Are We Dead? Nuclear Policy and the Zombie Apocalypse
by Winslow Myers
A performative contradiction is a statement that contradicts its own assertion. For example, the unrecorded statement “I am dead” is a performative contradiction in that the speaker is clearly alive while making the claim. There are performative contradictions not only in statements, but also in policies. The mother of them all is found in current nuclear weapons policy on the planet. Nuclear weapons cannot be rationally advanced in argument as an instrument of policy.
Why? Computer models suggest that the detonation of a remarkably small number of nuclear weapons from today’s arsenals—doesn’t matter whose—would raise enough toxic soot and ash into the atmosphere to shut down world agriculture for a decade. In effect, such a detonation would be a death sentence for us all. All.
No less a pitiless realist than Henry Kissinger has stated that he tried to make foreign policy with these weapons and found it impossible. Henry Kissinger now works for abolition.
Even a “limited” nuclear war risks planetary annihilation. A one-sided nuclear attack risks a similar fate. If India and Pakistan get into a nuclear war and use their combined 210 nuclear bombs, we are all dead. If Israel uses a few too many of its weapons, we are dead.
Deterrence is already obsolete, in the sense that it will do nothing to stop a determined extremist from smuggling a nuclear weapon to ground zero of a target. Deterrence is infinitely more obsolete on the basis that using nuclear weapons makes a military victory virtually impossible; they lead only to omnicide.
So, why is the United States planning to waste up to $352 billion (!) in the next decade to renew its nuclear weapons program? Why are we not leading the charge to abolish all nuclear weaponry, reciprocally and gradually with other nations, by negotiation if possible, unilaterally if necessary? Unilateral abolition to set an example, build trust, because we realize it is in everyone’s best interest; because there is no other logical, sane alternative.
Are we so dead in spirit that we are numbly, helplessly going to wait for the mass physical death that will come when somebody, somewhere—and eventually they will—makes a fatal mistake? Or can we citizens affirm life by nonviolent means—anything else is a performative contradiction—by educating, by running candidates, by petitioning, by demonstrating?
I want to hear, clearly, the justifications of the leaders, the arguments, the case for the relationship between nuclear weapons and increased security. No citizen, to my knowledge, asked either presidential candidate why the U.S. and Russia still have any ballistic missiles targeted at each other on high alert—25 years after the end of the cold war—and why they retain some 18,000 of these godforsaken weapons between them. That did not seem like a neutral omission; it seems more like an active symptom of psychic dysfunction. We look down upon North Korea with pity, a nation and people in the grip of mass militaristic psychosis. Time to take the beam out of our own eye before we judge the mote in another’s.
Can we awaken from our trance? Can we admit to ourselves the radical shift in our environment that has taken place, where the environmental and military policies in one country determine the air quality in another? What does that shift do to the concept of having an enemy? I depend for my survival upon my enemy.
Conflict will continue even if there were no nuclear weapons on Earth; however, actual or potential nuclear weapons today contribute to an intense international paranoia. It rationalized the U.S.’s misconceived invasion of Iraq, intensifies the enmity between Iran and Israel, and such paranoia keeps hundreds of secret agencies in Washington eavesdropping on us all for ominous signs.
If the planet can emerge from this period of change and turmoil, we will look back and begin to acknowledge just how much our unconscious dread had sucked away not only our collective economic and human brainpower resources, but also some essential piece of our psychic vitality. No wonder there is so much fascination with zombies and vampires, the walking dead. Does their half-deadness mirror something deep within us all?
Something new and vital is germinating from our long winter of death-induced fear. As Paul Hawken has said, millions of non-governmental organizations around the world are working for common values: Non-violent political structures, environmental sanity, gender equality, and universal human rights. Someday soon this collective affirmation that we are one human family will thoroughly dissolve the perceived need for nuclear weapons. May they rust in peace.