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 set out across the Persian desert to look for a barn where the son of a poor carpenter is to be born who is supposed to save humanity. If ever there were grounds for divorce the wives of the three wise men had them.
Nevertheless they did. In the Christian tradition three astrologers, Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar traveled from the Persian Gulf to Bethlehem in Judea to find the Christ child.
Today three zealots are on the same kind of journey, fraught with danger and laughed at by the cynics. These starry-eyed dreamers come with the world’s most exclusive resumes and the future they see scares them.
They were the first horsemen of the Apocalypse, the gatekeepers of Armageddon. They were all senior commanders of strategic nuclear forces and their dream is to eliminate nuclear weapons from our planet.
Retired American Generals Lee Butler and Andrew Goodpaster and former Soviet Supreme Commander Alexander Lebed are the three wise men of the new millennium.
Until 1994 Butler headed the US Strategic Air Command. In December of ’96 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’s the guy who ought to know. For a decade Butler held the leash on the beast. His SAC bombers were in the air every minute of every day, prepared to launch the first retaliation in the event of a nuclear war. During its history SAC airborne carted more than 30,000 nuclear bombs capable of destroying every human on the planet six times over. Lee Butler chose their targets, their weapons array and their timing.
Butler’s plea, echoed by Goodpaster and Lebed, isn’t based on today’s nuclear weapons. He fears a distant thunder. The card-carrying members of the world’s nuclear club largely contain their weapons. Since the collapse of communism, the Eastern bloc high command and NATO have developed sophisticated communications designed to protect us from accidental nuclear war. But with the ability to construct your basic doomsday weapon in the basement someday soon too many despots and dictators will have the ability to torch their enemy du jour with bombs capable of destroying every living thing within 100 miles of ground zero.
American intelligence agencies estimate that today this sorry planet is home to more than 105,000 nuclear weapons. Fired in anger in close proximity they would blow the globe into tiny pieces. After only limited attacks survivors would pray to join the dead. Nobody knows this better than General Lee Butler.
Butler, Goodpaster and Lebed have begun the journey to find a way to rid the planet of nuclear bombs. Cynics scoff them, governments deny them. Yet 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.”