Friday, August 27, 2004

A Midtown Hiroshima?

Nicholas Kristoff of the Times dropped in on a conference of experts and came away worried about a new Hiroshima. Former Defense Secretary William Perry figured it was even money that it would happen in this country during the next six years. Another bigtime player posted a standing bet at the same odds that it would happen somewhere in the world in the next ten years. Kristoff put himself down for five bucks that it would not. He explained that if a bomb with the force of Hiroshima went off in midtown Manhattan, it would vaporize half a million people -- including him -- so he couldn’t lose.

Well, it’s anyone’s guess, but the odds seem to be getting worse. The Bush Administration used that as a reason to go to war. That is ironic because we have more nukes than the rest of the world put together and are building more and planning to station them in outer space. Ours is the only state that claims the right to use the bomb, the only one that has done it and the only one that has threatened, convincingly, to do it again.

The great physicists who invented the bomb came to regret it. They sponsored the project only because they were afraid Hitler would get his hands on it. They begged Truman not to let the genie out of the bottle. He said he never lost any sleep over it. Many people did, but in this country, those who opposed the arms race were called traitors. One by one, other countries got into the atomic club. So the odds on a rogue hit keep getting worse.

It would not be hard to make them better.

We could, for one, stop making bombs and begin cutting our stock down toward zero. With the money we save, we could buy out Russia, the Ukraine and North Korea -- all of which have shown signs that they’re willing. We could revive our support for the world ban on nuclear weapons. Countries that rejected UN inspections would face sanctions. There -- that might not solve every problem but it would certainly improve the odds. First, though, we’d have to disarm the Bushies.