ON THE NUCLEAR BRINK
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
During a late 1960's Tet offensive, my father served his country as a Single Integrated Operations Plan (SIOP) officer and was responsible for writing nuclear battle plans from inside his locked and guarded office at a remote Air Force base in northern Japan. While North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops were overrunning U.S. bases in South Vietnam, the North Koreans apparently saw an opportune moment to threaten to invade South Korea, and so they deployed hundreds of thousands of troops to the border.
Acting on orders from the president, my father wrote a nuclear battle strike plan that was to be executed two hours later if North Korean troops failed to pull back. Then, he told me 12 years later, he began to pray.
The North Koreans pulled back. Dad said he had always wondered how they got word of our plans. We lost bases and thousands of good men in Vietnam anyway.
That might have been the end of the story, which I recounted in The American Reporter six years ago, if a declassified "madman" plan to strike North Korea had not recently made news, and if North Korea were not today reactivating their Yongbyon nuclear power plant and planning to restart a factory where spent rods of plutonium fuel can be harvested to complete the building of a small but mighty North Korean nuclear arsenal.
These events resonate with danger for the whole planet. There is no such thing, nor can there be, as a nuclear war of minimal impact, and the potential for a nuclear exchange between rivals like India and Pakistan or Israel and Saudi Arabia - which had an active and still-secret nuclear weapons program running in its new city of Jubail in the late 1980's under the tutelage of U.S. engineers - is fairly high. If destroying the World Trade Center wiped out $700 billion of value and devastated our economy, imagine what a single nuclear strike anywhere in the world would do.
Indeed, there was a moment during the standoff in the Taiwan Straits when a nuclear exchange seeemed imminent enough that U.S. forces went on full alert, but nuclear threats are so shrouded in disinformation and misguided secrecy that the public is unlikely to ever know about them. In fact, there was one occasion during the same era when a nuclear weapon was stoled from a U.S. vessel anchored in South Korea, and the Defense Nuclear Agency dispatched teams of ultra-tough operatives to find it. It was recovered without further incident.
The readers of AR may know about them - we were the only newspaper in the world to report on the gravity of the Tawan Straits crisis at the time - but we are not "the public," just a well-educated handful who care more than most. When I once told a deputy bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal about the Seoul incident, he reported back to me a few weeks later that there was no such thing as the Defense Nuclear Agency. That kind of careless ignorance is common in the media.
As head of the Committee to Stop Japanese Re-Armament - which had as its object the blocking of shipments of spent plutonium to Japan, where three prime ministers have advocated the nuclear option for their country - I found that even wth backing from Rep. Henry Waxman, few journalists would believe there was any potential for Japan's nuclear program, no matter how many senior U.S. and Japanese officials have endorsed the idea over the years.
On another occasion, a reporter at Newsweek I had called to talk about how the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in the State Dept. spoofed a Newsweek cover for its brochures told me there was no such thing as a U.S. "disarmament" agency. In the White House on another occasion, I met President Johnson with U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Fowler and the British Chancellor of the Exchequer. One well-known and very arrogant journalist insisted there was no such post as Chancellor of the Exchequer. I remember getting Top Secret information from a Senate aide about Israel's nuclear capability - said to have 100 to 200 weapons - that had been mistakenly declassified; why was that document never get widely reported, when most of what the public knows about the Israeli program comes from it?
So disinformation, ignorance and public apathy - as well a fearful respect for nuclear secrets - have combined to minimize the knowledge and concern Americans have about their future. Nuclear weapons are part of our present, our past and our future, and that they have not yet been used is as much due to the prayers of men like my father as the power of a few to stop their use. North Korea's threat comes at a time when it thnks we will be distracted from our strategy in Iraq, or unable to respond to threats from both countries.
That's a proposition that has yet to be tested, but there is one simple fact shining through all this commotion: if North Korea does build a nuclear arsenal, this world will be a much more dangerous place than it is today.