Nuclear terrorism began with what was thought to be a one shot deal, ending the Second World War. Hitler's Germany was defeated with der Führer taking his own life. The war in the Pacific was shrinking with the Japanese archipelago at the epicenter of a contracting military theater.
President Harry Truman was said to have been presented with the horrible math of war. Countless lives would be lost in continuing the conflict. Fewer lives would be lost from nuclear blasts. Dropping the new bomb would certainly take mainly civilian lives. The distinction between civilian and military lives was less formal then, but still a distinction. Truman took into consideration the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and the decision was made.
There is evidence Truman also wanted to deter Soviet expansionism. A demonstration of willingness to destroy large swaths of humanity might do the trick. It didn't. The Marshal Plan of helping war torn countries recover economically was more effective in containing the threat. Soviets simply did not believe that America would likely use mass killing against expansion unless, as with the attack by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, the US was attacked directly. So the US arranged for that. After the USSR took over a buffer area around its borders, US troops were stationed in other threatened countries. Attacks on those troops would give the US a big reason for war.
But then the USSR got the bomb and both sides got missiles. Through the 1950s, the US and Soviets aimed ICBMs only at military targets. That seemed ethical. But in the early 1960s, Robert McNamara's defense department figured out that both sides targeting the military capabilities of the other produced an incentive to attack. If you launched first you might, with luck, knock out the other fellow's ability to retaliate. But if you were attacked, the other side's nuclear silos would be empty. Nothing to hit. So targets were shifted. US and Soviet targets shifted to population centers. If you attack us first, we'll respond by killing so much of your population you won't have a country left. It was called Mutual Assured Destruction. MAD.
But then something happened called ... well ... history. The USSR ceased to exist. Smaller countries have the bomb and many more work on it. Terrorists are going after unsecured nuclear piles. You can't count on deterrence when the weakest link, the least sane player, might break. MAD has become ... mad. So strategy went from bombing civilians, to holding our own troops hostage, to targeting nuclear silos, to targeting cities. All became outmoded.
A new treaty calls for limiting the spread of the bomb and securing nuclear facilities. The Russians and the US are each taking the cities of the other off the hit list. Both promise no first use of nuclear weapons against countries that sign and comply with a new treaty designed to reduce such weapons. That puts pressure on Iran and Korea. A new strategy for a new age.
Neanderthal conservatives, of course, object. They insist on remaining MAD.
Trackback address for this post
No real disagreement here, but there are a few points I'd like to clarify.
The first ICBMs were not operational until the late 1950s or the early 1960s, depending on the figure of merit you use for "operational". The Soviet R-7 didn't fly until 1957, and the American Atlas D didn't fly until 1959. Before that, bombers were the only practical mode of delivery. (Side note -- the commanding lead the US held in bomber technology was a big spur for the Russians to get busy with rockets...)
The other point is that civilian casualties would have been enormous had an invasion of Japan taken place. Tens of millions, to say nothing of millions of Allied casualties. Half a million Purple Heart medals were struck in anticipation of Operation Downfall, and over 100,000 remain in inventory.
That said, Nimitz always claimed Japan could have been starved into submission without bombing or invasion. We'll never know...
Leave a comment
|« Extremism in the Defense of Fact Neutrality||Accidental Nuclear War »|