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There is an elephant in the room, something large and looming. Something we all know is there but don't want to talk about. It's called nuclear Armageddon or sometimes just "The Bomb," and unless you are over 65, you have lived in its shadow all your life.
OK, we all live with a degree of risk. We could be killed on the highway tomorrow, but we live with it. We read the statistics but tell ourselves: Somebody else, not me.
However, if there's ever a nuclear exchange, it won't be someone else. It will impact you, me, our children and every person on the planet. The bombs we have today are thousands of time bigger and more destructive than the two that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nuclear bombs don't just blow things up; they poison the land and water for decades to come.
Scientists have known this from the beginning. That's why some of the brightest minds in the world gather each year to discuss what Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell called, "the tragic situation which confronts humanity." Their first meeting was in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, more than 50 years ago.
The organization itself takes its name from the location of that meeting, and you can read about it on the Web. I particularly recommend reading the Russell-Einstein Manifesto found at www.pugwash.org/about/manifesto. It ends with a plea to Congress to acknowledge publicly that nuclear weapons threaten the continued existence of mankind, and appeal to them to find peaceful means of settling international disputes.
People deny what they cannot face. If something appears too big and too threatening, and in addition people feel there is nothing they can do about it, they turn away. To this extent, denial is a reasonable defense, but to deny the nuclear threat is to assure the tragic end Russell and Einstein envisioned. And there is something you can do about it.
It's called Proposition One, or the Nuclear Disarmament and Economic Conversion Act of 2009. (H.R. 1653) This legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representative each session since 1994. Again, it's on the Web at www.prop1.org/prop1.
H.R. 1653 would require the U.S. to disable and dismantle all its nuclear weapons, and use the money to address human and infrastructure needs such as housing, health care, and education ... and to "undertake vigorous good faith efforts to eliminate war and armed conflict."
In light of the recent news from North Korea, H.R. 1653 sounds like the height of naivete. Wouldn't the U.S. be insane to begin nuclear disarmament now?
No! What is insane is to believe these weapons will not eventually be used. Every other weapon mankind has invented has been. Nuclear bombs are no different. And it's naive to believe that a nuclear exchange couldn't wipe out thousands of years of civilization everywhere it touched. But how do we reverse history and reduce the world's nuclear arsenals to zero?
To begin with, a nuclear bomb is not a useful addition to any nation's arsenal. The military knows this. It's a dangerous, expensive weapon they can't use. The only reason any nation wants "The Bomb" is because other nations have it. It inspires fear and respect, but it cannot deliver real security.
However, as long as the U.S. with all its prestige and power has a nuclear arsenal, other nations will seek and eventually achieve the same.
The U.S. has already taken some tentative steps to reduce its nuclear stockpile, and so far Congress has refused to fund new nuclear weapons. The Nuclear Threat Initiative sponsored by Ted Turner and former Sen. Sam Nunn has worked tirelessly to secure nuclear weapons and nuclear material, but it isn't enough. As the first nation to develop nuclear weapons and the only nation to ever use them, the U.S. must become the first nation to move toward nuclear disarmament.
It is not naive. In fact, it is the only way out of this "tragic situation." It will not be easy. It will require courage. And it will take time because the act can't go into effect until the president certifies to Congress that all foreign countries possessing nuclear weapons have established legal requirements comparable to those set forth in H.R. 1653. But it is a beginning.
Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com.