In this issue, on the twentieth anniversary of the June 12, 1982, march of a million people in Manhattan’s Central Park protesting nuclear arms, we publish an appeal calling on the public to demand that the United States commit itself, together with the other nuclear powers, to the abolition of nuclear weapons–and to take prompt, concrete steps toward that goal. The appeal will be introduced in Congress by Representative Ed Markey as a resolution on June 11.
As it happens, the cloud of nuclear danger is blacker at this moment than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis. Nuclear danger has spread, as it was destined to as long as the United States and the other cold-war-era nuclear powers insisted on holding on to their arsenals. Now the grim drama is being played out in a new locality, South Asia. The hatred is not ideological but religious and ethnic. The millions of potential victims are not the rich and powerful but the poorest of the poor. The antagonists, partitioned in 1947, are twins from a single zygote. Nuclear suicide would also be fratricide.
The United States, which actually did to Hiroshima and Nagasaki what the South Asians so far only threaten to do to each other, and which for more than a half-century has been the trailblazer in the development and rationalization of nuclear weapons, cannot condescend to the newcomers to the game. At the end of May the United States announced that it will be building a plant for the construction of brand-new nuclear weapons, to be ready for use in 2020. And George W. Bush has announced that deterrence no longer works–“pre-emptive” attacks will be the order of the day for our military. Such are the actions of the US officials now on their way to South Asia bearing scenarios showing the awfulness of nuclear war and counsels of “restraint.”
But all that doesn’t prevent us from noticing that India and Pakistan are writing new chapters in the book of nuclear folly. When India tested five nuclear weapons in 1998 and declared itself a full-fledged nuclear power, it proved, in the words of its Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh, that there was to be no “nuclear apartheid” in the world. Now it seems bent on proving that there is no apartheid for nuclear madness either. One of South Asia’s distinctive contributions to the field is a flippancy in discussing nuclear danger, adding a new dimension to Hannah Arendt’s phrase “the banality of evil.” Early in the crisis, General Padmanabhan, India’s army chief, commented, “If we have to go to war, jolly good! If we don’t, we will still manage.” Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, retired chief of Pakistan’s armed forces, commented, “I don’t know what you’re worried about. You can die crossing the street, hit by a car, or you could die in a nuclear war. You’ve got to die someday, anyway.” Die, yes, but must we all be killed?