by Albert Paschall,
Senior Commentator, Lincoln Institute
Two thousand years ago it must have been tough to be a wise man. The wise man comes home one day and tells the family: "I've seen a star that will bring a messiah, so I'm hitching up my camel to chase it for the next six months." Then he joins up with two buddies and sets out across the Persian Dessert to look for a barn where the son of a poor carpenter is to be born who is supposed to save humanity. One wonders whether his wife was waiting for him when he did get home.
Nevertheless they did. In the Christian tradition three astrologers, Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar, traveled from the Persian Gulf, probably from what today we call Iran, to Bethlehem in Judea to bring gifts to the Christ child.
Three contemporary zealots have started the same kind of wild-eyed journey. It is fraught with danger and the cynics think it's hysterical. But these dreamers are dedicated and come with the planet's most exclusive resumes. They embark on their ridiculous quest because the future they see scares them ironically because they were the world's foremost warriors.
They were the first horsemen of the Apocalypse, the gatekeepers of Armageddon. They were the senior commanders of airborne strategic nuclear forces and their dream is to eliminate nuclear weapons from the face of the earth.
Retired American Generals Lee Butler and Andrew Goodpaster and former Soviet Supreme Air Commander Alexander Lebed are the three wise men of the new millennium.
Starting in 1984 for a decade Butler led the American Strategic Air Command. After his retirement in 1996 he made one of the 20th century's most important, and under-reported speeches. In it he said: "Nuclear war is a raging insatiable beast whose instincts and appetites we pretend to understand but could not possibly control."
He ought to know. For 10 years Butler held the leash on the beast. His SAC bombers were airborne every minute of every day prepared to launch massive retaliation in the event of nuclear war. Holding the keys that could open the gates of Hell during his command SAC bombers carted more than 30,000 nuclear bombs capable of destroying every living thing on the earth six times over. Lee Butler was the guy who chose their targets, their weapons array and their timing.
Butler's plea, heartily endorsed by Goodpaster and Lebed isn't based on today's weapons. They fear a distant thunder. The card-carrying members of the world's nuclear club largely have learned to contain their weapons. Since the end of the Cold War, the Russian high command, China and NATO have developed sophisticated communications designed to prevent accidental war.
But now there is the ability to construct doomsday in your basement. Terrorists, rogue states like Iran and North Korea, and other despots and dictators can have the ability to torch their enemy du jour with bombs capable of killing every body unlucky enough to be within 100 miles of ground zero.
Our world is now the home of over 30,000 nuclear weapons. Fired intentionally, in close proximity, they could blow the earth into thousands of tiny pieces. After only limited attacks survivors would likely pray to join the dead. Nobody knows this better than General Lee Butler.
Butler, Goodpaster and Lebed have started the critical journey to someday rid this planet of nuclear weapons. Cynics scoff them, governments deny them. But if we join in seeking their dream the odds are going to be a lot better that 2,000 years from now people will still be around to hear the message that rang from the hills of Bethlehem: "Peace on earth to people of good will."
The Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc.