Thermonuclear Tweets (A Modern Day Version of Rome Burns while Nero Fiddles)

In the latest round of tweets out of the President, we have him mocking diplomatic efforts in North Korea and engaging in a juvenile name-calling tirade against a highly respected Senator.

neroHere are the tweets from @realdonaldtrump if you missed the latest.

Our country has been unsuccessfully dealing with North Korea for 25 years, giving billions of dollars & getting nothing. Policy didn’t work!

Bob Corker gave us the Iran Deal, & that’s about it. We need HealthCare, we need Tax Cuts/Reform, we need people that can get the job done!

I suppose if you consider avoiding war while slowing the development of nuclear weapons a failure, he has a point. But tweets as a platform for policy pronouncements is about as useful as a poem on an underground wall or graffiti on a railroad car. The choice of broadcasting the messages says more than the content.

Finding a way to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons to Iran and North Korea has failed. It’s where the leadership of President Trump takes us now that is the wild card. There is a vast chasm between nuclear proliferation and nuclear war. Wise counsel offers a chance to avoid the later, it’s the absence of wise counsel that concerns me.

Herein lies the real issue. The President’s public tantrums about any criticism of his policies, no matter how accurate the criticism, offers little hope for a considered and rational policy. The nature of war, in a world of nuclear weapons, has changed. And It is not just the nature of warfare that’s changed, it is the essence of what would constitute victory that’s different. If the death toll in five minutes of a nuclear exchange could exceed that of World War II and be considered a victory, it is Pyrrhic at best.

In the book, On War, Carl von Clausewitz wrote, “war is the extension of politics by other means.” The book is considered must reading for those who would engage in warfare, particularly as a commander. But, written in 1832, it concerned a world of weapons much different than today.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) was a US-born philosopher. She became famous for her work, The Origins of Totalitarianism, as one of the first to propose that Nazism and Stalinism have common roots. Her work, On Violence, published in 1970 offers a remarkable insight into today’s volatile nuclear-armed world.

She wrote in a world where the nuclear “club” had fewer members, but her words are prophetic.

The technical development of the implements of violence has now reached the point where no political goal could conceivably correspond to their destructive potential or justify their actual use in armed conflict. Hence, warfare—from time immemorial the final merciless arbiter in international disputes—has lost much of its effectiveness and nearly all its glamour. The “apocalyptic” chess game between the superpowers, that is, between those that move on the highest plane of our civilization, is being played according to the rule “if either ‘wins’ it is the end of both”; it is a game that bears no resemblance to whatever war games preceded it. Its “rational” goal is deterrence, not victory, and the arms race, no longer a preparation for war, can now be justified only on the grounds that more and more deterrence is the best guarantee of peace.

She spoke of the world of warfare described by Clausewitz, and it’s changing nature.

“Even more conclusive than this simple reversal proposed by the anonymous author of the Report from Iron Mountain—instead of war being “an extension of diplomacy (or of politics, or of the pursuit of economic objectives),” peace is the continuation of war by other means—is the actual development in the techniques of warfare. In the words of the Russian physicist Sakharov, “A thermonuclear war cannot be considered a continuation of politics by other means (according to the formula of Clausewitz). It would be a means of universal suicide.”

History is replete with examples of nations advancing their political policy through war. In the United States, for most of our history, we have gone to war to defend ourselves and our principles. There were exceptions, Vietnam being the most obvious although a strong argument can be made against our Iraq incursion.

This is meaningless in a nuclear engagement. The war game scenarios contemplating the results of a nuclear exchange with North Korea are bleak at best, and cataclysmic at worst.

Millions of people will die. The long-term environmental, geopolitical, and economic effects are unpredictable. The conscience of the nations that launch missiles will be tested.

When we need the best and the brightest guiding the nation and making deeply considered and crafted decisions, we have a tweeting fiddler fueling the fire.

For my entire life, my generation and those who followed have lived in a nuclear-armed world. As a child, the most significant threat I feared from atomic weapons was Godzilla. If the godless commies in Russia or China attacked, I had only to duck and cover and wait for the recess bell.

Now I know better. Now I know that, while not perfect, brilliant minds have so far steered the world away from nuclear conflagration. We can only hope the “child care workers” known as the President’s advisers can keep order in the White House adult day care center.

Or will we tweet our way to living with killing millions of people because we lack leaders with imagination and conscience?

Leave a Reply