When cartoonist Paul Conrad dedicated the “Chain Reaction” sculpture to the city of Santa Monica in 1990, the Berlin Wall had just fallen, the Soviet Union was dissolving, but we still had thousands of nuclear weapons on hair trigger alert – despite the fact that scientists had concluded that if even a portion of our arsenal were ever to see use, it could mean the end of all life on Earth through “nuclear winter.” Ash from burning cities would rise into the atmosphere, spread and circle the globe, diminishing sunlight, causing crop failure for several years. People lucky enough to survive the blasts and radiation would likely starve.
Today, 21 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, we still have thousands of weapons on hair trigger alert, just as we did in 1991. Despite this, and despite maintaining nearly a thousand foreign military bases, 19 men with box cutters managed to kill 3,000 people, attacking our financial center and the headquarters of our military command.
In response we’ve lost 5,000 of our soldiers’ lives and countless more wounded, and spent one and a half trillion dollars (to date) invading and devastating a country that had nothing whatsoever to do with the attack and, we discovered, no way of threatening us or their neighbors. At present we may be extricating ourselves from two wars in the Middle East, only to start a third.
Rather than reconsider the wisdom and expense of such an approach to “defense” in this time of minimal threat, we have doubled down. Our latest addition is the Aegis system: Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) mounted on surface ships. Aegis is advertised as a defensive weapon, against weaponless Iran, no less. Aegis is charged to take out enemy missiles in the boost phase. Their forward positioning allows them to be used equally as an offensive weapon. Deployment of Aegis into republics bordering Russia has re-ignited the cold war with our former foe.
One would think it would be obvious to the brain trust at Rand Corporation, across the street from the “Chain Reaction” sculpture, and to our nation’s leaders, that nuclear proliferation from former Soviet states to reactionary groups in their bordering countries poses a far greater threat to our security, than an ICBM attack from Russia, China, North Korea, or any of the former Soviet client states. Such an attack, from a re-purposed decommissioned nuclear weapon, would not be delivered via ICBM.
A logical strategy to meet this threat would be to maintain positive relations, in order to assist these countries to secure obsolete weapons, rather than to threaten them further by building more. Why then does our nation continue to engage in policies custom tailored to increase our enemy list?
We are locked on the roller coaster ride that President Eisenhower in his farewell address termed “the military industrial complex;” which we’ve come to regard as business as usual. While decisions from Congress and the Oval Office have served to decimate our manufacturing base in the last thirty years, we continue to spend as much on our military as the rest of the world combined. Not content with this, U.S. weapons manufacturers lead the world in supplying the rest of the world with arms, as well.
The corporate heads who profit handsomely from this enterprise, as long as it continues, learned the lesson of the Vietnam war – that to maintain support for war, one must become the messenger. Now through media ownership and interlinking boards of directors, they are in the position to spin, delay or prevent the public’s access to the facts we need to make intelligent decisions about our future.
We should not allow ourselves to be continually seduced into ignoring the nuclear precipice on which we are poised. Our ICBMs have come close to launch several times when unknown weather balloons or flights of geese were mistaken for a possible attack. Instead of being allowed to recognize these weapons systems are obsolete, we have been saddled with new blinders, this time labeled “terrorism:” a magic word designed to prevent thoughtful consideration of the interests of the oil producing countries of the Middle East. The blinders also serve to obfuscate the implications continued burning of carbon has for our long-term planetary survival. The magic word is used to justify not just the creation of new weapons systems, at the expense of domestic programs, but denial of our civil liberties as well.
Santa Monica City Manager Rod Gould claims the city lacks the resources to see “Chain Reaction” preserved, estimated at $400,000 (or by recent analysis, perhaps substantially less). This is 12 percent of what City Hall is spending on renovating the front lawn ($3 million), a project which when complete will see the half acre site much the same as it was before with the addition of a water feature. This figure is less than two and a half percent of the price tag for the park across the street ($17 million).
That $400,000 figure is two tenths of one percent (0.235 percent to be exact) of the amount the citizens of Santa Monica are spending this year alone, to maintain our over-extended military with its thousand foreign bases; $170,000,000. It is less than one tenth of one percent (0.1 percent) of the amount the citizens of Santa Monica, alone, have spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, to date; $426,000,000 (See costofwar.com/tradeoffs). It would seem what we lack are not the funds, but the will.
We would like to suggest our security has not been enhanced by hanging onto our nuclear defense posture after the fall of the Soviet Union. Nor will it be by continuation of the same policies (deployment of the Aegis system).
We would be happy to see “Chain Reaction” taken down – the day after the last nuclear weapon has been dismantled. Until then, it serves to remind us that with the creation, use and maintenance of nuclear weapons, humanity has taken a wrong turn – one putting billions of innocent lives in jeopardy.
Southern California Federation of Scientists
John Bachar, Jr.
Robert D. Furber
Robert M. Nelson