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Pentagon Fireworks Deferred

Divine Strake, Hellish Repercussions

| Sun Jul. 2, 2006 3:00 AM EDT

Listen to Irene Smith, a spokesperson for the Pentagon's Defense Threat Reduction Agency that will help facilitate the explosion. According to her, the test would not be a nuclear simulation at all, but would merely "assess computer programs to reduce uncertainties in target characterization, target function, layout, operational status, and geotechnical features." Oh, okay. Another Pentagon spokesperson, David Rigby, put it a tad more directly. The purpose of Divine Strake, he stated, was "to develop better predictive tools for defeating hardened underground targets." Then he added, "It is not a precursor to a nuclear test."

Unsaid: whether or not it's a precursor to such a test, it is certainly a precursor to nuclear use. What, after all, are they predicting? They want to know what size nuclear warhead will take out a hardened underground target in a geologic formation much like the one where we suspect Iran is developing nuclear weapons. A tunnel has already been drilled through the jointed limestone directly below the site where Divine Strake would be exploded. North Korea is thought to have similar tunnels to hide its nuclear weapons-making facilities. Other nations have built such underground retreats for their national leaders, much as we did in hillsides around Washington D.C. Then there are underground facilities for shielding the aircraft of potentially hostile powers of the future -- like a hardened "airbase" at Feidong, China. The descriptions the Department of Defense has offered of Divine Strake paint the military as cautious and responsible in trying to determine the size of the smallest nuclear warhead that could destroy such buried targets. Forget the fact that every target on their hit list is surrounded by innocent civilians who will certainly be killed, just as every target is upwind from everyone else on the planet.

Dirty Joke: Then there's that name -- Divine Strake. Strake, not strike, which might seem logical under the circumstances. "Strake" is either an obscure nautical term meaning a line of horizontal planking running the length of a ship's hull or the aerodynamic surface mounted on the fuselage of an aircraft to control airflow. Why it has been used in this faux-nuclear context is not clear. Apparently, war planners regard the test as a platform, support, or control for something else -- but what? Or maybe, consciously or not, strake is an amalgam of "strike" and "mistake." Anyway, whatever one makes of "strake," "divine" conveys a breathtakingly unabashed and self-righteous hubris. It's also a clear case of linguistic bait n' switch since there is nothing divine about slaughtering innocents or destroying whole landscapes, unless of course it is death we are worshipping and our own power to play God and decide the fates of untold numbers of people.

If we wonder how the rest of the world, especially Islamic cultures, hear these words, we have only to think how we would hear them if they were used by Iranians to describe a weapons program they were developing with the obvious purpose of targeting us. Proof of fanaticism, we would insist. Maybe we are in a holy war, after all, at least in the minds of those fashioning the weapons to fight it. While Islamacists set off car bombs and call it "jihad", we prepare a simulated nuclear explosion and label it "divine." The people of Utah and Nevada may be forgiven if they feel like hostages caught in the crossfire of warring zealots.

Dirty Trick: If Divine Strake happens, its mushroom cloud will rise like an extended middle finger to Congress, which killed funding for the "Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator," a nuclear weapon the Bush administration has been eager to develop to penetrate the earth to hardened bunkers below, and has otherwise refused to fund the development of a new set of mini-nukes it also desperately wants, or to fund the rapid re-activation of the Nevada Test Site so it can resume testing for such "mini-nukes." Testing has always been a key component of developing new weapons of mass destruction -- war planners cannot use such a weapon if they are not sure what it does on the ground. Since large-scale testing stopped in 1992, the Nevada Test Site has been operating with a skeleton crew.

Deprived of the means to develop a new class of bunker-buster nuclear weapons that can drill deep into the earth, the Bush administration's war gamers are now planning to simply blow-up nuclear warheads above such targets. If they can't dig the bastards out, they want to know just what size nuke will cave-in their hideouts from above. Whatever the Pentagon says, Divine Strake will closely resemble the destructive yield of a B-61 nuclear warhead, one of the smallest in the arsenal. Eventually, war planners will argue that they need to build a new class of even smaller nukes so as to avoid the casualties and damage that the bigger ones in the American nuclear arsenal would cause -- such is the mad humanitarian logic of nuclear warriors.

The underlying willingness to launch a "preventive" nuclear war to prevent a nuclear war, as expressed in such planning, has already become embarrassing and so must now be hidden. As late as 2005, budget documents describing the Tunnel Target Defeat Advanced Concept and Technology Demonstration Series (of which the Divine Strake is a key component) still made it clear that their overall purpose was to "improve war fighters confidence in selecting the smallest proper nuclear yield necessary to destroy underground facilities." Similarly, the Divine Strake piece of the puzzle was clearly identified as a nuclear simulation. But 2006 budget documents covering the same plans erased all references to nuclear simulation and nuclear weapons. As has so often been the case in the Bush era, satisfied that they could alter reality simply via a new description of reality, Pentagon spokespeople now insist that the project that looked, walked, and quacked like a nuclear duck was just a conventional war chicken that, gosh, only resembles a duck. Or, as spokesperson Rigby proclaimed, "The planned detonation has been redefined."

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