Everybody’s got a bomb

I’ve had a bad cough for the last week or so, what with all the cold weather, and it’s been keeping me awake at night. Consequently I’ve been watching more late-night TV, mostly junk like CSI reruns or televised poker, but also a couple of semi-good movies, including Cold War drama-doc Thirteen Days.

Actually “semi-good” is being generous; the heavily-fictionalised account of the Cuban missile crisis is rather melodramatic, as it portrays the heroic Kennedy brothers (aided by a brooding Kevin Costner) facing down the evil communists, while simultaneously restraining their own gung-ho generals, who are itching to launch a full-scale war. The story is inherently gripping though, and, even though obviously I knew there was going to be a happy ending, I enjoyed the building tension as it looked like the two sides had boxed themselves into an inevitable conflict. (My favourite film about the crisis, which deals with the themes much less earnestly, but rather more effectively, is Joe Dante’s Matinee.)

Watching Thirteen Days reminded me a little of the 1980s, when, after years of relative détente, it looked like Ronald Reagan was determined to start World War Three. I was never one of those kids who got all neurotic about the prospect of nuclear armageddon, but I was a bit freaked out by watching things like The War Game (made and suppressed back in the 60s, but still a favourite at leftist meetings 20 years later) and The Day After, though I wasn’t ever concerned enough to do much beyond going on a couple of CND marches. (Central American solidarity was my main political interest at that time, as I recall).

Then the Soviet Union collapsed, and we all enjoyed the 90s, free, we thought, from the shadow of complete destruction. There was still plenty of war to go around, of course, and not a little millennial angst, but it was probably the safest decade since the end of the Second World War (for those of us in the West anyhow).

Fast-forward to today, and we’re all supposed to be worried about The Bomb again, though this time round it’s not the Reds we’re told we should be scared of, but North Korea, Pakistan and Iran, or al-Qaeda, or just “terrorists” in general. I can’t say that I lose too much sleep over those last three, but North Korea and Pakistan (and to a lesser degree Israel and India) are more concerning. While these countries don’t have the capacity to nuke the whole world (or, hopefully, provoke anyone else into nuking the whole world), that just means they are less restrained by the logic of mutually assured destruction, and might use their weapons for local strategic reasons. At least with the old East/West standoff one had the idea that Washington and Moscow knew that once they started fighting it was going to end badly for everyone, but one can’t be so confident that the smaller nuclear states will never convince themselves that a first-strike strategy might be successful.

There’s not much to be done about it I guess, except to keep on working away at building the sort of progressive international movement that will eventually bring the people of the world together and abolish war altogether.

That, and partying of course.

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