We shall overcome hate spread by the far right

American optimism about their power over their president forced the outcome they wanted, even if it was temporarily

By Aditya Sinha

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Published: Wed 16 Aug 2017, 10:30 PM

Last updated: Thu 17 Aug 2017, 12:31 AM

Two recent events remind us how Americans stand apart from the rest of the world. One was their high-pitched hysteria over a possible nuclear war, following US President Donald Trump's threat of "fire and fury" against North Korea. Talk of nuclear armegeddon has been swirling for months now. When I visited New York in April, a relative muttered: "We'll all be dead anyway in a nuclear war." I nearly laughed. Americans have an overly pessimistic assumption about a potential US-North Korea showdown.

On the other hand, America amazingly forced its reluctant president to condemn a racist rally at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, by White Nationalists ­- his core voter - last weekend. It took him three days to do so, though 24 hours later he reverted to his pro-alt-right stance. Some accused Trump of turning the White House into the White Supremacist House. In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi would never have called the lunatic-right "evil" in any case. American optimism about their power over their president forced the outcome they wanted, even if it was temporarily.

India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, visited the US in the 1950s and during John F. Kennedy's tenure; already a tired man, Nehru said he found Americans to be shallow and naive. It is not untrue: but it is also what makes Americans optimistic and pessimistic at the same time. Indians are neither: an old civilisation that was invaded numerous times, they are essentially a jaded lot (or perhaps a tolerant lot).

Or maybe it is how the elite run America. India has always seen hypocrisy when the US preached about the horrors of nuclear war - particularly since it is the only country to have dropped not one but two atomic bombs on another. It bombed Japan even though World War II was almost over. Perhaps Americans are terrified of karmic payback. (Anyone who's read John Hersey's 1946 classic Hiroshima, which tells the chilling stories of six survivors of the atomic attack, would be.)

The elite keeps this existential dread alive, even though North Korea has an estimated 10 atomic bombs. The US has 6,800 nuclear weapons (silo-based, submarine-based, miniaturised). North Korean missiles have a range that includes Guam, but not any precision, because their technology lacks sophistication. An intercontinental ballistic missile has to be shot out of the atmosphere and North Koreans don't have the technology to prevent their missile from burning up upon re-entering the atmosphere.

Atomic bombs killed 226,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (but wounded many more, for generations); now cities are millions-strong. You would need at least 10 atomic bombs to impact an American city. Only the US and Russia have enough weapons to disrupt the planet's ecology. For perspective, consider what India's defence minister in 1997, Mulayam Singh Yadav, meant when he said (crudely) that a nuclear exchange with Pakistan would damage a few cities. His implication was: So what? Statistically, he had a point. The fact of China's growing stockpile has not stopped India from standing up to China over the Bhutanese valley of Doklam: a standoff fraught with more risk than US-North Korea's.

This is not to say that anyone should use nuclear weapons. Atomic weapons ought to be forbidden, especially those who talk of being "locked and loaded", and who in any case do a lot worse with things like the "Mother of All Bombs". But for the world's most pampered lot to sit in a cozy Starbucks on Main Street, US, and wring their hands about nuclear armageddon is a bit much.

The way Americans unitedly condemned against the rally by neo-Nazis' and Klansmen, isolating the alt-right and its president, was a lesson to the rest of the planet. In India, 100 children died during the past week at Gorakhpur Medical College hospital due to inadequate care ­- a matter that the current chief minister repeatedly raised during the 19 years that he was a parliamentarian. Modi did not utter a word for over three days (the time it took Trump to capitulate), provoking social media to come up with the hashtag #BringBackNandu. Voices have been raised about this outrage, especially after an overly focussed TV anchor dismissed the children's deaths as an unnecessary distraction from a debate about a nationalistic slogan. But the voices are too few - possibly because India's middle-class is still percentage-wise too small.

Or perhaps Indians need to inculcate the same naiveté that Americans have, one that makes them fearful of "foreign terrorists" and nuclear armageddon, but one that gives them the confidence to keep their government in line, which they occasionally do. Though this naiveté also prevents them from seeing that Charlottesville, Trump's delayed response, and his flip-flop have only energised the American alt-right, and that America has a different kind of armageddon to worry about.

Aditya Sinha is a senior journalist based in India


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