Monday, April 18, 2005


Does God walk the earth in the shoes of American providence? The Culture War has always held a special place in my heart as an example of the warring sides of the American spirit: those who would seek to impose a misguided morality on the rest of the country versus those who believe that we should continue to make social progress. The battle lines were drawn some time ago, in the early 1980s, when a small but vocal element of fundamentalist Christians declared a certain segment of society (to wit: my segment of society) as public enemy number one. Since then, these forces, often posing as something less than they actually are, have been working to take power in the public sphere and transform this country into a theocracy. They have the ear of the President, and a lot of other significant policymakers in and around Washington.

I have every reason to suspect that the next two years will be the final stage for the biggest battles of the culture wars: the gay marriage amendment (where the Dominionists have already won huge battles), abortion rights, and an actual proposed amendment that politicians cannot be impugned as long as they claim they are acting under God’s will. This is not the time to be weak or pander to these forces. Now let’s be clear: I am not opposed to those of faith, I am opposed to those who think that they have the direct line to God and can dictate their own views to the rest of us.

So what is Dominionism, anyway?

It began around 1982, when Christian broadcasters such as Pat Robertson began rallying their followers to become politically active. From The Frontlines of the Culture War: “Whereas, until the eighties, fundamentalist Christians mainly worried about communism, in 1986, Francis Schaeffer, a noteworthy evangelical theologian, called secular humanism the greatest threat to Christianity ever. In the week of July 7 that year, on The 700 Club, Schaeffer stated:
“Today we live in a humanist society. They control the schools. They control public television. They control the media in general. . . .

“He went on to state:

“If you don’t revolt against tyranny and this is what I call the bottom line, is that not only do you have the privilege but the duty to revolt. When people force upon you and society that which is absolutely contrary to the Word of God, and which is really tyranny . . . we have a right to stand against it as a matter of principle.
On April 29, 1985, Billy Graham, again on The 700 Club, called upon evangelicals to get themselves politically involved and active. Since about 1982, the ranks of this movement have swelled to about thirty-five million. The movement is centered around hatred of and political opposition to what it considers to be the secular-humanist agenda (maintaining a strict separation of church and state, liberal views on marriage, keeping creationism out of the schools, internationalist cooperation, a rejection of the notion of the fallen state of man, etc.). This is combined with the “dominionist” agenda (reversing Roe v. Wade, eliminating public schooling and the New Deal, turning the American government into “God’s Dominion” led by evangelicals, etc.) Explaining this agenda in his book, The Secret Kingdom, Pat Robertson explains:

It is clear that God is saying, “I gave man dominion over the earth, but he lost it. Now I desire mature sons and daughters who will in My name exercise dominion over the earth and will subdue Satan, The unruly, and the rebellious. Take back My world from those who would loot it and abuse it. Rule as I would rule.” [p. 201]

The truth is that this worldview, that America should be God striding on Earth, appeals to a certain segment of society, those who need their political messages as intellectually simple as the lives they lead. These are the people who don’t have much hope for improvement in their social status, and who feel disenchanted and disfranchised with the current system and are seeking to destroy it. Unfortunately, with any system comes such people. I would even argue that President Bush himself is just such a man; reviled by classmates, always written off, the black sheep of his family. Dominionism offers them something unique: it tells them that they alone are chosen by God, that they are special and deserve a special place in life. It thus becomes a feedback loop: because you are special, you deserve this power. Now that you have this power, you can make yourself even more exceptional, which you, of course, deserve because you’re special.

The question is how much power such a group can gain, and how much they are able to tear away from the existing edifice. As we have seen for the last five years, they can tear away quite a lot, and it this that has driven me into such a deep depression: what can be done when the people who seek to claim power cannot be argued with logically? It often feels like there is nothing to be done.

For a last bit of food for thought, consider that this group controls the most powerful nuclear arsenal in the world. Then think about what that means for the rest of us, who don’t think the end is nigh.

Nuclear Options
Do we need new nukes?
By Fred Kaplan
Posted Friday, April 15, 2005, at 2:19 PM PT

The nuclear gurus are staging a comeback. Their wedge of opportunity is a technical debate that's emerged inside the weapons labs, a debate so arcane that probably only a few hundred scientists can engage its issues fully. Yet the outcome of this debate could zap new jolts of life into a vast nuclear complex—of strategic thinking, nuclear testing, warhead production, and missile deployment—that's lain moribund for more than a decade.

The spark of all this is a nuclear warhead called the W-76, the hydrogen bomb packed inside roughly 3,300 of the United States' 5,000 or so strategic nuclear weapons. Eight of them are packed inside every Trident I and Trident II missile, which are loaded into the U.S. Navy's fleet of submarines that roams the oceans, under the surface, undetectable and therefore invulnerable to pre-emptive attack. In short, the W-76 is the mainstay of America's nuclear deterrent.

When the W-76s came into the arsenal between 1972 and 1987, they were expected to have a 20-year lifespan. Most of the warheads have long passed that expiration date, and the remaining few are approaching it. So, this is the question: Is the W-76 literally obsolete? Does it work anymore? If the president pushed the button, would these bombs explode? If it seems very likely that they wouldn't, should we build a new warhead? And if we go that far, should we test it to make sure it works—that is, explode it underground and, in the process, break the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which the United States signed in 1995 and started observing under the first President Bush in '92? (Every country in the world except India, Pakistan, and North Korea has signed it, though the United States and China haven't ratified it.) And as long as we're building and testing a new warhead, should we simply go with a remodeled W-76—or design something new for the post-Cold War era?

In other words, uncertainties about the W-76's reliability open a back door for a slew of nuclear weapons programs—mini nukes, bunker-busters, electromagnetic-pulse enhancers, and so forth—that critics in Congress and elsewhere have managed to block when the assault has been frontal.

Two questions need to be considered in this exercise: First, is there anything to this claim that the W-76s are duds? Second, does it matter?

The first question is complicated, but one thing is clear: The initial forecast that the W-76 would have only a 20-year lifespan is almost certainly wrong. Since the early '90s, the Department of Energy's weapons labs have put the W-76 through several elaborate modifications—new or more refined neutron generators, re-entry bodies, safety locks, arming and fusing systems, and so forth. A new round of refurbishment, called the W-76 Life Extension Program, scheduled to get under way in two years, will supposedly give the warhead an additional 30 years. (For a detailed description of all these enhancements, click here.)

Yet some veteran weapons scientists claim the W-76 had a crucial design flaw all along. The warhead was jam-packed with electronic gear, yet it had to be sufficiently small and light for eight of them to fit into a single Trident missile. As a result, the casing is very thin—so thin that, these scientists say, the slightest shockwave (say, the shock of being launched out of a submarine missile tube or separating from the missile-rocket's first stage in outer space) could disable the explosive mechanism inside; in short, the warhead would not explode with nearly enough power to destroy targets of much size or resilience. (For a slightly more elaborate explanation, click here.)

As a result, these scientists say, a life-extension program is a waste of time and money. Instead, they propose phasing out the W-76 and accelerating the Reliable Replacement Warhead, a little-known but already fast-growing R&D program, which is consuming $1.3 billion in this year's military budget alone.

Which side is right on this question? The answer is probably beyond the ken of any outsider. This month, Donald Rumsfeld instructed the Defense Science Board to appoint a Task Force on Nuclear Capabilities to evaluate the controversy. But the two men named to chair the panel—John Foster and retired Gen. Larry Welch—all but predetermine its conclusions. Foster was for years the director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which built the hydrogen bomb and most of the U.S. warheads built in the half-century since. A very intelligent and articulate scientist who has served on countless government advisory boards over the decades, Foster has long been an ardent advocate of new and more refined nuclear weapons. Welch capped his long career as the U.S. Air Force chief of staff, and in recent years has headed panels that call for accelerating missile defense and, more pertinently, expanding the lifespan of the nuclear arsenal.

In short, it's a pretty sure bet that this panel will conclude we need new warheads.

Which leads to the second question: Does any of this matter? Would America's power and influence erode—would our leaders be less able to deter aggression or fight wars—if it suddenly appeared that two-thirds of our nuclear weapons might as well be cardboard cutouts?

A case can be made that it doesn't much matter; that beyond a certain number, nuclear weapons exert no influence on the international balance of power; and that, if nuclear war does break out, all the fine-tuned strategies for waging such a thing—and which have justified a large nuclear arsenal—will almost certainly go up in smoke.

My own view is that we could get by with far fewer nukes. But a case could be made for a different view. In any event, the question is too important to be left to the random grind of attrition. It's intellectually evasive to disarm by default—i.e., by passively letting the warheads wear out. More to the point, it's not a politically sustainable position; there are nuclear advocates in positions of power who will not allow it.

A new nuclear debate is getting ready to rage. In many ways, it's a resumption of a debate that took center stage in national security politics for a 30-year run, from the outset of the U.S.-Soviet arms race in the early 1960s through the end of the Cold War in the early '90s. The setting is brand new, but the questions are the same: What roles do nuclear weapons play in war and peace? How many do we need? What kinds of targets should they be aimed at in order to fulfill those roles? One side of this debate—the side for "many roles," "more weapons," and "lots of targets"—has already begun to make its case. The other side will get steamrollered unless it gets started, too.

Posted by crimnos @ 9:05 AM