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.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Let the Games Begin

Some of the kindest folk in America arrived in town tonight after walking all the way from Boston, picking up recruits along the way. Others keep arriving from all points, many backpacking it, chipping in for gas, sharing shelter and rations, getting here every which way, to protest the orgy of meanness that will open in the Garden Sunday night.

Inspiring. It is heartening also that their protest includes many of the most talented and popular figures in music and the arts. They’re putting on a great show. Now those of us who live here have a special obligation to guide our visitors -- not to the "in" restaurants or the hit shows but to the sites where their message can reach the public.

They should be calling home-town media, by phone, by e-mail, with short, punchy letters or Op-Eds or whatever. And they should emulate the politicians and get in front of the cameras, wherever they are, with handmade and punchy placards. No profanity, please, we don’t need it -- the truth is bad enough. No flagburning, please; we are the ones who mean well for our country. Nothing that can be interpreted as insulting to our troops -- WE want them home. The war lovers don’t.

And I repeat, watch out for provocateurs. There is nothing the Bushies would like better than a pretext to accuse us of mob violence. We must make it clear to all that it’s just not true.
And now, let the games begin.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

A Faith-Based Protest

John Kerry is still trying to live down his condemnation of our war in Vietnam. At Cooper Union last night, where Abe Lincoln once condemned our aggression against Mexico, Kerry said “I defended this country as a young man, and I will defend it as president.” But he did not defend this country in Vietnam. After all, we lost that war. The Communists won, and they haven’t given us a bit of trouble since. So what was he defending?

That’s a point being made by pacifists, who are coming to town in large numbers. They oppose violence even in self-defense. Their movement began as a faith-based doctrine - “turn the other cheek.” Now our home security forces have been mobilized in record numbers to keep this germ from infecting the celebration of war at the Garden.

The Times, in its inimitable way, gently scolds both sides - the mayor, for not letting peace-lovers march past the Garden or assemble on the Great Lawn , and the peace lovers for refusing to let him pin them up over by the Hudson. It said they should “accept whatever disappointments come their way with dignity.”

Well no, I think they will respond with indignation, determination and imagination. Think about Ghandi, and Martin Luther King, and the Selma bus boycott, and the sitdowns at lunch counters. A word of warning, though. Any large crowd will draw some trouble-makers. This one is likely to be penetrated by provocateurs. We know from long experience that the dirty tricksters will stop at nothing. Peace demonstrators must do all they can to isolate them, get in their way if need be, and try to persuade the media ihat we are not there to break windows or hurt anybody. On the contrary, peace is what we’re about..

Monday, August 23, 2004

Grave Robbers

I raise my glass to celebrate the liberation of a noble reporter, Micah Gaven. He was in Iraq finishing a documentary on the worldwide plague of grave robbing, when the war intervened. He was kidnapped and threatened with execution, but was let go, in part at least because he had interrupted his work to do a bit of freelance reporting, in which he exposed the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by Italian soldiers. Our congratulations to his family, good progressive peaceloving people.

I look forward to seeing his film this fall. I began writing about tomb robbers 30 years ago in the Times and then in other publications and in my books, The Grand Acquisitors and My Times. As with the nursing-home scandals, the plague never ended. Around the world, poor men dig up sites where our history was born, in order to peddle artifacts to merchants who smuggle them to rich men, who display them as souvenirs till they get bored with them, then give them to museums and are honored for it, and take tax deductions that often exceed their original cost. It drives archeologists wild, because it fouls up their effort to explore the ancient history of mankind. But greed knows no conscience.

Nonetheless, a salute to the Gaven family. It’s rare that we get news from Iraq that makes us feel good.