacted the Reagan administration’s plans for modernizing and expanding US nuclear weapons. See https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2010_12/LookingBack
My grown son asks me if I am happy in my life spending as much energy as I do on researching and teaching about nuclear weapons. He hits on a critical psychological challenge we face in a world that has life-ending capacity sitting in the arsenals of so many nations and just 20 miles from us in Seattle. How do we face these issues in a non-military manner that raises the hopes of desperately poor and therefore easily agitated peoples enough that they don’t listen to the siren calls for revolution, jihad, or suicidal revenge?
Q6: Talk about the approach of developing nuclear weapons-free zones in the history of disarmament. What was the role of the anti-nuclear movement in it?
DH: The Nuclear Freeze movement in the late 1970’s and 1980’s created NWFZs in cities across the US. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear-free_zone#United_States
Q7: Can you describe the role of the anti-nuclear movement in the recent Iran deal?
DH: I know that the Ploughshares Fund made the Iran deal its first priority. PSR, IPPNW, ICAN, Global Zero all pitched in.
Q8: Despite the above successes, we still have nukes with us, to put it mildly, as your book clearly demonstrates. What were the biggest problems with the anti-nuclear movement in the past?
DH: It’s always been hard to keep happy citizens engaged politically. Peace movements grow with the frustrations and losses caused by wars. The Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world together to adopt the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Lyndon Johnson in 1964 aired a Presidential campaign ad in which a little girl picking daisies is overwhelmed by a mushroom cloud, implying that Senator Barry Goldwater was not a safe guardian of US nuclear weapons. The Vietnam War pre-empted the energies of peace activists in the later 1960’s and 1970’s. The Pentagon ended the Vietnam-era military draft after recognizing it made it personal for so many Americans that it fueled resistance to the war. Nuclear weapon stockpiles soared toward 65,000 warheads through the 1970’s into the mid-1980’s amidst rhetoric to use them. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, the acute threat shrank and so did the movement to eliminate nuclear weapons.
Q9: How do you think we should build a movement going ahead?
DH: 1) Stick with the truth and document our facts. 2) Understand that vested interests in the current scheme have growing wealth and political power. We need to seek out the good people with resources, skills, and energy to join us. 3) Believe with Martin Luther King, Jr. that the long arc of history bends toward justice.
Q10: You are a veteran in the anti-nuke movement. The goal of the movement is pretty clear – get rid of all nuclear weapons. Yet, we not only have them, but are increasing our investment into them. That has to be frustrating, isn't it? How do you deal with the frustration?
DH: Keep on truckin’! This has never been an obvious or easy road. The brutality of wars bloodied most of the twentieth century. Ending legal slavery took us nearly 300 years. Ending war is our next step in evolving as a civilization. We are not just about eliminating nuclear weapons, we are about finding common ground that allows us to live respectfully with each other across the divides of culture, ethnicity, religion, and nationality.
Q11: What keeps you going after so many years?
DH: My activism is rooted in my faith that good people will step up within the peace movement, within government, and within political and military leadership. Witness Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and US SAC Commander Lee Butler. Witness the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union. The struggle in the United States is in some ways a continuation of the Civil War with the defeated South rising in conservative, militarized representation in Congress. Corporate profits in the military economy play a dominant role. We need as a human race to substitute generosity for greed and power. It helps that nearly all of my closest friendships have been nurtured through this work.
Raghav Kaushik is a software engineer working in Microsoft in Redmond WA, and is a member of the Communication Workers of America (CWA) Local 37083 union. He has a PhD from University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Bachelors degree from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Madras.