March 1, 1954 – After more than three years of research and development by physicists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and despite strong opposition from many former Manhattan Project scientists like J. Robert Oppenheimer, the “super” or hydrogen bomb was first detonated on this date in a test designated Bravo as part of the Operation Castle series of nuclear tests at the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. Quoting a 2013 Alex Wellerstein article from the blog NuclearSecrecy.org, Daniel Ellsberg’s book “The Doomsday Machine” described the impact and significance of the first U.S. thermonuclear weapon, “The yield for the first droppable H-bomb…was fifteen megatons. That is a million times more explosive power than the largest blockbusters in World War II…The yield was 250 percent greater than the largest yield that had been predicted for it, six megatons resulting – along with an unexpected shift of wind – in heavy radioactive fallout contaminating inhabitants of the Marshall Islands and the crew of the Japanese fishing boat Lucky Dragon, one of (the crew of 23 hospitalized sailors) whom died. The reason for the great underestimate of yield, with its serious human consequences, was precisely the kind of scientific error or unforeseen reactivity that (Manhattan Project scientist Enrico) Fermi had feared in the connection with the possibility of atmospheric ignition (impacting the entire surface of the Earth) from the Trinity test (the first atomic bomb blast on July 16, 1945 near Alamogordo, New Mexico). Los Alamos bomb designers had neglected or greatly underestimated the contribution of the production of neutrons and to the yield from one of the isotopes including in the hydrogen fuel, lithium-7, which had been thought to be relatively inert but proved not to be under the unprecedented condition of the dry-fuel thermonuclear detonation.” Bravo produced a crater in the atoll with a diameter of 6,000 feet and a depth of 240 feet as the blast created a fireball four miles wide and a mushroom cloud 60 miles across. Comments: The frightening 1949 characterization of such doomsday machines by nuclear bomb designers Enrico Fermi and I. I. Rabi justify renewed efforts by global citizenry today to eliminate these weapons before it is too late, “By its very nature, it cannot be confined to a military objective but becomes a weapon which in practical effect is almost one of genocide. It is clear that the use of such a weapon cannot be justified on any ethical ground which gives a human being a certain individuality and dignity even if he (or she) happens to be a resident of an enemy country.”
(Sources: Thomas B. Cochran, William M. Arkin, Robert S. Norris, and Milton M. Hoenig. “Nuclear Weapons Databook: Volume II, Appendix B.” Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Co., 1987, p. 154 and Daniel Ellsberg. “The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner.” New York: Bloomsbury, 2017, pp. 285; 289-290.)
March 11, 1999 – Retired General George Lee Butler, who was selected as head of the U.S. Strategic Air Command on Jan. 25, 1991 and served in that capacity until stepping down in 1994 and became one of the first high-ranking U.S. military officers to call for the elimination of nuclear weapons in a December 1996 speech at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, gave a speech on this date to the staff and supporters of the Canadian Network Against Nuclear Weapons in Montreal. In his remarks, Butler described the Pentagon’s nuclear war plan or SIOP (Single Integrated Operational Plan) in this manner, “With the possible exception of the Soviet nuclear war plan, this was the single most absurd and irresponsible document I had ever reviewed in my life.” Comments: In his later years, General Butler said this about nuclear weapons, “Rather than being concerned about the moral implications of these devices, we continue to pursue them as if they were our salvation – as opposed to the prospective engine of our utter destruction…As long as these weapons exist, and people hold them in such high regard for reasons of national esteem, they act as a brake on our capacity for advancing our humanity…The cold hard fact of the matter is that a nuclear weapon is, at its very core, anti-ethical…Nuclear conflict is essentially an irrational activity, because essentially what you’re doing is signing your own death notice.”
(Sources: George Lee Butler. “General Lee Butler Addresses The Canadian Network Against Nuclear Weapons.” WagingPeace.org. Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. March 11, 1999 https://www.wagingpeace.org/general-lee-butler-addresses-the-canadian-network-against-nuclear-weapons/ accessed Feb. 15, 2018 and Norman Kempster. “Ex-Chief of U.S. Nuclear Forces Seeks Total Ban.” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 5, 1996.)
March 15, 1980 – One of four SS-N-6 Serb (R-27 Zyb) submarine-launched-ballistic-missiles, launched as part of a training exercise from a Soviet submarine sailing in the Sea of Okhotsk bordering the Pacific Ocean between the Kamchatka Peninsula and Sakhalin Island in the far northeastern zone of the Soviet Union, pursued a trajectory that potentially threatened Japan or Alaska. This quickly resulted in the U.S. Strategic Air Command convening a threat assessment conference which determined that no Soviet missile attack was in progress. Comments: Many of the numerous false warnings of nuclear attack (another prominent example being the Jan. 25, 1995 Black Brant Incident involving a Norwegian sounding rocket which almost caused Russian President Boris Yeltsin to launch a nuclear counterstrike) that have occurred in all nine nuclear weapons states over the decades since the dawn of the nuclear age, have taken the world to the edge of global catastrophe. This state of affairs represents one of the most powerful rationales for eliminating world nuclear arsenals.
(Source: John Pike, et al., “Chicken Little and Darth Vader: Is the Sky Really Falling?” Federation of American Scientists, Oct. 1, 1991, p. 61.)
March 20, 2003 – The United States began a large-scale air assault and land invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq on this date. After the collapse of Hussein’s government, efforts to find substantial evidence of weapons of mass destruction however proved unsuccessful (proving what representatives of the International Atomic Energy Agency had confirmed after more than a decade of in-country inspections). Eventually the dissolution of the Iraqi military helped fuel a long-term, robust and deadly insurgency that went on bloody year after bloody year. By the time of large-scale U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq in December of 2011, there were almost 4,500 U.S. soldiers and anywhere between 150,000 and one million Iraqi soldiers and civilians killed. Many millions of other Iraqis were wounded or forced to flee the country as refugees. Over 32,000 U.S. soldiers were wounded in the fighting with at least 10,000 suffering the effects of PTSD. The cost estimates for the war, which include ongoing long-term medical treatment for tens of thousands of U.S. troops, range from one to three trillion dollars. Comments: Despite former President Barack Obama’s statement that, “The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have made America stronger,” it is likely that the “cure” for the problem of suspected, surviving WMD (which were not destroyed by U.S./allied forces in the first Persian Gulf War of 1991 or thereafter by intermittent air strikes in the years preceding the second Gulf War) in Iraq was worse than the “disease.” Hopefully the lesson of the U.S. experience in Iraq that military invasion and occupation is not a wise course of action to prevent nuclear proliferation will convince the Trump Administration not to go the same route in North Korea and/or Iran. But even smaller-scale conventional or tactical nuclear strikes on those nations’ nuclear and ballistic missile infrastructure will likely only fuel long-term conflict and heighten the risk of acts of terrorism, particularly WMD terrorism. A better solution is to embrace the new United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and work toward universal ratification of this treaty and other verifiable nuclear weapons elimination agreements to reduce the chance of perpetual conventional war or a nuclear doomsday.
(Sources: Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes. “The True Cost of the Iraq War: $3 Trillion and Beyond.” Washington Post, Sept. 5, 2010 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/03/AR2010090302200.html accessed Feb. 19, 2018 and numerous mainstream and alternative news media sources.)
March 28, 1960 – On this date, the French oceanographer, explorer, and co-inventor of the Aqua-Lung, Jacques Cousteau (1910-1997) appeared on the cover of Time magazine. Cousteau devoted his life to studying and preserving diverse ocean environments on our planet and promoting responsible treatment of the flora and fauna of the seas by recording his trips on the ABC-TV series The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. He was one of the first environmentalists to witness the negative impact of global warming on fragile ocean ecosystems and Cousteau also opposed the building of nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants because of their deleterious impacts on humanity and the environment. In 1959, he helped organize the First World Oceanic Congress and a year later he lobbied his native France and other countries to stop dumping radioactive waste into the Mediterranean Sea which led to an eventual ban on such activities. In 1977 he was awarded the United Nations International Environmental Prize.
(Sources: “Jacques Cousteau.” Biography.com http://www.biography.com/people/jacques-cousteau-9259496 and The Gale Group. “Opposing Viewpoints In Context: Environmental Science In Context: Radioactive Waste.” 2009.)
March 31, 1998 – The United Kingdom withdrew from service the last of its estimated 100 WE-177 tactical nuclear free-fall bombs, making the U.S. the only nation with tactical nuclear weapons deployed outside its own territory. Comments: While the U.S. drastically reduced the numbers of tactical nuclear weapons deployed outside U.S. borders from several thousand during the height of the Cold War to its current total of approximately 150 warheads stationed in five European countries (Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Italy, and Turkey), there nevertheless remain serious concerns of the increased risk of unauthorized, accidental, or unintentional nuclear war with Russia. Many scholars and arms control experts today feel that NATO’s expansion (and the deployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons ever closer to Russia’s western borders) since the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 and increased tensions relating to recent crises in Crimea and Ukraine, have helped trigger a renewed Cold War. Also, there is speculation that with the recent release of the Trump Administration’s new Nuclear Posture Review this past February, which supports building smaller yield, more usable tactical weapons (and possibly deploying them in places like South Korea and Japan where they might be used against North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile sites), that the overall risk of nuclear war has actually increased.
(Sources: Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahame, editors. “Arms Control Chronology.” Washington, DC: Center for Defense Information, 2002, p. 57 and Kingston Reif. “U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Turkey Raise Alarms.” Arms Control Association, November 2017.)