Last Chance for Peace

When prehistoric tribes could not resolve their differences they resorted to bludgeoning each other with tree limbs and stones.  They were face to face, hand to hand and eye to eye.  They could feel each others breath, sweat and rage.  The victor watched the conquered die at his feet.  In Caesar’s day, soldiers resorted to swords, spears and arrows making the science of killing one’s enemies a bit more efficient but still required that the victor be, at least, in visual range of the vanquished.  Although the Chinese invented gunpowder about 900 years before Christ, they used it primarily for fireworks and rockets.  It was not until the 14th century that Europeans discovered that gunpowder could be used to propel musket and cannon balls.  Finally, it was possible to kill one’s enemies without looking him in the eye.  During the American Civil War, the machine gun was invented allowing a single soldier to bring about the death of his enemies even more expeditiously.  The invention of the airplane in the twentieth century made it possible for militaries to bomb and shoot at their enemies from above.  During World War I, German scientists developed the V1 and V2 rockets which finally permitted one’s military to deliver death to locations not even visible to the dealer.  In the final hours of World War II, the United States unleashed a weapon so devastating as to be unthinkable.  On August 6, 1945, the first atomic bomb was detonated about one mile above the surface of Hiroshima, Japan.  In the blink of an eye, eighty thousand people were dead.  Tens of thousands of others would die later from the after effects of the bomb.  Three days later a second atomic bomb was detonated over the city of Nagasaki, Japan.  Another seventy thousand men, women and children lost their lives.  In the history of mankind, we have moved from the point where enemies had to face each other and could kill but one at a time to a point where a single bomb could kill more than eighty thousand people.  My God, what have we done.
The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were children’s toys in comparison to what has been developed since the close of World War II.  Those bombs had nominal yields of less than 15 kiloton.  Small strategic weapons in the arsenals of the United States and Russia amount to 250 kiloton yield.  Large weapons exceed 20 megaton yield or more than 4,000 times the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.  The hydrogen bomb is a particularly fearsome weapon.  There is theoretically no limit to the explosive yield that can be packed into such a weapon.
These terrible weapons are stored in underground silos, in bombers, on mobile launchers and in submarines that patrol the oceans.  An intercontinental ballistic missile launched from either the United States or Russia would reach its target in twenty six minutes.  Submarine launched missiles would reach their intended targets in six minutes or less.  Both the United States and Russia have detection systems capable of detecting launches against their countries and the ability to launch a retaliatory strike even before the incoming missiles detonate over their targets.  In such a scenario, the missiles of both countries would pass each other in flight and detonate almost simultaneously over both countries.  The result would be millions, possibly billions, killed in the first few minutes of the war.  Both countries would be immediately rocketed back into the stone age.  There can be no winner in a nuclear war.
All countries currently possessing nuclear weapons realize that launching a nuclear war against another country possessing nuclear weapons would be suicide.  Accordingly, there should never be a first launch.  If there is never a first launch, then there will never be a retaliatory strike.  Security comes from the fact that while under attack, you can launch a retaliatory strike that will wreak unacceptable, if not equal, damage on the aggressor thereby deterring the initial attack.
The security mentioned above is fleeting because the technology of war is constantly improving.  The speed of weapons delivery systems is constantly increasing. During World War II, delivery of weapons between the United States and Europe would have required days while ships moved within range of an opponents land and then launched missiles, artillery and aircraft to rain bombs on an enemy.  Today’s deliver systems make it possible for a war to start and end in thirty minutes with the deaths of more than half of the planet.  But there is still a period of time during which the subject of the attack has time to retaliate.
What happens when one side or the other develops a zero time of flight delivery system?  In just the last one hundred years, we have moved from Winchesters to nuclear missiles?  What about the weapon delivery systems of tomorrow? Will it be possible to launch an attack, perhaps from space, that would not give sufficient warning to the victim to allow any retaliation?  Would this perceived advantage cause one side to take the initiative and launch against the other secure in the knowledge that his enemy could not retaliate in the time between launch detection and impact?  Can we honestly be sure of the answers to any of these questions.
It would be naive to believe that there will never be another war.  Conflict seems to be the nature of man.  When conflicts can not be resolved peacefully one or the other usually resorts to force.  The problem is that the next resort to force may be the last for all of mankind.  There are likely to be very few survivors of the next nuclear war.  If there are any survivors, they would find the world to be a much different place than before the war.
Many Americans believe that the United States would never use nuclear weapons against the Russians.  Russians are not that sure.  Still other Americans, who have never met the Russian people, believe that the Russians are just waiting for the opportunity to destroy the United States.  Having had the opportunity to meet and talk to many Russians, I do not believe this to be the case.  Your perceptions seem to be determined by the part of the planet you happen to be standing on.  However, it must also be remembered that the United States is the only country to have ever used nuclear weapons in time of war.  Further, Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev was the first to propose the idea of elimination of all nuclear weapons – a proposal that the United States rebuffed when originally proposed in 1986.
Perhaps dialog between countries is the surest way to guarantee the future of mankind.  Communication between nations may foster a better understanding of the wants and desires of the respective nations.

September 11, 2001

Fifteen years ago today, I was at my desk with a cup of coffee, preparing a briefing. It was a Tuesday and I was scheduled to fly to Europe on Saturday to present it the following week. It started out like any other day. No one in the office knew what was going on in New York. Back then, we didn’t have 20-foot television screens covering the walls. We had a small, perhaps 19-inch, television sitting on an audio-video cart in a corner turned off. My wife called to tell me to turn on the television. I turned it on and watched smoke rising from the upper floors of one of the Towers. One by one, my coworkers began to gather around the small screen to watch what we all thought was a tragic accident. Minutes later, we saw the second plane hit the other Tower. We stood in absolute silence from the shock. It took several seconds to comprehend exactly what just happened. Suddenly, we all realized that this was not an accident. Shortly thereafter, we watched the Towers collapse to the ground and knew that we were watching Americans dying. This was just the beginning of the worst day of my life. Our world was suddenly changed. That evening, my wife, children and I stood at the end of our driveway with candles and a large American flag and offered prayers to the cars that passed by – and we cried, and cried and cried some more. Car after car after car tapped their horns in support. We will never forget. I will never forget. Never.

We Come in Peace from Earth – Third Planet from the Sun

In April 1972, NASA launched the Pioneer 10 spacecraft which was intended to explore the planet Jupiter and its moons. Then it would assume a course that would carry it out of our galaxy. Etched on the side of the spacecraft was a message of peace, a depiction of human life and a map that would help an intelligent life form encountering the spacecraft determine where it came from. Hmmmmm.
Pioneer 10 exceeded all expectations and exited the Solar System. Unfortunately, contact with the spacecraft has now been lost. The last successful contact with the spacecraft was in January 2003 – more than thirty years after its launch. The spacecraft received and executed two commands from a distance of 7.82 billion miles (yes, that was billion). The distance was so great that it took NASA’s message eleven hours to reach the spacecraft and another eleven hours for Pioneer 10’s acknowledgement of the commands to reach NASA. Shortly thereafter, contact was lost. It is interesting to note that contact with Pioneer 10 was not lost because its eight watt radio could no longer reach out and touch NASA, but rather because the radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) failed. Basically, its nuclear batteries died.
With the failure of the RTG, Pioneer 10 is probably tumbling out of control on a heading in the general direction of Aldebaran – the star which is the eye of Taurus. Assuming that nothing intercepts Pioneer 10 sooner, it will take 200 million years to reach its destination.
If on the other hand, Pioneer 10 encounters something in space, these are some things to consider. Pioneer 10, about the size of a PT Mini Cruiser, is traveling at about 28,000 miles per hour or about 12.5 times the speed of an M16 rifle bullet. This is before taking into consideration any increase in speed due to the acceleration of gravity as the spacecraft approaches a body in space. If Pioneer 10 approaches a body with an atmosphere, it will almost certainly burst into flames from the frictional heating. If anything survives the flames, it will leave a substantial crater. The impact with the surface will spew radioactive dust from the Plutonium-238 core used to generate electricity. This could render a large area uninhabitable due to radiation. Accordingly, if intelligent life forms encounter Pioneer 10, they will probably see a faster than you can possibly imagine, wildly tumbling, flaming, radioactive vehicle that wipes out several dozen square miles.
We come in peace from Earth – third planet from the Sun. God, I hope they can’t read that map.

Are You a Racist?

If you are an African American, as I am, ask yourself, were you ever a slave? Was your father a slave? Your grandfather? Great grandfather? Do you personally know a single American that ever was a slave? If you are a white person, do you own any slaves? Did your Father? Grandfather? Great grandfather? Maybe it’s time to put the past behind us. There is no disputing that slavery was a terrible stain on America’s past but it is just that – the past. The fact that it was wrong is recognized by blacks and whites alike. It is time to forgive but not forget the wrongs of those that lived 150 years ago and move on. It is our history but not our present or future.
Racism is wrong whether it is white against black or black against white. It is just wrong. As long as African Americans continue to hold a grudge against the current generation for things done before any of our great grandfathers were born, we will never be completely welcome in today’s society. We will struggle because we won’t get the opportunities open to others. This country has come so far. It is time to get over the past and move forward. See people for who they are – not the color of their skin. We are all Americans underneath. God bless us all.