By Matthew Rothschild on April 11, 2006

George Bush didn’t exactly deny Seymour Hersh’s report in The New Yorker that the Administration is considering using tactical nuclear weapons against Iran.

Neither did Scott McClellan.

Bush called it “wild speculation,” and McClellan said the United States would go ahead with "normal military contingency planning."

Those are hardly categorical denials.

So let’s look at what the human costs of dropping a tactical nuclear weapon on Iran might entail.

They are astronomical.

“The number of deaths could exceed a million, and the number of people with increased cancer risks could exceed 10 million,” according to a backgrounder by the Union of Concerned Scientists from May 2005.

The National Academy of Sciences studied these earth-penetrating nuclear weapons last year. They could “kill up to a million people or more if used in heavily populated areas,” concluded the report, which was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Physicians for Social Responsibility examined the risks of a more advanced buster-bunker weapon, and it eerily tabulated the toll from an attack on the underground nuclear facility in Esfahan, Iran. “Three million people would be killed by radiation within two weeks of the explosion, and 35 million people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, would be exposed to increased levels of cancer-causing radiation,” according to a summary of that study in the backgrounder by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

While Congress last year denied funding for a new nuclear bunker-buster weapon, the Pentagon already has a stockpile of one such weapon in the arsenal: the B61-Mod11, according to Stephen Young, a senior analyst at the Federation of the American Scientists.

That the Administration is considering using such a weapon against Iran is “horrifying and ludicrous,” says Young.

But it is now Bush Administration doctrine to be able to use such weapons. The new “National Security Strategy of the United States of America,” which Bush unveiled in March, discusses the use of nuclear weapons in an offensive way. “Our deterrence strategy no longer rests primarily on the grim premise of inflicting devastating consequences on potential foes,” it states. “Both offenses and defenses are necessary. . . . Safe, credible, and reliable nuclear forces continue to play a critical role.”

Even more explicit is the Pentagon’s draft of a revised doctrine for the use of nuclear weapons, which was revealed by Walter Pincus of The Washington Post last September.

It envisions using nuclear weapons for “attacks on adversary installations including WMD, deep hardened bunkers containing chemical or biological weapons.” It says that the United States should be prepared to use nuclear weapons “if necessary to prevent” another country from using WMDs.

This is a mere amplification of the Nuclear Posture Review of December 31, 2001, which stated: “Nuclear weapons could be employed against targets able to withstand non-nuclear attack (for example, deep underground bunkers or bio-weapon facilities).”

If the United States used nuclear weapons against Iran, it would be violating the Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty, which prohibits nations that possess nuclear weapons from dropping them on nations that don’t.

But in the Bush Administration, planning to do this is just “normal” behavior.

And a million casualties or more?

For Bush, that is evidently not a disqualification.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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