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Tony Bender, Published April 05 2014

Letter: The cost of the target on your back

Man is a suicidal species. Even if we are not consciously hell-bent on destroying ourselves, nonetheless, through indifference and provincialism, that is where we are headed.

What passes for logic in our “advanced society” is confounding. “Primitive” cultures must shake their heads in despair at a society whose ethics and logic lag so far behind its technology.

As evidence, I share with you a portion of a news release (March 20) from U.S. Sen. John Hoeven’s, R-N.D., office: “As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the ICBM Coalition, Hoeven authored a provision in the Department of Defense (DOD) appropriations bill that explicitly blocks the administration from undertaking any environmental analysis to reduce the number of active silos containing Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) ...”

Even as the Pacific Ocean is awash in radiation from the Fukushima power plant disaster, as Chernobyl stands so lifeless down to a bacterial level that the dead forests around it cannot decay, even as leaky stockpiles of radioactive waste are scattered across the U.S. looking for a place to call home, great news for North Dakota! We will probably get to keep our nukes.

We will also get to keep that target squarely on our backs. Do you ever stop to consider why those 150 missile silos are here? Yes, there’s geography, but it’s a numbers game. On the sparsely populated plains, those of us here are expendable. We and everyone south of the prevailing winds are acceptable collateral damage.

But this is about jobs, right? That has been the argument of every North Dakota senator and congressman for decades. But at what cost? At what risk? By its very nature, a job is something that should create, build. The sole purpose here is to destroy, obliterate.

Even if you cannot fathom a full-scale nuclear exchange between the U.S. and any of the eight other countries with nuclear capability, surely you can imagine the inevitable accidents. In 2007, the 91st Missile Wing in Minot accidentally transported six nuclear cruise missiles by B-52 bomber to Louisiana – and for 36 hours no one missed them. Then comes more recent news that Minot missile crews failed competency tests.

It’s a numbers game. The more nuclear weapons we have, the higher the risk of accident. There are an estimated 17,000 nuclear weapons in the world. The U.S. has about 7,700 of them. Russia has 8,500. There are an estimated 1,600 land-based nuclear weapons in the country – missiles and bombers – but with our nuclear submarine launch capacity, they are an anachronism.

The bigger picture is this – the START treaty with Russia ratified in 2010 – is a step toward sanity. It will limit the total missile number in the U.S. to 700 (1,550 warheads by 2018). If the Department of Defense doesn’t think we need those 150 missiles, we probably don’t.

We have the conventional means – economic and military – to negotiate the choppy waters of international conflict. The threat of 150 more missiles doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. All it offers is the opportunity for more political posturing. An opportunity to minimize the risk should be welcomed. Instead, we are trapped by our provincialism.

I wonder when a North Dakota politician will find the courage to do the right thing. When will we, as citizens, speak out?

President Dwight D. Eisenhower was tragically prescient about the threat of military industrialization. Few would argue the legitimate need for national defense, but the mutation we see before us is about commerce. Money, not morality. Bombs and bombers are big business. Boeing, along with other big-name contractors, built the estimated 500 Minuteman III missiles based in North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming in the 1970s, at a cost of $7 million each. Dispensing with them all would save an estimated $20 billion a year. The world would be a little bit safer. You and your children would be a lot safer.

Instead, the game goes on. Nuclear weapons, shipyards and bases have become political high-stakes poker chips. We want to keep playing, knowing in the end everyone loses. I shudder to think what Eisenhower sees ahead from wherever he is now.

Award-winning columnist and author Bender and his wife own Redhead Publishing, which publishes weekly newspapers in Ashley, N.D., and Wishek, N.D.