Viewpoint by David Boniface: What's tactical about nuclear war?

November 09, 2001

Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas wrote in the Imperial Valley Press on Sunday, "President Bush should consider emulating his predecessor Harry Truman and employ the use of at least tactical nuclear weapons against the Taliban," in Afghanistan.

Thomas reasons, "If we show them that our sword is bigger than theirs and that we will not shrink from using it to defend our people and our values, the likelihood we will have to do so again in the near future will be diminished."

What is tactical about nuclear combat — and more to the point, what American "values" are being promoted and defended by Thomas by making glass tabletops of mountain redoubts held by fascist warriors with small arms and man-portable missiles?

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld appeared on television with CNN talking head, Wolf Blitzer, who asked about caves and tunnels as targets, "I interviewed Congressman Steve Buyer of Indiana. He says if those 5,000-pound bombs can't do the job he would want you to consider using tactical nuclear weapons. Not the strategic nuclear bombs, but the smaller tactical nuclear weapons to destroy those facilities. What do you think about that?"


Secretary Rumsfeld curtly replied, "I think the 5,000-pound bombs are going to be able to do the job. … We are not having a problem in dealing with those tunnels in terms of the ordnance."

A visit to the Department of Defense's Web site for perusal of the "briefing slides" section will confirm that Mr. Rumsfeld is telling the American people the truth about direct hits — and confirmed kills — of caves and bunkers by precision guided ordnance.

Perchance Cal Thomas doesn't have Internet or watch CNN — but he does quote from David McCullough's biography of Harry S. Truman, titled, "Truman." Thomas compares the Central Asian religious zealots hiding underground to the Japanese soldiers holed up on Pacific Islands, costing thousands of Marines and Army infantrymen casualties for American victory. Also, Gen. Marshall, Army chief of staff, saw that "100,000 people killed in Tokyo in one night of bombs … seemingly had no effect … so it seemed necessary to shock them."

From the above, Thomas says we should go nuclear.

Thomas is correct that "Truman's main concern — saving American lives," led to the uranium and plutonium fission bombs against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But Thomas plays with the truth and essence of Truman's statements — echoed by Churchill and Eisenhower — that are contained in McCullough's tome.

Moreover, Thomas implies that President Bush is less concerned about America's best sons — as Truman poignantly called GIs, "the flower of our young manhood," — as was Truman, because G.W. won't nuke.

Eisenhower, according to McCullough, "opposed the use of the bomb. He thought Japan was already defeated," and that the naval blockade and aerial pounding would, in time, prevail in a siege.

After the glow from Japan's unconditional surrender, his truculence contained in the "rain of ruin from the air" speech soon after Hiroshima worn off, President Truman reflected upon the incalculable chasm that lay between the devastation he had personally inspected in Berlin — where round-the-clock Allied bombing and 10,000 Soviet artillery pieces razed the Nazi capital to rubble — and the annihilation of two cities by singular detonations which "might be ‘the fire of destruction prophesied in the Bible.'"

Churchill concurred with Truman, when he said, "this atomic bomb is the Second Coming in Wrath."

Cal Thomas left out President Truman's greatest legacy: putting the nuclear genie back inside his lamp. McCullough cited Harry Truman's affirmation, "I don't think we ought to use this thing unless we absolutely have to you have got to understand that this isn't a military weapon."

Genocide and encouragement of nuclear capable Pakistan and India — bitter enemies — would be the linear progression of United States atomic combat in Afghanistan. As McCullough wrote about Truman, "He hated the idea of killing ‘all those kids.'"

>> David Boniface is a Calexico optometrist who lives in El Centro. He and his wife, Elsa, who is a homemaker, have a son who is in military college and a daughter who is a high school senior.

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