At the risk of sounding alarmist, we would be remiss not to remind readers that most of Ukraine was in denial about Vladimir Putin’s plan to invade their country even while the Russian dictator — during a three-month period — was assembling a massive military build-up of 130,000 troops, tanks, armored vehicles and missile launchers along Ukraine’s northern, eastern and southern borders.
Ukrainians, for the most part, believed that President Putin was merely posturing and looking to negotiate new assurances about their country’s buffer status between Russia and NATO member countries (which Mr. Putin perceives as mere proxies for the U.S., a nation he despises with a passion). Most Ukrainians, we understand, did not believe for one moment that their cultural cousins and fellow Slavs would actually invade with such murderous intent. And, as we’ve seen, even Russia’s own troops were both surprised and horrified by the military mission forced upon them.
Bear this in mind as we point out that Americans, for the most part, are in similar denial about the possibility of a nuclear weapon exchange between Russia and the United States.
Truth is, not since the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 has the specter of nuclear holocaust loomed so ominously. This current crisis is much more serious and far more dangerous than the standoff between JFK and Nikita Khrushchev over the Kremlin’s desire to place missiles in Cuba.
Problem: To paraphrase what Lloyd Bentsen famously told Dan Quayle about Mr. Quayle in their 1988 vice presidential candidate debate: Joe Biden is no Jack Kennedy. And JFK’s Executive Committee of the National Security Council, known as EXCOMM, was far more formidable than Mr. Biden’s green-tinted cabinet.
Mr. Khrushchev was renowned to be boorish and overbearing. But not evil.
On the other hand, Mr. Putin is a psychopath who has been spoiling for a showdown with the United States for many years.
Moreover, he will never willingly accept defeat in Ukraine (or anywhere). He cannot afford to lose as it would surely signal the end of his long, 20-year-plus reign. His untrained, ill equipped military (lacking food and fuel) has already become a laughingstock while, sadly, Russian mothers learn that their sons are never coming home. Mr. Putin doesn’t even have the decency to return his own dead to their homeland.
History has shown that countries are not kind to autocrats who lose wars. Such leaders quickly lose power and often their lives.
In his soon-to-be-published book, “The Eastern Front in World War 3,” former U.S. Defense Department official Dr. Philip Petersen writes: “Putin is a terrorist — a state thug … equipped only with the survival instincts of a common bully. Because Putin is not a soldier experienced with the harsh realities of war, he strives to hide the reality of his operational mess in Ukraine and seeks ways to impose his will both at home and abroad.
“He will absolutely not be reasoned with. The battlefield is everywhere. The war will not end with Russian operations in Ukraine. We are engaged in an existential struggle between feudalism represented by the criminal conspiracy emanating from Moscow and modernity as represented by the progressive forces to be found in the imperfect liberal democracies.”
The best outcome we can hope for is that a few bold Russian generals take control of the Kremlin and strip Mr. Putin of power. They don’t have to execute him (as much as he richly deserves it), but just relinquish Vlad of his command in a military coup and eventually hand him over to the International Criminal Court of the Hague for prosecution as the war criminal the world now knows him to be.
Thereafter, they could oversee temporary martial law, retreat from Ukraine — and hopefully transition toward a new election. (If we choose to be truly optimistic, let’s hope for a new democratic government led by the currently imprisoned Alexey Navalny, whom Mr. Putin tried and failed to assassinate.)
Not to get political, but since TV talk show host Bill Maher raised the question: If Donald Trump was the Putin stooge so many believed him to be, why did the Russian dictator not invade Ukraine during the Trump presidency?
It could be, as others now pose, that Mr. Putin chose to make his boldest move yet under the watch of Joe Biden, a president he regards as cognitively-challenged and weak, especially after how he mishandled our country’s humiliating, poorly-planned withdrawal from Afghanistan that dishonored the American servicemen and women who gave their lives to further our mission subduing the Taliban.
This, after Mr. Putin covertly assisted Mr. Trump’s election in 2016 not because he believed The Donald would do his bidding, but because he knew it would dramatically divide the country, which it did. (The real Great Divider — Mr. Putin, not Mr. Trump — was hoping for a second U.S. civil war or at very least that some states would strive to secede from the union and cause a constitutional crisis.)
A divisive country, a weak president … Mr. Putin’s timing is no accident. He has been playing chess while those who govern us play tiddlywinks.
As for Vice President Kamala Harris? A lucky bonus for Mr. Putin as this airhead continues to embarrass Americans in every foreign country she travels to and laughs, uh, speaks (always in childish platitudes, suggesting that she lacks intellectual depth or true understanding of the issues involved).
TACTICAL NUCLEAR WEAPONS ON THE BATTLEFIELD
Whatever brought us to this point, here we are. And rather than live in denial, Americans must face the reality that while a nuclear exchange with Russia is not probable, it is certainly possible.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres broached this only a few days ago: “The prospect of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable,” he said, “is now back within the realm of possibility.”
Picture this: Mr. Putin, who has already declared that part of his military doctrine, in general, renders nuclear weapons acceptable on the battlefield, responds to major losses (already happening) by launching a low-yield nuclear warhead (a fraction the force of the Hiroshima bomb) into a sparsely populated part of Ukraine, perhaps upon an atomic electric power station or transportation hub (as specified by Russian military doctrine).
This would most likely take place in southwestern Ukraine, away from the Russian-speaking eastern half of the country and its own border — and also away from Russia’s staunch ally to the north, Belarus. Mr. Putin would do this to demand Ukraine’s abject surrender on the basis that if the nation does not give up, the next nuclear warhead would be delivered to a densely-populated city.
“The Russians,” says Matthew Koenig of the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, “often finish their military exercises with nuclear strikes.”
Or as the Russian military journal Voyenna Mysl put it: “We believe nuclear weapons must be regarded as the principal means of ensuring the military security of Russia,” and therefore instrumental for de-escalating a conflict.
Dr. Petersen addresses this point in his upcoming book: “The formula of the Russian escalate-to-de-escalate doctrine involves the deployment of small nuclear weapons to shape the outcome of the conflict — ‘battlefield weapons’ and larger weapons against ‘deep theater’ or even strikes against American seaports to isolate the theater — and finally the nuclear destruction of Warsaw to ‘persuade’ the Europeans to insist upon American acceptance of a negotiated termination of the war on terms favorable to Moscow.”
And only three days ago, Defense Intelligence Agency director Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier issued a 67-page report that states: “As this war and its consequences slowly weaken Russian strength … Russia will increasingly rely on its nuclear deterrent to signal the West and project strength to its internal and external audiences.”
This reflects “Moscow’s doctrinal views,” he continues, “on the use of tactical nuclear weapons to compel an adversary into pursuing an off-ramp.”
Hopefully, this is the moment a few brave Russian generals would finally intercede and tell their president, “Nyet.”
But if they do not, and they follow his orders, what does the U.S. and NATO do?
Maybe the same as now: Not much, aside from smuggling Javelin anti-tank busters and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles along with ammunition (and now drones) into a war-torn country devastated daily by bombardment, leading to countless casualties, mostly civilians.
And what if Ukraine still does not surrender and Mr. Putin makes good on his threat to drop, say, a nuclear bomb on the beautiful, very cultural city of Lviv and its population of 720,000?
Thereafter, does Western civilization allow itself to be held hostage to Mr. Putin’s nuclear blackmail — do what he says or risk getting nuked? (Mr. Putin believes that the true meaning of strength is possessing the resolve to follow through on threats.)
There has probably never been a likelier time in the short history of nuclear weapons for our national security establishment to actually consider a preemptive strike against Russia to prevent Mr. Putin from escalating the use of atomic warheads for the purpose of achieving his military objectives.
Or perhaps Mr. Putin, sensing (or paranoid about) the possibility of a preemptive strike, launches one himself?
And here’s the real scary part to consider while you complacently sip your morning latte or your late afternoon chardonnay: Mr. Putin is full of rancor over the fact that while his beloved Mother Russia/Soviet Union suffered huge losses during World War II — and the “War to End All Wars” that preceded it — neither world war touched continental U.S. soil. Aside from Pearl Harbor, Americans did not suffer where they reside.
Mr. Putin would actually like to bring the horror of war to us, on our own turf. This is what he meant when he threatened the United States with “consequences greater than you have ever faced in history” should our country intervene in his slaughter of innocents in Ukraine. This is why Mr. Biden has been leery about delivering Polish MiG-29 jet fighters to Ukraine or supplying air cover in the sky above and is circumspect in general about poking a malevolent bully.
Three days ago, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy secretary of the Kremlin’s security council, announced that “Russia has the might to put all brash enemies in their place.”
And earlier this week, Russian TV host Vladimir Solovyov announced with regard to seized oligarch assets, “Those who took our money should be told, you have 24 hours to unfreeze our funds, or else we’ll send you what you know we’ve got. Your choice. Tactical or strategic, take a pick.”
It could happen. And it might.
Where would you go? What would you do?
The prevailing wisdom among those we have polled is this: “Kiss your a— goodbye.”
There is little thought, or planning, we discovered, beyond such flippancy, whose genesis was a satirical 1960s anti-war poster.
And this thinking is credible to some extent on the basis that if enough nuclear warheads were detonated throughout the U.S., such blasts and radiation could indeed be the end for most, and those who survive would find themselves in a whole new (and very austere) kind of existence, which itself could be terminated by a nuclear winter/ice age as the globe becomes enveloped in thick smoke that warmth from the sun could never penetrate.
Yet in such circumstances our natural survival instincts will cut in.
We have consulted a number of targeting maps, based on the most likely Russian (and Chinese) targets inside the continental U.S. There are very many targets, from the most highly populated cities — New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Houston (and of course Washington D.C.) — to military bases, especially those housing our nuclear arsenals.
We’re sorry to point out to our local readers that Vandenberg Space Force Base, just 60 miles northwest of Santa Barbara and right next to Lompoc, is an extremely ripe target. This is due to the fact that it houses nuclear Minuteman-III missiles along with Atlas ICBMs.
In other words, much too close for comfort.
According to “Nukemap” on a website called nuclearsecrecy.com, a Russian 100 megaton Tsar Bomba detonated above Vandenberg would result in 108,750 fatalities and 188,520 injuries. Its thermal radiation radius would extend to Santa Barbara, causing “third degree burns throughout the layers of skin, causing severe scarring or disablement that may require amputation.”
So again, we ask, where do you go?
Assessing the targeting maps, you have three options:
One: Gold Rush Country, the Sierra Nevada mountains, near Yosemite National Park. (A lovely wine-tasting village called Murphys.)
Two: Eastern Oregon. (There’s pretty much nothing there except moonscape.)
Three: Central Idaho. (Ironically, a city named … Moscow.)
First challenge is getting there: Keep your gas tank full. (You should do this anyway as earthquakes and tsunamis are a natural and ongoing threat in this region.)
Second challenge is survival: Take with you lots of bottled water, cash, gold and silver coins — and weapons, if you possess them. Ensure you have stocked up on whatever medicines you need, along with first aid gear. Add blankets and your warmest coat. And a shortwave radio, plus extra batteries.
But if you’re not quick enough and (in Santa Barbara) happen to catch a flash coming from the northwest (Vandenberg) or south (Los Angeles), close your eyes and get down flat, the way we did in our classrooms at school in the early 1960s when that weekly alarm siren sounded (for us, 10 a.m. every Friday). Go to a basement or middle of a building (“layers of protection”) and remain for 24 hours. If you are that close, however, it is probably too late and, indeed, may be time to “kiss your a— goodbye.”
Meantime (or until then), count your blessings and say prayers for the innocent folk of Ukraine who should have seen it coming — and didn’t — and had to leave their homes (the lucky ones) with only the clothes they wore.
Dr. Seuss saw it coming. His so-called political incorrectness notwithstanding, the insightful and prophetic Theodor Geisel penned two children’s books that forecast what we are witnessing today: “Yertle the Turtle” and “The Butter Battle Book.”
The former is about a ruling turtle who stands on the backs of an ever-growing tower of turtles to lord over all he can see — and ultimately topples.
Let’s hope for that outcome.
The latter is about an arms race between the Yooks and the Zooks, which concludes with a grandfather telling his grandson: “Who’s going to drop it, will you or will he? Be patient. We’ll see. We will see…”
We are just about at that point.
We will see.
Robert Eringer is a longtime Montecito author with vast experience in investigative journalism. He welcomes questions or comments at email@example.com.