Loose cannons: Trump, Kim war of words a real threat

United States President Donald Trump Photo: Seth Wenig/AP

United States President Donald Trump Photo: Seth Wenig/AP

Published May 20, 2023


An old friend, Rob Fisher, used to fly jet interceptors during the early Cold War. When a conversation touched on General Curtis LeMay, he would lower his voice and act as if he was going to throw salt over his left shoulder.

The “extraordinarily belligerent” General “Bombs Away” LeMay started his wartime career by personally leading the US 3rd Air Division in daytime bomber raids over Germany.

Moved to the pacific theatre in 1944, he used Bomber Harris’s Hamburg technique on Tokyo in Operation Meetinghouse (March 9, 1945) which killed more people than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.

As head of Strategic Air  Command, he flattened North Korea during the First Korean War, wiping out, in his words, almost 20% of the population.

His B29 bombers  were ready to deliver 40 “Fat Man” bombs to Manchuria until President Truman fired MacArthur. Later, Strategic Air Command kept up to 80% of the US atomic arsenal in the air, as well as setting up Minuteman ballistic missile silos.

President Kennedy stopped him from bombing Cuba 
Cuba during the missile crisis and President Johnson canned his plans to “Bomb North Vietnam back to the stone age”.

Despite commanders like LeMay, the world has, amazingly, avoided nuclear conflict for 72 years.

Some of the thanks must go to people like Stanislav Petrov, who stopped a Russian retaliatory nuclear strike in 1983 shortly after the shooting down of Korean Airlines flight 007.

Then there was Vasili Arkhipov, the Russian submarine officer who prevented the launch of a nuclear torpedo during the Cuban missile crisis.

Miraculously, numerous "broken arrow” incidents have not resulted in nuclear detonations. One bomb was dropped into Canada’s St Lawrence River and another was found by chance last year off the coast of British Columbia.

The UN also played a role in avoiding catastrophe, as did world leaders who understood the meaning of the term “mutually assured destruction”. But last week all that changed.

At the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly, the world experienced the unedifying sight of President Donald Trump threatening total destruction on North Korea. Then he and Kim Jong-un accused each other of insanity.

In the old days it was US presidents who held back bellicose generals like MacArthur and LeMay.

In today’s White House, it’s the generals who have lost control of the president. If General “Mad Dog” Mattis, Trump’s Defence Secretary, has only 20% of “Bombs Away” LeMay’s belligerency, then nuclear conflict must be just around the corner.

James Cunningham

Camps Bay

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