Following the media and political culture, one would think the only nuclear danger in the world is centered in Iran. But the most fateful and unasked campaign question for many Americans, equal to the state of the economy and presidential character, is this: Can a candidate be trusted to make decisions about nuclear war?
It appears that the independent media and grass-roots peace activists will have to push this question into the public square during either the debates or on the presidential campaign trail.
“To President Obama and Mr. Romney: Please share with us your views on when or whether the United States should ever use nuclear weapons, and what steps, if any, you are willing to take to lessen the arsenals representing mutual-assured-destruct.”
It matters greatly who is president, and who is advising the president, when it comes to the Bomb. As right-wing columnist George Will was quoted saying in 2008, “the threshold question, not usually asked, but it’s in everyone’s mind in a presidential election [is] should we give this person nuclear weapons.” (Mediaite, May 29, 2011)
Fifty years ago next month, my generation experienced the unique trauma now recalled as the “Cuban Missile Crisis.” I remember participating in a protest near the White House, during which the journalist I.F. Stone, a mentor known for ferreting out the truth, told a church gathering that the official deadlines were passed and that a nuclear war was soon to commence. I have never felt so powerless, so out of body, in my entire life.
But Stone was wrong, a lesson in apocalyptic thinking that I never forgot either – though I cannot be sure to this day what the lesson is. Days or weeks after Stone’s end-of-the-world speech we learned that John and Robert Kennedy struck a backchannel deal with Nikita Khrushchev resulting in the withdrawal of Soviet missiles followed later by a reciprocated removal of US missiles from Turkey. Both countries’ military chieftains opposed the deal.
In other decades, we know that President Eisenhower threatened China with nuclear weapons over Korea, and that Nixon threatened their use in confrontations in the Middle East and over Vietnam.
Vincent Intondi, a nuclear weapons expert associated with American University, has researched the histories of both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney concerning the nuclear question. Subsequent stories will provide an in-depth analysis of their respective positions based on that research.
Will either candidate or the mainstream media break the nuclear silence as the country hurtles towards November? One candidate or the other will have the almost cosmic power to single-handedly drop the Bomb. The public has a right to know their thinking.