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On the uselessness of nuclear weapons

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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The mushroom cloud over Nagasaki (Image: Commons)

Two foundational beliefs have colored our views of nuclear weapons since the end of World War 2; one, that they were essential or at least very significant for ending the war, and two, that they have been and will continue to be linchpins of deterrence. These beliefs have, in one way or another, guided all our thinking about these mythic creations. Ward Wilson who is at the Monterey Institute of International Studies wants to demolish these and other myths about nukes in a new book titled “5 Myths about Nuclear Weapons“, and I have seen few volumes which deliver their message so effectively in such few words. Below are Wilson’s thoughts about the two dominant nuclear myths interspersed with a few of my own.

“Nuclear weapons were paramount in ending World War 2″.

This is where it all begins. And the post facto rationalization certainly bolsters the analysis; brilliant scientists worked on a fearsome weapon in a race against the Nazis, and when the Nazis were defeated, handed it over to world leaders who used to it bring a swift end to a most horrible conflict. Psychologically it fits into a satisfying and noble narrative. Hiroshima and Nagasaki have become so completely ingrained in our minds as symbols of the power of the bomb that we scarcely think about whether they really served the roles that they have been ascribed over the last half century. In one sense the atomic bombings of Japan have dictated all our consequent beliefs about weapons of mass destruction. But troubling and mounting evidence has emerged in the last half century that is now consequential enough to deal a major blow to this thinking. Contrary to popular belief, this is not “revisionist” history; by now the files in American, Soviet, Japanese and British archives have been declassified to an extent that allows us to piece together the cold facts and reveal what exactly was the impact of the atomic bombings of Japan on the Japanese decision to end the war. They tell a story very different from the standard narrative.

Wilson draws on detailed minutes from the meetings of the Japanese Imperial Staff to make two things clear; first, that the bomb did not have a disproportionate influence on Japanese leaders’ deliberations and psyche, and second, that what did have a very significant impact on Japanese policy was the invasion of Manchuria and the Sakhalin Islands by the Soviet Union. Wilson reproduces the reactions of key Japanese leaders after the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6. You would expect them to register shock and awe but we see little of this. There was no major meeting summoned after the event and most leaders seemed to display mild consternation, but little of the terror or extreme emotion that you might expect from such a world-shattering event. What does emerge from the record is that the same men were extremely rattled after the Soviets declared war on August 8.

The reason was that before Hiroshima the Japanese were contemplating two strategies for surrender, one political and the other military. The military strategy involved throwing the kitchen sink against the Americans when they invaded the southern part of the Japanese homeland in the coming months and causing them so many losses that their victory would be be a pyrrhic one at best; the Japanese could then seek a surrender on their own terms. The political strategy involved negotiating with the Allies through Moscow. With Hiroshima, both these options remained open since the Japanese army and Soviet relations were still intact. But with the Soviet invasion in the north, the concentration of troops against the Allied invasion in the south and the seeking of favorable surrender terms through the Soviets suddenly turned into impossibilities. This double blow convinced the Japanese that they must now confront unconditional surrender.

Why were the Japanese not affected by the bombing of Hiroshima? Because on the ground the bombing looked no different from the relentless pounding that dozens of major Japanese cities had received at the hands of Curtis Le May’s B-29s during the past six months. The infamous firebombing of Tokyo in March, 1945 had killed even more civilians than the atomic bomb. As Ward details it, no less than 68 cities had been subjected to intense attack, and aerial photos of these cities are strikingly almost indistinguishable from those of Hiroshima. Thus for the Japanese, Hiroshima was one more casualty in a long list. It did little either to shock them or to weaken their resolve for continuing the war.

Unfortunately the perception of the bombing of Hiroshima also fed into the general perception regarding strategic bombing. The conventional wisdom since before World War 2 was that strategic bombing can deal a deadly blow to the enemy’s moral and strategic resources. This wisdom was perpetuated in the face of much evidence to the contrary; the bombings of London, Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo had little effect on morale. The later follies of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos also proved the futility of strategic bombing in ending wars. And the same was true of Hiroshima. The main point, as Ward makes it clear, is that you cannot win a war by destroying cities because ultimately it’s the enemy’s armies and military resources that are involved in fighting a war. Destroying cities helps, but it is almost never decisive. One instructive example is the burning of Atlanta and then Richmond during the American Civil War which did little to crush the South’s fighting ability or spirit. Another example is Napoleon’s march into Russia; after setting fire to Moscow and destroying scores of Russian cities, Napoleon was still defeated because ultimately his army was defeated. These facts were conveniently ignored in the face of beliefs about bombing whose culmination seemed to be the destruction of Hiroshima. These beliefs were largely responsible for the arms race and the development of strategic hydrogen bombs which were again expressly designed to bring about the annihilation of cities. But all this development did was raise the risk of accidental devastation. If we realize that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and the general destruction of cities played little role in ending World War 2, almost everything that we think we know about the power of nuclear questions is called into question.

“Nuclear weapons are essential for deterrence”.

Conventional thinking continues to hold that the Cold War stayed cold because of nuclear weapons. This is true to some extent. But what it fails to realize is how many times the war threatened to turn hot. Declassified documents now provide ample evidence of near-hits that could have easily led to nuclear war. The Cuban Missile Crisis is only the most well-known example of how destabilizing nuclear weapons can make the status quo.

The missile crisis is in fact a fine example of how conventional thinking about deterrence presents gaps. Kennedy’s decision to blockade Cuba is often touted as an example of mild escalation and the resolution of the crisis itself is often held up as a shining example of how tough diplomacy can forestall war. But Ward takes the opposite tack; he says that the Soviets had made it clear that any action against Cuba would provoke war. Given the nature of the conflict almost everybody understood that war in this case could mean nuclear war. Yet Kennedy chose to blockade Cuba, so deterrence does not seemed to have worked for him. The consequent set of events brought the world closer to nuclear devastation than we think. As we now know, there were more than 150 nuclear weapons in Cuba which would have carpeted most of the eastern and midwestern United States and led to the deaths of tens of millions of Americans. A subsequent second strike would have caused even more devastation in the Soviet Union, not to mention in neighboring countries. In addition there were several relatively minor events which were close calls. These included the depth mining by the US Air Force of submerged Soviet submarines that almost caused one submarine commander to launch a nuclear torpedo; it was an unsung hero of the crisis named Vasili Arkhipov who prevented the launch. Other examples cited by Ward include the straying of an American reconnaissance flight into Soviet airspace and the consequent scrambling of American and Soviet fighter aircraft.

One could add several other examples to the list of close calls; a later one would be the Able Archer exercise of 1983 that caused the Soviets deep anxiety and borderline paranoia. The fact is that deterrence is always touted as the ultimate counter-argument to the risks of nuclear warfare, but there are scores of examples where political leaders decided to escalate and provoke the other side in spite of deterrence. From the other side of the fence it looks like deterrence ultimately worked, but often by a very slim margin. Add to this the fact that the vast network of nuclear command and control centers and protocols developed by nuclear nations are manned by fallible human beings; they are examples of complex systems subject to so-called “normal accidents“. There is also no dearth of examples during the Cold War where lowly technicians and army officers could have launched World War 3 because of miscalculation, misunderstandings or paranoia. The fact is that these weapons of mass destruction have a life of their own; they are beyond the abilities of human beings to completely harness because human weaknesses and flaws also have lives of their own.

The future

Nuclear weapons are often compared to a white elephant. A better comparison might be to a giant T. rex; one could possible imagine a use for such a creature in extreme situations, but by and large it only serves as an unduly sensitive and enormously destructive creature whose powers are waiting to be unleashed on to the world. Having the beast around is just not worth its supposed benefits anymore, especially when most of these benefits are only perceived and have been extrapolated from a sample size of one.

Yet we continue to nurture this creature. Much progress has been made in reducing the nuclear arsenals of the two Cold War superpowers, but others have picked up the slack and continued to pursue the image and status – and not actual fighting capability – that they think nuclear weapons confer on them. The US currently has about 5000 weapons including 1700 strategic ones, many of which are still on hair trigger alert. This is still overkill by a huge margin. A hundred or so, especially on submarines, would be more than sufficient for deterrence. More importantly, the real elephant in the room is the spending on maintaining and upgrading the US nuclear arsenal; several estimates have put a figure of $50 billion on this spending. In fact the US is now spending more on nukes than it did during the Cold War. In a period when the economy is still reeling and basic services are continually threatened, this kind of spending on what is essentially a relic of the Cold War should be unacceptable. In addition during the Bush administration, renewed proposals for “precision” munitions like the so-called Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP) threatened to lower the bar for the introduction of tactical nuclear weapons; detailed analysis showed that the fallout and other risks from such weapons far outweigh their modest usefulness. More importantly, experts have pointed out since the 1980s that technology and computational capabilities have now improved to an extent that allows conventional precision weapons to do almost all the jobs that were once imagined for nuclear weapons; the US especially now has enough conventional firepower to protect itself and to overpower almost any nuclear-armed state with massive retaliation. The fact is that nuclear weapons as an instrument of military policy are now almost completely outdated even from a technical standpoint. But until zealous and paranoid politicians in Congress who are still living in the Cold War era are reined in, a significant reduction on maintaining the nuclear arsenal doesn’t seem to be on the horizon.

Fortunately there are renewed calls for the elimination of these outdated weapons. The risk of possible use of nuclear weapons by terrorists calls for completely new strategies and does nothing to justify the growth and preservation of existing strategic arsenals by new and aspiring nuclear states. The most high-profile recent development has been the introduction of a bipartisan proposal by veteran policy makers and nuclear weapons experts Henry Kissinger, William Perry, Sam Nunn, George Schultz and Sidney Drell who have called for an abolition of these weapons of war. Some would consider this plan a pipe dream, but nothing would be accomplished if we don’t fundamentally alter our thinking about nuclear war. There are many practical proposals that would thwart the spread of both weapons and material, including careful accounting of reactor fuel by international alliances, securing of all uranium and plutonium stocks and the blending down of weapons-grade uranium into reactor-grade material, a visionary policy started in the 90s through the Megatons to Megawatts program. For me, one of the most poignant and fascinating facts about nuclear history is that material from Soviet ICBMs aimed at American cities now supplies about half of all American nuclear electricity.

Ultimately as Ward and others have pointed out, nuclear weapons will not go away unless we declare them to be pariahs. No number of technical remedies will cause nations to abandon them until we make these destructive instruments fundamentally unappealing and start seeing them at the very least as outdated dinosaurs whose technological usefulness is now completely obsolete, and at best as immoral and politically useless tools whose possession taints their owner and results in international censure and disapproval. This is another myth that Wilson talks about, the myth that nuclear weapons are here to stay because they “cannot be uninvented”. But as Wilson cogently argues, technologies don’t go away because they are uninvented, they go away simply because they stop being useful. An analogy would be with cigarettes, at one time seen as status symbols and social lubricants whose risks have now turned them into nuisances at best. This strategy has worked in the past and it should work in the future. We can only make progress when technology becomes unattractive, both from a purely technical as well as a moral and political standpoint. But key to this is a realistic appraisal of the roles that the technology played during its conception. In case of nuclear weapons that mythic appraisal was created by Hiroshima. And it’s time we destroyed that myth.

Update: Looks like this post has been picked up by Salon.com where it’s provoking a lot of comments. Both those comments and some of the ones here point to a question that I should have addressed in my post (there’s only so much you can cram in one post); why, if the bomb was not important in the Japanese surrender, did the Emperor explicitly mention it in his speech?

The author actually does have a thoughtful analysis of the Emperor’s announcement and I probably should have noted his analysis in the review. He interprets the announcement as a face-saving device that allowed the Japanese to blame a revolutionary new weapon for their defeat, rather than their own instigation of the war, their lies to their own people and their cruel treatment of POWs. It would make them gain a little more sympathy from the world. In addition it would allow the Americans to bask in the glow of the bomb. I concur with this interpretation.

But the other main point is that even if the emperor did in fact think the bomb to be instrumental in ending the war, many other top Japanese officials did not. So the general argument that the bomb was not the overwhelmingly and unanimously agreed-upon cause of the Japanese surrender is still valid.

Ashutosh Jogalekar About the Author: Ashutosh (Ash) Jogalekar is a chemist interested in the history and philosophy of science. He considers science to be a seamless and all-encompassing part of the human experience. Follow on Twitter @curiouswavefn.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. dwbd 1:52 pm 01/13/2013

    A very dangerous pipe dream I would say. They haven’t even managed to stop North Korea with virtually 100% world opposition and every political force on the planet mustered against them.

    And Israel giving them up? Dream-on. All such a plan would do is lead to Dictators going it alone and holding the whole world hostage. Or going on a series of Wars of Conquest. A Saddam, the ONLY state with Nuclear Weapons, would overrun the Middle East. Who would dare stop him?

    And the tech is advanced enough that Nuclear weapons can be developed in secret, you would never know if any state has Nuclear weapons, until they decide to use them or threaten to use them. You can get ample uranium from seawater, thorium is abundant and Pu-239 & U-235 and others can be manufactured from natural Uranium & Thorium with particle accelerators. It just costs 3X more than other methods.

    And it gets worse. The methods for Pure Fusion weapons are now upon us – or antimatter triggered Fusion weapons. One microgram of anti-hydrogen is sufficient to trigger a Pure Fusion weapon. Or positron weapons or positron triggered Fusion weapons:

    nextbigfuture.com/2012/12/winterbergs-micro-chemical-fusion.html

    sfgate.com/science/article/Air-Force-pursuing-antimatter-weapons-Program-2689674.php

    As-a-matter-of-fact a pure Fusion weapon can be built right now by more advanced tech states, using a large explosively pumped flux compression generator for ignition. It just is not very practical.

    And ALL of these types of weapons can be developed in secret, tested in secret and deployed in secret. And the ONLY WAY to know whether others have these weapons is to develop them yourself, so you know what is achievable.

    And then there are chemical weapons which are as bad and destructive as nuclear weapons. How ya gonna stop those? You haven’t done ZIP about Syria yet, with tons of those weapons. And even worse than nuclear or chemical is biological weapons, potential to kill billions. Maybe Syria has those too. Most effective way to prevent the use of those is “if you use those we will Nuke you”.

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  2. 2. dwbd 2:24 pm 01/13/2013

    The reality is that most of this press & hype about Nuclear Proliferation and banning Nuclear Weapons is just another guise for the restriction of commercial Nuclear Energy.

    Notice the focus on securing ALL fissionable materials, including commercial reactor fuel and even natural uranium.

    Author states: “…including careful accounting of reactor fuel by international alliances, securing of all uranium and plutonium stocks…”

    Now just what is that going to achieve? Please explain. Israel, North Korea, India & most others just used ordinary natural uranium, NOT REACTOR fuel, and used it in simple-minded Graphite pile reactors or basic Heavy Water research reactors to produce Pu-239 for weapons. The preferred weapons material. Or natural uranium & centrifuges. What are going to try to secure the World’s supply of Uranium? And hope that will restrict the small amount needed for weapons. Are you kidding me? You can extract that anywhere from low grade ores or seawater, sufficient for weapons.

    Obviously any such plan will ONLY be effective at AND ONLY be useful to restrict peaceful, clean, zero-CO2 Nuclear Energy. Yep, put the entire Earth and billions of lives at risk due to Energy Starvation or Runaway Global Warming in a futile effort to restrain Nuclear Weapons. And while you are doing that, make Oil even more valuable and precious, cause more Oil Wars, and encourage Oil rich nations to build a secret Nuclear Umbrella to protect against Iraq, Iran, Libya type Oil Seizure Wars.

    Notice the efforts on restricting sale and development of Small Modular Reactors. And the deliberate effort to confuse Low Enriched Uranium 70% U-235. So they want to restrict enrichment to 3%, knowing full well that 20% enriched uranium is an ideal fuel for Small Modular Reactors which can power ships, remote mine-sites, small isolated communities and developing nations communities. The Oiligarchy will do ANYTHING to prevent Nuclear Energy from displacing Oil & Gas.

    So Yep we need to restrain Nuclear Proliferation. Reduce Nuclear Stockpiles. Secure supplies of Weapons grade Uranium & Plutonium (Reactor grade Plutonium IS NOT weapons usable by the way, contrary to Greenpeace hype). Make Energy plentiful, clean & cheap by a massive expansion of commercial Nuclear Energy. End Oil Wars.

    And other than that use political & economic suasion to encourage nations to not develop Nuclear Weapons or to shutdown their Weapons program. That has been very successful, worked with South Africa, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Libya and Iraq. And even in some cases use military strikes to stymie a Weapons program as was done in Iraq & Syria. That’s the best we can do, and that’s about all we can or should do.

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  3. 3. dwbd 2:32 pm 01/13/2013

    Last comment got screwed up with a less than sign. Should have read: And the deliberate effort to confuse Low Enriched Uranium less than 20% U-235 with High Enriched Uranium 20-70% U-235 and Weapons Grade Uranium greater than 70% U-235.

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  4. 4. popseal 2:38 pm 01/13/2013

    This demon has been out of Hell too long to try to send him back. Like nearly everything mankind touches, it only gets worse the more we try to fix whatever we think is broken. I’ll say that the suicidal mullahs of places like Iran, or Pakistan, or Afghanistan are far more dangerous than the Russians, Chinese, or N. Koreans could ever be. None of them need to kill infidels to secure a heaven concept.

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  5. 5. gripperDon 2:51 pm 01/13/2013

    What a biased and stupid collection of comments based on half truths and a goal to “Put down the USA” The Bomb Did stop the war in Japan. (big period) Our getting the Bomb first and having the greatest capability has been a great deterance. Can you imagine if Hitler or Japan had gotten it first or Russia had a overwhelming capability, They would then be in even a more powerfull position to pressure us. Wait until Iran has it, Just look at how we treat Pakistan and India beacuse they have them. The future with a non Bomb USA is a future without a USA. At the rate and on the path we are taking we are seeing our standard of living brought down quickly, Get rid of the Bomb, Cripple the Intellegance, plus a overall weaking of the military all to pay for more social programs. Bye Bye USA

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  6. 6. Forsythkid 4:09 pm 01/13/2013

    A good bit of writing, but nonsense all the same. Nukes have the potential, once deployed to do a lot more than just kill people. They are literally hell on earth and no sane country would ever think seriously of dealing them out in a war. That said, we have countries that don’t view things in the same way the rest of the world does. Iran, for instance, doesn’t officially agree with the existence of the holocaust in WWII. Likewise, they see no problem with performing genocide on those they disagree with wither spiritually or politically. And, word has it that they are building towards a nuclear tipped warhead capability just as fast as they can shuffle through the sand. Just a thought…

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  7. 7. alan6302 6:35 pm 01/13/2013

    With all the deaths from previous wars and “medical advances” , the population continues to rise.The goal of the elite is to wipe out the sheep with a clean genetic bomb. Bring the population down to under 500 M . The plan will fail. Only a couple billion will die from “wormwood”….says the bible. The only reason I can find that only 2 cities have been attacked is that someone else is playing games.

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  8. 8. CBacon 6:38 pm 01/13/2013

    I wrote out a long comment but that got eaten.

    Summary, nuclear weapons produce an EMP. Detonate one in the atmosphere above a country and you will cripple its ability to produce, transport, and store things like food. This would effectively end a conflict as the army would not be able to resupply very long after that on account that a huge portion of the population is starving.

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  9. 9. RogerPink 6:50 pm 01/13/2013

    Some serious delusions here. Useless? Look, the instant a country develops reliable anti-delivery technology (anti-missle, anti-aircraft), then the nuclear option is on the table again. How would you stop a country who can shoot down your nukes and deliver theirs with precision? We are just in an interbellum period. To believe otherwise is to have no understanding of human nature or history.

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  10. 10. Ilana_Yurkiewicz 7:32 pm 01/13/2013

    Ashutosh, thank you for this well-researched piece. I am afraid, however, that these are the kind of arguments that would have been useful decades ago, before any nation developed nuclear weapons. Creating any kind of international decision now to put nuclear weapons down will lead to nations using them defensively complying — and places under the influence of terrorists not complying. Iran, for example, in its quest to develop nuclear weapons has not been shy about what it plans to do with them — “wipe Israel off the map.” If they have no qualms about attempting to create mass genocide of innocents, why would they listen to anyone telling them to put their weapons down? I do think that other nations already having the weapons is the strongest deterrence we have. It’s awful, but I’m afraid it’s the reality of dealing with unreasonable parties.

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  11. 11. curiouswavefunction 7:39 pm 01/13/2013

    Thanks for the comments. It’s important to understand the argument that Wilson and others are making here; it’s one of tradeoffs. The question is mainly one about a cost/benefit analysis. To those here who argue that nukes provide security, there is evidence to the contrary in the form of countries like South Africa, Libya and the Ukraine who decided that the headaches nuclear weapons would cause them were not worth the supposed benefits. The question to ask is how we can leverage the tradeoffs so that any nation – including Iran and N. Korea – finds the risks of developing or using nuclear weapons much worse than any benefits. As for abolishing nuclear weapons, while absolute abolition may seem impossible, it’s worth recalling that even Ronald Reagan came close to getting rid of all nuclear weapons at Reykjavik in 1986 with Gorbachev, again mainly based on a cost/benefit analysis. Just a few years earlier Reagan had called the Soviet Union an evil empire bent on world domination. But when they saw the potential of nuclear devastation, both he and Gorbachev realized that the benefits of these weapons were not worth the risk of annihilation.

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  12. 12. dwbd 8:49 pm 01/13/2013

    @curiouswavefunction, yep cost/benefit analysis for any Oil rich nation is Nukes will protect it from Oil Seizure wars, which will increase as Oil becomes more precious. So what is the cost/benefit analysis for any two-bit country like Iran can threaten to detonate an EMP over USA or detonate bombs smuggled into major US cities and destroy the entire economy, and the USA can’t do anything about it but say “…please don’t do that, whatever you want you got it?..takeover all the Middle East?…sure why not..”

    And the fact that Ukraine, South Africa, Libya, Kazakhstan all gave up their Nuclear Weapons is because of diplomatic & economic incentives, which shows that we can restrain Nuclear Proliferation, without some idealistic, impractical and foolhardy “CLAIM” to abolish Nuclear Weapons.

    And Regan insisted on verification, how are you going to verify ANY nation state has eliminated its Nuclear Weapons. Yeah, like Israel “..oh, we don’t have any of those, honest..”. With pure Fusion weapons, nobody would no what anybody has until they decided to use them – and then it would be too late.

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  13. 13. jbairddo 10:10 pm 01/13/2013

    Second guessing military decisions 67 years later is pretty arrogant and definitely wrong. This story makes it sound like Truman decided he just wanted to wipe out 150,000 Japanese (or whatever the real number between Hiroshima and Nagasaki). Truman just watched 65,000 American troops die at Okinawa and Japan lost 100,000. Having access to all the post war records that Truman and his generals may or may not have had plus months to analyze the data makes this comparison unfair and judgmental. America lost over 400,000 troops during WWII and estimates of losses with a mainland invasion was up to 100,000. If you want to take issue with what appears to be an atrocity, go after the two countries responsible for millions of deaths of civilians and military troops (oh yeah, that would be Japan and Germany). If I want an opinion on the morality of this, it needs to come from one of the principals who could reflect on the decision 5 years later (i.e. 1950).

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  14. 14. curiouswavefunction 10:31 pm 01/13/2013

    Wilson’s argument has very little to do with the morality of dropping the bomb. He is not blaming Truman or anyone else in his book. He is merely documenting the military and political impact of Hiroshima on the thinking of Japanese leaders and concluding that from a purely practical standpoint the bomb did not figure too heavily in their decisions.

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  15. 15. mickj16 4:32 am 01/14/2013

    The first myth is hardly debunked as the writings are cherry picked from the people ostensibly running the show and appear to not include the emperors reactions. Considering it was his actions that forced military to forgoe the mentioned routes to peace based on his horror of the use of atomic weapons. The second myth is not even partially addressed. As an iteration of errors in calculation made during a tense period of time it makes interesting reading but there is zero mention of the role played by the wests nuclear arsenal in stopping Stalin’s fervent desire to send 10,000 Soviet tanks through the Fulda gap. As usual with this type of “analysis” it seems the author started from the position of “nuclear weapons equals bad” and then went wrote an op-ed piece to support the position.

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  16. 16. SaturnCat 11:25 am 01/14/2013

    Thank you for your excellently written article! Very thought-provoking!

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  17. 17. jimmy boy 3:47 pm 01/14/2013

    The people of Japan during WWII were a people of honor (they still are for the most part).  They may of rewrote the stuff use to make this rag sheet to save face. To the author  I had in high school wrote a report of the nuke bombing.  My dad a WWII vet made me change my report to reflect what was seen at the time. WHY is it that Japan  surrender soon after the Nagasaki bombing if it did no matter to them?  You waited until almost all the people involved are gone to do you revisionist crap.   This rag should get some reality, and edit this type of crap out ( I know freedom of the press& speech but tell a deception to do what they believe should be and want?) .

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  18. 18. sault 5:15 pm 01/14/2013

    Wow, a lot of craziness in these comments. Nuclear disarmament a “Trojan Horse” to restrict nuclear power? Even though the author states that nuclear material from Russian weapons are fueling 1/2 or our nuclear power today? Come on, everybody needs to stop being delusional and apocalyptic in their thinking. I get that the troll’s mantra of being inflamatory to trigger responses is hard to ignore for some, but this is why it’s so hard to have serious and thought-provoking discussions on these boards.

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  19. 19. outsidethebox 7:24 pm 01/14/2013

    There are so many things obviously wrong with this article it causes one to pause as to where to begin. Perhaps it would be that current thermonuclear weapons are at least two maybe three orders of magnitude higher in potential destruction than the only ones ever used in world. That makes a difference. As a first strike weapon nukes are useless (except for the criminally insane whom we know never get to rule nations) but they do have a role after such a first strike.

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  20. 20. dwbd 9:42 pm 01/14/2013

    Sault: “.. Nuclear disarmament a “Trojan Horse” to restrict nuclear power…”

    Nope, that is pretty obvious. And many have come to the same conclusion. And Obama’s appointment of an anti-Nuclear Proliferation campaigner as head of the NRC is particularly telling.

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  21. 21. pinetree 3:25 am 01/15/2013

    It is an odd line of reasoning to say that the end game in Japan during World War II is a meaningless sample of one and then argument that it definitely proves that nuclear weapons have little effect. Certainly it left a lasting impression in subsequent Japanese culture that echoes to this day in a way that the fire bombing of Tokyo does not.

    The author overlooks two significant confounds of his iron law that nukes influence no one. First the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were tiny, much smaller than the bombs even a few year later. Secondly, the author does not consider what Japan would have done if atomic bombs had continued to rain down; although, the Emperor by his own admission had considered that. The two targets were notable for relative military irrelevance so the ability of Japan to resist combined civilian, industrial and military devastation was not tested and thus any inference drawn, even from a sample of one, on that score is truly meaningless.

    I agree more generally with author that the true problem is the nature of deterrence itself. Deterrence is a psychological process. It is not a mechanical process. Deterrence is a dance where the potential aggressor tries to force the target into acquiescence. This is just as true for mutual deterrence except now we have a non-linear feed back of threatened aggression and submission. Deterrence can be neither precise nor certain because it is loaded with the frailty and uncertainty of human perception, values, cultural baggage, and the individual quirks of human decision making. Thus the success or failure cannot really be foretold when the players begin to make their moves. It is a very risky way to run a nuclear world.

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  22. 22. Jan Jitso 1:17 pm 01/19/2013

    In may 1940 the germans did not deploy sufficient military power to conquer The Netherlands. The agressor was halted at the Afsluitdijk and at Rotterdam, while its paratroopers round The Hague were taken prisoners. There was also still the Waterlinie. So the Holland provinces might become an allied base. Then the nazis decided to bomb civilian quarters in Rotterdam. Dutch government next capitulated, as it may have thought that the war was not theirs and the allies soon would liberate the country. Or in other words it was preferred not to loose much blood and goods. To blame is the upper class, sticking to an incompetent head of state and perhaps not liking real democracy, etc.
    As for the atomic bombs: the fjords of Norway may have caves to store the rest of these if preserved for destroying incoming meteorites from outer space. A neutral combination of the Scandinavian plus the Benelux countries may guard in first line.

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  23. 23. Dr. Strangelove 11:43 pm 01/20/2013

    I’m against nuclear weapons but I disagree with the article. Yes, Japan would have surrendered even if atomic bombs were not used. But had Japan decided not to surrender and fight to the end, atomic bombs could have ended the war. Had US rained A-bombs in Japan, that would annihilate almost the entire military and civilian population. When the enemies are all dead, that will surely end the war. Not a very pleasant scenario though.

    The Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) strategy of the US during the cold war was effective. If not, why did the Russians withdraw from Cuba? Because US and Russia knew the outcome would be total destruction of both. Nobody wants that so they chose peace rather than war. Exactly as the MAD strategy predicted, which is really based on game theory developed by mathematicians notably John von Neumann.

    BTW MAD strategy also predicts it will only work if the players are rational. If one of the players is crazy, the outcome is total destruction of all players.

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