This Week's Show •

Two Guys Walk Into a Summit in Singapore

From “fire and fury” to a “terrific relationship” in less than a year sound like a happy turn in the Trump-Kim dance around nukes and North Korea. Better news coming is implied in the Singapore ...

From “fire and fury” to a “terrific relationship” in less than a year sound like a happy turn in the Trump-Kim dance around nukes and North Korea. Better news coming is implied in the Singapore summit: an end of the North-South Korean War after 70 years,  on what could be a nuke-free peninsula. A win for de-proliferation, an end of US war-games in South Korea, developing games for the North instead, all in a deal that great neighbor China like a lot.
Question: why do so many in our opinion class not like it at all: a dictator’s victory, goes the liberal line, a bust for the US. Is that because Trump did it? Or is there a deeper dread out there that as China rises, the American century in the Pacific is coming to an end.

If there were a simple sports score—who won, who lost?—between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim, we wouldn’t believe the scorekeepers anyway. Imagine: If it were Barack Obama going face-to-face with Kim Jong-un for a de-nuclearized Korea, would Rachel Maddow not be swooning? The Fox guys would surely be saying: Barack got “snookered.”  But then, if Donald Trump had negotiated the no-nukes-for-Iran nuclear deal, wouldn’t Sean Hannity still be crowing at the sheer mastery of it. When politics gets so personal and so poisonous, the staging so obvious, the words so mechanical and indefinite. It’s Year 72 of the Nuclear Age, in Asia where the first furious mushroom clouds announced a surreal new era. Where are we really?

Our guides this hour are historians of different sorts: the diplomat Chas Freeman lived it, as translator between Richard Nixon and Chairman Mao in the breakthrough talks in 1972.  Jeanne Guilleman—in her Pulitzer-nominated history Hidden Atrocities—has written the germ-warfare horror story from the 1930s which East Asia doesn’t forget. The novelist James Carroll is reimagining our American bomb dilemma since the forties. And Richard Rhodes won all the big prizes for his 3-volume nuclear history.

Podcast • April 10, 2014

Eric Schlosser: Nuclear Nightmares

Eric Schlosser, the investigative reporter of Fast Food Nation fame, has assembled what reads like a Letterman list of hair-raising nuclear bungles and close calls with catastrophe. Command and Control is smelling salts for historical amnesia if lived through the Cold War and repressed it. It could scare the pants off you, if you thought there was nothing to worry about.

Ahead of our show on nuclear weapons, we’re speaking with Eric Schlosser, the investigative reporter of Fast Food Nation fame, who has assembled what reads like a Letterman list of hair-raising nuclear bungles and close calls with catastrophe. Command and Control is smelling salts for historical amnesia if lived through the Cold War and repressed it. It could scare the pants off you, if you thought there was nothing to worry about.

April 10, 2014

Are We Numb to Nukes?

We’re thinking our way through a plausible nuclear emergency with Elaine Scarry who reminds you – we’ve got a weapons monarchy in this democracy. How can we call it a democracy, the rule of the people, when there’s one man’s finger on the trigger that could destroy us all?
Eric Schlosser: Nuclear Nightmares
Cold Wars, and How to Survive Them
Richard Rhodes
Nukes by the Numbers

Guest List

Elaine Scarry, the Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value at Harvard University, and author of Thermonuclear Monarchy, along with The Body in Pain and On Beauty and Being Just;
Hugh Gusterson, anthropologist, professor at George Mason University, and author of People of the Bomb and Nuclear Rites.

We’re thinking our way through a plausible nuclear emergency with Elaine Scarry who reminds you – we’ve got a weapons monarchy in this democracy. Two decades after the fall of the Berlin wall and a nuclear football still accompanies the president at all times,  nuclear missile silos still dot the great plains, and hundreds of nukes remain constantly on alert. How can we call it a democracy, the rule of the people, when there’s one man’s finger on the trigger that could destroy us all?

Other people have shown, without alluding to nuclear weapons, how odd the picture of Hobbes had gotten around the 1950s and beyond. He seemed to have been turned into a monster. And yet, if you look at the timing, that is the nuclear age, and he was made to serve that purpose. These things take many different forms, and if our structures of thermonuclear monarchy demand that we give up the Constitution, it’s not that an executive goes out and says  (except maybe Nixon), “Okay, now I’m saying let’s get rid of the Constitution.” That would be preposterous. But, people start giving all different kinds of accounts of why we don’t need to follow the Constitution. “Oh, that was something from several centuries ago,” “Oh, that was something associated with nation-states and we’re above thinking of nation states now.”

Now, sometimes, you do have executives willing to say, “Look, we can’t do things constitutionally because I have a lot of power here.” There’s the amazing moment when Dick Cheney said—and I cite this in the book—on a television program, in response to questions about torture in the Bush administration and Guantanamo, instead of saying, “You’re over-estimating executive power,” says, “You guys are not thinking clearly. What we did is nothing compared to the power the president has. Day and night, he’s being followed around with a nuclear briefcase. Don’t deceive yourself. His power is far beyond what you imagine.”

We seldom have people talking so candidly, and when they do, we think, “Oh that’s just a bizarre stylistic feature of Dick Cheney.” That’s not a bizarre feature; that’s a candid statement of fact.

Elaine Scarry in The American Reader

Take a look at Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto’s animated view of every nuclear test from 1945 to 1998 — no less terrifying because of its retro look:

 Reading List

• More of Elaine Scarry’s interview with The American Reader, and a feature on the book in Harvard Magazine;

• Hugh Gusterson’s audit on an Orientalist double standard in nuclear weapons:

The presumed contrast between the West, where leaders are disciplined by democracy, and the Third World, where they are not, does not hold up so well under examination. The governments of Britain, France, and Israel, not to mention the United States, all made their initial decisions to acquire nuclear weapons without any public debate or knowledge. Only in India was the question of whether or not to cross the nuclear threshold an election issue. Pakistan also had a period of public debate before conducting its first nuclear test… There also have been problems with U.S. command and control.

• Louis Menand’s review of Eric Schlosser’s Command and Control, “Nukes of Hazard,” The New Yorker, and an excerpt from the book;
• The Memory Palace (audio), “Babysitting,” a radio story on Donald Hornig, babysitter to the bomb.

 

 

December 6, 2005

To Iran, Like Nixon to China?

Late in our show What John Murtha Wrought, Chris asked the question “What would your ideal President do now in Iraq?” Anatol Lieven, a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation, suggested that Bush, ...
What am I doing here?

What am I doing here?

Late in our show What John Murtha Wrought, Chris asked the question “What would your ideal President do now in Iraq?” Anatol Lieven, a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation, suggested that Bush, like Nixon to China, approach Iran.

Iran, intransigently nuclear-bound and newly lippy about Israel, is not going to go away, and it does not seem, so far, to have been put off by our democracy-building project in Iraq. Some are suggesting (see our show Steven Vincent, Basra and Iran) that the war in Iraq has allowed Iran to do precisely what it always wanted to do: make real its natural inclinations toward the Iraqi Shiite majority.

But that majority is the anchor of our own policy in Iraq. So is the friend of our friend our friend? Even if that friend-of-a-friend is a member of the axis of evil? Then, on November 29, Juan Cole noted some ideological drift:

US ambassador in Baghdad Zalmay Khalilzad is going to start direct talks with the Iranians. Say what? Wasn’t Scott Ritter saying only last winter that a Bush military attack on Iran was in the offing? What has changed?

Juan Cole, Khalilzad to talk to Iranians Monday, Informed Comment

Iran is oil-rich and ancient, and its power and influence in the Middle East aren’t going to evaporate just because we dislike them. Are the realists winning? Are we about to start talking to Iran? Is this a good idea?

Gary Sick

Served on the National Security Council under Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan.Principal White House aide on Iran during the Iranian Revolution and the hostage crisis.Author, All Fall Down: America’s Fateful Encounter with Iran and October Surprise: America’s Hostages in Iran and the Election of Ronald Reagan.

Reza Aslan

Scholar of religion.Author, No god but God.Born in Tehran; now lives in California.

Ali Banuazizi

Professor of psychology and codirector of the Program in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at Boston College, where he also teaches a course on the history of modern Iran.