Thursday, February 24, 2011

Nuclear Winter -- Can this be avoided?

Nature has demonstrated what a catastrophic explosion can do to the environment and life on this planet.
According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the eruption of the Tambora Volcano in Indonesia in 1815 lowered global temperatures by as much as 5ºF and historical accounts in New England describe 1816 as “the year without a summer.”

Growing up during the height of the Cold War and learning to "duck and cover" in elementary school. I am fully aware of the dangers of nuclear war not just to the combatants but also to the planet. I remember waiting for the Russian ships to challenge the American blockade of Cuba during the Cuban missile crisis.

While anthropologist, especially archeologist, have studied climate change among "primitive" cultures and extinct civilizations, there has been very little anthropological attention given to the culture of nuclear warfare and the threat it poses to the planet. The threat of volcanoes are natural phenomena; nuclear war is a superorganic threat. Both can have the same effect on the planet. The former is beyond our immediate control, the latter should be under our control.

What does anthropology have to contribute to our understanding of process that leads societies and cultures to embark on a military policy based on nuclear weaponry?

Richard Rhodes has studied the history of nuclear weaponry and the political and military maneuvering associated with it, from the building of the first A Bomb to today's proliferation of nuclear technology.

Rhodes presents one scenario that illustrates the danger facing the planet if a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan were to take place.

This is an example where the insights of anthropology might be applied to help to prevent that one mistake that might bring about the results projected here or in other hot spots such as Israel and Iran, North Korea and the US.

Can anthropologists identifying the socio-cultural forces that might be employed to resolve the outstanding issues that make this scenario a real possibility?

Here is a related resource that gives a perspective of how those charged with the nuclear weaponry have seen their mission during the Cold War period:

How the USAF Envisioned Nuclear War

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