Myths About Nuclear Weapons

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Ward Wilson, a senior fellow at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies of the Monterey Institute of International Studies, reevaluates the power and purpose of nuclear weapons and calls for radical action. His book Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons argues that the central arguments promoting nuclear weapons are, in essence, misconceptions.


Ward Wilson

Comments [12]

henry from MD

Intelligent discussion. However, Mr. Wilson misses a disastrous possibility. If Iran got the nuclear weapon, the possibility that these fanatics would 'leak' the bomb to jihadist militants would exponentially increase.

Jan. 15 2013 12:37 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

For Israel, the promise of the US to bomb Iran in return after 6 million Jews in Israel are dead is no relief whatsoever. Nor can Israel depend on any US promises, especially if given by Barack Hussein Obama.
Israel had no intention of "dominating the Middle East" but only to live in peace in its homeland that happens to be in the ME.
Your guest is totally off base.

The only reason why Israel continues to exist in the ME is because it has developed a credible nuclear deterrent and did not depend on the US or anyone to come save it. If not, it would be gone already. Nobody came to save Israel in 1948, '56 or '67. It defended itself.

Jan. 15 2013 12:31 PM

Your guest again is missing the point. Did the Cuban missile crisis end with a diplomatic solution because of a deal cut between the two sides? Yes. But the question is: without the threat of nuclear annihilation, would a limited conventional war have been preferable to the leadership of the two countries rather than being forced to make tough, unpopular concessions?

It's not that nuclear weapons would have been more successful than conventional war. It's that conventional war becomes an unthinkable option when the ultimate conclusion of a conventional military conflict is invariably mutually assured destruction by nuclear weapons.

Jan. 15 2013 12:31 PM
Amy from Manhattan

My favorite example of "proof by absence" is the Concorde supersonic airplane. It didn't have a crash for so long people talked about it as if it *couldn't* crash...until it did, & then it was taken out of service even though its safety record was still 1 of the best of all planes.

Jan. 15 2013 12:31 PM

Might be worth noting the American debate over the neutron bomb that peaked in the Carter and Reagan years. The neutron bomb would have been designed to cause minimal damage to physical plant while killing large numbers of people. Just 30 years ago, it was still considered a viable option. Such is the state of American 'civilization.'

Jan. 15 2013 12:31 PM

Why not let Iran have the bomb but say, "If you do anything with it, we'll use a neutron bomb on Iran and give everything you have to Israel."

The cat and mouse game of trying to keep a determined country from having a bomb is probably unrealistic, but certain destruction if it's ever used is achievable.

Jan. 15 2013 12:24 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

First of all, Leo Szilard gave the British Admiralty his patent of the nuclear chain reaction process back in the mid-1930s, long before he came to the US and wrote that famous letter to FDR - signed by Einstein - which started the Manhattan Project. So the UK's initial nuclear bomb knowledge came from Leo Szilard.

Later, towards the end of the war, Szilard regretted the creation of the bomb, and pleaded that it not be used on Japan, but by that time he was of of no further use and Truman kicked him out of his office.

Nonetheless, had it not been used the American people would have been up in arms if the invasion of the Japanese home islands had become necessary and tens of thousands of more US GI's would have to to die unnecessarily.
The invasion of just Okinawa has been horrible enough. The Japanese were still a very credible fighting force in 1945, but 2/3rds of the army was in China and Manchuria and the rest of Asia. The dropping of the bomb and the declaration of war by the Russians, and the quick subduing of the Japanese army in Manchuria were the TWO factors that led to the Emperor finally calling for surrender. Many in Japan thought that the US had only two or three bombs, and that they could go on fighting. But when Russia came into the picture, that pretty much ended the opposition to surrender.

Jan. 15 2013 12:21 PM

Howard Zinn disputed the conventional view on the bombings in "A People's History of the United States," first published in 1980. I believe historian John Dower also disputed the conventional view.

Mr. Wilson is certainly right about issues of size. In the early 1960s, the Soviets tested what remains the most powerful bomb ever tested — nicknamed "Tsar Bomba." It was a 50 _megaton_ device — over 1000 times the power of the Hiroshima bomb. That bomb was designed by the physicist who would later become a dissident, Andrei Sakharov. His initial design was for a 100 megaton bomb. Staggering. But he downsized it for sanity's sake.

Reportedly, Kennedy was in a meeting with military advisers when news of the detonation of Tsar Bomba arrived. (The shockwave was detected around the world.) The entire room fell silent. They finally realized that the Soviets, too, could martial the forces to annihilate _everything_.

Jan. 15 2013 12:19 PM
David from Fredericksburg, VA

They started something - we finished it. When you go in a bar & kick someone in the shin, you shouldn't be suprised when they punch you in the face.

Jan. 15 2013 12:16 PM

The question isn't whether the bombs convinced the Japanese leadership that their cause is lost. The question is whether without these tremendously powerful weapons being used against them, would the Japanese leadership have preferred letting the events play out to the very end as opposed to agreeing to unconditional surrender without an actual invasion of the Japanese home islands.

As your speaker said, the conventional bombing did not convince Japan to surrender. So how could anything but an invasion (at the cost of millions of lives) have forced Japan to surrender by conventional means?

Jan. 15 2013 12:15 PM

We also dropped the bomb to win the pacific war without the help of Russia, or the chance they could invade Japan. Drawing a line in the sand, which we couldn't draw in Europe.

Jan. 15 2013 12:14 PM

Well over twenty years ago, I saw reports that Japan had _not_ surrendered because of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And my recollection is that at least one American general was of the view that it was _not_ the atomic bomb that turned Japanese minds.

Jan. 15 2013 12:11 PM

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