This would probably have adversely affected my childhood

December 6, 2010

In 1969, I was eleven years old, and my family had just moved to Sacramento. Little did I know, as I started sixth grade and worried about making friends, that the Soviets were on the verge of nuking the tar out of China:

The Soviet Union was on the brink of launching a nuclear attack against China in 1969 and only backed down after the US told Moscow such a move would start World War Three, according to a Chinese historian.

The extraordinary assertion, made in a publication sanctioned by China’s ruling Communist Party, suggests that the world came perilously close to nuclear war just seven years after the Cuban missile crisis.

Liu Chenshan, the author of a series of articles that chronicle the five times China has faced a nuclear threat since 1949, wrote that the most serious threat came in 1969 at the height of a bitter border dispute between Moscow and Beijing that left more than one thousand people dead on both sides.

He said Soviet diplomats warned Washington of Moscow’s plans “to wipe out the Chinese threat and get rid of this modern adventurer,” with a nuclear strike, asking the US to remain neutral.

But, he says, Washington told Moscow the United States would not stand idly by but launch its own nuclear attack against the Soviet Union if it attacked China, loosing nuclear missiles at 130 Soviet cities. The threat worked, he added, and made Moscow think twice, while forcing the two countries to regulate their border dispute at the negotiating table.

So, while Moscow was planning on reducing Beijing (and Canton and Shanghai and…) to radioactive cinders, Nixon was promising to do the same thing to Mother Russia, if the Kremlin didn’t back off.

This was the period of Nixon’s outreach to China, and his and Kissinger’s grand scheme saw the Chinese as a counterweight to the USSR’s aggression. They were also worried about the effect a nuclear strike on China would have on US troops in the region, and undoubtedly on our allies in the area, too. The President played the ultimate US trump card and, fortunately, Brezhnev and company weren’t willing to call him on a bluff.

Not only is this another illustration of how close we sometimes came to ending the world, but it also stands in contrast to our modern confrontation with would-be nuclear powers, especially Iran. While Moscow was indeed on the verge of nuclear war, the USSR was still a modern European state with a rational interest in its own survival. In the face of a credible threat from the US, it made a calculation of its interests and decided the price for carrying out its planned attack was too great to pay. It is just this kind of rational decision-making in an environment of mutually assured destruction that paradoxically kept us all safe from the end of World War II to the Soviet Union’s collapse.

But, would this threat work with Iran, whose leaders see themselves as having a divine mission to bring about the Islamic version of the End Times? Their intellectual paradigm is very much different from that shared by US and Soviet leaders, and I fear that, after gaining the bomb, Tehran might decide the price of a devastating counterstrike would be worth paying, in order to bring about the return of the Mahdi and Islam’s final victory.

In that case, many, many children will not have the close escape I had.

PS. Do click through to the article, if only for the picture of Nixon with Brezhnev. Britons especially will appreciate the gesture Tricky Dick is making toward the Soviet leader.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)

Mexico: the migrants’ path of peril

December 6, 2010

Mexicans are not the only immigrants trying to enter the United States illegally; many of them are from Central America. Most of those come by land, passing through Mexico on their way to the US. The dangers they face on the way, both from criminal gangs and Mexican authorities, is notorious.

In today’s Houston Chronicle, Dudley Althaus recounts the harrowing experiences of people who, in search of a better life, dare to cross the river of woes:

TECUN UMAN, Guatemala — Juan Bautista Castañeda stepped aboard a makeshift raft to cross the shallow Suchiate River into Mexico from Guatemala, the beginning of a more than 1,100-mile trek he hopes will end on the South Texas border.

And not in abduction, torture or death.

On two earlier tries, he has been attacked by thugs and arrested by Mexican immigration agents, Castañeda said. But nothing good awaits the field hand back in his El Salvador village, so he has girded himself for another, perhaps final, attempt.

Pushed first by war and then by want, Central Americans for three decades have poured through Mexico by the millions on their way to hopeful, if illegal, futures in the U.S. Making their way north by rail and road, many have been robbed and raped, kidnapped and extorted, maimed and murdered.

“You see it every day — how difficult it is, how dangerous,” Castañeda said. “But I’m going again. With the Lord’s help, I’m going to make it.”

The article goes on to give examples of the horrific things that have happened to migrants making their way to the US, such as the massacre of 72 Central and South American migrants that made worldwide headlines. Kidnapping and hostage-taking to extort money from relatives of migrants “back home” or already in the US is also common, with over 10,000 incidents in 2009.

This is a good article, worth one’s time to read, and there are a few points to take away from it:

While we are legitimately concerned about illegal immigration and our poorly secured southern border, and while we shouldn’t reward people who break our laws (other than to reelect them to Congress), we must never forget that behind the statistics are human beings seeking the same thing for their families we want for ours: a better life. Yes, hidden among them are criminals and agents of our jihadist enemies, but to treat all illegals as potential thieves is just as dumb as ignoring the problem, as the open borders crowd would do.

Once again, the Mexican government’s whining about the treatment their illegals receive in the US is shown to be a sick, twisted joke when compared to what happens to illegals in their own country.

And, finally, that people would attempt these journeys again and again, knowing the dangers involved and even after experiencing them first-hand, is an amazing testimonial both to human determination and to how bleak life must be where they come from, that they are motivated to risk everything to get here.

h/t Frank Smyth via Melissa del Bosque

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)