by Gene Hashmi
March 6, 2003
"And when all our larders are bursting with shiny bombs and our bellies are empty ...we can trade bombs for food."
-- Arundhati Roy, The End Of Imagination
Long after the boob tube is switched off, the radio silenced, the newspaper folded and added to the pile in the garage, the crackling noises are still etched in your head, like the little tungsten snake etched in your head when you stare at the lightbulb too long and then turn away, eyes clenched, worrying whether you'll ever be able to see right again. The talking heads you've been watching all day join a chorus of other talking heads in your head, accompanying you to the loo, the kitchen, the trafficking street, the cigarette shop around the corner. Like a little pup or a pesky child, genetically imprinted to hound you down.
A new sound, like sampled scratches looping over and over and over in a Eurotrash bar, has joined this chorus of late. It's the incessant cant of "eternal vigilance, the price of peace."
True, this jingoistic tripe has done the rounds since the days of Jefferson, midwifing the dogs of war everywhere from the Bay of Pigs to the Gulf of Tonkin. It's just that it has changed owners ever since, like a smoke passed from hand to hand on a winter morning. Eternal vigilance is the price of anything you'd like it to be... peace, liberty, democracy. The Promised Land. The American Dream. The Hindu Rashtra.
Eternal vigilance. It's a full-spectrum midwife. Howitzers and hand grenades. B-52s and bunker busters. Submarines and standing armies. Defoliants an depleted uranium. The price of peace.
Never discussed, except by those overtly anti-national leftist godless liberal types, is the price of eternal vigilance. The small matter of the cost to the taxpayer in whose name and for whose sake the State raises the invoice for eternal vigilance.
Once a year, the State makes its way around the turf, handing out the invoice... "Oye you in the cheap suit, collection time, payncho!" This time around, the tab's a tad higher than the last time, or the time before that -- expenses, they tell you. They also tell you it's for your own good. What is this? A bloody protection racket?
No, really, let's discuss this. It's not a small price, not one we can round off to the nearest hundred, not one we can subject to some creative accounting and write off later as depreciated value, not one we can place under the header of overheads. Let's talk about the price of eternal vigilance.
Every sixth person on this planet is an Indian. In other words, as home to one-sixth of the world's inhabitants, we're a nation of one billion people.
* 64% of our people lack even basic sanitation -- they piss and shit out in the open, in the fields, in back alleys, on walls, on railway tracks, on holy river banks.
When you look at these percentages in real numbers, you're looking at hundreds of millions of people. Not surprisingly, over 50% of the people polled recently said they'd rather live in another country.
According to Sandipan Deb in The Outlook: "our roads rank among the worst on earth. Our electricity sector is a joke. Our law and order system is collapsing, with all those who can afford it barricading themselves behind high steel gates and private security guards. We are heading towards a water crisis of epic proportions. Our judicial system is too slow-moving for justice to trickle down to the less advantaged. The interface between people and government is an endless cycle of corruption, venality and inefficiency. There are lakhs of Indians who subsist on our streets without even the most basic rights to a human life or a dignified death. Thousands of our citizens live as refugees in their own country, having lost their homes and means of livelihood."
Human Rights Watch points out that more than one-sixth of India's population, some 160 million people, are victims of a "hidden apartheid" that dates back to the Aryan invasion and continues to this day. This one-sixth is the seething mass of Dalits -- a broken people turned homeless in their own homeland, and forced to live in ignominy and destitution by the class-structure of the Hindu Rashtra. As untouchables, they've been forced to carry our excrement and eat their own, they've been raped and flogged and enslaved, they've been the least-benefited recipients of any state policy that cares to address their existence, and left to scavenge the scraps that the rest of society leaves for them.
Add one more statistic from HRW. Upholding a 1,500-year-old Indian tradition, somewhere between 60 to 115 million children in India are forced to work in subhuman conditions as bonded labourers, earning at times as little as 30 cents a day.
So while the Hindu Bomb's most effervescent advocates address the International Youth Conference on Terrorism, let's address the very real, very near and very palpable terror that the State visits on hundreds of millions of its own people. The terror of not knowing where the next meal is coming from, of not knowing when the next bus arrives, of not knowing what shit lurks in the water, of not knowing where one can take the next shit, of not knowing what curable illness will kill our children. The terror of illiteracy and ignorance. The terror of hunger. The terror of disease.
It is against this chilling backdrop that one must discuss -- if at all discussion is permitted -- the true cost of going nuclear.
Nuclear weaponisation will (pardon the expression) cost a bomb. Work with me on this for a moment.
One reactor to produce Plutonium costs $147 million. One missile production facility costs $105 million. One arsenal of 150 warheads costs $126 million. Assembling a batch of 126 missiles costs $845.25 million. Fitting one IAF squadron costs $12.6 million. Fitting three nuclear submarines costs $2.52 billion. Positioning two satellites to stage-light this nuclear theatre costs $420 million. Surveillance and Interception (to protect airbases and launch sites) costs $1.05 billion. Developing a Command Control, Communications and Intelligence (C3I) system costs upwards of $740.25 million.
Sum total? $5.96 billion. That's a whopping 10% increase in the annual defense expenditure. That's also 5% of the State's tax revenue every year. That's also a lot of money.
Not included in this lot of money is the cost of escalation guaranteed by any nuclear arms race. Or the cost of neglecting the basic needs of hundreds of millions of people.
You can spend $840,000 building one nuclear bomb or building 3,200 houses for the rural poor.
You can spend $12.6 million financing one Agni missile or financing the operation of 15,000 primary healthcare centres.
You can spend $105 million to set up a missile production facility, or just half of that amount to set up a watershed development program for treating 750,000 hectares of land.
You can spend $840 million on constructing one nuke-enabled submarine, or on constructing a 1000 megawatt power plant. (That's also thirty times our annual national budget for primary education.)
You can spend $126 million on supplying an arsenal of 150 warheads, or supplying drinking water to 37,000 villages. (This sum is also what the State was supposed to spend on controlling leprosy, malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS in 1998-99. Meanwhile, the $840 million spent on a nuclear dyad strike force is also more than what the State set aside for elementary and secondary education the same year. And the $525 million spent on a triad strike force is around what the State spends on elementary education every year).
You can spend in the neighbourhood of $10.5 billion as the minimum cost of a nuclear weaponisation program. Or use that money to make up for the entire shortfall of 15 million rural homes. Or even to provide primary education to every single Indian child of school-going age.
One bomb shelter for a hundred VIPs in New Delhi costs more than ten times what was spent on drought relief in Rajasthan.
Under the fascist BJP government, over two-thirds (68%) of India's research budget has been pledged for defense, space and nuclear energy. Alternate energy gets less than one-thousandth (0.1%)! The increase in allocation to the departments of space and atomic energy alone is more than five times greater than the increase in the outlay for health, 52% higher than the increase in the Central education outlay, and 72% higher than the increase in allocation for rural employment and poverty alleviation.
In short, you can either feed the idyllic Hindu Rashtra, or feed the benign Hindu Bomb. Not both.
I know, I know, I've read the press releases. But despite assurances from highly-qualified hawks like Gen. K Sundarji that nuclear weaponisation is "very affordable" I kind of worry when I see that the State can't afford to keep hundreds of millions of its own people literate, fed, housed and healed (in development terms we rank No.138 out of the 175 countries listed in the UNDP's 1997 Human Development Index), but can afford to spend $10.5 billion on building nuclear weapons. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that how nations collapse? Remember the USSR?
Contrary to the standard mainstream media bullshit we've been deluged with for over a decade, let's not forget that it was the misplaced priorities of the Soviet Union that eventually led to its showcased demise, not the intrinsic flaws of Communism as a socio-economic and political system (though those as well, but that's another discussion). Leading anti-nuclear activist Praful Bidwai has suggested that "one of the principal reasons for the economic collapse of the former USSR was excessive military spending, especially on its massive nuclear arsenal, which at its peak, had a gruesome 45,000 nuclear weapons of various sizes and shapes. By the time Mikhail Gorbachev came on the scene and decided to slow down the arms race with the US, it was too late."
It was also held together with rubberbands and snot. As if the cost of going nuclear weren't crippling enough, both blocs were faced with the prospect of their big ticket items not working when they were meant to. Or working whe they weren't meant to.
The US, for instance, spent upwards of $700 billion on a hairtrigger-alert C3I system which set off as many as 20,000 false alarms of a missile attack between 1977 and 1984. More often than not, these were flocks of tagged geese that happened to fly through radar, their bird brains not quite comprehending that by following their migratory instincts they were precipitating a nuclear meltdown.
Despite crushing evidence that the best C3I systems are as watertight as a sieve and peppered with loopholes large enough to drive a truck full of weapons inspectors through, we're about to spend over $740.25 million of taxpayers' money to build one of these. And just how many villages can you provide drinking water for that amount? That would be 217,37 villages.
Even Sonia Gandhi, someone whose politics I'm not particularly fond of, made perfect sense when -- shortly after India's nuclear tests at Pokhran -- she told a big crowd not far from the test site... "these people are crowing with pride about the Pokhran nuclear blasts. But in the villages near Pokhran, people are struggling for drinking water. What type of development is this?"
Not heeding her righteous indignation are the Hindu Rashtra's political elite proclaiming that these nuclear tests are a great scientific achievement, indeed the bleeding edge of innovation and progress.
Now hold on a second. Just what kind of chemical abuse did it take before our leaders began harbouring these delusions of grandeur? Aren't psychotropic substances, like, illegal?
It takes mere engineers, not scientists, to assemble a nuclear bomb. I use the word "assemble" with good reason. Since nuclear bomb technology is over sixty years old, with most of its pathbreaking blueprints available by now to everyone from the Unabomber to kindergarten students, it might help to understand how nuclear bombs are built.
First of all, they're not built, they're assembled. Much the way you'd assemble a flatpacked CD rack from Ikea, using only the most rudimentary of tools from the DIY store around the corner. You don't have to design extremely intricate circuitry to crack a missile guidance system, you can buy the stuff off-the-shelf from a Taiwanese hardware pimp, follow the user's manual, and you're all set. You don't have to build a billion-dollar targeting mechanism, you can mail order a hundred-dollar GPS unit to pinpoint a target anywhere in the world with way better than 50 metres accuracy. And rocket science is no longer "rocket science."
Pervez Hoodbhoy, professor of nuclear and high-energy physics at Islamabad's Quaid-e-Azam University, asserts that with the ready availability of completely knocked-down modules, one can assemble even mechanically complex things like engine design and aerodynamic construction. He points out that "famine-stricken North Korea, with few other achievements, clearly has a very advanced missile program. In fact it has been repeatedly accused of transferring this technology to Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq. None of these countries has a reputation for scientific and technological excellence, yet all three have intermediate range missiles."
Let's face it, this technology is not (as Prime Minister Vajpayee claims) a great scientific breakthrough. It's as cutting-edge as a bunch of ganja-smoking sanyasis. It belongs to the same embalmed crypt as meccano sets and full-body bathing suits. It went out with Eva Braun and khakhi shorts. It has nothing to do with cutting-edge science, original scientific research, high-technology, or the country's general scientific progress. In short, it's crap. Very old crap.
In his address to the Parliament, Vajpayee went on to claim that "India is now a nuclear weapon state. This is a reality that cannot be denied. It is not a conferment that we seek; nor is it a status for others to grant. It is an endowment to the nation by our scientists and engineers. It is India's due, the right of one-sixth of humankind." There was no mention of this one-sixth of humankind's right to water, food, electricity, literacy or healthcare.
At grave risk of sounding redundant, I'd like to reiterate that Nuclear. Weapons. Are. Not. Great. Scientific. Breakthroughs. I hope someone out there grasps short sentences.
All it takes is three years, two post-doctorates and one old barracks building to build a thermonuclear bomb. If you disagree, look at what Bob Selden and David Pipkorn pulled off. These guys assembled a workable nuke, without assistance from anyone other than the local greengrocer, completely on their own, using nothing except information freely available over the public domain.
In his essay 'No Experience Necessary' published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Dan Stober mentions that physicist Ted Taylor, who has been arguing for decades that building a fission bomb is almost a garage project, said in 1987 that even pottery equipment is useful... "You can shape C4 (the explosive) beautifully on a potter's wheel." How easy is it for terrorists to build an atom bomb? "Very easy. Double underline. Very easy," Taylor says. At a meeting some years ago, Selden was asked, "Bob, could you do it alone?" According to Taylor, the answer was "Yes."
One might argue that all this textbook knowledge is worthless in the absence raw materials to work with. However, thanks to the break-up of the Soviet Union, as well as porous security measures at most nuclear facilities, raw material is now freely available. Just two months ago, 206 kgs of Plutonium "disappeared" from a nuclear fuel processing plant in Japan. That's enough stash to build twenty-five 20-kiloton Nagasaki-grade bombs. Fantastic. Maybe our next great scientific breakthrough would be to log on to www.eBay.com and start bidding for that shit.
The site works best with Netscape 7. Cutting-edge indeed.
Part of the unmentioned price of eternal vigilance is the appointment of a half-wit to the highest, most sacred position in the country. A man who has no distinction, except a lifetime devoted to the cause of mediocrity, hyperbole and plagiarism, is now our President. Damen und Herren, introducing the Anu Malik of WMD technology, remix guru DJ Missile Man ... His Excellency, APJ Kalam. Let's take a look at the guy's background.
Kalam was shown the door at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) just a year before he was appointed president, because he lacked the requisite academic credentials. He has no formal PhD, his doctorate is purely honorary (like Margaret Thatcher's), and he's penned few technical papers worth more than the paper they were printed on.
He's not a nuclear scientist, he's an engineer. Only two out of five missile programmes he steered saw any meaningful results. Eight years ago, he promised to overturn the 70:30 foreign-to-indigenous ratio to 30:70 by 2005. Just two years away from that self-imposed deadline, and he's nowhere bloody close. In a haze that one can only attribute to the industrial-grade abuse of marijuana, Kalam talks of stealth technology, renewable aircraft, hyperplanes and Star Wars type missile defences -- oblivious to the fact that even the US has written an obituary on these hallucinations, billions of dollars of research notwithstanding.
Scientific mediocrity aside, Kalam is overly-simple, untutored, shallow and naïve when it comes to public life. He casts a wayward glance at India's GDP and concludes we're a Developed Nation. Yeah, right.
To quote Praful Bidwai again: "Kalam has no understanding of India's poverty and its staggering income inequalities, or of the structural constraints, including hierarchy, caste and illiteracy, which keep India backward... his thinking is replete with poorly constructed, half-baked or undigested ideas."
Taking cue from Bidwai, Princeton scholar M.V. Ramana says "Kalam often exhibits a tendency that's come to mark several fields in India: dressing up even mediocre work with the tricolour to pass them off as great achievements. In his autobiography Wings Of Fire, there's a description of how Kalam reverse-engineered a Russian rocket-assisted take-off system, simply borrowing the crucial motors. Publicly, however, it was passed off as 'indigenous development' with Kalam credited for heading the project."
At this point, you're probably wondering how he came to be our President. Strip away the spray-paint and you'll see why. As a moslem who's denied himself even the dignity of being one, as a moslem who eschews meat, plays the rudra veena, reads Vedic scriptures, speaks Sanskrit and writes poetry in Tamil (all virtuous and desirable traits, by the way, though I can't make sense of Tamil poetry), Kalam is the ideal "Hinduised" moslem. Kalam represents the ignominious image in which the Hindu Rashtra would like to see its 200 million moslems live, by denying themselves their identity, their roots, indeed their very faith.
That's the true and unaudited price of eternal vigilance.
To be wrenched from your needs, to wrench yourself from any aspirations towards a roof over your head, food in your belly, good health for your children, care for the aged, dignity for women, and a job to wake up to every morning. To distance yourself from any commitment or attachment to the millions who barely subsist and survive and, at times, not even that little. To clinically detach yourself from your own God. To deny Jesus, to deny the Prophet, to deny Buddha, to deny Nanak.
Oh, and Jimi Hendrix.
Suggested Action: you can be India's next non-violent civil disobedience movement by refusing to pay the price of eternal vigilance. You can initiate a Public Interest Litigation against the Union of India on charges of misappropriation of taxpayers' money and irregularities in public spending. If you pay taxes, please call, fax or email the psychopaths (contact details are given below) explaining why you're going to start withholding your taxes until such time that the State starts spending your money more responsibly. If you're a bonafide tax-evader, please call, fax or email them explaining that you'll start paying up only after a public withdrawal from the nuclear program and a concrete assurance that your money will be spent responsibly.
Atal Behari Vajpayee, Prime Minister.
Fax: +91-11-3016857 / +91-11-3019545 / +91-11-972-2-664-838
APJ Abdul Kalam Azad, President of India.
Email: email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
George Fernandes, Minister of Defense.
Jaswant Singh, Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Fax: +91-11-3010700 / +91-11-3010680
L K Advani, Minister of Home Affairs (also Deputy Prime Minister)
Lalit Mansingh, Ambassador of India to the US.
Ambassador Kamalesh Sharma, Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations.
Fax: +1-212-490 -9656
In addition, please feel free to contact India's leading newspapers with your views:
Hindustan Times: email@example.com
Times Of India: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hindu: email@example.com
Indian Express: http://www.expressindia.com/about/feedback.html
Gene Hashmi has worked with some of the world's most unscrupulous, dishonest and successful advertising agencies. By way of atonement, he runs The Daily Dissidence, Singapore's only news source that doesn't seek the approval of mainstream media. At the rate of one new subscriber every other day, The Daily Dissidence has quickly become the most circulated, criticised and controversial mailing list in this police state. You can contact Gene at firstname.lastname@example.org or (+65) 96 704 701. If this goes on for long, you can eventually reach him at Changi Prison.