Better Safe Than Sorry: The Ironies of Living with the Bomb

Better Safe Than Sorry: The Ironies of Living with the Bomb

Better Safe Than Sorry: The Ironies of Living with the Bomb

Better Safe Than Sorry: The Ironies of Living with the Bomb


In 2008, the iconic doomsday clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was set at five minutes to midnight- two minutes closer to Armageddon than in 1962, when John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev went eyeball to eyeball over missiles in Cuba! We still live in an echo chamber of fear, after eight years in which the Bush administration and its harshest critics reinforced each other's worst fears about the Bomb. And yet, there have been no mushroom clouds or acts of nuclear terrorism since the Soviet Union dissolved, let alone since 9/11.

Our worst fears still could be realized at any time, but Michael Krepon argues that the United States has never possessed more tools and capacity to reduce nuclear dangers than it does today - from containment and deterrence to diplomacy, military strength, and arms control. The bloated nuclear arsenals of the Cold War years have been greatly reduced, nuclear weapon testing has almost ended, and all but eight countries have pledged not to acquire the Bomb. Major powers have less use for the Bomb than at any time in the past. Thus, despite wars, crises, and Murphy's Law, the dark shadows cast by nuclear weapons can continue to recede.

Krepon believes that positive trends can continue, even in the face of the twin threats of nuclear terrorism and proliferation that have been exacerbated by the Bush administration's pursuit of a war of choice in Iraq based on false assumptions. Krepon advocates a "back to basics" approach to reducing nuclear dangers, reversing the Bush administration's denigration of diplomacy, deterrence, containment, and arms control. As he sees it, "The United States has stumbled before, but America has also made it through hard times and rebounded. With wisdom, persistence, and luck, another dark passage can be successfully navigated."


The genesis of this book occurred in June 2006, when I was shivering on the spine of the Andes Mountains at a place called Tres Cruces d'Oro. Thirteen thousand feet below, at the end of a windy dirt road, lay the headwaters of the Amazon. I was sitting on this ridgetop because I was told that there was no better place to watch the sun rise.

The dark cobalt sky was already streaked with shafts of light playing off against the cloud bank below me. Then, amazingly, the sun's upward rays of white light turned the cloud tops into icebergs floating in a sea of blue. Mesmerized, I felt that I had been transported to Glacier Bay above the Amazon. the focus of this light show then shifted to a ripe orange slit that appeared between the folds of the clouds. the classic half-dome shape began to emerge below, but this time, I was watching the sun emerge in an incredibly beautiful natural setting, backed by sacred mountains and fronted by torrents of water and a well-ordered riot of plant life. From this high perch, the life-giving force of the sun was overwhelming.

Then the sun's rising dome triggered another image that is indelibly printed on my brain, the outline of a hydrogen bomb that arcs from ground zero and rises to become a monstrous, mutating mushroom cloud. Physicists learned from and borrowed the fiery processes of the sun to create the H-bomb, and with it, the limitless means to incinerate cities and turn all forms of life into ashes. My mind then fashed to Hiroshima's Genbaku Dome, the skeletal arc atop an old commercial exhibition hall that has been left in ruins, a public reminder of what happened in August 1945—and what must not happen again.

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