Obama's Nuclear Policy
“President Obama has announced a new policy on America’s use of nuclear weapons,” I told the class. “He won’t be the first to use them in a conflict with another nation, he said. And, he won’t retaliate with nuclear weapons if we’re attacked by a country which is using other WMD, or ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction,’ such as chemical or biological weapons against us.”
I waited for that to sink in.
After a pause, a boy raised his hand and asked, “What would be the point of that?”
“Yeah,” said another boy. “Why have them if we’re not going to use them?”
“President Obama says America won’t retaliate with nuclear weapons against a country that has signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty - countries that have pledged not to make nuclear weapons. I think he’s trying to encourage more countries to sign it and that’s a big reason for his new policy,” I suggested.
“Who agrees with Obama’s new policy?” I asked.
A couple of girls didn’t stick their hands up, but turned their palms around to me while their elbows stayed on the desk. They smiled meekly.
Most of the students raised their hands. We had been studying WMD and the arms race following World War II. Students had seen “Hiroshima,” a made-for-TV docudrama focusing on President Truman’s decision to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japanese Emperor Hirohito’s decision to surrender. They learned what a nuclear weapon can do - how it kills with a blast, with heat, and with radiation. They learned about kilotons and megatons. They learned what countries have nuclear weapons and when each obtained them between 1945 and today. They knew that North Korea has tested one and that Iran is trying to develop one. They knew that Iran is threatening to “wipe Israel off the map.”
A couple of days later I said to the class: “Sarah Palin criticized President Obama’s new nuclear policy saying, ‘It's kinda like getting out there on a playground, a bunch of kids, getting ready to fight, and one of the kids saying, “Go ahead, punch me in the face and I'm not going to retaliate. Go ahead and do what you want to with me,”’”
“Good for her,” said a boy. “Is she going to run for president?”
“Maybe,” I said. “I’m sure she’s thinking about it. Who agrees with Sarah Palin on this?” I asked.
A scattering of hands.
Another scattering. Most did not to have an opinion one way or the other.
The next day, I told the class that President Obama responded to Sarah Palin’s criticism. “He said, ‘Last I checked, Sarah Palin's not much of an expert on nuclear issues.’” I paused and let them chew on that.
“And he is?” suggested a girl skeptically.
“Well, he does have experts advising him,” I said, “and he would have access to much more information than you or me or Sarah Palin would. He also said, ‘[I]f the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff are comfortable with it, I'm probably going to take my advice from them and not from Sarah Palin.’”
“But he hasn’t been president very long and he wasn’t an expert before that,” she said.
“Okay,” I answered.
The next day, I told them, “Sarah Palin has another response to President Obama. She mocked his criticism saying, ‘all the vast nuclear experience that he acquired as a community organizer . . .’ The president was a community organizer in Chicago for fifteen years or so before becoming a state senator and a US senator. Today, he’s in Prague, Czech Republic signing a treaty declaring that the United States would further reduce the number of nuclear weapons we have. He made a speech there last year saying he wants a world without nuclear weapons.”
“Can we do that?” asked a boy. “Can we get rid of our nuclear weapons? What would we do with them”
“We can disassemble them down to the enriched uranium or plutonium that is turned into energy according to the equation E=mc2, but we cannot unmake that material. We can only store it somewhere and guard it. Also, directions for constructing a nuclear weapon can be downloaded from the internet, so a world without nuclear weapons doesn’t seem like a real possibility.”
“How many weapons would it take to destroy the whole world?” asked another boy.
“Nobody knows for sure,” I said, “and I hope we never find out. Some speculate that it would be around 3000 or so.”
“And how many are we going to get down to?”
“Around 1600 in our arsenal, I think, assuming the Senate ratifies this treaty.”
“Hmm,” he said.