I remember reading about Agent Orange in accounts of Vietnam. Zyklon B appeared in reports on Nazi Germany’s concentation camps, and Scud missiles dominated Cold War headlines. When I later studied the lead-up to the 2002 invasion of Iraq, it was WMDs all day: biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons governed by treaties, held illicitly, and responsible for trauma to thousands and thousands of people across the Middle East and North Africa.
Today, while I ate a high-hipster fried chicken sandwich (premium sub roll, fresh dill mayo, provolone cheese, and spicy pickled cucumber slices), the United States Army dropped a Massive Ordnance Air Blast missile on Achin, a small province in eastern Afghanistan. Reports are that this miserable missile cost just under $16 million, and the US bought twenty of them six years ago. Yes, that’s right: someone else was president at the time.
The United States has now been conducting military campaigns in Afghanistan for sixteen consecutive years. I’m old enough to remember when the war was framed as recompense for the September 11 attacks in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. But these days, with no more frontpage counts of US deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, or any other warzone, the war isn’t a common topic.
Three years before 9/11, a little further southeast of the area that the United States decimated today, India and Pakistan were playing nuclear chicken.
India tested its nuclear capability in May 1998 by exploding devices underground. Western nations quickly closed ranks and sanctioned India, but that only deepened its government’s resolve to use its weapons as symbols of nationalistic power and global significance.
They went so far as to call it Operation Shakti!
Arundhati Roy wrote about the futility of those tests that same year, and I thought of her comments in the aftermath of today’s non-nuclear blast:
If there is a nuclear war, our foes will not be China or America or even each other. Our foe will be the earth herself. The very elements — the sky, the air, the land, the wind and water — will all turn against us. Their wrath will be terrible…
Though we are separate countries, we share skies, we share winds, we share water. Where radioactive fallout will land on any given day depends on the direction of the wind and rain. Lahore and Amritsar are thirty miles apart. If we bomb Lahore, Punjab will burn. If we bom Karachi, then Gujarat and Rajasthan, perhaps even Bombay, will burn. Any nuclear war with Pakistan will be a war against ourselves.” — Arundhati Roy, The End of Imagination
Today’s bombing is the latest gambit of one nation against a decentralized non-state actor and the two have been trading death and crossing borders for a decade and a half now.
If both Roy and I are right that our destinies are tied, then no matter who claims post-skirmish victory, there will be no winners.