Pale Wire (Popscene)

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Think About Destruction
What would E.B. do?


E.B. White wrote the following in the Notes and Comment section of The New Yorker magazine on August 18, 1945, less than two weeks after the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki:

Nuclear energy and foreign policy cannot coexist on this planet...The more deep the secret, the greater the determination of every nation to discover and exploit it. Nuclear energy insists on global government, on law, on order, and on the willingness of the community to take the responsibility for the acts of the individual.

Fifty years later, there are believed to be nine countries that possess nuclear weapons. Yesterday, the United Nations'- atomic energy agency voted to report Iran to the Security Council because of suspicions that its government is developing its own weapon.
After the vote, Iran announced that it would immediately end its voluntary nuclear cooperation with the agency and that it would begin full-scale production of enriched uranium, which can be used to produce electricity or to help build nuclear bombs.

I wonder what White would say about that. Knowing his dedication to the principle of world government, and his doomy view of the human race's prospects for the future, I would guess he'd say largely the same thing he did back then. Hectoring is one of the principle pursuits of the newspaperman.

What do you say? Is the diplomatic tack being taken towards Iran, which its leaders have largely spurned, the proper course of action? Is it fair for countries with large nuclear arsenals and robust access to energy resources to dictate the rules of the game? Is it realistic to think that Iran can be peacefully deterred by a group of nations, each acting in its own interests? And, if not, what is the acceptable cost (I'm talking about human lives here) of pursuing other methods?

The thing I'm really challenged by, and would love to hear informed opinions on, is what exactly a nuclear-ized Iran would look like. Would it have the same invasion insurance North Korea seems to enjoy now that the world's policemen are occupied elsewhere?

In case you were wondering, I came across the White quote while reading About Town, Ben Yagoda's delightful history of The New Yorker. It's been an enjoyable book for a news nerd like me. Yagoda brings White, Harold Ross and other major figures to life by drawing heavily from what seems to be an inexhaustible supply of internal correspondence. As a reader, you get an inside view as the magazine shifts from a light, if original, humor magazine into a literary power and, thanks to its blockbuster coverage of World War II, an institution in American journalism, publishing and public life.