It’s time for me to react personally to all this talk of nuclear war. Back in October 1962, when I was a “patient” at NIH but permitted to go GWU at night, I was the only patient who knew that the Cuban Missile Crisis was going on, for a few days at least. Not even all the staff understood it. I remember a horrific lunch conversation where I said the world might survive a nuclear war but we as (“mental”) patients would be burdens, and would not be fit to survive in it.
I’ll point to three news articles and then comment a little more.
Bryant Harris writes in Defense News, “US nuclear commander warns of deterrence ‘crisis’ against Russia and China”, link.
The Commander of U.S. Strategic Command Adm. Charles Richard testified about this before the Senate Armed Services Committee recently. Over all, the threat of MAD may be wearing off, like vaccine protection.
On CNN, Ira Helfand and Michael Christ write “Opinion: It’s time Russia and NATO stop playing games with nuclear war”, link. It refers to a Wall Street Journal story, April 27. 2022, Seth Cropsey, “The U.S. Should Show It Can Win a Nuclear War; Washington might study Cold War-era practices that had a major effect on Soviet policy making”, link. So we’re supposed to pin our own future on the idea of “winning” a nuclear war. That will destroy (sacrifice) the lives of most of us now.
I had not paid much attention to the conflicts within the world of former Soviet republics. Democracy now has an interesting take on it. Essentially, it comes down now to a proxy conflict between authoritarianism and liberal democracy, the latter driven by individual agency.
In general the two big forms of authoritarianism are fascism (including theocratic) and communism. The latter has a tendency to move toward nationalistic fascism over time (as has China, in a sense). Authoritarianism presumes the individual exists to serve the interests of eir tribal group. (Note: I am starting to use the pronouns “e”, “em”, “eir” for singular, gender not specified but for a person and not an object). Communism, on its face, presumes that everyone will get a “chance”. Fascism more blatantly presumes that some are born better than others, and that something like biological virtue must exist. Softer fascism building in some parts of eastern Europe presume a duty to serve the interests of the national or ethnicity one is born into, and to fit in at some predetermined (individual) station in life. There is no nice way around it. Normally there is a duty to provide new beings for the “nation” through the family unit. Being ‘born different” doesn’t change that. (As a side, there are indigenous societies that prescribe a separate servile but priestly role for “gender queer” people (there is no nicer term) but don’t allow such persons individual choice or agency; it’s still a kind of fascism.)
Seafaring societies tend to become more socially liberal before (largely) landlocked ones, which helps explains Russia’s extreme and reactionary social conservatism (even post communist) and addiction to authoritarianism. At a personal level, many individuals tend to feel that the “purity” of others around them becomes important in helping them tick (and succeed within the family unit), so it is not surprising that individuals start buying into it. Personal agency can be tough. Russia’s 2013 anti-gay propaganda law can be understood in this context (along with concern over population demographics).
So, we have a super authoritarian Russia under a thug Putin, fearing that the social liberalism of the Left in countries surrounding it will gradually threaten its own society and the “king’s” hold on power. (That is, “there is only the king and his court”, which might be a president Putin and his secret security services and oligarchs. When I worked for NBC, I shared an office with a young man of Ukrainian descent, and he often talked about the Moscow’s obsession with power. )
We also have a “king” with nuclear weapons, which makes the king a bully. Nuclear weapons are pretty much like a second queen (after pawn promotion) in a chess game. (I could go into the social insect world and call the “queen” the dictator, but that is too much for now; needless to say the hive is an authoritarian society without individualism.)
So we come up to Monday, May 9 (which will start in Russia at about 6 PM Sunday night, Mother’s Day, on the US East Coast). This is supposed to be King Putin’s Victory Day.
The most optimistic scenarios is that Putin could claim victory and allow a cease fire if he can take over areas in Ukraine’s East and South (that might mean complete cutoff of Ukraine from the Black Sea). That might be his last “demand”. A declaration of war against Ukraine, or even against countries in NATO (even the US, whose intelligence helped sink a ship) could be the alternative. Putin could mobilize his people with conscription, to be sure, but he could conceivably try to relocate more of the civilian population out of populated areas, to the East and Siberia, to “win” a nuclear war and claim the planet for himself (before he dies of cancer). It could make sense to use EMP strikes (instead of conventional nuclear explosions) to destroy civilian infrastructure in most western nations, which his “people” could outlast.
That is where it gets personal. My own agency is everything in my life, and it does depend on the modern infrastructure provided by others. Individually I am nothing without it, and I don’t fit in very well into anybody’s identity group. So a global nuclear conflict would be my own personal end, with no afterlife or memory of me or existence (would I want it?) but a more authoritarian civilization would eventually grow back, something I would be totally unsuited to exist in.
There is no way to sweet talk this. All over a regional conflict in a formerly communist part of the world we thought we had nothing to do with.
I would also add that in retrospect, many aspects of the coronavirus pandemic seem almost like a deliberately designed (foreign enemy – the CCP) test of liberalism and individualism. Look at the politics of “Zero Covid” in China now.
But look back over the decades. See how our lives, in relative freedom (if we were affluent enough – and BLM and critical theory comes to bear here) could be undermined by conscription – in my coming of age, the Vietnam era draft with its outs for “privileged” student deferments (it was a doctrine then, that a conscripted conventional force was a deterrent to nuclear war) and later the strict and harsh COVID lockdowns, especially overseas, which were a kind of conscription. Even the abortion debate can be viewed that way.
(Posted: Friday, May 6, 2022 at 12 noon EDT)