The Rowboat as Nuclear Delivery System

I’m trying to understand Ballistic Missile Defense. It’s slow going. Probably I need another cup of coffee.

Years ago, I did understand it, sort of. It used to be, the Russians were going to launch a totalitarian, world-domination attack, unexpectedly on a wet night, with ten gazillion nuclear missiles, give or take a dozen, and scramble our eggs most spectacular. Ly. So we needed to build a bunch of rockets to shoot down their rockets, which we could do for only several hundred bazillion dollars, plus a three-times overrun probably written into the contract. The Pentagram formed BMDO, the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (Bam-dough to those who knew and loved it, because, bam!, it blew a lot of dough) to create jobs in Southern California.

Shoot down missiles, I mean.

OK. It made perfect sense.

Or at least it might have, except that for the same money we could have bought Russia, compacted it, and moved it to Nevada where we could watch it. Besides, I figure the Russian rocket forces would have sold out for two pairs of blue jeans each plus a twelve-dollar digital watch and a subscription to Playboy. It seemed to me we were doing things the hard way.

The federal government can’t run a slum-clearance project. It was going to shot down missiles? If even fifty of those suckers hit their targets, which is about what you would expect from three thousand Russian missiles, it wouldn’t matter what the others did. If you vaporized the big cities that make replacement parts for tractors, this country would shrivel like a moth in a bug-zapper. Complicated countries can’t fight nuclear wars. It’s just how things are.

And I could never see why the Russians would have wanted to attack. I knew, and they knew, that the Navy’s missile subs would have turned Russia into one big glass-flat. Afterwards you could have tied fatback on your feet and skated from Kiev to Vladivostok. Russia barely worked the best day it ever saw. I couldn’t see how being turned into radioactive glass would help much.

But then, I’m slow.

Ahh, but now, howsomever, we’re going to build a little tiny Bam-dough to shoot down missiles from Rogue States. This means North Korea, Iran, and Iraq. These places want an ICBM to point at the US. It’s to improve their self-esteem. North Korea is busily concocting missiles, including one unimposingly named, so help me, the No Dong. We guess they’ll launch their one missile in a huff, or maybe by accident, and we’ll shoot it down with micro-Bam-dough, plink. (You know how accidental launches are. There’s a big red switch that says, “Fry Imperialist Rice,” and you can stumble on a loose marble or something, and, Ooops. . . .)

I don’t get it. You don’t need a missile to blow up Manhattan.

If you want to send a thousand bombs, you need a passel of missiles. To send one, you need a credit card and a shipping station. If I had a bomb or two, and wanted to blow up New York (which I might), I’d put it in a crate marked “Machine Tools” and send it to La Guardia by Air India. For really good precision, Fed-Ex would be better if you could get a bomb that fit their weight limits. A better-than-average third-world missile might hit the right continent. UPS will hand it to somebody in the right room. And their rates are good.

You don’t even need that. Guys at DEA say that about 95% of the drugs that try to come into this country get in uncaught. How hard would it be to bring that nuclear bonbon ashore in a motorboat, put it in a ’48 Ford flathead pickup truck, and drive it to Washington? Best I can tell, you could write “Cocaine” on it, and take it in a convertible, and nobody would notice.

The problem isn’t countries. North Korea doesn’t worry me. They’ve started talking to South Korea. They’re going to discover money and food. It’s gonna sap their will. They won’t want to get in a nuclear war with the United States any more.

The real problem’s more likely to be some sorry pack of free-lance losers with a bank account, a rowboat, and a highly perceptive inferiority complex. Not a country at all: Just scrofulous terrorists all riled up over some cause they don’t understand. Someday, they might get a Bomb.

What I want to know is: What do we do when Chicago disappears? Ker-whoom? Who do we blow up in revenge? Everybody?

It’s a problem. If Iraq nuked us, we’d turn the place into a geologic lava-lamp, and they know it. So they won’t. But if the Red People’s Liberation Jihad Army Hoopty-Squat Dirtbag Guevarist Fifth-of Some-Month Movement did it, well, we might catch a few of them. But so what? Hoopty-squat dirtbags are easy to replace.

We know how to get even with a country. We don’t know how to get even with six congenitally furious goat-herds from an unsuccessful culture with too much sand.

Anyway, the thing about truck-nuking a city is that one time would be enough. All the other cities, or at least the obvious ones like Washington and New York, would empty overnight. If New York went, would you keep working on Capitol Hill? And of course every mayor in the country would be getting notes saying, “We blew up Chicago. Put a whole bunch of money in a locker in the bus station, or you’re next.” Most of them would be lying.

There would be no way to keep it from happening again. Not, anyway, without turning the country into a police state that would drive Joe Stalin into the ACLU.

What do you do when you know the bad guys had at least one bomb, because Chicago is having a warm winter and everybody downwind is mutating, and the spook agencies say the same loons have a couple more? Do you put radiation detectors on every road going into the big cities? Tap every phone and Hotmail account on earth? Eliminate private aviation? Put soldiers ten feet apart along the entire border, of which there’s only a near-infinite amount? Stop letting freight come into the country?

Tell you what. I don’t want ballistic-missile defense. Just give me a radiation suit and a ticket to Tierra del Fuego.

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