A few weeks back, I got word that a pair of guys that I supervised in the Air Force had been deployed as communication support for a US Army unit which had been sent to Poland. Both are now senior section members in their respective squadrons, having risen through the ranks. While I’m proud of them, I do worry for them with the tensions in Ukraine. However, I’m also very aware of how well they have been trained to deal with their roles in combat, and both follow the mantra that I exposed them to – to lead not only by example, but to ensure that rank does not impede the mission.
Back here in the States, a close friend’s child asked me if we were going to go to war. My response was a simple one: “I hope not.” At six years of age, she is only starting to comprehend the concept of the vile methods of killing one another that we have developed over the years. I’m sad to see that innocence fading away from her, but its hard to shelter her from the news that gets blared into our faces on a nearly hourly basis (or an even closer interval). At fifty-plus, and an ex-military member, I’m all too aware of the destructive capabilities that we have as a species, as well as the casual disregard that occurs through warfare between countries.
In the mid-1970s, as a society, we were taught to fear the inhuman Soviet Union, as well as their casual desire to obliterate anyone not choosing to be under the control of their socialist philosophies. I read about the destructive capabilities of nuclear weaponry, as well as the process of splitting the atom. Most of the concepts were over my ability to comprehend, but that didn’t stop me from making a display for my entry in a 7th grade science fair. I wanted to show the process of fission, which I did using a set of dominos. The point was to show that the splitting of a single atom would lead to the splitting of other atoms, which was the causal product of advancing the explosion that is associated with an atomic weapon. All of that is extremely elementary in explanation. There’s a lot more associated with it, including the physical building of the atomic weapon, along with some associated mathematics for the necessary explosive material that starts the process of splitting the first atom in the reaction. My fascination with atomic weaponry didn’t stop there though.
In the early 1980s, I started to realize the horrible destructive capabilities that such a weapon wrought. I started reading more about the efforts to ban nuclear technologies. I had read about what had happened at Three Mile Island in New York State in 1979. My father, who was career military, disliked the idea that his son was reading and gathering information on anti-nuclear movements. I was harshly scolded for thinking that a world would be safer if the United States gave up its nuclear materials. I understood what he was talking about – the concept of mutual assured destruction or MAD. In this scenario, either the United States or the Soviet Union would launch their missiles first. The other country would detect the launch and launch their own missiles in a retaliatory strike. Both countries would suffer the destruction of nuclear strikes. This process, by the way, is well depicted in the Movies “WarGames” and “Crimson Tide.” The entire scenario was absolutely frightening to me. Ironically, when I joined the United States Air Force, I became a part of the very scenario that I had been afraid of.
My primary positions was in Command and Control Communications. I wasn’t very high in the Command structure. My position was that of support, particularly preparing, sending, receiving and disseminating message traffic for the Command and Control function I was assigned to. This included preparing and sending the messages that would instruct Missile Command units to program their warheads for targets and launch. I was in the very heart of the beast that had frightened me as a young child. I participated in many drills for readiness, where launches were simulated. Along with those simulations, we prepared for attacks on our physical command structure, including nuclear strikes. Every unit is provided with a “survivability ranking,” which is nothing more than a timecode. The ranking explains the expectation of the unit in a scenario of first strike by the enemy. My unit was provided an SR ranking of four minutes. Other units, such as those in the Fulda Gap, where the Soviet army was expected to roll through with a large military force, were given rankings in seconds. Essentially, the units there would be a speed bump for the Soviet forces. Then came the unthinkable – the collapse of the Soviet Union. Everything that I had trained for was now unlikely. We trained for other elements, such as rogue elements that had either bought Soviet nuclear weapons on the black market or had outright stolen these. The scenarios were more difficult to train for, but the outcomes were similar. Destruction, death, attack, response, change of military posture…war is war.
During all of this, we were taught to see the military members of the Soviet Union as mindless drones – brain-washed to do only what their high command wanted. No conscience. No ability to think for themselves. In 1993, I participated in showcase of our aircraft at a Belarusian airfield. I got ot meet the former Soviet Union soldiers that I was faced off against. They were no different than we were, except that they didn’t have a lot of the luxuries that we had. I traded a cassette walk-man with a Belarusian enlisted soldier for a small bottle of vodka. In stilted conversations, we all realized that they had the same fears that we did. That nuclear would bring devastation to their families, their children, their towns. They believed that we wanted them destroyed so that we could annex their lands into the United States, and then expand our society into their countryside. To subject them to the same genocides that we had visited upon the peoples of the First Nations here in the United States.
War is about power. Its not that different from corporate struggles. Who has the most control wins the most power. Who has the most power gets all the privileges of being the conquered. Back in the 1980s, I feared the atom for what it could do. But the atom, in all of this, is merely a tool. A means to an end. The same can be said for any weapon. The real fear is in the person who utilizes the weapon in the name of power and control.
If I no longer fear the atom, what do I fear? The fundamentalist. Whether that individual takes the form of a Christian who warps the teachings of Jesus ben Joseph to justify the destruction of those that are different than him/her or the Pagan that seeks revenge on a faith over the deaths of people that died back in the 1500s or the fanatic Muslim who seeks a world cleansed of all infidels or a governmental system that seeks to bring the entire world under its yoke. Fundamentalists who want things “back the way they were” present, in my mind, the gravest danger to society and the peoples of this world – not to mention animal, plant and other life that we don’t understand yet.
So, when I hear a six-year-old girl ask me if we are going to war, I can only respond with a quiet “I hope not.” All I can do is hope that cooler minds prevail, and everyone takes a big step back from where we find ourselves right now. In 1985, Sting’s song “Russians” was released on his album “The Dream of the Blue Turtles”. Today, those lyrics ring truer than they ever have before….
Believe me when I say to youSting, “Russians”
I hope the Russians love their children too
We share the same biology, regardless of ideology
But what might save us, me and you
Is if the Russians love their children too