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History professor Lawrence Wittner's estimate of 23,000 nuclear weapons worldwide in Heidi Walters' elegiac tribute to the Golden Rule anti-nuclear demonstration ketch omits key facts ("Broken Arrow," Sept. 9). Nearly 8,200 are estimated to be operational -- usable -- and some 2,200 U.S and Russian nuclear warheads remain on high alert. "High alert" means those 2,200 warheads, which, at 100 kilotons, are unimaginably more powerful and lethal than the bombs dropped on Japan in 1945, are pointed at thousands of targets in each country and are ready to launch in 15 minutes or less. Yes, 15 minutes or less -- high alert means hair-trigger alert.

That remains the fact despite the de facto end of the Cold War with the fall of the Berlin Wall in autumn 1989, followed by the deliberate dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991. It was said, mistakenly, at the time of 9/11, that the world was changed forever. The world will really change forever when -- not if -- a terrorist nuclear attack on a city anywhere in the world vaporizes 10,000, 100,000 or one million human beings in a literal flash. No city anywhere has the emergency or medical personnel to cope with overwhelming numbers of corpses and burn patients.

Such an attack will threaten social cohesion, the world economy and political rationality. And this is to say nothing of gargantuan chemical and biological weapons stockpiles that continue to be modernized by the U.S., never mind by other nations (Russia among them). All three categories pose indescribable terrorist threats in an intrinsically insecure and fatal world.

Paul Mann, McKinleyville



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