Above: Donald Trump, noted non-proliferation theorist and proponent of sane foreign policy positions.
With debate about the Iranian nuclear deal still raging and everyone and their dog expressing an opinion (no matter how ill-informed, reactionary, or just plain stupid it might be), my new undergraduate course is alarmingly well-timed.
This year, I’m offering a new 4MA (fourth year honours, full year) course entitled The United States and the Problem of Nuclear Proliferation, 1945-2015 (hereafter USPNP). An outgrowth of my research interests and doctoral work, USPNP is my first attempt at a year-long course for the undergraduates in their final year. The class is relatively small (12-15 students) and there will have an intense focus on discussing and debating primary, secondary, and theoretical materials.
This post takes a little bit of a sideways step away from nuclear history and teaching towards…motor racing?
I’ve enjoyed motorsport since I was a kid and – depsite the ups and downs, the dismal years, and the dodgy politics – maintain a keen interest in Formula One. The hot debate within F1 circles at the moment is over the upcoming Bahrain Grand Prix. Due to the situation in Bahrain, the GP was cancelled last year, very much the right move under the circumstances. People were losing their lives as they protested for greater political freedom, a situation where the sight of a multi-billion pound circus parading around town, flashing its wealth and political connections would be reprehensible, at best.
Nuclear history is chock full of the strange, the never-quite-adequately explained, and the conspiratorial.(1) A fascinating example of this is the September 1979 ‘Vela Incident.’ This is kind of vaguely related to my thesis work, as it impinges on nuclear proliferation (kind of.)
The Velas were a series of U.S. satellites designed to detect clandestine nuclear testing. They used what are known as ‘bhangmeters’ (plus a bunch of other uber-scientific doohickeys) to pick up the unique ‘double flash’ given off by a nuclear explosion. The satellite in question, Vela 6911, was over ten years old in September 1979. On the 22nd, it picked up a double flash in the South Atlantic, far, far away from any land (apart from the remote, French-owned Kerguelen Islands.) Heads were scratched on a global scale, committees were convened, much sweat poured forth.(2)