Weekly Review — August 11, 2017, 4:38 pm

Weekly Review

The fire and the fury

U.S. president Donald Trump, who once told reporters during his campaign that he wouldn’t take “off the table” the possibility of dropping a nuclear bomb on Europe or the Middle East, departed for a 17-day trip to his New Jersey golf course, where he tweeted that he was on a “working vacation” and then threatened to rain “fire and fury” on North Korea.[1][2][3][4][5] North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un, whom Trump has called a “madman,” said Trump was acting “senile” on the golf course and that North Korea would fire missiles at the U.S. territory of Guam to create a “historic enveloping fire”; Trump said that he felt his initial threat of “fire and fury” was still not “tough enough” and said that if Kim “does something” to Guam then “what will happen in North Korea” will be “an event the likes of which nobody’s seen before”; a spokesperson for North Korea said Trump had “nuclear war hysteria” and then threatened to “burn up Seoul”; Trump said “things will happen” to North Korea “like they never thought possible”; the North Korean spokesperson said their country would “turn the U.S. mainland into the theater of a nuclear war”; Trump’s secretary of defense suggested the United States could bring about the “destruction” of the people of North Korea; the North Korean spokesperson said the country would deploy 3 million children to help “smash to pieces” the plans of the “helter-skelter” United States and bring about “the tragic end of the American empire”; and Trump tweeted that the U.S. military was “locked and loaded.”[6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15] Australia’s prime minister said his country would join sides with the United States if North Korea struck first, the Chinese government defended its military maneuvers in the Sea of Japan and said it would side with North Korea if the United States struck first, Japan said it would protect Guam, and New Zealand said it couldn’t make a commitment.[16][17][18][19][20] U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson said Americans should “sleep well,” and Guam Homeland Security warned residents not to “look at the flash or fireball” of a nuclear explosion.[21][22] A  Guamanian man said nothing “other than God” would make him leave his home, and Trump’s religious adviser said God had given Trump permission to attack North Korea.[23][24] An unexplained fire broke out in Greenland, a downpour flooded New Orleans, a 122-degree heat wave caused fires, blackouts, and sickness in Iraq, a chronic shortage of gas used to cook food was reported in Venezuela, a 6.6-magnitude earthquake struck the Philippines, aid workers warned that a cholera epidemic is about to break out in Sudan, and an editorial in a state-run newspaper in China said the “countdown” to a war with India “had begun.”[25][26][27][28][29][30] In Egypt, two trains collided head-on, for unknown reasons.[31]

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In February 1947, Harper’s Magazine published Henry L. Stimson’s “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb.” As secretary of war, Stimson had served as the chief military adviser to President Truman, and recommended the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The terms of his unrepentant apologia, an excerpt of which appears on page 35, are now familiar to us: the risk of a dud made a demonstration too risky; the human cost of a land invasion would be too high; nothing short of the bomb’s awesome lethality would compel Japan to surrender. The bomb was the only option. Seventy years later, we find his reasoning unconvincing. Entirely aside from the destruction of the blasts themselves, the decision thrust the world irrevocably into a high-stakes arms race — in which, as Stimson took care to warn, the technology would proliferate, evolve, and quite possibly lead to the end of modern civilization. The first half of that forecast has long since come to pass, and the second feels as plausible as ever. Increasingly, the atmosphere seems to reflect the anxious days of the Cold War, albeit with more juvenile insults and more colorful threats. Terms once consigned to the history books — “madman theory,” “brinkmanship” — have returned to the news cycle with frightening regularity. In the pages that follow, seven writers and experts survey the current nuclear landscape. Our hope is to call attention to the bomb’s ever-present menace and point our way toward a world in which it finally ceases to exist.

Illustration by Darrel Rees. Source photographs: Kim Jong-un © ITAR-TASS Photo Agency/Alamy Stock Photo; Donald Trump © Yuri Gripas/Reuters/Newscom
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The Ambassador Bridge arcs over the Detroit River, connecting Detroit to Windsor, Ontario, the southernmost city in Canada. Driving in from the Canadian side, where I grew up, is like viewing a panorama of the Motor City’s rise and fall, visible on either side of the bridge’s turquoise steel stanchions. On the right are the tubular glass towers of the Renaissance Center, headquarters of General Motors, and Michigan Central Station, the rail terminal that closed in 1988. On the left is a rusted industrial corridor — fuel tanks, docks, abandoned warehouses. I have taken this route all my life, but one morning this spring, I crossed for the first time in a truck.

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To look at him, Sweet Macho was a beautiful horse, lean and strong with muscles that twitched beneath his shining black coat. A former racehorse, he carried himself with ceremony, prancing the field behind our house as though it were the winner’s circle. When he approached us that day at the edge of the yard, his eyes shone with what might’ve looked like intelligence but was actually a form of insanity. Not that there was any telling our mother’s boyfriend this — he fancied himself a cowboy.

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What We Think About When We Think About Soccer, by Simon Critchley. Penguin Books. 224 pages. $20.

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