Can We Achieve Security through the Production of Danger?
Greg Mello


Opinion Editorial - January 9, 2005


The South Asian tsunami has now claimed more than 150,000 lives.  Thousands more may die from injuries, disease, and famine.  Many nations have pledged aid; President Bush finally increased the U.S. offer from $15 to $35 to $350 million. 

Let us imagine, if we can, a catastrophe of this scale caused by human negligence. It would be a great crime. Unspeakably worse in our scale of value, however, would be a planned catastrophe. Who could contemplate creating such a catastrophe, or put the machinery in place to make it happen?

Actually, thousands of people in the United States do so every day.  These are the men and women who lead and work in the government’s nuclear weapons industry.  Their job is to produce great danger for others. 

It’s been done already.  On Aug. 6, 1945, an atomic bomb with an explosive yield of 15 kilotons of TNT was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.  Before Japanese authorities could digest this event, a second 20-kiloton bomb was detonated above Nagasaki on Aug. 9. By the end of that year, 210,000 people had died from these two explosions; roughly another  90,000 have prematurely died as a result of these bombs since then.  

Those deaths were fully premeditated.  Like the invasion of Iraq, which has also caused casualties roughly comparable to this week’s tsunami, the atomic bombing of Japan was a clear crime under existing law. 

So let's call a spade a damn shovel. Our two nuclear labs, Los Alamos and Sandia National laboratories, are the world's foremost facilities for the production of mass death on demand.  

Their weapons are like portable death camps; instead of laboriously bringing victims to gas chambers and ovens, the ovens can be brought to the victims in a matter of minutes - once all the preliminary work is done by so many willing hands.

These labs help provide our rulers a way to inflict on as many others as possible the most extreme opposite of what we would like others to do to us - the most extreme opposite, in other words, of the Golden Rule.  Conservatives, take note.  This arguably makes nuclear weapons the central exemplar and metaphor for all that is upside down in our scale of values today.  If it's OK to threaten complete annihilation, surely all lesser forms of violence, both overt and structural, are also justified. 


Over the past 60 years, our country has spent $7 trillion of its citizens' labor and money to generate 70,000 nuclear warheads at an average cost of about $100 million apiece. We retain 10,400 such weapons today in our nuclear arsenal.

The $350 million in aid promised is worth three or four nuclear weapons.  Since morality and even law are somewhat out of fashion in the hallowed halls of the national security state, we ask only this: Which is the better national security investment today?

This year, Los Alamos Lab will spend about $200 million to produce plutonium bomb cores ("pits"). After spending about $1.7 billion over a decade-long period, the lab hopes to start manufacturing pits in earnest in 2007 in order to augment the 23,000 pits the U.S. already has.  The aid we have pledged amounts to just 20% of these grotesque efforts to build that 23,001th pit.  Again, which is the better security investment?  

This year's budget for Los Alamos Lab is more than twice as much as will be spent on all the programs of the World Health Organization for the entire world; the Iraq war, 250 times as much.  Which is the better security investment, aggressively creating hatred against us while killing and maiming thousands of our own people in an unprecedented invasion of a foreign country?  Or providing clean water, child immunization programs and increasing food security all over the world?

It is pathetic and tragic that any of this has to be asked.  If journalists and editors could find the courage in their hearts to speak up clearly, and to ask obvious but embarrassing questions, we wouldn’t be in Iraq right now, where war-related mortality is running at greater than 1,200 persons per week.  Los Alamos would not be making more plutonium pits for nuclear weapons, and you and I would not cry out in shame for what our country has become. 


Where will those editors and reporters find the courage to question and to speak?  From our own, from our own.