of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy
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A Maginot Line in the Sky
In the preface to an excellent new collection of short essays, David Krieger prophetically wrote, "In moving ahead with deployment of missile defenses, the US is seeking to build a Maginot Line in the Sky. This line is likely to be no more effective than the French Maginot Line was in defending France in World War II."
David Krieger and Carah Ong, eds.,
by Lloyd J. Dumas, Prof. of Political Economy,
Dumas treatment of "Terrorism and Dangerous Technologies" is thoughtful and astute, providing troubling food for thought. "Calling violent groups terrorists when we dont like their objectives and freedom fighters when we do is a political game. It wont help us understand what terrorism is...or figure out what can be done about it." And, "Nuclear deterrence, a mainstay of the official security policy of the nuclear weapons states, is itself a form of international terrorism." Dumas provides valuable insights into the distinctions among terrorists and their possible motivations, warning: "Terrorists have not yet used dangerous technologies to do catastrophic damage, as weapons or as targets. But there is nothing inherent in the nature of terrorism that makes it self-limiting." Whoever destroyed the World Trade Center on September 11 committed a terrible act of mass destruction and a heinous crime against humanity without using any weapons at all. Yet in recent years the U.S. weapons labs have quietly been developing more useable nuclear weapons. The implications are newly terrifying.
"Holocaust by Accident: Inadvertent War with Weapons of Mass Destruction" begins with a mind-boggling inventory of accidents, close calls, false warnings, and failures of verification and communication systems. As Dumas points out: "Crisis increases the chances of accidental war." He reminds us: "Nuclear weapons have never before been used in a war in which more than one side had deliverable weapons of mass destruction at the ready." One has only to look at a map to understand the potential nuclear consequences of a U.S.-led "war on terrorism." Dumas concludes that we will never remove the threat of blundering into cataclysmic war until we eliminate weapons of mass destruction.
Dumas chronicles the foibles of human fallibilities alcohol, drugs, mental illness, stress, brainwashing, and group psychosis (the Manson family, Jonestown) and explores their ramifications in a world of dangerous technologies and dysfunctional bureaucracies. He reminds us that these human fallibilities apply to our leaders. (Can we trust the President with nuclear weapons?) He examines the lessons of Pearl Harbor, the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Vietnam, and warns of the dangers of "groupthink"(if we all agree, it must be right). He also delves into the vulnerabilities and failures of technical systems. In "Understanding and Assessing Risk," Dumas makes a centrally important point: "[I]nformation is the essential raw material of analysis and decision making.... Not knowing what will happen makes it hard to know what to do, how to adjust our actions to achieve our goals.... People are clearly much more sure of their ability to judge risks than they should be."
Lethal Arrogance is an encyclopedic catalogue of truly frightening stories, statistics, and analysis, presented in a surprisingly accessible form, which supplies convincing evidence that, "Given enough time and enough opportunity, anything that is possible will happen." But in the last chapter, Dumas resolutely offers hope for the future. "Ultimately, none of the dangerous technologies we have developed is really beyond our control. We can change them, limit how we use them, even eliminate them entirely. No external force compelled us to create the dangers we now face and no external force will prevent us from getting rid of them." He delineates four essential steps for our survival: 1) Abolish weapons of mass destruction; 2) Choose new, more effective security strategies; 3) Replace other dangerous technologies with safer alternatives; 4) Face up to the legacy of nuclear and toxic chemical waste.
- Jacqueline Cabasso, Exec. Dir., Western States Legal Foundation