Veteran journalist Schell (A Hole in the World: A Story of War, Protest and the New American Order, 2004, etc.) warns that the nuclear peril he described in The Fate of the Earth (1982) remains, in new and nasty forms.
Readers expecting an update of his classic account of the terrible effects of atomic war will discover the author in a more philosophical mood here. The collapse of the USSR eliminated any need for nuclear arsenals, he avers, yet they are still with us, and additional nations are considering building their own. Discussing the peculiar fascination of atomic weapons, which is absent from other horrors such as germ warfare or poison gas, the author divides those who advocate them into three groups: nuclear realists, who consider the bomb a simple weapon of war; nuclear romantics, who look on it as a symbol of national honor; and nuclear Wilsonians (as in Woodrow Wilson), who yearn for a global institution to end war and believe that a nuclear arsenal qualifies. In Schell’s view, these categories help explain bizarre behavior such as India’s national outpouring of joy over its successful nuclear test and the United States’s financing of a trillion-dollar fleet of nuclear submarines, which has been patrolling the seas for two decades despite the absence of a major threat. The author reserves his greatest criticism for followers of President Bush who combine all three of the above viewpoints and do not conceal their contempt for treaties and international institutions that hinder America’s freedom of action. Bush’s original reason for invading Iraq, Schell maintains, contained a certain logic. It was regrettable that no WMDs turned up, but the invasion aimed to warn irresponsible national leaders that building a nuclear arsenal might earn them a taste of the same medicine. Regrettably, the subsequent debacle accomplished no such thing.
A cogent analysis of today’s nuclear dangers and a plea for international action, unlikely to occur as long as America wants to handle matters on its own.