I spent a good part of the 1970s in Seattle, as the son of a Japanese businessman stationed there. I used to see one of the Airborne Command Post planes -- a souped-up 747 that was supposed to keep the President and his people airborne and presumably out of danger in the event of a Soviet attack -- parked in Boeing Field. I never doubted that someday there would be a Dr. Strangelove-like nuclear exchange and civilization would come to an end. I had visions of Jimmy Carter, who was President at the time, flying over what's left of Montana in his 747 with nowhere to land.
I wonder what went through Jimmy Carter's mind when they told him about the 747. I'm sure he thought about a flood and an ark. And I'm sure he thought about a guy named Noah. Carter also must have thought about the possibility of becoming the next Noah while simultaneously being the perpetrator of a nuclear Great Flood. I wonder if this was the sort of thing that kept Carter awake at night.
With the end of the Cold War, the M.A.D. model of armageddon became highly unlikely and obsolete. Dr. Strangelove became an artifact. Sure, some terrorist might set off a dirty bomb somewhere, but it won't be the end of the world. It's unsettling to realize that something you thought for sure would happen won't occur. It's like being on a long-distance bus and the driver suddenly announcing that it won't be going to its original destination -- and that neither he nor anyone else knows what the new destination is. Not that Nagasaki shouldn't be the last time somebody nukes a city.
A quick glance at the Wikipedia page about the souped-up 747s will tell you that they are nearing retirement. Donald Rumsfeld wanted to retire them starting in 2009 but Robert Gates decided they will stay on until 2015. Rummy had the right idea because the planes had already became obsolete around the time the Berlin Wall fell. They will become scrap before fulfilling their intended roles as doomsday planes.
Unlike Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama doesn't have to think about flying in the 747/ark because it is highly unlikely that a full-scale nuclear war will ever occur during the reign of a post-Cold War president. But that doesn't make his job any easier. The end of the Cold War didn't end history and there's plenty of resentment, antagonism and conflict in the world to go around. No wonder Obama has to keep sending out so many drones. The drone manufacturers will have plenty to do for a long time.
I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.
Albert Einstein said that, and he's wrong. There will be no World War III of the classic Dr. Strangelove-Fail Safe-The Day After model and there will be no "reset" for humanity. We will drudge on with our faults and shortcomings as we've always done. The way things are going now, both World Wars III and IV will be fought with variations of AK-47s and M16s -- and for those who can afford it, the latest in drone technology.
The sad thing is that getting nuclear weapons out of humanity's arsenal is a lot easier than neutralizing the roots of human conflict. Why are we so combative, and must we always be that way? This is where serious thinking is needed most. I'd love to discuss this with Jimmy Carter, in Plains, over bourbon.
The bourbon has to be the best, and I'll bring it.