Ross Douthat at The Atlantic writes of Armageddon, and the choice to retaliate or not to retaliate after the fall of a national capitol.
As Douthat has it, the British Prime Minister has break-the-glass orders with nuclear submarine commanders at the bottom of the ocean for what to do in case London were vaporized, King and Parliament with it. Ross wonders what Reagan would have done, and speculates that after his country were razed, Reagan may not have retaliated. He suggests that the Lion of Reykjavik would have lain down with the Wolf of Glasnost, saying that at that point, "What's the use?"
The utility of following through with destruction of their following destruction of ours is simple: lovers of liberty must oppose tyranny with every tool at their disposal. If the submarine fails to deliver retribution, evil men will dictate the history books. There, done.
The more interesting question is if the submarine commander would be bound to follow the orders of a dead Prime Minister.
Military doctrine, upon which the Geneva Conventions are based, holds that an officer's legitimacy stems from his loyalty to the State. Supposing that State no longer to exist, or to have been captured by opposing forces, the commander would be a rogue actor, or a member of the armed resistance, should he choose to obey the orders written in the safe.
But does the State no longer exist once its administrative offices and its Head are so much glowing dust? I think no easy answer to this question is possible, because there are levels of existence. If a State loses its monarch, bureaucracy, executive leadership and entire flag officer corps, does the State exist? Perhaps the question can only be answered post hoc, should the citizens of the State reformulate it into something able to control its territory.
Supposing the entirety of the nation's is land rendered inhabitable, or during the time in which the State is nonfunctional, we still have our submarine (or lunar base) commander, out of communication with the rest of the race. He may have information as to the source of the destruction that came upon his nation, or he may lack it, and in any case he will be confronted with some amount of uncertainty.
During the Cold War, he might safely have assumed that the former Soviet Union were the responsible party, and could be counted blameless for expending his arsenal against any high-value targets he could reach.
But in the 9/11 era, even a worldwide intelligence network may fail to uncover the source of mass destruction. An incommunicado commander, wishing to remain hidden, would have somewhat less certainty over how to retaliate, and against whom.
But such a commander would be loyal not just to a chain of command or the laws of a particular nation, but first to the noblest lady of our civilization: Liberty herself. If he could band together with like-minded warriors at sea, and perhaps find some undefended shoal to call home, they could once again breath the air as free men. Their war would continue until victory or defeat, by enemy or age.
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