Indians: Savage or Noble?

I was drinking coffee at Avo's and staring at a blank sheet of paper when my friend Seymour Sharpe walked up. "Trying to figure out next week's column, huh?" he said sitting down. "Why don't you congratulate India on building nuclear weapons?"

"What! You're crazy," I said. "No one thinks India should have those kinds of weapons."

"I wouldn't say no one," said Seymour, "just the people who already have them or nations like Canada, Japan, and Switzerland who are assured of international support if someone attacks."

"Well Pakistan isn't too happy about it," I replied, "and most of the 149 nations that signed the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty are worried there'll be another cold war-style nuclear buildup on the subcontinent. I read where India and Pakistan have fought three wars since 1948."

Seymour shrugged. "So what? America has fought several wars since then, although some politicians view them as police actions or military advising or UN-sanctioned peacekeeping activities, but citizens in the midst see them all as wars: Korea, Bay of Pigs, Viet Nam, El Salvador, Somalia, Grenada, and Iraq. Just because someone fights doesn't mean they use nukes."

"But how can we trust them not to?" I asked.

"I guess you'll just have to believe their politicians instead of our own," said Seymour." India said they will never use their weapon for a first strike, just for defense. That's the same sort of rationale that has inspired our Senators not to ratify the Test Ban Treaty. They believe we need to keep our nuclear arsenal up-to-date to handle cheaters."

"Aha," I said. "That's proof right there because India cheated."

He shook his head. "Nope. They didn't sign. They're honest and are willing to foot the bill for their own defense."

"But nuclear weapons don't seem to be very good," I said. "About all you can do is demolish things so both sides have to get into the bizarre mutually assured destruction scenario."

"Oh I agree," said Seymour. "The problem with nukes is that they're too destructive. If you want to invade some country and take over either their infrastructure or their knowledge, then you need to preserve the buildings or the people. Nukes won't do that. So I see them as purely defensive weapons, just as India says they intend them to be. A good offensive weapon would be biological -- something that would kill all the people and leave the computers and cars, or maybe something that would kill all the food animals or crops and let the people pay for relief."

"Those are disgusting alternatives," I said.

"No," said Seymour. "War is what's disgusting. And the only way I can see to prevent war is to encourage free trade and education. Once we each see that we're all utterly dependent on each other, war will stop. In the meantime, we ought to applaud the nations that are doing their share to stop it, even if that includes arming themselves. After all, if it's good enough for America, it ought to be good enough for any other democracy. Go ahead, write that. I know you can do it."

I started writing. "As an American, an inheritor of a long tradition of weaponry, I'd like to welcome the great nation of India to the world-class rank of nuclear power. Now they can take some of the responsibility that goes with this awesome power. Yadda yadda yadda.""

Seymour read upside down as I wrote. He laughed at the end. "Well I'll leave you alone to flesh out the rest of it." He stood up and left.