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Welcome back to the arms race

Though there were many steps leading up to it, geopolitical and scientific, one can consider today the 78th anniversary of the launch of the worldwide arms race. J. Robert Oppenheimer assigned the test’s code name, Trinity, inspired by the work of the 16th century metaphysical poet John Donne. Trinity, a vaguely Christian name for the first test of an atomic bomb on July 16, 1945. It was detonated at what was then the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range in the Jornada del Muerto desert in New Mexico. Spanish conquistadors had given the basin its prescient name: Dead Man’s Journey.

Learning the history of the atomic bomb laid to final rest any belief I once had in the rightness of America’s role in the world. I can believe in the essential goodness of most individuals while also being horrified at the evil humans are capable of. For that’s my belief: weapons of war are the product of evil, the consequence of tragically relatable human failings: fear, envy, greed.

After 35 years of bipartisan US policy on reducing the number of nukes around the world, we are in recent times again responsible for escalating the arms race. I could believe it of Donald Trump, who pulled out of one of the last major arms control treaties (the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty), withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and restarted our nuclear buildup.

Now President Biden has announced he’ll send cluster bombs to Ukraine because they’re running out of ammunition. How is that not an escalation, a loosening of the strictures on arms that are especially harmful for civilians? Inviting “the world's collective revulsion at these abhorrent weapons,” in the words of Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary-General in 2010 when the Convention on Cluster Munitions went into effect, the international treaty banning their production and use. The US and Russia weren’t among the 123 countries that signed the treaty. Nor did Ukraine.

Considering that first explosion that propelled the human race into the arms race, I observe us running backwards. I don’t overlook the delicate complexity of diplomacy, the difficult, noble dance required to reconcile the national interests of those of us with the power to incinerate the world. But diplomacy appears to be dead.

Now I watch in dread as world powers, and by that I mean the humans in power, once again undertake a dead man's journey, giving in to failure, overlooking the consequences of our ungodly arms.

© 2023 Su Cummings. All rights reserved.


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