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  In last week’s column looking back at “2018: The Year in Global Warming,”  I reviewed the dire threat posed to humanity and our environment by climate change, and concluded with the following:   The big question for Bostonians and anyone else reading this: How do we go from this grim state of affairs to […]


nuclear fireball


News weekly feels the threat of cataclysmic war is grave enough to warrant direct action


January 30, 2018



DigBoston—and this should be obvious, but it bears stating plainly—is against the US or any nation, organization, or individual having nuclear weapons. Because the longer anyone has them, the more likely it is that they will be used. And if one is used, there is a very significant chance that many or even all of the nukes will be used. Lest we forget that when the US had the first two atomic bombs in existence, and used one, it was very quick to use the second.


That’s why last week, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a journal founded in 1945 by Manhattan Project scientists who “could not remain aloof to the consequences of their work,” moved the hands of its famed “Doomsday Clock” up from “two and a half minutes to midnight” to “two minutes to midnight.” The clock has not been so close to “midnight”—meaning nuclear war—since 1953. Shortly after both the US and the former Soviet Union tested their first outrageously destructive hydrogen bombs at the height of the Cold War.


The journal’s reasons for taking this alarming step are many, and can be read on its website, But at base, it is dangerous changes to US nuclear policy under Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump that threaten to overturn treaties that have led to decades of reductions to the global stockpile of nuclear warheads—from over 65,000 in 1986 to about 15,000 today—coupled with Trump’s escalating war of words with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un that led to the clock being dialed forward.


Behind the bluster is the world’s largest military: America’s. Which for the last few months has been positioning conventional and nuclear forces within easy striking distance of North Korea. So when, according to the Wall Street Journal, some of the less sane Trump administration figures like National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster support the idea of giving the growing North Korean nuclear weapons program “a bloody nose” with a military strike using “small,” “tactical” nuclear weapons, the world takes notice. And the Doomsday Clock continues its unnerving march toward midnight.


Lest readers think such concern is overstated, Business Insider just reported that the US has deployed B-2 stealth bombers to Guam—joining B-52 bombers already stationed there. Both planes are capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Including the new B61-12 gravity bombs that, while not slated to be deployed until 2019, are supposedly able to take out deep bunkers with a minimum of damage and fallout. Which, together with their adjustable yield setting down to a fraction of the Hiroshima bomb, makes them more likely to be used, according to peace activists and defense officials alike. And a fraction of a bomb that destroyed and irradiated an entire city is still much more dangerous than the largest US conventional weapons. Not to mention the Pandora’s box problem. Since once the US opens that figurative box by using nukes in battle, there’s nothing to stop other countries from doing the same. Least of all North Korea.


Russia and China have been frantically trying to get the US to pursue a diplomatic path to peace with North Korea, but to no avail. At a time when the US no longer has any nuclear disarmament negotiations in progress with Russia, a nation with 7,000 nuclear warheads—the most of any nation—and tensions are rising with China, which has 270 warheads, that is most disturbing news indeed.


Because the path from the “bloody nose” of a few “smaller” nukes like the B61-12 dropped on North Korean nuclear weapons sites—or sites that Pentagon planners assume are nuclear weapons sites despite having been wrong before due to poor intelligence on North Korea—to a global conflagration is crystal clear. Since the ironically named “Demilitarized Zone” between North and South Korea is the most heavily fortified place in the world. And 35 miles south of the zone is Seoul, the capital of South Korea.


If the US nukes North Korea, then Kim Jong Un would have every reason to nuke American targets that North Korean missiles are probably capable of reaching in the Pacific basin—and even Seoul itself in retaliation. Followed by other nuclear strikes, using precisely the same “use ’em or lose ’em” strategy that the US has followed since the dawn of the Atomic Age, according to Daniel Ellsberg—who recently released a book about his decade as a senior American nuclear strategist prior to his leaking the Pentagon Papers and helping end the Vietnam War.


Once nukes are flying, therefore, there’s nowhere to go but down. North Korea has somewhere between 10 and 60 warheads—depending on whether you believe the lower estimates by peace groups like the Nobel Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons or the higher estimates by US government sources—and its quest to figure out how to miniaturize nukes to fit on its short-, medium-, and now long-range missiles has been a precipitating factor in the current crisis. The US, for its part, has about 6,800 warheads overall. About 1,800 of which are deployed, according to 2017 data from the Federation of American Scientists.  


The American military would be dropping nukes on direct orders from a president with all the powers of his predecessors to use them at will with no check from any other branch of government. The weapons would strike a very small country that shares borders with Russia and China—two rival superpowers with huge armies and thousands more nuclear weapons between them. A couple of miscalculations involving unexpected fallout yield or an errant strike due to a jammed guidance system or any number of other unforeseen occurrences with incredibly dangerous nukes and it’s bye-bye Vladivostok and adieu Yanbian.


An unauthorized US flyover of Russia or China or the entry of a US fleet to their territorial waters during attacks on North Korea could also result in a nuclear response from either country—especially should the US lower the bar and start using nukes in combat again. And North Korea, with nuclear weapons that are hardly the most accurate or stable, could easily make mistakes that would draw Russia or China into a shooting war. Even though North Korea has stated that it is “only” targeting the US with nukes, according to Newsweek. The possibilities for error are endless in a conventional war, let alone one involving nuclear exchanges. So it’s easy to see how any use of horrific weapons of mass destruction can quickly put the entire world on the fast track to Armageddon.


For these reasons, and many more besides, DigBoston cannot stand on the sidelines and remain silent while the threat of a war that would exterminate the human race rises by the day. To do so would be an abrogation of our moral and ethical responsibilities—not only as journalists, but as human beings.


And if the planet is destroyed, journalists like us aren’t going to be able to report the news anymore, now are we? Nor will our audience have any use for it in the hereafter.


As such, this publication is joining the swiftly reviving movement to abolish nuclear weapons.


We plan to participate in the following ways:


  1. Open our pages wide to opinion articles calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons, as we continue to editorialize about same.
  2. Produce an ongoing series of columns, features, and investigative reports in the public interest exposing Massachusetts institutions involved in developing, producing, and/or profiting from nuclear weapons.
  3. Work directly on campaigns to abolish nuclear weapons with local, national, and international peace organizations—adding the name of our publication to the growing list of civic, social, religious, professional, and business organizations in tandem with the 56 nations that have already signed the new UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in saying that the only sane nuclear weapons policy is to mandate a world without such weapons.
  4. Help organize our colleagues in the news industry to join us in the fight to abolish nuclear weapons.


We’ll talk about more specifics over the coming months, but anyone with questions about our stance is welcome to email us at


Jason Pramas is executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston.


Sunflower Student Movement Protest
Students’ mass protest in Taiwan to end occupation of legislature | Artemas Liu

December 22, 2016

by Chen Wei-Ting, Lin Fei-Fan, June Lin, and Liu Yen-Ting

On December 15, the New York Times ran an article belatedly covering the reaction of Taiwanese citizens to the recent international dustup over President-elect Donald Trump’s unprecedented phone call with the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-Wen. It featured short quotes from Lin Fei-Fan, a leader of the Sunflower Student Movement—a popular 2014 uprising by progressive students and civic organizations that challenged the conservative government of the time over its support for a trade deal with China that they believed would sacrifice Taiwan’s democracy in the service of corporate profits. While Lin and other democracy activists were grateful for coverage of their views in the American “newspaper of record”—given the major global news media previously framing the story almost entirely around China’s reaction to the call—they felt that their full position was not adequately reflected in the article. So, Lin and three other activists wrote the following explanatory statement that they would like American progressives to read and share widely. -Jason Pramas, Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism & DigBoston

  1. We felt ambivalent about the phone call and Trump’s recent remarks. On the one hand, the call brought a chance for the world to reconsider its relations with a democratic island nation—Taiwan. On the other hand, we are puzzled by the reaction of the so-called liberals and the news media. Because the last thing that we think liberals should care about is “angering China.” However, many choose to put all their focus on that. Liberals should care more about the people of Taiwan and how such allies—sharing so many similar values with the people of the United States as we do—should be treated going forward.
  1. Although we can hardly accept that Trump uses Taiwan as a bargaining chip with China, we also have to point out that the current China policy of Obama’s administration has brought many crises to Taiwan. For example, in 2009, when Obama met with the Chinese president Hu Jing-Tao, he continued encouraging the Cross-Strait Agreement and dialogues that encouraged the former Kuomintang (KMT) government—which presided over a military dictatorship from 1949 to 1987—to pursue policies detrimental to Taiwan’s democracy and sovereignty in order to accelerate integration with China both politically and economically. Eventually triggering the Sunflower Movement in 2014.
  1. If people worry about Trump’s move of using Taiwan as a business bargaining chip, they also have to be aware that the Democrats and many liberals of all stripes were/are also using Taiwan as a bargaining chip to maintain America’s relationship with China.
  1. If Americans really care about Taiwan’s situation and the difficulties it is facing—being treated as a pawn in a giant geopolitical game— the best way to help is to “Urge the Normalization of US-Taiwan Relations.” Normalized relations can be the best way to keep rumors at bay and—along with allowing democracy-monitoring civil society organizations to act as watchdogs in the public interest—avoid letting the Taiwan issue be manipulated by a small number of politicians, from the president on down.
  1. Trump’s victory can be seen as part of the recent trend of the rise of right-wing conservatism around the world. However, when conservative forces are gathering, progressives worldwide must gather together as well. There is no reason for liberals and progressives to abandon a democratic and liberal ally, or leave them alone to face relentless political economic pressure and the growing threat of invasion from authoritarian China.