MARTY RUSSELL: Let’s hope the seasonal glow isn’t radioactivity

By Marty Russell

Here’s something to brighten your holiday season, at least for a nanosecond before the first blast wave hits – nuclear war.
Those of us of a certain age grew up with constant reminders that, with the push of a button, the whole planet could be reduced to a cinder. We were around when, in late October of 1962, we went toe-to-toe with our then bitter Cold War enemies the Soviet Union over the placement of Soviet nuclear missiles just 90 miles away in Cuba.
We remember the “duck-and-cover” drills in school, practice for when the missiles have been launched and are headed our way. It wasn’t until we got older that we realized how futile that exercise would have really been if the missiles were indeed headed our way and joked that putting our heads between our knees was really just a means of kissing our tails goodbye.
And remember when almost every town had a designated fallout shelter, usually the basement of some public building? Those, too, probably would have provided about as much protection as the State Department’s Internet firewall, but I guess it was the thought that counted.
Then something happened. The Soviet Union disappeared replaced by just plain old Russia. Communism, except for a few anachronistic holdouts, disappeared. People began to actually disarm and dismantle their nuclear weapons and to sign treaties limiting their nuclear capabilities. Suddenly nuclear war as a constant fear gave way to things like global pandemics, the global economy and the fear that disco might make a comeback.
Nuclear war didn’t seem as frightening or as likely as it once did. We even laughed about it, especially when former President Bush spoke about things “nukler.” But the truth is, there are still an estimated 30,000 nuclear warheads in existence today, not counting what Iran and North Korea may be concealing. That’s more than enough to ruin a lot of people’s day.
There isn’t much we can do about Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, except maybe to nuke them. And it’s scary to think that countries like India and Pakistan now have nuclear weapons. Pakistan, in particular, which only recently discovered traffic cops, can hardly be trusted to safeguard its arsenal.
But there is one bright side that isn’t a mushroom cloud. Both the U.S. and Russia want to sign a new START treaty to limit the number of nuclear weapons each can have. Without it, there’s no way to verify what each other is up to. Russia’s president just this week warned that, without START, both sides would begin a new arms race.
But Republicans are balking on ratifying START although I have yet to hear a valid reason other than it would mean big defense contracts in the future and therefore big campaign contributions in 2012.
Maybe it’s time to relearn duck and cover.

Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38677 or by e-mail at marusse1@olemiss.edu.