Interview with Nuclear Expert Steven Starr — Could We Win a Nuclear War?By Christopher Sare
CHRISTOPHER SARE: Welcome to our viewers. I’d like to introduce Steven Starr, the former director at the University of Missouri’s Clinical Laboratory Sciences. He’s been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists as well as the Federation of American Scientists. Today, we want to talk about why a nuclear war is unwinnable and should never be fought. Welcome, Steven; thanks for joining us.
STEVEN STARR: Thanks for having me; I appreciate it. I started in 2006, I had an article published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists about launch on warning, which is something that we still use today, and Russia does, too. There’s a danger that you could have an accidental nuclear war based on a false warning of attack. That article got me invited to the United Nations to speak at a side panel that year. I was asked back the next year, and at that time, Switzerland and New Zealand were very focussed on high alert, launch-ready nuclear weapons. So, I actually go to give a presentation to virtually all the ambassadors at the United Nations about the dangers of nuclear war. I was kind of shocked to find that most of them really had no idea about how many nuclear weapons there were. Also at that time, new research was done on nuclear winter that I presented to the ambassadors, and I think that really got everybody’s attention. I focussed on that research for a long time. I have a website called nuclearfamine.org that discusses a lot of it.
The environmental consequences of nuclear war are so extreme that they basically are an existential threat to most people and animals on the planet. Maybe I was naïve like “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” but I thought if I can just show this to enough people, and get them to understand what the threat is, then we can stop this. I was able in 2010, I gave a presentation to the First Committee, which is kind of the equivalent of the General Assembly, just a little bit smaller version. I did show a video of what would happen; the environmental consequences of nuclear war. As you can see, that ended the arms race, and everything’s great right now.
I don’t know. Actually the nuclear weapons states like to ignore that information, but I think the non-nuclear weapons states took it to heart. A lot of them didn’t realize that their populations would be at risk from a large nuclear war between the United States and Russia. That helped lead later I think to the treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons, the ban treaty. I was there at the time when they were voting on it.
You wanted me to summarize my work; well, that’s kind of the most important part of the work. I’ve written articles on and off, but a lot of it focussed on that sort of information. I also teach a class now on nuclear weapons at the University of Missouri, which helps keep me up to date on the information and also shows me how uninformed Americans are about the subject. Most of the students I get really have no idea; they don’t know the difference between an atomic bomb and a hydrogen bomb, not unlike a lot of the diplomats.
SARE: Right. We plan to do a video later on about controlled nuclear fusion. Now, that’s what we want; we don’t want uncontrolled nuclear fusion on the planet, that would be the end.
STARR: We’re very prepared for that right now.
SARE: Yeah. So, you have a presentation, a Power Point that you can show us?
STARR: Yeah, sort of an abbreviated presentation from what I gave the other day, but I think it would help educate people. But before I give it, I talked about the studies on the long-term environmental consequences of nuclear war. The first studies were done in the 1980s by Carl Sagan and a group of NASA scientists. It was called “Nuclear Winter,” it was a really big deal. It was in 1984. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists made it their headline; the whole issue was on this. It was the first time in history that the scientists used the best computers available at the time to model the effects of a nuclear war. They found that the smoke and soot that was generated from the massive nuclear firestorms created by thousands of nuclear detonations would create more than 100 million tons of soot and smoke that would rise up into the stratosphere, above cloud level. Once it’s above cloud level it can’t be rained out. There would be so much of this—there are high winds in the stratosphere, and basically it would be spread around the Earth in a matter of ten days to two weeks. Back then, they didn’t know how long it would stay there, but they knew it would be there for at least a year or so; they kind of equated it with a volcanic eruption. But that was enough to drop temperatures below freezing every day, and stop crops from being grown. It would be the annihilation of the most people, because I think we have 40-50 days of grain reserves on the planet. So, trying to live for a year without food would be impossible for most people.
Those studies actually made a big impact; Sagan went to the Soviet Union and talked to the central committee. The Russians were impressed by it; I think it led to the arms controls agreements that were enacted in the late 1980s and ’90s. But then, the nuclear industry found this as a threat, so they actually created some fake studies. They had a study that used computer models that were erroneous, that showed that the smoke would not go into the stratosphere, and that it would be rained out. They called it “nuclear autumn” instead of “nuclear winter.” Basically, they were able to discredit the scientists. Forbes, some of the magazines called the scientists frauds—it was really a bad thing. Even the people in the anti-nuclear weapons movement became convinced that nuclear winter was just bad science.
That went on for a while, and then some of the scientists—Drs. Toon and Robach, Dr. Mills—they thought about it for a while. I wrote to them and asked them to do new studies. They didn’t want to at first; they were worried the studies would show that a nuclear war wouldn’t be such a big deal. But in 2006-7, they published new studies that found that the original nuclear winter studies underestimated the environmental consequences of nuclear war. By 1986, there were 7,000 nuclear weapons that had been built; which is insane, since 300 nuclear weapons would probably kill everybody in the United States. But the question of why did they do that, we can talk about later. The arms reduction treaty [START] started reducing the nuclear weapons significantly. I think there were maybe 20,000; they had gotten rid of two-thirds of them by the time these studies came out.
But the studies found that it was still quite possible, even likely, to produce a nuclear winter. What they found was that the black carbon soot and smoke would act like a solar collector; it would be heated by the sunlight when it rose up in the firestorms. That would actually keep it in the stratosphere as long as ten years. Part of what it does in the stratosphere is that it reaches the temperature of the boiling point of water, which catalyzes the destruction of the stratosphere’s ozone layer. So, the light indices on the planet would go up more than double. They found that you could get a painful sunburn in as little as seven minutes in Iowa or Eurasia. First, the smoke would block most of the light, but it would—what that meant then, that most the smoke would stay in the stratosphere for ten years, was that even what they call a regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan, they did studies that found that that would put 5-7 million tons of soot into the stratosphere. That would block 10% of sunlight. That would create the coldest temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere in the last 1000 years. It would be about twice as cold as it was in 1816, which they called the “year without a summer,” after the massive volcanic eruption of Mt. Tambora. So, that actually impressed the people at the UN more, because everybody had gotten so used to the U.S. and Soviet nuclear arsenals; thinking, “Oh, those will never be used.” But the idea that India and Pakistan could create this, generated a lot of interest.
When these new studies came out in 2006-7, they showed that nuclear winter was still possible, and was an existential threat to humanity. They were almost ignored; it was shocking to me. I won’t go into all the details, but I’ve made a point ever since then to try to publicize this research. That was what I mentioned earlier. So, with that as an introduction, I’ll go to my presentation, so that people will understand that what I show is based on science.
SARE: Sure. I’ll just show one thing you published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. It’s “The Climatic Consequences of Nuclear War,” and it sounds like this is manmade climate change that we should really be worried about.
STARR: I actually wrote to the Bulletin about that in 2007, and said, “Why aren’t you publicizing this?” It made climate change co-equal to nuclear war in terms of what their concerns were. I said, why not talk about climate change from nuclear war?
SARE: Right; exactly.
STARR: I want to first talk about what a nuclear weapon is, because as I mentioned, a lot of the students who come into my class are really smart students at the university level, but they don’t know anything about nuclear weapons, except maybe what they’ve seen in science fiction movies. So, the United States was the first nation to manufacture nuclear weapons during World War II. At the end of World War II, we detonated two atomic bombs; those were the first nuclear weapons. We detonated them over the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. The Hiroshima bomb exploded with a power of 15,000 tons of TNT; that’s about 1,000 times more powerful than the largest conventional or high explosive weapon we have in our arsenal today. It’s incredible; it’s almost hard to imagine. That’s an image of the first nuclear test that took place in the desert in the United States before we detonated them.
Talking about the explosive power of a nuclear weapon really doesn’t do justice to it. A nuclear weapon is like a piece of the Sun; when it detonates, it creates a fireball whose surface is hotter than the surface of the Sun. It’s like 4,000° hotter. So, anything that’s in the vicinity of that is just instantly vaporized. This is a picture of a sidewalk in Hiroshima, there was a person sitting there who was pretty much underneath the fireball, and he was vaporized and left only a shadow on the sidewalk. So, fireball like that will instantly ignite fires over a large surface area. The Hiroshima bomb set fires over about four square miles. These fires are different than the fires we’re familiar with, which are line fires that the wind blows in a line. But when you set fire over a large area, they create a gigantic firestorm that acts like a chimney. I’m going to explain a little bit more about what a nuclear firestorm is.
A modern nuclear weapon, the ones that the U.S. and Russia have, the strategic nuclear weapons, will set fires over tens or hundreds of square miles instantly. Within tens of minutes, all these fires merge and form one gigantic firestorm. The air temperatures in the fire zone will reach 400-500° Fahrenheit in 20-30 minutes. The winds will blow in towards the center of the firestorm; the fireball races up and creates like a chimney effect. These winds at the periphery of the firestorm are strong enough to uproot trees. The temperatures in there will melt everything; they melt asphalt, anything that’s flammable will burn. So, nothing will live in the fire zone. If you’re in a city where there’s a nuclear detonation, you’re not going to survive. Even if you go into a shelter, the fire will heat the shelter like an oven and use all the oxygen up.
SARE: So, even if you go inside your house and stay away from the windows like that public service announcement said, that’s not going to work, right?
STARR: It’s just amazing! They put out an idea that you can just go inside and wait to hear from the authorities about what to do. If the bomb had gone off 50 miles away, that might be true, but if it went off where you live, there wouldn’t be any inside to go to, probably.
This is what Hiroshima looked like before the atomic bomb was detonated; and this is what it looked like afterwards. It’s four square miles of just utterly destroyed city. Very few people survived in that firestorm.
Today, the U.S. and Russia have strategic nuclear weapons that are 7 to 87 times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic bomb. The U.S. and Russia each have about 2,000 deployed nuclear weapons. Most of them are strategic that are ready to use within an hour. This compares the size of the firestorms from the Hiroshima firestorm of four square miles, which is the little green circle there. I put ground zero in the same place, and a map over New York City. It shows that on an average weather day, it would start fires over 152 square miles. So, that’s one strategic nuclear weapon. This is an 800-kiloton warhead that Russia has 500 of that it can launch in 2 to 15 minutes. These are horrible images, but these are the kinds of burns that you suffer if you’re seven miles away from a bomb like that you’ll get third-degree burns on any surface of your skin that’s exposed to it. At nine miles, you get second-degree burns.
This is a video of a nuclear test that we did in the South Pacific of a strategic nuclear weapon. That picture was taken from a distance of 50 miles away. These palm trees are on an island that would be in the fire zone created by the fireball. You can see that they’re beginning to burn. When the fireball expands outward, it creates a layer of compressed air that forms a blast wave that moves outward at hundreds of miles an hour. That circle you see spreading out is the ocean; this is the blast wave. It’s moving towards that island. It takes a while for the blast wave to reach if you’re a number of miles away; it takes 20-30 seconds. It shows the blast wave approaching the island; it hits the palm trees and blows them apart. That’s a strategic nuclear weapon.
So, in 5-15 minutes’ time today, the U.S. and Russia can each launch 800-1,000 strategic nuclear warheads at each other. These warheads will be delivered by intercontinental ballistic missiles [ICBMs] that are in land-based silos. The U.S. and Russia each know where the silos are. They have 30-minute flight times from one continent to the other. The silos are targetted; if there’s a first strike, we’ll try to take out the Russian silos, and vice versa. The U.S. and Russia also have nuclear submarines that carry submarine-launched ballistic missiles. These, like the land-based missiles, can carry multiple warheads—up to 10 warheads. They are independently targetted warheads, so one missile can destroy ten cities. If you park a submarine off the coast of the U.S. or Russia, it’s much closer than the ICBMs, so it can hit targets in as little as 7 minutes or less.
If you’re in the United States, NORAD [North American Aerospace Defense Command] is given three minutes to detect and confirm an attack. If they confirm it, they contact the President, and he will have about a 30-second conference to decide whether or not to launch a retaliatory nuclear strike. Because if you’ve got a 7-minute window from when the missile is launched to when it hits Washington, D.C., then you don’t have much time to decide. If he decides to retaliate before the weapons arrives, then he’ll order a nuclear attack. It takes 2-3 minutes to give and transmit the launch order. Then, it takes about 2 minutes for the ICBM launch to occur. The launch officers in the Minuteman silos are there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They’re always waiting for the launch order to come in. They call them “Minuteman” missiles because it only takes a few minutes to launch. It’ll take longer for a sub, because it takes longer to transmit the orders, but the U.S. always keeps four submarines in what they call “hard alert” status, in a position to launch. Each sub carries about 24 missiles; they can carry up to 10 warheads. Right now, they supposedly carry less than that because of the limitations under the START Treaty [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty]. If the warning of attack was false, you just actually created an accidental nuclear by launching what you would think was a retaliatory strike; but it was a first strike.
I want to show a video. This is an animation that was created by a German animator based on the idea that sometime this winter, the U.S. and Russia will get into a war in Ukraine for whatever reason. In retaliation for a U.S. cruise missile strike against Russian forces, Russia fires a missile, and it sinks a U.S. guided missile cruiser in the Black Sea. The U.S. decides to retaliate, and sends aircraft carrying B61-12 nuclear weapons and they sink Russian ships in the Black Sea. Russia then strikes NATO targets throughout Europe. The U.S. launches a massive nuclear strike against Russia, and Russian early warning systems detect the launch. The Russians launch a massive nuclear strike against the U.S. and Europe. I mentioned there are 4,000 nuclear warheads between the two countries that are deployed and operational, and about 3,000 of those detonations occur in one hour. All the major cities of Europe, the United States and Europe would be incinerated. The massive nuclear firestorms would cover more than 100,000 square miles. Everything remotely flammable burns in the fire zones.
The studies I mentioned predict that these firestorms would produce 150-180 million tons of soot and smoke. This smoke would rise rapidly above cloud level into the stratosphere. I’ll show an animation produced by UCLA scientists that depicts the smoke spreading around the world and forming a global stratosphere smoke layer. The smoke layer will block warming sunlight from reaching the Earth’s surface, and it will remain in the stratosphere for 10 years. So, the loss of warming sunlight would create Ice Age weather conditions around the Earth. Temperatures would fall below freezing every day for the next three years in Central and North America and Central Eurasia. The Ice Age weather would prevent food crops from being grown for 10 years, and most humans and land animals would starve to death. This would be a mass extinction event.
This image was created of a farmer in a barren field, looking up at the sky. The sky is not cloudy; that’s what the sky would look like. That’s smoke blocking the sunlight from reaching the surface of the Earth. I read that at noon, the Sun would resemble a full Moon at midnight; that’s how little light would be coming down in the Northern Hemisphere.
So, that’s what I wanted to show to the United Nations. It’s hard to talk, after you show that. I always get worked up. It’s such a—
SARE: It’s terrifying.
STARR: I don’t like teaching my students about this sometimes, because it’s a heavy weight to put on people. But we’re all in the same situation right now. We’re all at risk. The U.S. and Russia have these launch-ready nuclear weapons that can be launched in just a few minutes. The Russians can launch with remote control; they can override all the lower levels of command and push a button and launch all their missiles. They have communications rockets that they can use if the national leadership is killed by a U.S. nuclear first strike. There are guys in a bunker about 50 miles away from Moscow who will launch these communications rockets that will order every surviving Russian nuclear missile to launch. So, we’ve got this kind of self-destruct mechanism set up for the human race. We’ve got to figure out a way to turn it off.
SARE: Absolutely! That’s the whole issue that’s facing us right now. How do we turn this off?
I wanted to talk with you about John F. Kennedy, because we’re going to be launching a major campaign—and really, every American citizen—I’m very glad that you still teach, because you have very lucky students, who can hear what you’re saying. Also the fact that the American population has become so detached from reality in a certain way; this has got to be addressed.
But part of it I think is hopelessness. I think that hopelessness comes from—as was discussed in a Schiller Institute conference yesterday, when you get a great leader, or even a pretty good leader, they seem to be assassinated; either literally or overthrown in some way, character assassination, physical assassination, color revolution. It’s in the United States and it’s worldwide as well. Any leader that actually pushes for peace and development; which common sense should say that’s great, that’s what we want.
STARR: A hopeful vision of the future is what Kennedy gave us.
SARE: Exactly! So, I wanted to just read a couple of things from Kennedy, and then get your reaction. First, I just wanted to cite his inaugural address, because he’s coming in [at a time when] the Cold War has been launched. Winston Churchill has come over, after we successfully defeated the Nazis; Churchill comes over and delivers the Iron Curtain speech. Harry Truman is not the man Franklin Roosevelt was, in terms of his vision of a postwar world. Kennedy wins the Presidency and comes into the White House, and he offers a completely different view of the future. It seems to me, looking at his speeches over the course of his three years as President, that it becomes more and more refined. We’ll just see here—he says in his inaugural address:
“We dare not tempt them [the Soviets] with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.
“But neither can two great and powerful groups of nations take comfort from our present course—both sides overburdened by the cost of modern weapons, both rightly alarmed by the steady spread of the deadly atom, yet both racing to alter that uncertain balance of terror that stays the hand of mankind’s final war.”
He recognized it was a final war; nobody would survive a nuclear war.
“So let us begin anew—remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.
“Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.
“Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms—and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations.”
This, I think is the most important: “Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths and encourage the arts and commerce.”
So, I thought I’d start with that. What a beautiful idea.
STARR: His speeches are very inspirational. I noticed too, that after the Cuban Missile Crisis, when he was face-to-face with nuclear oblivion, which it was almost a miracle that we avoided a nuclear war then. But we wouldn’t have, if we wouldn’t have had diplomatic contacts going the whole time. After that, they got the limited test ban treaty set up, and he went to the United Nations to talk about the nuclear sort of Armageddon hanging over our heads.
I was like 12 years old then, but everybody was sort of inspired by Kennedy. I felt that even as a kid. It was just a horrible day when he was killed; just doom and gloom. We haven’t had any President since then that really came close to enunciating—I mean, Trump did suggest that we should have a détente with Russia. I think that was part of the reason he was drummed out of office.
STARR: But it doesn’t seem like it’s gotten any better since he left.
SARE: I remember the speech that he gave in about April 2017. It was so refreshing, because you hadn’t heard a President say something like that in such a long time. Maybe Ronald Reagan saying nuclear war can never be won and should never be fought, or this kind of thing. There was a sense of hope. But when Trump said, believe me, we don’t want a war with Russia or China; nobody wants that. It’s better to be friends than to be enemies.
STARR: Well, Trump wasn’t a Kennedy, but you know at least he brought that topic back into the conversation. It only lasted for a little while, but … I think there are some people who are such powerful, charismatic leaders—and Kennedy was one of them, and Martin Luther King, and even Kennedy’s brother Robert. They had the potential to change things, and they were all killed.
SARE: Exactly. I was thinking about this in terms of JFK. He says what he wants to do when he comes in, and then you have the Bay of Pigs, the Berlin Wall, these all could have led to a nuclear world war. Then, as you mentioned, the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. What he then did, which I wanted to discuss a little bit here. I think in one sense, what I’ve been thinking about is that he was handed this mess when he came into the White House. There were crises, similar to what we have right now with the situation in Ukraine, which has been completely brought on by—it didn’t start in February of last year. This was completely brought on by NATO expansion, one thing after the next; a color revolution in Ukraine in 2014, where we overthrew the legitimate government of Ukraine. Why? Because they wanted to have good trade relations with Russia; that’s not allowed in the neo-conservative view of the world. They have to control everything. It’s really insane.
STARR: We started training Ukrainian troops, 10,000 troops a year after that, after 2014. They started pre-positioning supplies for a war. There was a general who just mentioned that in an interview. The mindset was that Ukraine was going to be used in a proxy war against Russia.
SARE: Right, and the whole thing was a lie in terms of the Minsk Accords, because as we’re now finding out from the French and Merkel, very cynically, they said, “We didn’t really believe in that.” So, here you have—
STARR: That was like the last straw for Putin; the fact that Merkel and Hollande and even Poroshenko—all the guys that signed the Minsk Accords came out and said “Yeah, it was a ruse. We were just trying to give Ukraine time to re-arm.” You have to look at that in the context of all the arms control agreements that the United States has abrogated. We got rid of the ABM Treaty under George Bush I think in 2002. Then, we got rid of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces [INF] Treaty; we got rid of the Open Skies Treaty. We’ve abandoned the fissile material cut-off treaty. These were all the cornerstones; the only thing that’s left is the START Treaty. When you have partners that just break any agreement whenever it’s convenient for them, the Russians have a word for it; it’s called “non-agreement capable” and that’s how they view us now.
SARE: When you listen to Kennedy, obviously what Kennedy’s talking about here is the idea that both parties have to be able to trust each other. You can tell with John F Kennedy that he meant it. He says:
“What kind of a peace do I mean? What kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and build a better life for their children—not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women—not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.
“I speak of peace because of the new face of war. Total war makes no sense in an age where great powers can maintain large and relatively invulnerable nuclear forces and refuse to surrender without resort to those forces. It makes no sense in an age when a single nuclear weapon contains almost ten times the explosive force delivered by all the allied air forces in the Second World War. It makes no sense in an age when the deadly poisons produced by a nuclear exchange would be carried by wind and water and soil and seed to the far corners of the globe and to generations yet unborn.
“Today the expenditure of billions of dollars every year on weapons acquired for the purpose of making sure we never need them is essential to the keeping of peace. But surely the acquisition of such idle stockpiles—which can only destroy and never create—is not the only, much less the most efficient, means of assuring peace.
“I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary rational end of rational men. I realize that the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war—and frequently the words of the pursuer fall on deaf ears. But we have no more urgent task.”
Now, I understand you have your students listen to that speech.
STARR: I do, and I say, “When was the last time you heard anything like this?” Every generation tends to grow up and think that whatever they hear around them is normal, and that that’s the way it’s always been. But I think it’s really important; I want them to hear hopeful ideas, too. When you have a class on nuclear weapons and nuclear war, some students wind up thinking that Mutually Assured Destruction is the answer, because I think they don’t see any way out of that. But the problem is, when I ask them, “Do you think nuclear deterrence will work forever?” That requires that everybody be rational, sane; that there are no accidents, miscalculations, no madness involved.
It’s obvious that we can’t maintain this status quo forever; particularly now when they’ve been building usable nuclear weapons like the B61-12 weapon. The lowest explosive power is 0.3 kilotons; that’s the equivalent of 300 tons of TNT, which is 27 times larger than the largest conventional weapon. But it’s not that much when you think that the Hiroshima bomb was 1000 times larger. So, if you give that to a field commander, they’re thinking “All we need to do is take out this one target.” But once you start detonating nuclear weapons, then the Russians have plenty of nuclear weapons, too. That’s what astounds me is these people who think you can fight a limited nuclear war; that they can somehow shoot off one bomb and stop the Russians from shooting it at them. The Russians have disavowed that idea for a long time, but it still seems to be popular in the United States.
SARE: Yeah, this is an op-ed from the Wall Street Journal: “The U.S. Should Show It Can Win a Nuclear War.” It’s just absolute madness, and you see the way that people have changed their thinking in the United States versus this hopeful idea that John F. Kennedy had. He had his share of lunatics to deal with in his day, but at least we had a President who thought that way. That would make the whole country more hopeful, obviously. I wanted to—
STARR: —process for Presidents, you can’t even nominate anybody who thinks that way anymore; they’re blocked from it, at least for the Democratic and Republican Parties. It’s like a uni-party now; the war party, the Democrats are all enthusiastic about war. Everything’s turned on its head that used to be they represented the working class—that’s all gone.
SARE: Right. I mean, the Democrats are more gung-ho for war than the Republicans at this point, it seems. I’ve seen some Republicans for it, too, but—
STARR: They have no understanding of what nuclear war or nuclear weapons do. I think if you confronted them—I did some lobbying one time. I got one of the members on the House Armed Services Committee in a hallway, and I mentioned how many nuclear weapons the United States had, and he said, “Really?” They don’t even know what the arsenals are. I was at the UN when the U.S. was doing the nuclear posture review; Obama came in. They had a guy from the State Department and a general; these guys were directly involved in the nuclear posture, where you decide what the U.S. does with nuclear weapons, how many it has, where they’re used. I got into this meeting, they didn’t want me there, but I asked the general, “Are you familiar with the long-term environmental consequences of nuclear war?” I mentioned the studies I talked about, and he said, “I’ve never heard anything about that.”
STARR: I wrote an article for the Federation of American Scientists called “Turning a Blind Eye Towards Armageddon—U.S. Leaders Reject Nuclear Winter Studies.” I got information from a friend of mine, who was a very active lobbyist in Washington, and he had firsthand information that these people are on a very small committee, the most important committee in the government that makes decisions about nuclear weapons, who is like the Assistant Secretary of Defense, and they all said, “We don’t believe in nuclear winter. That’s just not true.” That worries me almost as much as anything, because if they don’t even understand what the weapons can do, then they’re more likely to use them.
SARE: Right. The horrible thing about it is, even if it weren’t as bad as it was, why are we even talking about this? Why aren’t we doing what John F Kennedy—wouldn’t it be a much brighter future if mankind were working together on solving the common problems of humanity?
STARR: Well, we spend enough money on nuclear weapons since we started working on them to probably rebuild every house in the United States, every structure.
SARE: Yeah, our infrastructure is a disaster! We get D− from the engineers every year and we’re not investing in our physical economy in the United States.
STARR: I’ve been working on a paper for four years—it’s going to turn into a book really—on electromagnetic pulse from nuclear detonation. It’s called “high-altitude electromagnetic pulse.” I’ve got very authoritative studies from the Metatech Corporation, the guy who runs that—Dr. William Radasky—helped write the guidelines for the Defense Department on EMP. They state unambiguously that a single nuclear detonation that creates this electromagnetic pulse will bring down the national electric grid in the United States. The key components are the large power transformers; there are only a few thousand of them, but they’re usually greater than 100,000 kilovolts. And we only have eight companies in the U.S. that manufacture these, but we currently import about 82% of those from overseas. The lead time is two years. Then, it takes a long time to ship them, because you have to send by sea, and the average weight is between 400,000 and 800,000 lbs. for each one of these transformers. So, trying to move that, that’s bigger than a railroad car can carry. Basically it would take at least a couple years, maybe halve that and say one year to replace these transformers; but in the meantime, most of the United States would be without electrical power—entire regions.
If you think about what that means, probably it would be fatal to most people. So, that’s one more thing that’s not even addressed or thought about in this context of nuclear war.
SARE: Clearly, if the United States, Russia, and China did work together, we could solve the problems of mankind. It’s obvious that there is a group of people who don’t want that to happen, period. That’s what we’ve got to expose, and shut them down before mankind is done.
I wanted to just reference one other thing from this American University speech from Kennedy, which I think is important. He says:
“[L]et us reexamine our attitude toward the Soviet Union. It is discouraging to think that their leaders may actually believe what their propagandists write. It is discouraging to read a recent authoritative Soviet text on Military Strategy and find, on page after page, wholly baseless and incredible claims, such as the allegation that ‘American imperialist circles are preparing to unleash different types of wars, that there is a very real threat of a preventive war being unleashed by American imperialists against the Soviet Union, and that the political aims of the American imperialists are to enslave economically and politically the European and other capitalist countries and to achieve world domination by means of aggressive wars.’
“Truly, as it was written long ago: ‘The wicked flee when no man pursueth.’ Yet, it is sad to read these Soviet statements to realize the extent of the gulf between us. But it is also a warning—a warning to the American people not to fall into the same trap as the Soviets, not to see only a distorted and desperate view of the other side, not to see conflict as inevitable….”
I was really struck by this, because clearly Kennedy did not intend this kind of ill will towards the Soviet Union or any other nation. In fact, Kennedy was completely committed—his other “crime” in the eyes of these people would be the development of the entire former colonial world. Great development potential in Africa and Latin America. But, could a President honestly say today that that’s not the policy of the United States and England? Great Britain is pushing this stuff hard. Really—I don’t know what you think about this—I think a lot of this policy comes from Great Britain, and the United States used to have a different policy. From Washington in his Farewell Address, and John Quincy Adams’ “Look not for monsters to destroy abroad.” But we got taken over this kind of imperialist thinking of the British Empire, and it’s very un-American. We should drop in that Kennedy was a real American in his outlook there. So, what are your thoughts on that?
STARR: I agree with you. You mentioned the Bay of Pigs, when Kennedy came in. When he backed out of it; the intention was to create an invasion of Cuba after the Bay of Pigs invasion, and Kennedy prevented that. The CIA was furious. Before he was assassinated, he was going to dismantle the CIA; he was going to break it into a thousand pieces and not have any wars being fought overseas by the CIA. He also intended to—he started issuing silver certificates. The Treasury can issue its own money, we don’t have to get it from the Federal Reserve. Those were all recalled. He made enemies in a lot of places, but those are the kinds of things.
Now, we have a $30 trillion national debt that’s owed to a privately owned bank. Why is that, if we can issue our own money? We don’t have to borrow it from some bank.
SARE: Right! Well, that’s a topic for a whole other discussion for sure.
STARR: Yeah, it is.
SARE: But at The LaRouche Organization, [crosstalk]. This is exactly right; the whole financial system right now is a bubble waiting to blow. It’s fictitious debt. That’s what is constantly left out of the equation of this war policy. War is a way of maintaining your financial power over the world. If you have a lot of debt, you can also use that.
STARR: The global reserve currency. The U.S. has the global reserve currency, and that’s being threatened by Russia and China and Iran. They’re abandoning that and setting up a commodity-based or gold-based currency as an alternative. Without that, countries don’t buy, they don’t hold and buy Treasury notes; they don’t finance the U.S. debt. Also, OPEC is becoming a member of the BRICS, and they’re going to allow oil to be bought with the yuan, so the petrodollar is going to evaporate. It’s a terrible threat; we can’t afford 800 or 1,000 military bases overseas if we can’t finance them with digital currency that we create out of thin air.
SARE: Right. This gets into a whole other discussion of Hamilton and Hamiltonian credit. As you said, we can issue credit; we don’t need a Federal Reserve to issue credit. We used to have national banks; we had two national banks that issued credit for investment in productive activity, internal improvements, infrastructure, farms, factories. If we created a credit-based system again in the United States, where money is used as a tool for real investment in productive activity; because I think that’s what China and Russia are tending towards. And that’s another reason why they’re seen as an enemy by this global financial elite.
STARR: But that’s attractive to most of the other nations in the world. Something like 75% of the world’s population supports Russia and China right now. We’re the ones who are the bad guys.
SARE: You mean because they might actually be able to develop for the first time, as opposed to being under the conditions of British colonialism or the International Monetary Fund, or some other financial dictatorship?
STARR: It’s so ironic; we used to talk about international law and the Charter of the United Nations. Now, it’s Russia talking about that; we talk about rules-based order, which means our rules and we give the orders. It’s like Alice through the Looking Glass. One of the things I have my students do is learn about the Soviet Union in World War II. They lost 27 million people killed when they were fighting the Nazis. We lost 400,000 people killed in World War II. We didn’t win World War II, the Soviets won it.
SARE: For sure.
STARR: But our educational system gives us a skewed view of the world. I always thought the U.S. won World War II; I mean, we’re the good guys, right? But we’re not seen that way anymore.
SARE: Right, and now we’re not even allowed to celebrate the Soviet victory against the Nazis. Last year, we didn’t celebrate that in the United States.
STARR: When they had the 75th anniversary of the defeat of the Nazis, Moscow invited all the Western and American leaders to come to the celebration. They all refused, and instead NATO had war games in Estonia, which is within artillery range of St. Petersburg. That was also where Operation Barbarossa was launched against the Soviet Union in World War II. You think they didn’t notice that? The Russian people now see the United States as the enemy; that wasn’t the case before. In 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, the Russians expected to become partners with the U.S. But we never treat them as equal partners; we kind of looted their country with the people we sent over there from Chicago. They had the biggest depression in the 20th century; millions of people died as a result. They remember all that. Putin came in, and the standard of living has gone up; China has raised the standard of living of 800 million people, bringing them out of poverty. As you said, they are improving the quality of life for their people.
SARE: Yeah, even before the Berlin Wall came down, you may or may not know this, but Lyndon LaRouche gave a speech at the Bristol Kempinski Hotel, where he made a proffer to the Soviets basically, saying we’ll help with showing modern agriculture technology, and you free Poland. [https://larouchepub.com/eiw/public/1998/eirv25n32-19980814/eirv25n32-19980814_034-larouches_1988_forecast_of_germa-lar.pdf] There was a whole discussion about it. But then, when the Wall came down, he put out a thing called “The Productive Triangle.” The idea was to work with Russia on developing their physical economic capability and welcoming them in. Of course, Putin just recently said what you said. We hoped that we would join the West when the Soviet Union collapsed. We had a lot of optimism we would join the West. But you never intended for that to be allowed. So, what choice do we have now? It’s just a horrible thing when you think about it, that if we had different intentions it would have been totally different.
STARR: It’s going to take a lot of time to reverse that, but we at least have to start. The first thing we need to do is stop sending hundreds of billions of dollars of weapons to Ukraine. Now, we’re getting ready to send battle tanks. We continue to escalate there. If we get into a direct military conflict with Russia, there’s not going to be much of a future, I’m afraid. We have got to get rid of these leaders who can only think about war. You could build enough new high schools in the United States for 25 million students with the amount of money they’ve sent to Ukraine. They’re sending more and more. It’s such a waste. But not only that, the war was almost over in April and May. There was a peace agreement that they had signed that Zelenskyy agreed to that was going to end the war. And then Boris Johnson went over, and they tore it up. That’s when NATO started sending all the equipment.
So, we’ve prolonged this war, and as a result, there are about 150,000 Ukrainian dead and 250,000 wounded; it’s a massacre. Their hospitals and doctors can’t care for the wounded. I read that they have tuberculosis spreading among the troops. It’s a nightmare scenario, and that’s what our tax dollars are doing right now.
SARE: Right. I think there seems to be some fight in Congress right now. There’s a call for a new Church Committee to investigate the weaponization of the government against the American people, which is critical to this. Because anybody who speaks for peace gets targetted.
STARR: I decided to volunteer my services to Diane Sare when I saw her speak on the Duran. This is the first person I’ve heard running for the Senate, that everything she says are all the things that I think about the danger of nuclear war and the importance of helping people. I admire the Schiller Institute for promoting that.
I don’t hear this from anyplace else, even from people who are supposed to be in anti-war groups and so forth, they turn a blind eye to NATO and what’s happening over there. I think that the propaganda in the news media in the West has become basically a mouthpiece for the official narrative. The New York Times used to be the paper of record, and I know so many people who read that every day and believe every word in it. It’s created a real problem to try to communicate with people; it’s almost like a different reality, like a Matrix sort of situation.
So, I just think it’s important for anyone who thinks differently, that they need to speak out and act now. Or else, we’re going to blow ourselves up pretty soon if we don’t stop this.
SARE: Exactly. Steven, thank you so much for joining us in this interview with The LaRouche Organization. I really appreciate your time; I appreciate everything that you’re doing. I think together, by mobilizing other people, we are going to save civilization from this impending nightmare. Thank you very much.