Thursday, August 12, 2010

Atomic Threats and the Revolt of the Nuclear Hostages

This essay is the third in a series that began with a sort of memorial essay on the first use of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima. Ultimately it is my purpose to focus on the anxieties that lead many people to believe that the peaceful uses of nuclear energy are too dangerous to consider even in a world threatened by Anthropogenic Global Warming.

My discussion of Hiroshima and the military doctrine that created a situation during the cold war, in which the path to war appeared to be blocked by the capacity of the United States and the Soviet union to destroy each other in the event of an all out nuclear war. In fact though frequently tested, after the two weapons drops at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear weapons were never again used in war. To a certain extent I have demonstrated that the use of nuclear bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were part of a mattern to make war on the citizens of enemy countries, and that this pattern took the lives of millions of people. The use of nuclear weapons on Japan during World War II, was not a significantly worse event from a moral perspective, than the firebombing of Dresden or Tokio, or the mass murders that were committed during the Rape of Nanking.

Never the less the nuclear weapon emerged in human consciousness as an aftermath of its World War II use as an uniquely powerful and deadly anti human force. The Power of the Atomic bomb was seen as being incomparably great.

In addition many of the American war leaders, believing that the Japanese had been on the verge of surrender, were shocked by the use of such a terrible weapon. In fact these views appeared to have all suffered from the same flaw, they ignore the fact that the Japanese war leadership was far from prepared to surrender on August 6, 1945. The myth of the unnecessary bomb use, reflected a palpable feeling of discomfort, and perhaps guilt about their use. Although objectively far more people were killed by the fire bombing raids on Japanese cities, and many of those deaths were unbelievably horrible, the fire bombing never captured the imagination to the extent the atomic bombings did.

If the initial Atomic Bombs were viewed as unbelievably powerful, the Hydrogen Bomb, an hundred times more powerful still, was simply terrifying.

I have already argued that the acquisition of such weapons meant that nuclear powers held their own populations hostage, in the event of a nuclear war. Civil defense doctrines suggested to people that nuclear weapons use was survivable, even though Governments lacked the resources to take care of their people in a post nuclear holocaust world. After the emergence of the Nuclear armed ICBM, the futility of civil Defense was apparent in the United States and Europe, although the Soviets continued to officially subscribe to the Civil Defense doctrine, what ever private doubts its leaders had about this dubious idea. It is entirely possible that the Soviet Civil Defiance doctrine were part of its strategy to keep the Soviet people hostages in the event that the threat of war loomed. In fact, cold war Soviet policy, was designed to maintain the Soviet Emptier, while making sure that no war threat was allowed to get out of hand.

There was no doubt discomfort ove threats to use nuclear weapons. Threats threat were repeatedly made during the post war/cold war era. Joseph Gerspn listed some of the threats:


Truman threatens Soviets regarding Northern Iran.


Truman sends SAC bombers to intimidate Yugoslavia following the downing of U.S. aircraft over Yugoslavia.


Truman threatens Soviets in response to Berlin blockade.


Truman threatens Chinese when U.S. Marines were surrounded at Chosin Reservoir in Korea.


Truman approves military request to attack Manchuria with nuclear weapons if significant numbers of new Chinese forces join the war.


Eisenhower threatens China to force an end to Korean War on terms acceptable to the United States.


Eisenhower's Secretary of State Dulles offers French three tactical nuclear weapons to break the siege atDienbienphu, Vietnam. Supported by Nixon's public trial balloons.


Eisenhower used nuclear armed SAC bombers to reinforce CIA-backed coup in Guatemala.


Bulganin threatens London and Paris with nuclear attacks, demanding withdrawal following their invasion of Egypt.


Eisenhower counters by threatening the U.S.S.R. while also demanding British and French retreat from Egypt.


Eisenhower orders Joint Chiefs of Staff to prepare to use nuclear weapons against Iraq, if necessary to prevent extension of revolution into Kuwait.


Eisenhower orders Joint Chiefs of Staff to prepare to use nuclear weapons against China if they invade the island of Quemoy.


Kennedy threatens Soviets during Berlin Crisis.


Cuban Missile Crisis.


Johnson threatens Soviets during Middle East War.


Johnson's public threats against Vietnam are linked to possible use of nuclear weapons to break siege at Khe Shan.


Brezhnev threatens China during border war.


Nixon's "November Ultimatum" against Vietnam.


Nixon signals U.S. preparations to fight nuclear war during Black September War in Jordan.


Israeli Government threatens use of nuclear weapons during the "October War."


Kissinger threatens Soviet Union during the last hours of the "October War" in the Middle East.


Nixon pledges to South Vietnamese President Thieu that he will respond with nuclear attacks or the bombing of North Vietnam's dikes if it violated the provisions of the Paris Peace Accords.


Sec. of Defense Schlesinger threatens North Korea with nuclear retaliation should it attack South Korea in the wake of the U.S. defeat in Vietnam.


Carter Doctrine announced.


Reagan reaffirms the Carter Doctrine.


British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher threatens to eliminate Buenos Aires during the Falklands War.

The use of the nuclear threat in policy was a common feature international policy feature during the era, and following the aquisition of nuclear weapons by the Soviet Union in 1949, the threat of a two sided nuclear war became real. Threats to use weapons were either empty and meaningless, or signified serious intention. Unless your opponent takes a your threat seriously, there is no point in making it. A threat to use nuclear weapons is thus a serious message that conduct has crossed a line and is unacceptable. At the same time, in a world in which civilian populations are held hostage by their own nuclear armed governments, the voicing of nuclear use threats can only be viewed with anxiety by the hostages who are likely to be caught in a nuclear crossfire.

There was a problem, in the nuclear war threat. The issues that gave rise to the threats never rose in significance to a level which would justify the risk involved un undertaking a nuclear war. Thus the threat, if taken seriously, was wreckless. If not taken seriously the nuclear threat was a very bad joke. Making the nuclear threat was a way of undermining confidence in national leadership. Either the leader or leaders were people who potentially be wreckless with the lives of millions of people, or else the leadership were people who could tell very bad jokes about matters that required the utmost seriousness because of the potential risks involved. Ether way trust in the leadership would be eroded.

The genesis of the anti-nuclear movement was in discomfort with a situation in which nations possessed nuclear weapons, and were in conflict with other nations which also possessed nuclear weapons. Those conflicts were managed by a leadership, which was perceived to lack the political, intellectual and moral skills to manage these serious responsibilities in the best interest of the people who were held hostage in the event of a nuclear conflict. The object of anti-bomb movements has been to free the nuclear hostages.

Whether or not those hostages would be freed into a world that is in anyway better or safer than the the the world with nuclear weapons is a question that is open to debate. The world before nuclear weapons was very clearly a very dangerous place, and the millions of Jews, Poles, Russians and Chinese murdered by the Axis powers during World War II were surely just as dead as the victims of a nuclear war would be. For the hundreds of thousands of Germans and Japanese, killed by World War II fire bomb attacks on Axis cities, the fact that they were not killed by nuclear weapons would have not been of comfort, nor was it a comfort to those who were fortunate enough to survive the tragedy.

At any rate, by the late 1950's some of the hostages in a nuclear armed world, had had enough, and were ready to revolt against the thrust towards nuclear weapons, that was perceived to make the world a more dangerous place.

(I intend to consider next the alleged equivalence of the civilian power reactor and the atomic bomb, an equivalence that lies at the heart of opposition to nuclear power. )


Jason Ribeiro said...

Some of the historical events in the timeline I was not aware of but as your next post might highlight there was a lesser known early history of nuclear opposition that started almost immediately after Hiroshima. This sentiment naturally found support in a budding counter-culture movement. By the time nuclear power came onto the scene, phrases like "duck and cover" and "fallout shelter" were well cemented into people's conscience of fear. Moreover there was no apparent benefit to using nuclear energy at the time as understood by the public. Marketing nuclear energy was a tough sell from the get-go. Nuclear made its way into our culture in all sorts of ways from Godzilla to new slang words like "meltdown". I completely empathize with the apprehension that many have about nuclear energy given their cultural exposure to all things nuclear, but this is a different time now and there are no more good excuses for not cracking open the science book or doing an internet search to find out the real facts, rather than clinging to the legacy opposition of nuclear energy.

For an interesting slice of atomic history cruise on over to

That site has some rich documentation of nuclear history.

DW said...

Just on the can argue that if it wasn't for the USSR acquiring the a/h bomb in 1949, then the threat to 'world peace' would of been much greater. There are many historians that feel that without the advent of the Russian bomb, the US was likely to use it again. Think of Vietnam and Korea without the Russian 'effective' nuclear shield over both countries. Just a thought.


Finrod said...

Think of Vietnam and Korea without the Russian 'effective' nuclear shield over both countries. Just a thought.

Maybe, but would those conflicts have arisen in the first place without a nuclear-capable USSR?

DW said...

Yes, without doubt since both, at the time, or when they started, were organically tied to the legacy of Japanese and/or Japanese and French colonialism, struggles that were going on well before the US showed up...or the USSR for that matter.


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