I don’t think Putin will use nuclear weapons. I don’t think his generals would obey such an order, even if it were given. And even if they did, I don’t think their missiles work. Putin and his thieves have boosted so much from Russia, stolen anything that wasn’t nailed down, that the nuclear program has likely fallen into disrepair, like the rest of their shit military.
This may, I’ll allow, be wishful thinking on my part. I am prone to wishful thinking. Like, I once believed that when the Republican Party figured out Trump was in bed with the Russians, they would be horrified and immediately repudiate him. Talk about gullible!
But I trust that Joe and Kamala will keep us safe. And honestly, I have enough to worry about without fretting over nuclear annihilation. During the Second World War, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, during the nadir of the pandemic, and during this current inflection point, life goes on. How does Frost put it? “And they, since they / Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.” Our kids have to be tended to. We have to cook dinner, pay the mortgage, feed the cats, check in with our parents, do the dishes, fold the laundry, file our taxes. There are always new books to read, new shows to watch, new movies to see. There’s a new Final Four, a new NBA playoff run, a new baseball season, a new Academy Awards show. “Better Call Saul” is coming back next month! There’s no point dwelling on the dread.
It’s curious how this second coming of fascism, combined with Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, has brought certain pieces of art back into fashion. Casablanca, long my favorite film, could not be more current. The “Marseillaise” scene is basically an Old Hollywood precursor to “Russian warship, go fuck yourself:”
Last week, Sting was moved to perform a song from 1985’s The Dream of the Blue Turtles that as recently as three months ago felt hopelessly outdated. “I’ve only rarely sung this song in the years since it was written,” he explained, “because I never thought it would be relevant again, but in light of one man’s bloody and woefully misguided decision to invade a peaceful, unthreatening neighbor, the song is once again a plea for our common humanity.” The song he then played, “Russians,” is a meditation on nuclear war, its haunting melody lifted from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé Suite.
What will save us, me and you, is if the Russians love their children, too.
The problem is, Putin doesn’t care about anyone’s children (notwithstanding his alleged pedophilic predilections). He is exactly the sort of genocidal madman everyone feared Khrushchev was, back in the day. What Biden said in Warsaw yesterday is exactly right: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”
The threat of nuclear holocaust also calls to mind this four-line poem by John Hall Wheelock. I remember reading “Earth” in my Perrine poetry anthology in high school, and thinking that, for all its ironical power, the poem thankfully had no relevance to my life. Well, everything old is new again—including, I suppose, fallout shelters and potassium iodide tablets and mushroom clouds. I will be grateful when this sort of work can be returned to the museum.
“A planet doesn’t explode of itself,” said drily
The Martian astronomer, gazing off into the air.
“That they were able to do it is proof that highly
Intelligent beings must have been living there.”
Photo credit: NASA. This view of Earth’s horizon as the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean was taken by an Expedition 7 crewmember onboard the International Space Station (ISS). Anvil tops of thunderclouds are also visible.
I fully agree with you that the Russian generals would not follow Putin's order to use nuclear weapons for a number of reasons: 1) Biden and Jens Stoltenberg, NATO's Secretary General, have made it clear the Russian use of WMDs, which include nukes, would change their calculus significantly. It's very clear to me what that means, and 2) even if the Russian generals don't care about their kids and grandkids, they almost certainly care about their lavish lifestyles, which remain far above the average Russian even in the face of sanctions. It's very unlikely they would want to see their dachas be vaporized in a radioactive conflagration.
I also agree with you that worrying about nuclear annihilation is pointless. As I have been living under that threat since 1949, and am not a highly-placed politician, long ago I realized there's little I could do to stop their use.
There is a consequence of Putin's invasion of Ukraine that hasn't been discussed very much, namely nuclear proliferation. Ukrainian politicians who are old enough to have been in power when the Budapest Memorandum was signed in 1994, and are still alive today, probably regret giving up their nukes for what has turned to be a meaningless territorial integrity pledge signed by the US, the UK and the Russian Federation. It's doubtful Putin would have invaded had Ukraine still had the 3rd largest nuclear arsenal in the world. The mainstream media have hardly discussed the betrayal of the memorandum's content. Even President Zelenzkyy hasn't made it a major pressure point when begging the US for a no-fly zone and/or better help repelling Russian aerial bombardment. What's clear to me is that the message won't be lost on North Korea and Iran. I'd love to be the proverbial fly on the wall during the current Iran nuclear deal negotiations. It wouldn't surprise me to learn, given America's right-ward turn, that Canada, with deep nuclear scientific knowledge, hasn't at least discussed the possibility of building nukes. To paraphrase Margo Channing (Betty Davis) in "All About Eve,": Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy rest of 2022.
Thanks Greg! I feel better after reading your Sunday post.💙