Today is the last day of Pres. Obama’s two terms as President of the United States. There’s been so much written about how people “feel” about the end of his terms, with people expressing sorrow and joy, wishing them will and wishing them ill, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at Barack Obama’s record as President of the United States. What has happened in the United States over the past 2,922 days? Are we as a nation more economically stable? Are we safer? Have Americans lost any rights or privileges because of President Obama? What kind of America is Donald Trump going to be leading as of noon tomorrow?
One measure of economic vitality is how well the Stock Market is doing. There are many averages, but the one most commonly used is the Dow Jones Industrial Average. At the close of business on Jan. 20, 2009, the Dow stood at 7949.09. Yesterday it closed at 19,774.01. This shows both that the economy is moving along and that investors feel confident the economy will continue to be healthy.
Another way of understanding economic health is the unemployment rate. Now, that number only examines potential members of the workforce who are currently unemployed who are actively seeking unemployment. It is not a measure of the total numbers of Americans who are eligible to work and are not working. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in January 2009, the unemployment rate was 7.8 percent. Because of the worsening of the American economy due to the bursting of the housing bubble, it would continue to rise to a high of 10% in October 2009. In December 2016, the unemployment rate was 4.7%. Since the end of the Second World War, “full employment” was usually thought to be an unemployment rate of 5% or less. With that in mind, the United States has been at “full employment” since September 2015.
The safety and security of the American people and nation-state should be one of the highest priority of any state executive. There are several measures that are helpful in understanding our safety both here and abroad. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting tables, the first is the violent crime rate in 2008 was 454.5. The property crime rate was 3212.5. In 2014, the last full year for which data is available, the violent crime rate was 365.5; the property crime rate was 2596.1. It’s important to note that this continues a downward trend in the overall crime rate that began in the early 1990’s and has continued more or less unbroken in the years since. It’s also important to note these rates represent the number of persons per 100,00 Americans. In the early 1990’s, the American population was around 275 million people. It’s around 335,000,000 now. Not only are the rates lower, with a far larger population the chances of any particular individual being the victim of crime has reduced significantly.
The United States Department of Homeland Security and the University of Maryland have teamed up to create a single source database for terrorist activity around the world, including the United States. START, The Study of Terrorism And Responses to Terrorism project is an invaluable resource for scholars and your average citizen to learn about how terrorism has evolved over the past four decades, how terrorist attacks have changed, and what groups – at any given moment – are responsible for terrorist activity.
According to the report, Patterns of Terrorism in the United States: 1970-2013, just one of many reports from the Terrorist and Extremist Violence in the United States (TEVUS) Project at START, from its peak in the early 1970’s, both the frequency and fatality of terrorist acts have decreased dramatically. This graph is clear:
If you look at the actual statistics of terrorist acts by specific groups, during the period 2000-2013, “Unaffiliated Individuals” accounted for nearly a third, 31%, of all terrorist activity. This includes the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. The next two groups on the list, The Earth Liberation Front (ALF) and Animal Liberation Front (ALF), account for just about half of all terrorist actions in the United States during those thirteen years. Al-Qaida is responsible for 4% while White Extremists account for 2% of the total.
While Al-Qaida is certainly responsible for more deaths during this time period, only the Ku Klux Klan was related to American fatalities during the period 2001-2011:
Even if you include the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, the actual rate of terrorist attacks in the United States continues to be quite small.
Another measure of social and economic health is the percentage of Americans who live below the poverty rate. According to a report from the Bureau of the Census (.pdf), in 2008 13.2 percent of all American households lived below the poverty rate. According to the same report, in 2008, 15.4 % of Americans had no health insurance. In 2015, the percentage of American families below the poverty line was 13.5%. The uninsured, however, had fallen to 10.4%.
By many metrics, including the most important ones, Barack Obama had a successful Presidency. Hardly perfect, but far better than one might guess if one’s only source of information is social media.
Not too shabby, Mr. President. Not too shabby at all.
“I think one of the big differences then was you had governors and mayors and the president — whether it was President Johnson or President Nixon, Republican or Democrat — condemning violence against the police and urging support for the police.
“Today that’s markedly absent,” [William] Johnson [executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations] continued. “I think that’s a huge difference, and that’s directly led to the climate that allows these attacks to happen.”
Johnson says that Obama has not supported the police or condemned violence against them. – Adam Thorpe, “Law enforcement lobbyist says pro-police speech is ‘markedly absent’ from Obama”, PolitiFact, July 12, 2016
Donald Trump says there has been “a substantial rise in the number of officers killed in the line of duty — a very big rise.” He’s right, to a point. There has been an increase in firearms-related deaths in the last six months compared to a year ago.
But the number of fatalities from all causes, not just firearms, is largely unchanged from a year ago, and has substantially declined in recent years.
Annual fatality data compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund show that there have been an average of 135 police fatalities a year under President Obama, from 2009 to 2015, compared with 162 a year for the previous seven years, from 2002 to 2008. That’s a decline of 17 percent. – Eugene Kiely, “Killed In The Line Of Duty”, Politifact, July 13, 2016
These are not isolated incidents. They are symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system.
And I just want to give people a few statistics to try to put in context why emotions are so raw around these issues. According to various studies, not just one, but a wide range of studies that have been carried out over a number of years, African-Americans are 30 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over.
After being pulled over, African-Americans and Hispanics are three times more likely to be searched. Last year, African-Americans were shot by police at more than twice the rate of whites.
African-Americans are arrested at twice the rate of whites. African-American defendants are 75 percent more likely to be charged with offenses carrying mandatory minimums. They receive sentences that are almost 10 percent longer than comparable whites arrested for the same crime.
So if you add it all up, the African-American and Hispanic population who make up only 30 percent of the general population make up more than half of the incarcerated population. Now, these are facts.
And when incidents like this occur, there’s a big chunk of our fellow citizenry that feels as if because of the color of their skin, they are not being treated the same. And that hurts. And that should trouble all of us.
This is not just a black issue. It’s not just an Hispanic issue. This is an American issue that we should all care about, all fair- minded people should be concerned. – Part of Pres. Barack Obama’s statement on two police-involved killings, Time, July 7, 2016
Yesterday, two police officers put on their uniforms to serve and protect the communities they loved. And early this morning, they were taken from us in shameful acts of violence.
Sergeant Anthony Beminio and Officer Justin Martin represented our best, most decent instincts as human beings – to serve our neighbors, to put ourselves in harm’s way for someone else. They knew the dangers of their job. They knew the risks. Yet they chose to dedicate themselves to those values anyway. So today, Michelle and I join Americans across our country in expressing our condolences and stand in solidarity with their grieving families, fellow officers, and the communities they served so honorably. – Statement by the President on the Shooting of Police Officers in Des Moines, Iowa, WhiteHouse.gov, November 2, 2016
Sgt. Debra Layton of the Orlando, FL Police Department was shot and killed yesterday while trying to apprehend a suspect in the murder of Sade Dixon. Later that afternoon, while participating in the manhunt, Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Norman Lewis, a motorcycle officer, was struck and killed by an SUV. The people, particularly law enforcement, in and around Orlando and Orange Co. are sad and angry. People around the country are offering condolences even as police continue to hunt the suspect. I think it’s fair to say that this will not end well for the suspect.
This particular situation, as horrible and frightening as it is, has become the latest instance of a political campaign being waged against Pres. Obama by some police officers and police organizations around the country. There are those who believe, and publicly insist, that Pres. Obama has remained silent as police officers are killed in the line of duty; that he is far more quick to speak about police brutality than he is to speak about the deaths of police officers killed in the line of duty; that he has created a climate that is hostile to police officers, encouraging violence against the police.
Is this true? Is it true there’s a “war on police”, either subtly encouraged or at least not discouraged by our President? Has he remained silent on the deaths of police officers even as there are more deaths than ever?
Let’s start with some raw numbers. According to the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial Fund, From 2009-2015 there was an average of 135 police officers killed in the line of duty. While there hasn’t been a definitive total added for 2016, one unofficial number I’ve seen, 140, certainly remains close to the average for Pres. Obama’s tenure in office. It’s easy enough to do this by Presidential Administration: George W. Bush average – 172; Bill Clinton average – 164; Ronald Reagan/ George H. W. Bush – 181. It’s true there was a 40% increase in the deaths of police officers due to gunfire in 2015, looking at the actual numbers, broken down by Presidential Administration (since that seems to be the measure being used by Pres. Obama’s critics), there has been a downward trend over the past 35 years, with Pres. Obama presiding over the least deadly eight years.
Let’s look at the charge made by Police Lobbyist William Johnson that Pres. Obama has remained silent, creating a climate for attacks on police officers to occur. After Rudy Giuliani alleged much the same thing in 2014 after the deaths of two NYC Police Officers, Politifact went back and looked at official statements from Pres. Obama from the August protests over the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO through a Dec. 8 interview with BET, discussing the need for policing in minority communities. Simply put the claim that Pres. Obama was encouraging people to hate police was utter nonsense. Using much the same method – presenting what and when Pres. Obama actually said – they concluded that Johnson, too, like Giuliani two years previously, was “Pants On Fire”, a polite way to say he was full of shit.
So there’s this narrative out there, believed by many including many police officers, that there’s a “War On Police”; that during the years of Pres. Obama’s tenure in office, there’s been a subtle or perhaps not-so-subtle encouragement of violence against police; that Pres. Obama has been far more silent on the deaths of police officers than have previous Presidents, going back to Lyndon Johnson. None of these statements are supported by any evidence whatsoever. Why is the belief persistent?
First of all, Pres. Obama has spoken out against police brutality and the reality of racial disparities in policing that occur nationwide. He has done so even as he has maintained his vocal and active support for police officers, the work they do, and mourned with us during each and every instance of violence against police officers. Because this President sees himself as President of all Americans, he has insisted that there is the need for reform of police procedures, particularly regarding matters of race. This is no more “anti-police” or “cop-hating” than are those prosecutors who bring charges against officers whose flagrant law-breaking disgraces all police. It does not create an atmosphere of hostility toward police officers that our President has recognized the legitimacy of the issues raised by Black Lives Matters, while certainly condemning acts of violence committed by members of BLM and denouncing violent rhetoric by some BLM members. It is, indeed, possible to do both things at the same time, especially when it is clearly understood that Pres. Obama has always understood himself to be President of all Americans – police and the communities they serve included.
It is horrible this young woman was murdered in the line of duty yesterday. Whatever may be justice in this instance, her death is not honored by making of it more fodder for a political agenda promoting a falsehood regarding the President of the United States. I’d ask about shame, but I know that just doesn’t exist anymore.
N.B.: This post originally appeared at What Left In The Church?, June 13, 2012
We come on a ship we call the Mayflower,
We come on a ship that sailed the moon
We come at the age’s most uncertain hour
And sing the American tune
But it’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s gonna be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest,
That’s all, I’m trying to get some rest.
Paul Simon, “American Tune”
If there is a single platitude that transcends the political differences of our short age of ideological discord, it is this: America’s Best Days Our Ahead!
Whether it’s Pres. Obama:
The bravery, resolve, expertise and commitment of U.S. servicemembers proves that America’s best days lie ahead, President Barack Obama said at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Dec. 3, .
“Through your service, you demonstrate the content of the American character,” he said. “Some people ask whether America’s best days lie ahead or whether our greatness stretches back behind us in the stories of those who’ve gone before.
“When I look out at all of you, I know the answer to that,” he continued. “You give me hope. You give me inspiration. Your resolve shows that Americans will never succumb to fear. Your selfless service shows who we are, who we always will be, united as one people and united as one nation, for you embody and stand up for the values that make us what we are as a people.”
Or Mitt Romney:
There was a time — not so long ago — when each of us could walk a little taller and stand a little straighter because we had a gift that no one else in the world shared. We were Americans. That meant something different to each of us but it meant something special to all of us. We knew it without question. And so did the world.
Those days are coming back. That’s our destiny.
We believe in America. We believe in ourselves. Our greatest days are still ahead. We are, after all, Americans!
It might be the co-founder of Home Depot:
Despite rampant government spending and heavy-handed regulations, the country’s best days do lie ahead, as the U.S. has shown a history of doing away with policies — and politicians — that don’t foster an entrepreneurial spirit, says investor and Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone.
“Talking about America, let me tell you something right now — I am 100 percent invested,” Langone tells CNBC’s Squawk Box.
“Our best days as a nation are ahead of us. I’m talking about great days. We are a great nation. Every once in a while we get a little foolish and we do things and we get through it. We’ll get through this.”
Or our only Muslim member of Congress, MN Rep. Keith Ellison:
America remains the greatest country in the world and we inspire millions struggling for freedom around the world. When the people of Libya stood up against brutal repression this summer, they waved American flags in celebration and gratitude. As the people of Egypt shape their new government, they are rightly turning to the American Constitution as a model.So before anyone mourns the decline of America, they should look at our history. We’re Americans–in times of crisis, we step up.
This particular theme was sounded most eloquently by that most American of writers,Walt Whitman:
America, filling the present with greatest deeds and problems, cheerfully accepting the past, including feudalism, (as, indeed, the present is but the legitimate birth of the past, including feudalism,) counts, as I reckon, for her justification and success, (for who, as yet, dare claim success?) almost entirely on the future. Nor is that hope unwarranted. To-day, ahead, though dimly yet, we see, in vistas, a copious, sane, gigantic offspring. For our New World I consider far less important for what it has done, or what it is, than for results to come. Sole among nationalities, these States have assumed the task to put in forms of lasting power and practicality, on areas of amplitude rivaling the operations of the physical kosmos, the moral political speculations of ages, long, long deferr’d, the democratic republican principle, and the theory of development and perfection by voluntary standards, and self-reliance. Who else, indeed, except the United States, in history, so far, have accepted in unwitting faith, and, as we now see, stand, act upon, and go security for, these things?
At a moment in time when we all feel unsure, it may well be comforting to hear that this moment not only will not, but perhaps cannot last precisely because we Americans have demonstrated our ability to overcome whatever obstacles barred, for the moment, our climb toward greatness. Few things are more reassuring than the promise that the future will be brighter than the present.
Yet, I wonder. For all that these platitudes and promises play upon a deep strain within the American cultural self-consciousness, what, precisely, practically, effectively, is anyone doing to bring about these better days? What is the substance of these things hoped for, the evidence of these things not seen? A couple days ago, I wrote the following:
We have become more than cowardly. We, as a people, have become blind. We have lost the ability even to celebrate that which is best about all of us as a people. We stagger through our days, hoping only that the collapse will come tomorrow, grateful at the end of each day that we have reached it safely.
I am planning, over the next few days, to explore this contraction of our sense of our abilities, this nagging fear to which we dare not even give voice that in fact our best days do not lie ahead. This is not a state of affairs I celebrate. On the contrary, I am terrified that this fear may yet make itself out to be a prophecy fulfilled. I do think it is possible to rescue ourselves from this state of affairs; the outcome, however, is never certain. Something Whitman, in words immediately following the paragraph quoted above, states quite baldly:
But preluding no longer, let me strike the key-note of the following strain. First premising that, though the passages of it have been written at widely different times, (it is, in fact, a collection of memoranda, perhaps for future designers, comprehenders,) and though it may be open to the charge of one part contradicting another — for there are opposite sides to the great question of democracy, as to every great question — I feel the parts harmoniously blended in my own realization and convictions, and present them to be read only in such oneness, each page and each claim and assertion modified and temper’d by the others. Bear in mind, too, that they are not the result of studying up in political economy, but of the ordinary sense, observing, wandering among men, these States, these stirring years of war and peace. I will not gloss over the appaling dangers of universal suffrage in the United States. In fact, it is to admit and face these dangers I am writing. To him or her within whose thought rages the battle, advancing, retreating, between democracy’s convictions, aspirations, and the people’s crudeness, vice, caprices, I mainly write this essay. I shall use the words America and democracy as convertible terms. Not an ordinary one is the issue. The United States are destined either to surmount the gorgeous history of feudalism, or else prove the most tremendous failure of time.
The challenges we face today are neither unique in our history, nor without solutions that are readily implemented. As we look around us, however, we see the promised horizon retreat and we wonder: Are more than our institutions broken beyond repair? Are we, perhaps, as a people incapable of doing what is necessary to right ourselves and continue moving forward? I shall be employing Whitman as a guide through the tangle in the hopes that his vision may yet offer a way past our moment of doubt.
As a simple, yet terrible, example of the many failures with which we live yet find impossible even to deal: The many ways we have failed those who have sacrificed so much in our wars the past decade. Just last week came news that our active duty service personnel are killing themselves at a higher rate than the enemy.
According to new Pentagon figures, 154 military service members committed suicide during the first 155 days of this year. During the same period, ending June 3, 136 U.S. troops died in combat in Afghanistan, according to icasualties.org, a website that tracks combat casualties.
In a decade that has seen so many reports of our failures to support our troops and veterans, whether it was proper body armor or vehicles that could withstand enemy IEDs to the scandals at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital and other VA hospitals, the current failure even to have a general discussion on what it might mean demonstrates, I think, the kind of nagging fear that plagues us. How can we drag ourselves out of a years-long economic slump if we cannot even provide help for those who are serving to protect and defend us? How can we face our problems if we cannot even acknowledge together the problem exists?
For all the rhetoric and even demagoguery that surrounds the support of American military personnel, the reality keeps coming back to haunt us: We have failed them, repeatedly. Before we can begin to work through possible solutions, we need to admit this.
And there lies the beating heart of the dark beast whose presence we fear. We have become so fearful we dare not even mention a failure so basic and profound because to do so might well expose the beast in all its ferocity. That beast is our own cowardice, our fear that we might well not be up to the challenge to make good on Whitman’s vision, a vision cheapened by repetition by politicians and business executives.
This American tune has been played in a minor key for far too long. I am not interested in partisan games. I do not hold any individual or group at fault for our current malaise. We all bear a measure of responsibility for the current state of affairs. As such, we all also carry the burden of admitting our fears, and living together out of our hopes. That is my wish, at least, in the next several posts: To give voice to those things we refuse to say, in order to move through them and perhaps, just perhaps, see a way we all together can make good on the American promise.
Put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes. – Pres. Barack Obama
– – – – –
Reza Aslan provided some helpful commentary on CNN yesterday regarding the cultural and socio-economic underpinnings of these terrorist actions. Underlying this violence are questions about identity, marginalization (or perceptions thereof) and culture-clash than it about religious doctrine per se (although these are intertwined). There are reasons (beyond theological or religious ones) that fundamentalist ideologies attract social castaways and others who have either isolated themselves or have been isolated by the larger culture. – Kyle Roberts, “It’s Better To Mock God Than To Defend Him,” Patheos, January 9, 2015
At the risk of being misunderstood by pretty much everyone, I want to take just a few moments of your time to consider the possibility that pretty much everyone who has said something about events in and around Paris last week is not only wrong, but making things worse. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that most people – and by extension, groups – aren’t all that clear on their motivations for their actions. All too often, we act, then defend our actions afterward, regardless of what we may tell ourselves. Political action by groups is little different, although the mechanisms of social psychology are more complex. That we are so willing to take at face value the “reasons” offered for the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which has suddenly become world-renowned when a week ago I doubt all that many Americans (for instance) knew it existed, is as much part of the problem as the attacks themselves. We refuse to do something that, one would think, would be part and parcel of being a truly moral, Christian, and civilized country: That we might just take a moment and look at the world through the eyes of other people.
Yet, rather than do that, thousands of people are reprinting the cartoon that prompted the attack; journalists and others are insisting that freedom of expression is under attack (as if it never were before from any other source, up to and including the conglomerates that own news outlets, the PATRIOT Act, and even just social pressures), and generally reacting in ways little changed from the terrorists: Acting out of anger at perceived slights to social, legal, and cultural norms that are considered important, we perpetuate a cycle of violence that, in the end does nothing but leave bodies in its wake. Which is not to say that I am “excusing” the attacks; nor am I insisting that a bunch of Facebook posts are the same as mass murder. What I am saying is that we are, for all intents and purposes, acting out – out of fear, out of anger – rather than just acting. We are not considering the world from perspectives different form our own. We are not considering that the attacks in France had as much to do with real and/or perceived social and political marginalization, both within their own societies and in the larger global context, as it did with any insult to the Prophet. By rushing to the defense of “freedom of the press” or “freedom of expression”, we are not only forgetting the hundreds of ways those freedoms are under real threat from forces within our own society (thus relieving us of the difficult task of self-examination as a people); we are forgetting that different societies have legitimately different ends and taboos, rules and ethics. That we may disagree about these – sometimes violently – has been true pretty much forever.
Yet, we in “the West” hold ourselves to a higher standard, at least in our rhetoric. We call ourselves Christian, yet how many people slept outside in the freezing cold last night? We call ourselves “civilized”, yet how many deaths have we in the West brought about through our wars over the past decade and a half? We believe that “freedom of expression” is a higher good than the expressed feelings of others in other societies, which only demonstrates not only deafness to their needs, but our insensitivity to the lives, health, and even religious and emotional expressions of others. In a sense, our rhetoric creates the conditions through which others outside the West understand us. Yet, our actions make the lie of our rhetoric. Along with a history of centuries of exploitation, colonialism, and racism, what are those who live outside the power structures both within their societies and the larger, emerging, global consensus to do except act out as they have been taught by the West? And we continue the cycle of misunderstanding, cultural disrespect, and mutual ignorance. What, precisely, do we achieve by perpetuating this cycle? That our social priorities are superior? That we have a more clear social moral vision than others? Which insulting notions are precisely part of the problem.
And the body count rises. The “Othering” of Muslims, of people outside the West in general, goes on. The loudest voices, usually the most violent and extreme, drown out any call for calm, for consideration, to look at the world through the eyes of those we call “Other” and consider how we appear to them. I’m not sure it matters all that much; we are so locked in to this ridiculous, mutually destructive cycle that even the most considered appeal to mutual understanding and humanity doesn’t even register. A thought, though: Are those dead folks at that magazine of which most folks hadn’t heard before this past week really worth us, we in the West, being right and better than the rest of the world? How much difference is there between a terrorist cell leader to straps a bomb to the chest of a confused young man or woman and prattles on about sacrifice and martyrdom, and those safely away from the danger demanding that others reprint insulting things about the Prophet, drawing the attention of those who will kill them? Are those folks are Charlie Hebdo little different than “the martyrs for the cause” that we keep hearing about?
There are good flashback and bad flashbacks. A story I saw last week was most definitely a bad one.
Russian nuclear bombers were spotted flying near Alaska this week. The bombers were escorted by fighter jets, floating just outside of U.S. and Canadian airspace. This is the second such sighting since June, sparking the attention of American military jets.
Major Beth Smith, of the U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), has said “Over the past week, NORAD has visually identified Russian aircraft operating in and around the U.S. air defense identification zones.” There have been about 16 Russian forays in the Alaskan and north Canadian area in the last 10 days.
I’m old enough to remember this kind of thing being the norm. Let me tell you that was one frightening norm. It’s been 25 years since the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, and 23 years since a coup attempt brought about the end of the Soviet Union. In the decades since, many people believed a new normal had emerged in which the threat of nuclear destruction due to a Russian/American exchange had receded so far that the real nuclear threat was either so-called rogue states, regional disputes between smaller nuclear powers (Pakistan and India being the most prominent), and terrorist groups. While both Russia and the US maintain enormous stockpiles of functional nuclear weapons, the specifics of Cold War tensions were such that many – including those in strategic policy-making circles – believed that a nuclear exchange between the former superpowers was just no longer something that anyone should concern themselves about.
Yet here we are in 2014, and Russian strategic bomber forces are skirting the boundaries of American and Canadian airspace above the Arctic Circle. That this is happening while the Russians are starting to feel real heat and pressure over their involvement in Urkraine’s internal crisis isn’t much of a surprise. It might well be a not-so-subtle attempt by Vladimir Putin to let the United States know they still have the capability of raining destruction on us. While I’m guessing this probably won’t work to achieve whatever ends it may be designed to achieve, what worries me now isn’t the specifics of this kind of military ballet. What has me worried, and should worry folks who pay attention to things like this and are old enough to remember the very bad old days of life constantly on the edge of nuclear holocaust, is that the players on both sides no longer live and work within that reality. Strategic military policy, while perhaps partly ossified when it comes to our nuclear deterrent capability, has changed so much in a quarter century that while lip service to the horrors of a nuclear exchange will certainly be offered from anyone in a position to bring it about, those same people may not quite grasp how quickly even something as simple as the kind of border games Russian bombers are playing can get out of hand.
While both the US and the Soviet Union skirted far too close to nuclear war several times during the Cold War, there was always the dread of such an event that insured there were several layers of command and control to prevent such a thing from happening. While I’m sure all that still exists, at least in theory, those at the top of the decision-making chain of command have not lived or governed during times in which even small mistakes or misunderstandings could have catastrophic consequences. While I certainly do not trust Vladimir Putin, I am also speaking of American military and national security policy makers, up to and including the President. While senior and general officers are old enough to have been a part of the Cold War military, the final decisions do not rest with them, but rather civilians who may well not understand just how dangerous a game they’re playing.
And let us not forget the recent scandal in which it was discovered that the Air Force personnel who actually sit in the bunkers with the keys, ready to follow orders when the proper codes are given were too often untrained and ill-prepared for the responsibility they held. Cheating on exams and other malfeasance was probably overlooked or tolerated precisely because no one in a position of higher authority was paying as close attention to them and their role in our national survival as they used to do. It is difficult to rest easy when tensions start to creep up and both those in authority and with the capability of launching nuclear missiles aren’t as ready as they should be.
In many ways, these are far more dangerous times than thirty, forty, or more years ago. Then, at least both sides understood the terrible price everyone would pay in the event of a nuclear exchange and steps were always taken to make sure an accident didn’t bring about a holocaust. While we came close to the brink several times – sometimes a bit too close – someone in a position of authority took a deep breath and made absolutely certain things had not reached such a point before making that final, irrevocable decision. Now, I trust neither the Russians nor the Americans to understand the gravity of the situation in which they might find themselves. Of all the dangers we face, ignorance of the swiftness of loss of control and the horrendous result of such a loss has suddenly become something to which we should pay attention. Dropping bombs on ISIS is silly and stupid; playing chicken with megadeath is insane.