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Nuclear Masada: An Ethical Quandary

2006-10-11 22:52:01

Masada, for anyone not familiar, is a story of human dedication. During the Jewish revolt against Roman empire, a band of rebels named, appropriately enough, the Zealots were using the fortress at Masada as their headquarters. It had been fortified several decades earlier by King Herod, and as you can see from the photo above, it's a pretty good spot to fight a war from.

However...can you see the long, thin white pathway up the front of the cliffs?

Romans built that, and finally overwhelmed Masada. Rather than surrender, though, they all killed themselves. (Technically, they drew straws and killed each other, since Torah law forbids suicide, but the principle remains intact.) According to legend, two women and five children hid in the fortress and survived to tell the tale, which is a good thing, because otherwise the whole account of what went on inside the fortress during the seige would seem downright made-up, wouldn't it?

Details aside, that's the first chunk of this concept: Masada as metaphor for "Death Before Surrender".

The Other Concept

For anyone not familiar with Hakim Bey and the concept of TAZ -- the Temporary Autonomous Zone -- you might want to start there. Considering you're on the second sentence of the main article, though, you probably want me to sum it up real quick-like. Done deal:

As Thomas Pynchon pointed out in Gravity's Rainbow -- I think, who knows -- real freedom never lasts long, unless you keep moving. (This is why the Tuareg of the Sahara remain the only true Master Race humanity has ever known, among other things.) The Temporary Autonomous Zone describes not so much a place as the martial art of knowing when the party is about to get busted, and also knowing where the next happening spot is going to be -- I think.

So my perfectly harmless question: how about a Nuclear Autonomous Zone? Bear with me for a second:

1) You and five friends spend a decade growing and selling psychedelic mushrooms. You use much of the profits to buy 500 square acres of land in Montana. You set up your homes wherever you want them, and build a central, fortified compound.

2) Then you use much of the remaining money to visit the Ukraine, or perhaps Johannesburg, and acquire a tactical nuclear warhead. (You'd be amazed how cheap they get these days.) You take it back home --- I know, I know, let's just gloss over that part --- and set it up in your compound.

3) Now, you declare yourself an autonomous nationstate. Anyone who attempts to invade your land will be repeled by force, and failing that, you will detonate your nuclear weapon, killing yourself and anyone within several miles.

As far as I can tell, this is without precedent.

In the United States, of course, we've had a great many aborted attempts at secession, from Waco (good one, Janet) to the murder of most of the MOVE organization in downtown Philadelphia. If you're unfamiliar with that last one, check it out --- the police brought a firebomb by helicopter and dropped it on an apartment building in the middle of the city.

All of these organizations were doomed. The United States Army, Navy and Air Force operate at more or less total global tactical superiority, which is a military term for "What the Fuck was Che Guevera Thinking?" There is nobody who is capable of achieving a military victory against the US except for the US, and this is exactly what George W. Bush is currently pursuing.

Here in Vermont, we have a relatively robust secession movement. In a recent poll, 8% of the Vermonters who were asked if they'd consider seceeding from the United States responded favorably. This is apparently the highest positive response in the entire country. One of the self-appointed figureheads of the VT secession movement is Thomas Naylor, who is not concerned with the military consequences of withdrawing from the United States:

"Would the United States send troops to Vermont? Maybe, maybe not? Why would anyone want to invade tiny Vermont? Only Wyoming has a smaller population. Vermont has no military bases, few defense contractors, virtually no strategic resources, no large cities, and no important government installations. Its only strategic resource is the aging Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. What if the Marines were to invade the Green Mountain State? Would all of the black-and-white Holsteins be destroyed or perhaps the entire sugar maple crop burned? Imagine trying to enslave freedom-loving Vermonters. Good luck! Vermont is too small, too rural, and too independent to be invaded by anyone. It is a threat to no one. Furthermore, Vermonters, not unlike the Swiss, tend to stick to their own knitting rather than poking their noses into everyone else's business. Vermont has always been that way, and it probably always will be."

Although we're not in the business of passing judgement on our fellow man: what a moron, huh?

First of all, the United States military does regular exercises where they move army units into small towns, take over the police department, disarm the citizens by going door-to-door, and rounding up "problem citizens" based on lists given to them. This is not new, this is not unusual. The military is trained and fully prepared to do exactly what Naylor finds so unbelievable.

I personally am a strong supporter of VT independence. I've been studying it as a serious possibility for two years and I came to the same conclusion a lot of other Vermonters have: it's not a serious possibility. Vermont will not leave the United States unless the Federal Government collapses. Any state --- even humble Vermont --- breaking ranks from the US and declaring, in no uncertain terms, their opposition to the past 50 years of US Empire, would be a slap to the fact that the Bush Administration will not allow.

....so what if they had no choice?

Is he saying what I think he's saying?

Of course I am --- let's expand our hypothetical situation to include the entire state of Vermont instead of five friends in Utah.

As an interesting side note, the lying murderers who run Israel also run a nuclear weapons program which is an "open secret" (similar to the JFK assassination). The Negev Nuclear Research Center is outside of Dimona, and nobody who works there has even published a shred of nuclear research. Several people I talked to in preparation for this post have mentioned the possibility that Isreal is pursuing exactly what I'm proposing here: the in the event of a major military breach of Israel's borders, a large-scale co-ordinated multi-national Arabic attack, Israel would sooner wipe themselves off the map than face defeat.

It's a useful mirror: Israeli government is increasingly violent and paranoid (they didn't start off in mint condition, either) and are rapidly approaching the point of being flat-out genocidal. Is this the kind of company you'd want to be keeping? Do you have a choice?

And now, some 2nd rate moralizing....

This manages to touch on everything: it's murder and suicide, the destruction of environment, total commitment to freedom, plus it's completely insane. This is the kind of situational ethics you can really sink your teeth into.

All of this, aside from being an exercise in what-iffing, is an approach to the question: How are we supposed to deal with monsters?

How are we even supposed to deal with monstrous weapons? A number of peace activists have published designs for H-Bombs in a bid to end the secrecy and....well, they're not too clear about that. Greenpeace, for instance, published schematics of warheads on their website. What exactly is that protesting? Keeping that information out of the hands of as many humans as possible seems like a pretty noble cause. The Progressive magazine published an arcticle in 1979 about "The H-Bomb Secret", but the story behind that is much more fascinating.

Nukes are a sticky situation because the genie is very much out of the bottle for good. They will always exist, they will always be a threat, and so they need to be faced head-on and dealt with. Hopefully, there is a beneficial use for them that we can't see yet. This article was an attempt at finding one, but I myself am not satisfied. It's one thing to kill yourself and your friends on principle --- it's quite another to detonate a nuclear warhead and render 100 square miles into a burning, toxic wasteland.

As always as ever, feedback on the issues raised here would be most interesting. Is there any way to "enforce" personal freedom? Is personal freedom something that can operate out in the open, or do we always have to be watching our backs and staying ready to move? Is there any possible response to monsters that doesn't involve becoming 1) a monster yourself, or 2) monster food?

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