Heck, the folks out at Kirtland and Sandia in charge of keeping them secure and in good working order don't even use the WMD label when describing their function. But every Albuquerquean who's been here more than six months knows about their existence and in each of our hearts is the certain knowledge that the 2,510 nuclear weapons stockpiled somewhere out there behind Four Hills are, in fact, weapons of mass destruction.
Yes, WMDs. You know, the kind of weapon of which we were so fearful that we invaded Iraq on nothing more than the flimsy rumor that Saddam Hussein “might have” or “might be planning to attempt to have” or “one day might wake up and get a yen to have” weapons of mass destruction.
Well, even though Hussein may not have his hands on them, we certainly do. Boy, do we have them: thousands of warheads, any one of which is capable of devastation that would dwarf that of Hiroshima. Enough WMDs to turn the entire planet into cinders and to pretty well end civilization as we know it. And they’re stashed right here in River City.
This is not a new situation. Albuquerque's underground nuclear armory has been in existence for decades, dating back to the lunatic age of the Cold War years when the U.S. and the Soviet Union played unimaginably dangerous games of one-upsmanship. The fact that we labeled our strategy at the time as “MADD” (Mutually Assured Destruction Deterrent) speaks directly to the mood that reigned during that era.
Unfortunately, while Russia has faded in the past 20 years as a nuclear threat, and as nonnuclear War Games and Strategies have moved to the forefront of our Pentagon brain trust's imaginations, we haven't quite figured out what to do with the old stockpile of weaponry. It's still sitting out there somewhere in the mountains south of I-40, a massive collection of potential destruction waiting for dismantling (our plan) or detonation (the dream of whatever collection of terrorists exists out there).
Now the Albuquerque City Council is being asked to think through the unthinkable. Do we, as a city, have in place an emergency preparedness plan that even mentions the existence of that potential danger?
Hurricane Katrina laid bare for the entire world to see just how unprepared a major metropolitan area can be in the face of a natural disaster. Doesn't such a catastrophe suggest that Albuquerque's officials ought to be factoring in the WMDs dozing in their bunkers on our southeastern city limits as they prepare for evacuation scenarios?
Those are precisely the questions that the local activist organization Stop the War Machine has brought to our city fathers. A special meeting of the City Council (at this writing it's still scheduled for December 12 at 5 p.m.) will consider the City's Emergency Preparedness Plan. At that meeting, Stop the War Machine will ask that the city deal realistically with the buried bombs; that it stop pretending that their presence does not make Albuquerque a far larger target for attacks than if they were not located here.
There is a sense that Albuquerque and its civilian population are serving as unwitting camouflage for the WMDs housed at the base. When foreign powers hide weapons in the midst of a civilian community, we are quick to decry the cynicism and callousness involved. Yet there is precious little difference between that attempt by our enemies to escape our wrath with the bodies of innocents and the deliberate use by our government of our own nonmilitary residents as cover for our nuclear armory.
There is no other plausible reason to keep those 2,510 nuclear bombs stored on the fringe of a community of 500,000 civilians. As long as they are there we are all potential targets for extremists.
Of course, a much more basic question might be: Why store that many bombs anywhere? They represent firepower sufficient to destroy the entire planet many times over, so what do we need them for at all? We are overseeing the dismantling of the former USSR's nuclear arsenal, bomb by bomb. Our own numbers are also being reduced systematically, in a deliberate, slow-paced waltz away from the brink.
But shouldn't we abandon the waltz step and hip-hop rapidly into getting rid of the entire collection of death-dealing? I mean, these days our enemies aren’t the sort to be deterred by the threat of mutually assured self-destruction. Think ‘suicide bombers,’ for crying out loud. These guys would love nothing more than an incredibly big bang that would blow the whole blooming world to smithereens.
Further, until we actually get around to disassembling them, isn't it time to move the bombs out of Kirtland/Manzano/Sandia and stash them somewhere far away from human habitation? If we have to hang onto them for some obscure remnant of Cold War thinking, couldn't we at least move them far, far away from Albuquerque?
The Albuquerque City Council might be an unexpected venue for these matters to be debated. But if, as great minds have attested in the past, all politics is local, then Stop the War Machine's simple request ought to be treated with the importance and seriousness it demands.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.