My Grandson, Bertie Bodle, is almost ten months old and this summer the family was gathered for his Christening. It was a wonderful day and my only problem was trying to identify the perfect present. I went through the normal list of pewter tankards, silver cuff links, case of Port but, nothing grabbed my attention.
What I wanted to do was give him something that was also part of me. Finally, I decided that I would write him a letter to be opened on his 18th birthday. I need to be a little careful as no one other than me knows what it says. Properly sealed I left in trust with my daughter and so not even she knows what I have said to her son.
I’m telling you this because as I wrote the letter I thought about the skills he might need to survive eighteen years from now, as he grows into a man and, among my thoughts, were the attributes of trust and a passionate sense of justice.
This weekend, as I read the headlines, that thought was dramatically reinforced in the most surprising way.
If we go to war, we don’t expect it to be on the whim of a Prime Minister or President and we expect it to be lawful. Well, I suppose my memory is short because, in a way, this is what happened with the Iraq war but, at least with that we are having inquiries, if not retribution.
However awful the Iraq war was, its consequences would be nothing compared to a global nuclear war. When nuclear missiles start flying over our heads there will be no time for plucky resistance and a subsequent long-lasting inquiry.
If we are going to annihilate humanity we need proper cause, consideration, legality and the exhaustion of all other solutions. We don’t want an angry, rushed, mad, President telling the Generals to make real his promise that “(North Korea) will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen,” or as he threatened at the UN “to ‘totally destroy’ (North Korea).”
What we need are checks and balances in the process and this weekend I found some of those from the most unusual source: Air Force Gen John Hyten, the top US nuclear commander and in this role, he’s the man that will have to execute any Presidential order.
(Quoting from the BBC news site) he has made it clear that he would ‘resist any “illegal” presidential order to launch a strike.’
When US Senators start meeting and talking about a President’s authority to launch a nuclear attack and the man who has to implement the order questions the legality of the order, the world is suddenly saner than I had thought.
The president is not given an entirely free hand. “I provide advice to the president, he will tell me what to do,” Gen Hyten said.
“And if it’s illegal, guess what’s going to happen? I’m going to say: ‘Mr President, that’s illegal.’ And guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to say, ‘What would be legal?’ And we’ll come up with options, of a mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is, and that’s the way it works.
For just a moment I was feeling that there were people in positions of power, a power that directly impacts the continuing lives of both me and Bertie, who shared my thoughts on the importance of ‘trust and a passionate sense of justice’. I was feeling good. I thought that my words to Bertie were well formed and then I read the final sentence of the report:
“It’s not that complicated,” Gen Hyten added. He added: “If you execute an unlawful order, you will go to jail. You could go to jail for the rest of your life.”
Yes, General, that’s less likely than a global nuclear attack. You can tell President Trump that when you come out of the bunker as the last two living humans. And Bertie, I did write that letter but I am sorry it has been burnt to dust. Ashes to ashes etc