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Proliferation By Any Other Name…

Nuclear weapon testTwo brow-raising stories came across the web Friday, both dealing with nukes. You know, those neat little weapons that could destroy the earth and all of us who live on it.

The first story dealt with plans to “revamp the entire (nuclear) arsenal” with something called the Reliable Replacement Warhead (Scott Lindlaw, AP, 6/30/06). The Reliable Replacement Warhead is a purported to be a new, better warhead intended to replace existing deteriorating warheads. This new and improved weapon is deemed reliable, safe and secure and all those good words, but of course, has not been tested since we theoretically don’t test nukes anymore.

Two companies, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore laboratories, in New Mexico and San Francisco, CA respectively, are competing to build the best replacement bomb; the contest ends in November when the White House is expected to make a decision.


So this new untested bomb (and we really don’t want to start testing nukes again) will make its debut soon, and will, over time, be installed wherever we have missiles pointed at other countries who don’t think like us. A Lawrence Livermore spokesman said:

We’re not going to come up with anything cutting edge and stick it in the stockpile without testing. -Scott Lindlaw, AP, 6/30/06.

I am getting confused. Didn’t they just say it hasn’t been tested?

According to Lindlaw, NSA chief Linton Brooks said the redesign renders safe the country’s aging nukes in a way “we didn’t know how to do when we designed the stockpile.” Makes us all feel a bit more secure, doesn’t it?

Lindlaw’s reported that Bush, with his eye on Korea and Iran, said the nuclear replacement is critical to preserving America’s position as a nuclear power. Of course, we retain that position equally well by banning other countries from having similar weapons. Wasn’t this supposed to be about trying to make older weapons safer, or less prone to disaster by deterioration?

It’s interesting that, instead of dismantling old nukes, we are for all intents and purposes making them better and stronger even as we try to bar rogue nations from having or using any. Not that any country “needs” nuclear weapons …

As Lindlaw’s story broke on Friday, June 6, a sister-story from the United Nations had U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan warning of a global “sleepwalk” down a path of nuclear proliferation and cited a need for multi-cultural efforts in confidence building among nations and compliance with the international Non-Proliferation Treaty. Interesting timing. Is anyone listening?

That said, I would refer my readers to an incredible film on the issues of life after nuclear war: Testament (starring Jane Alexander and William Devane).

This 1980 film is not the usual special effects barrage of explosions, wreckage, mutilated people and craters where cities used to be. It is a very quiet film, beginning with a relaxed view of one family going about their day-to-day life in a California town, until, one morning, a blinding flash of light envelopes their community. The people move outside to see what happened, to ask questions, share fears, dooming themselves further to the effects of radioactive fallout.

This simple story follows one family and the people in their community as, one by one, they die. It’s poignant in that we do not see death, only its aftermath. We watch the end of life through empty food shelves, tainted gardens, undrinkable water. We watch as a ham radio operator slowly loses contact with others city by city, as a mother sews bedsheets into a shroud around her daughters body, as a woman scrambles to find a teddy bear to be buried with her child — images that haunt the viewer in a way that flash and noise cannot.

Testament is tough viewing because of its simplicity; it is too real, too possible.

When I read of the escalation of nuclear weaponry worldwide, I see in mind’s eye the images of this unheralded older film and wonder if global leaders have any clue what they are doing, or what it will cost. I can see that white shroud being sewn around all of us.

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