I know better than to read a James Carroll column for sense. But… but… I can’t even tell what he thinks he’s trying to say:
And what was the subject that had brought dozens of world leaders to Washington? Not the mortality of an individual, but of the entire human species. True, the summit focused narrowly on the danger of unsecured nuclear materials falling into the hands of terrorists. In contrast to a Cold War-era nuclear exchange between the USSR and the US, an al Qaeda nuclear attack, while catastrophic, would not doom civilization. But President Obama’s summit was nevertheless historic because of its deeper meaning. When joined to his just-achieved New Start treaty with Russia, his minor but real adjustments in America’s “nuclear posture’’ (including a renunciation of nuclear attack against non-nuclear states), and his anticipated emphasis on reviving the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty next month, the president’s real purpose becomes clear: nuclear weapons must never be accepted as a normal part of the world’s military arsenals. He is pushing back against what one summit participant called “a culture of cynicism,’’ a post-Cold War resignation to nuclear permanence, which, given the dynamics of war-making, amounts to resignation to an ultimate doomsday. The normalization of nuclear weapons (such as that the Bush administration advanced by pursuing a new generation of nukes) would quickly leave the relatively small-scale terrorist threat behind to reignite the danger of civilizational suicide.
Okay, he likes that President Obama held a summit on nuclear weapons. Who doesn’t (except for the global warming alarmists who decry every plane flight as a another spadeful of earth on our graves)?
I could quibble with the position that no nukes or fewer nukes are safer than lots of nukes (no nukes puts us at the level of the other guys with no nukes, and too few nukes leaves us vulnerable, hence more likely to launch first). But I’ll accept the premise, for now, that a world without nuclear weapons would be a better world, if only because a nuclear weapons, unlike most conventional weapons, visit death and deformity to unborn generations and leave a patch of earth uninhabitable for a period of time.
I do wish that Carroll, and the rest of the media, didn’t act like Obama was the first president to make a nuclear pact—hasn’t nearly every president? And if keeping nukes out of the hands of rogue terrorists is vital to national security (and boy is it ever), then where are the three cheers for President Bush and Clinton for doing so as the Soviet Union—and its nuclear stockpile—disintegrated into chaos and lawlessness?
But this is the weirdest part. I didn’t quote you the beginning of the piece. This is how Carroll opened his column:
CONSTANCE HOLDEN had worked as a writer at Science magazine since 1970. Reports portrayed her as a fiery redhead, “extraordinary, passionate, and funny,’’ as one of her colleagues said. Writing award-winning articles about mental illness, she was well acquainted with the human condition, and the idea of sudden death would doubtless have been familiar to her. It is safe to assume that, given her expertise, she would have taken individual mortality for granted — even if, like everyone, she would have been hard put to imagine her own. Yet, on a street in Washington last week, Constance Holden died. Preparing to mount her bicycle to ride home from work, she was hit by a D.C. National Guard truck deployed for the traffic lock-down around President Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit.
Lest you not see the connection, he makes it for you:
Constance Holden is an accidental casualty of that good effort, which lends an unwanted but authentic nobility to her story’s end. Her death stands apart from others, which, while no less heartbreaking, lack such a direct link to a history-making effort. To those who knew her, a world ended on the street that day, and a universe of affection went dark. But the frail web of human culture itself will prove to be just that vulnerable if we are not careful now. An individual death is a tragedy, yes, but, against the infamous maxim, so would be the mass death of nuclear war — tragedy squared, since we humans have been given chance after chance to see it coming and do something.
Constance Holden, may she rest in peace, died as part of Obama’s summit. No one blames him (though the federal government has been knocking off pedestrians and cyclists with alarming frequency); the two are barely related.
So then what is Carroll doing turning a photo op for burnishing the president’s foreign policy image into a cause for justifiable homicide? I am sorry to her loved ones for her loss, but what is “noble” or “good” or “history making” about getting run over by a National Guard truck? As a cyclist (and as one myself), she would have known what her odds were of getting hurt while riding. I Google Mapped the location (New York Ave near 12th St NW, Washington, DC), and there are six lanes to negotiate—not the most dangerous of intersections, but no picnic either.
I’m just sad. Sad that someone with the wonderful name of Constance Holden is dead. Sad for the driver of the truck that killed her (as a driver as well as a cyclist, I nearly have a heart attack every
time some cyclist weaves and wends around my car).
Sad that I don’t believe our president has our national security as his first priority.
But not so sad as to be insensitive enough to try to make sense out of a senseless death.