Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a warning. As the New York Timesdescribed it: “If the United States deploys new intermediate-range missiles in Europe after withdrawing from a nuclear treaty prohibiting these weapons, European nations will be at risk of ‘a possible counterstrike.’” It was the sort of threat that, in the previous century, would have raised the level of everyday nuclear fears in this society, too. I remember them well — from the “duck-and-cover” experiences of schoolchildren huddling under desks that were somehow to protect them from nuclear annihilation to the vivid nightmares of my teen years. (Yes, in a dream at least, I saw and felt an atomic blast.) This was the world of the Cold War in which I grew up.
I’ve always believed that the last of such Cold War nuclear fears manifested themselves on September 11, 2001, when those towers in lower Manhattan collapsed amid a horrifying cloud of smoke and ash — and the place where it all happened was promptly christened Ground Zero, a term previously reserved for the spot where a nuclear blast had gone off. Somehow, on that day, something was called back to life from those Cold War years in which newspapers regularly drew imagined concentric circles of atomic destruction from fantasy Ground Zeros in American cities, while magazines offered visions of our country as a vaporized wasteland. In the chaos and destruction of that moment, there was perhaps a subliminal feeling that the U.S., the first country to use an atomic weapon, had finally experienced some kind of payback. As Tom Brokaw, chairing NBC’s nonstop news coverage, said that day, it looked “like a nuclear winter in lower Manhattan.”
In Donald Trump’s upside-down world, the trek of a few thousand desperate migrants, some carrying tiny children or even babies, across thousands of miles of Honduras, Guatemala, and now Mexico is treated as if it were potentially a major invasion of (if not a nuclear attack on) the United States. As the president dispatches the U.S. military to the border, claims that ISIS-like Middle Easterners lurk in that caravan, and blames the Democrats for it all, who has time to think about an actual catastrophe?
Fortunately, TomDispatch regular Michael Klare does and he has news for us. As the U.S. prepares to withdraw from a classic Cold War nuclear treaty, it’s time to start ramping up those fears again. After all, we’re now in a new world of expanding global rivalries and potential madness in which impoverished migrants from Honduras are the least of our problems.