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Tag Archives: nuclear weapons

You know, I had to do it once. I had to involve myself in at least one or two strange political diatribes with some bizarre foreigners and document the whole thing so as to chew it around and taste it.

I had to.

The whole thing started with a map of the US, and my Indian-born, African raised, English-accented roommate asked me which parts of the ‘States had the fewest “natch-rul disasters.”

To be fair, we had been discussing Tornados and Hurricanes, so I guess that’s the premise for a question that implies some great fear of our bizarre landscape.

So I pulled up Google Earth and started showing him how the really safe spots were right in the middle, north of Tornado alley and west of the New Madrid fault line. You know, Montana, the Dakota’s, Iowa, Minnesota and so forth. The boring shit.

He asked about the Rockies and the various other geographic hotspots. We zipped over to Africa, where he showed me Malawi, his home for most of his life. He’d been born in India, but the native tongue of former British colonial Malawi was English, British-flavored, which accounted for this bizarre mixture.

We spoke of geopolitical issues at the moment and the conversation landed somewhere familiar, Iran. Iran is a subject that arises almost instantly with any foreign student as an American taking various courses on government and politics. It is, for the Russian, German, Austrian, Indian, British, Serbian, Czech, Turkish, Pakistani and Spanish students, THE issue to prod any nearby American with.

When issues of the current Presidential election, or America as a foreign existence arises, they always ask some version of the same question:

“Is President Obama going to bomb Iran, and if so, what the hell, man?”
Usually it’s more broken, with heavier accents and the one atypical word that gives away their grasp of the language. And usually they say it with light in their eyes and with a little fire in their lungs, like they’re addressing a crowd of fervent supporters.

An Austrian economics student down the hall asked me the same thing, —in his own way — while we chain-smoked in the rain under our little concrete outcropping. He spoke of it like a certainty.

“And what is happening when you fight Iran? What is going to be consequence of that?”

“A complete fucking nightmare,” I said. “But don’t worry, Obama won’t do it, he isn’t completely incapable of reason.”

He laughed and turned, nudging me with his elbow and only half kidding as he says, “Ahhh, come on. You guys always fighting someone, and someone will need that oil, right? Valuable resources always will start war.”

I took a drag and laughed. He knew the oil argument was silly, he’d said so, himself twenty minutes before. He was a serious student of world economics, and he knew that most American oil came from Canada, and that Iran had to sell the stuff as much as anyone needed to buy it, and that it was going to hurt them not to sell it more than us not to buy it.

But he was serious in his tone about war, and I understood why. It hit me in a real way that Iran wasn’t exactly scary to me. St. Louis is 6,700 miles from Tehran, and the Iranians can’t hit me with an Intercontinental Ballistic Anything at that distance. Their technology hasn’t evolved to the level of global strikes.

But Vienna is barely 2,000 miles from Iran, the geopolitical equivalent of “across that pond and behind the tree.” Iran could do all kinds of damage in this part of the world by sheer proximity to its madness. Wounded animals, rabies-infested wild things, do plenty of damage just flailing about — it doesn’t have to be trying to hurt you in order to do it.

And that’s why everybody talked about it, like they’d be able to hear the gunfire down the street if we started a fight in their proverbial backyard.

I appreciated, for a moment, the wonderful comforting feeling of the two very large oceans separating me from the majority of violent organized enemy militaries. We have an incredible fortune, as Americans. With no major economic or military threat in North or South America to contend with, the United States effectively exists on an island, the most defensible natural position in the world.

Combined with our unsettling global-nuclear-strike capability, we essentially have established the safest sovereign nation in the history of mankind. A friend, just returning home from a 3-year stint stationed in South Korea, once told me about the sheer scale of our nuclear power.

“We literally have enough active nuclear subs in the water to level every major city on the planet a few times over,” she said this, laughing over a beer and a half-eaten roll. She looked up at the sky for a minute, like someone fighting the urge to laugh instead of throw themselves in front of t a bus. “It’s comforting, you know? I mean, it’s comforting as long as you don’t think about how many subs the Chinese, or the Russians or the Israeli’s must have, swimming around down there.”

“It’s amazing they don’t bump into each other,” I said gloomily.

“They will, eventually. That’s when it’ll stop being comforting.” She finished her beer and smiled. It was a hollow smile.

And yet, despite our world-wide-web of nuclear payloads, we still spend half our days acting like strung-out, coke-sniffing mosh-pit types leaving some raving underground punk concert at dawn, drunk on paranoia and sniffing around for a scuffle.

I never got worried about the nightmare scenario, because it doesn’t really exist anymore. Sure, Russia could nuke us back into oblivion, but we’d kill them with a massive, dying swipe of our nuclear paw before tumbling into the blackness. We’d wreck the whole place, nuclear winter and savage nightmares of a globe without any future.

But that scenario is gone. Russia doesn’t want to obliterate mankind because of some argument over Karl Marx that everybody would just rather forget about. Sure, they don’t like us, but we don’t like them either, and it’s all kind of about avoiding the kid at the party that we don’t enjoy.

With Kim Jong Il dead and his regime crumbling, his missiles with them, we can’t get all freaked out over the most dangerous peninsula in the world anymore.

The only real fear is some freaked-out religious radical with a big suitcase filled with awful stuff smuggled out of the old Soviet Union twenty years ago and rigged up by some East German car maker with glue and shipped to the highest bidder.

And we’re back to Iran. Iran, getting nuclear, and the people who live on their street have a bigger problem, because Iran doesn’t HAVE to get nuclear to mess with their worlds.

American Accidentalism, I like to call it: the unintended consequences of completely benign and occasionally benevolent actions. Totally separate from our tangible, obvious failures and crimes, this is the stuff we’ll never really notice unless we try.

It’s the difference between understanding why Japan might not be totally peachy-keen with us (hint: it starts with lots of burning American ships and ends with a mushroom cloud) and understanding why the 22-year-old Austrian economics student thinks America should reign in its “spread of military bases near the Black Sea.”

He doesn’t find America suspicious or potentially dangerous because he thinks we might wander into his country, plant a flag and pick a fight. He worries about us because he thinks we’ll blunder into the house across the street, accidentally set it on fire and then flee the scene of the crime in sheer terror, hoping his house doesn’t burn down too.