Did you ever stop and think … life is good? Sure, it's been hard these last few months with Cadet Bone Spurs using his "executive time" to live-tweet Fox & Friends while America's reputation goes to hell in handmaiden's basket. But this past Sunday — at least for those of us here in the once-again aptly named City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection — at around 10:15 p.m., we got a jolting reminder of exactly why it is that we wake up every morning. It wasn't just watching the good guys like saintly dad Nick Foles and Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Long and their surprisingly crafty coach, Doug Pederson, outsmart the NFL's Evil Empire … although there was that. No, the Eagles' Super Bowl win was a time to celebrate the even bigger things in life — to watch a community that's known for its bickering finally come together, for fathers and sons and mothers and daughters to share a once-in-a-lifetime (so far, anyway) experience. It was a moment of pure, unvarnished joy.
Or as some wise guy might put it: It's a nice planet you got there — be a shame if anything happened to it.
Yes, it would be a shame if the nuclear Armageddon took place right as the Eagles are getting ready to parade the Vince Lombardi Trophy up Broad Street. Or before Carson Wentz comes back to lead them to a second consecutive title in the winter of 2019. Or … anytime, really. Indeed, why even talk about such a meshuggeneh idea as nuclear warfare during such a happy week?
Because while you were out there shimmying up a greased lamppost on South Broad, America under President Trump was taking new steps to bring the world closer to a place where nuclear weapons might be used once again, bringing a catastrophic loss of human life. At a time when the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists just advanced its Doomsday Clock of an atomic apocalypse to two minutes until midnight, the closest since the 1950s nadir of the Cold War, two not-good things are happening to inch that second hand a few ticks even closer.
This weekend, the Trump administration was unveiling a new U.S. weapons strategy that, in the words of a chirpy New York Times headline writer, "Signals Nuclear Arms Are Back in a Big Way." As the accompanying article explains: "The Pentagon envisions a new age in which nuclear weapons are back in a big way — its strategy bristles with plans for new low-yield nuclear weapons that advocates say are needed to match Russian advances and critics warn will be too tempting for a president to use."
The plan calls for America to spend $1.2 trillion over the next 30 years — that's not even accounting for inflation — to both modernize the nation's existing arsenal of atomic weapons but also put a few new nuclear-tipped toys in the president's playpen. For example, the strategy calls for the development of so-called low-yield nuclear weapons that could be launched from submarines and — presumably because they're not quite as end-of-the-world-lethal as higher-yield weapons — would be more palatable for a commander-in-chief to deploy. The policy even raises the possibility of nuclear strikes as a response to computer hacking by a hostile government.
Spending more than $1 trillion on a nuclear arsenal that could destroy the world several times over seems morally unconscionable — especially in a country that a) is steadily slashing any kind of aid for the poor and middle class and b) can't seem to operate a passenger train without killing someone every few days. But in a world of nuclear proliferation, with our rivals like Russia and China expanding their inventories, The Bomb isn't going away any time soon. Barack Obama, who had been a youthful opponent of nuclear weapons, became convinced at the end of his presidency that some modernization was needed, despite the high cost. But now the president is Trump, who seems much more open to the possibility of actually deploying our nukes than any U.S. leader since the days of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
"You want to be unpredictable" with nuclear weapons, Trump said on more than one occasion during his 2016 campaign, in which he also suggested to MSNBC's Chris Matthews that if America is not willing to use its atomic arsenal, "then why are we making them?" That was before Trump's increasingly volatile presidency, including his war of words on Twitter with North Korea's Kim Jong Un.
"Giving Trump new nukes AND new ways to use them is like giving matches and gasoline to Curious George," Tom Z. Collina of the antinuclear Ploughshares Fund wrote in a CNN op-ed this weekend. "It will not end well. As 16 Democratic senators put it in a January 29 letter to Trump, the new policies 'increase the risk of a nuclear arms race and raise the real possibility of nuclear conflict.'"
To make matters worse, the long-term nuclear saber-rattling is overlapping with increasing short-term tensions with North Korea that could ultimately prompt that nation's dictator to use his nuclear weapons either against his neighbors in South Korea or even launch a missile toward the United States or its Pacific territories. Multiple reports have said that Trump has been pressing his generals in the Pentagon for more military options in our dispute with North Korea. In an ominous sign, a man whom the Trump administration had picked to be the American ambassador to South Korea abruptly withdrew — reportedly after clashing with the administration about its talk of a military strike.
Make no mistake — Kim's nuclear adventurism is alarming and demands a strong world response, but there are many options for deescalation that make more sense than a military strike, which could lead to reprisal attacks against South Korea, Japan, or elsewhere, and the mass civilian casualties that would likely come with them. And any first use of nuclear weapons by the United States would not only compound the immediate risk for Asia, but signal a dangerous escalation in the global nuclear arms race generally.