Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, It's Off To Bomb We Go

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by Tom White

Did you see this story on the net the other day?

Beijing Authorizes Study of Tactical Nuclear Bomb By Djing Djongen China News Staff Writer May 10, 2002

(China News) – The Chinese People's Republic has just authorized a multi-billion yuan study of a controversial nuclear "bunker buster" bomb, rejecting all statements in opposition made by some top officials in the Communist party inner circles.

Premier Zhu Rongji has given the military command a green light to study the “robust nuclear earth penetrator” (RNEP), a tactical nuclear weapon designed to destroy reinforced and deeply buried chemical and biological weapons caches.

In a statement issued after the decision was announced, some opponents in the Party hierarchy were still urging cancellation of the program, saying that conventional weapons were better suited to the task “because they avoid key logistical and political impediments to use that a nuclear weapon would face.”

Well, you probably didn't see that story, because of course it never ran. The Chinese may be crazy and warlike but not all that crazy. The story that did run, however, is this one:

Congress Authorizes Study of Nuclear Bunker Buster By Lawrence Morahan CNSNews.com Senior Staff Writer May 10, 2002

(CNSNews.com) – The House of Representatives on Thursday authorized a $15.5 million study of a controversial nuclear bunker buster bomb, rejecting an amendment to the 2003 Defense Authorization Bill by 40 lawmakers who said a conventional weapon could do the job more effectively.

By a vote of 243 to 172, with 20 members not voting, the House gave the Defense and Energy Departments a green light to study the “robust nuclear earth penetrator” (RNEP), a tactical nuclear weapon designed to destroy reinforced and deeply buried chemical and biological weapons caches.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), co-chair of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Task Force and author of the amendment, said in a letter urging cancellation that conventional weapons were better suited to the task “because they avoid key logistical and political impediments to use that a nuclear weapon would face.”

The thing that fries my patient, peace-loving soul is that as far as I can tell this story just went over as another ho-hum press release from Washington; another day at the office; let's get a beer and watch a little TeeVee. Or, What else is new?

To backtrack a little: In April 1945 I was third officer on an LSM (Navy landing ship – 200 feet long, two 3600 hp diesels, 70 men, 7 officers) moving into Japanese waters to deliver cargo and find further duties in the battle for Okinawa. In late May or June, we were ordered back to Guam-Saipan, by then a staging area, to get new orders. The new orders turned out to be, when we got there, to return to Pearl Harbor for what we either knew or assumed was to be our load for the invasion of Japan. All along the LSM had been destined for that job. It was bigger than an LCT and more maneuverable than an LST, presumably just right for the tricky harbors and bays of the Japanese home islands.

We LSM folk rarely went anywhere alone; we were rather like starlings; if you saw one, you knew there were maybe a hundred or two close by. It's funny to realize it, but I can clearly recall our being in a task force (a big bunch of us starlings and a lot of other ships in an ad hoc grouping, altogether numbering in the hundreds) on the way to Pearl from the States, and then from Pearl to Guam and Okinawa. We were always in such task forces of 500 or so ships to maximize defense against submarines.

But I have two further recollections I need to put together to see if I can figure out if they were part of the same trip: one was of a horrendous typhoon, which broke up a task force we were part of and gave us the most awful experience of the ocean – any ocean – I ever hope to live through. And the other was of our somehow being all alone as we made the turn north to enter Pearl Harbor, by then some 20 miles away.

I've always had a particular love for Beethoven's 4th Piano Concerto, because at just the moment we left behind the eternal and maddening slap-slap of our flat-bottomed ship against the waves that had gone on steadily for about two weeks, and we began to slide smoothly along in the troughs between them, the triumphant and sunny third movement began to play on the communications office record player I guess I had commandeered. Blessed relief, land ho; Pearl Harbor and some decent chow; Beethoven had the mood just right.

By June-July 1945 there was no further danger from submarines, although the Kamikaze pilots were playing hob with us at Okinawa. So we might have been alone. Or maybe not. In the passage through the typhoon we struggled to stay in relationship to other ships, initially only hundreds of yards away in any direction, but I do believe before we got through the storm, we had quite lost all the other ships. And after that my memory blanks, except for this incident:

During the two weeks sailing east from Guam to Pearl, we heard something garbled over the radio to the effect that a marvelous powerful bomb had been dropped on Japan. And the word "atomic" could be made out. I bet the naval M.D. on board (with us because he had somehow offended the task force commander and got thrown off the command ship) that if there were something to that "atomic" business the war would be over in two weeks. The bet was $15, significant money then. I lost the bet by a few days, less than a week. I looked at is as a proof of my prophetic powers. I somehow knew the bomb thing had to be somehow different in kind not just degree.

And we were all elated that the war was over and peace had begun. I did not take in the real horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki or even the firebombing of Japan's paper cities for a long time. I felt the right decisions had been made; our glorious leaders had indeed performed gloriously; we were at last out of the damned war.

But of course we weren't. We never have been. And now we are assured from on high that we never will be.

For a long time we felt sure that although we had used "the bomb" twice, we had now locked it away, and it would never be used again. Ha ha. Our glorious leaders had taken us straight down the steep places.

And now we casually discuss and plan for using tactical nuclear bombs, while those whom we posit as enemies in this turn of the wheel presumably are calculating how they can nuke our cites this time.

It is very hard to escape the feeling that because we will not learn, and will not truly seek peace, we will have "horrid war," as I think Shakespeare calls it, and that the four horsemen are already mounted and riding.

Tom White [send him mail] writes from Odessa, Texas.

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