Nuclear Weapons



If Kim Jong-un does not commit to peace it will only leave the United States with the option of military force.–Rep. Tom Reed, facebook

Once the Soviet Union exploded a hydrogen bomb, it was clear that nuclear war was out of the question. A compromise was reached–the AEC continued to make bombs which now were to be used for deterrence. The theory was that no country would dare to use these weapons if “mutually assured destruction” would be the consequence.  Eventually it became clear that significant use of these weapons would be self-destructive–nuclear winter and radiation poisoning. Keeping large numbers of nuclear weapons for deterrence no longer made sense.

About seventy years ago, my school class practiced “duck and cover.” When we saw the flash of a nuclear explosion, we were supposed to quickly duck under our school desks. I don’t know if anyone thought this would keep us safe.

We built “fallout shelters.” These were intended to create an illusion of safety, to alloy fear of nuclear war. I don’t know if Elmira was ever on a list for a nuclear bomb, but some houses here still have shelters in the basement.

In the 1960s, power company employees were shown a movie explaining that nuclear war was a realistic possibility not to be feared. The movie explained that transmission lines and transformers would survive. We were given an alternate work location in case the company offices were destroyed and told to report to work to help restore electric power as soon as the “all clear” was given. By then I knew this was nonsense.

Forty years ago, more or less, I attended a lecture in Detroit by physicist Hans Bethe on nuclear disarmament. Bethe favored disarmament, but maintained that the goal of completely eliminating nuclear weapons was unrealistic. He said the USA should retain a minimum number of nuclear weapons for deterrence, an opinion that was loudly challenged by his mostly anti-war audience.

To some extent, Bethe’s views have been vindicated. Some nuclear disarmament has occurred, the US maintains far more than a minimum of these weapons, and none has been used in war since 1945. One might think the deterrence policy has been successful, and perhaps it has been responsible for forestalling nuclear war.

The deterrence policy works when all agree that first use is unthinkable. When President Trump threatens to destroy North Korea’s nuclear weapons or Iran’s nuclear installations, whether the first use of nuclear weapons is threatened or not, deterrence is threatened. An attack aimed at destroying nuclear weapons whoever has them, signals the end of the policy of deterrence, since deterrence can no longer be trusted. This could have terrible consequences.

Russia and the United States aren’t the only countries subscribing to deterrence. Others include China, India, Pakistan, and Israel. I don’t think N. Korea plans war; they have too much to lose and nothing to gain. Deterrence should work with Korea as well as with other countries.

Nuclear weapons and ICBMs aren’t the only danger. Nuclear weapons might be moved to the target in a truck, a ship, or a submarine. Chemical and biological weapons are  a threat to life on earth as the poisonings in Britain remind us.

I left Bethe’s lecture undecided–I respected Bethe’s opinion but would feel safer if nuclear armaments could be wiped out like smallpox. US Korea policy has prevented war for more than fifty years; nuclear deterrence has been effective even longer. I fear the consequences if either is abandoned. I fear President Trump has no advisers nearly as wise as Hans Bethe.


About whungerford

* Contributor at where we discuss the politics, economics, and events of the New New York 23rd Congressional District (Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Chemung, (Eastern) Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben,Tioga, Tompkins, and Yates Counties) Please visit and comment on whatever strikes your fancy.
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9 Responses to Nuclear Weapons

  1. josephurban says:

    According to Mr Trump, after his little talk with Kim, North Korea decided to abandon all their nukes. Sleep easy tonight.
    Of course, like almost everything MR Trump says, this was not a true statement. Kim has made it clear that he would not give up his nukes. He sees them as an insurance policy against a belligerent USA under Trump. Perhaps when the next POTUS takes office there can be serious talks with NK. But for now, the nukes are here to stay. From Kim’s point of view it makes no sense to give up the one weapon that may be preventing a US attack.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. whungerford says:

    I wonder about translators. Kim and Putin may understand English, but Trump has no command of Korean or Russian; he must depend on translators. If Kim spoke deceptively, did the translator make that clear? Did Trump listen carefully? When he meets with Putin, will the translator make any ambiguity clear, or will Trump once again leave with misunderstanding?


  3. Anne says:

    I think Reed was beyond irresponsible to make a statement like he did. Of course, he may be operating under the assumption that no war time president will lose a reelection bid. (Not that I’m not convinced Trump won’t have left office before this term is up.)

    Liked by 2 people

  4. whungerford says:

    Thanks for your comment, Anne. I see Reed as opportunistic–a hawk during a Republican Administration and a dove when a Democrat is President. On Syria, he wanted President Obama to do nothing, certainly without a vote in Congress, a vote that never happened.


  5. josephurban says:

    I was in Mexico a few years ago and I saw a small lizard on a brown wall. It was brown. the same lizard slithered down to a green plant and slowly turned green. I think they are called chameleons. Remind you of anyone?


  6. Steven Beikirch says:

    William. you can bet that every high ranking KGB officer speaks English. It’s been reported that Kim Jong-un attended an English-language school in Gümligen, Switzerland.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Steven Beikirch says:

    William, when you talked about duck and cover it reminded me of a movie that was released in 1963 called “Ladybug, Ladybug.” The movie was a commentary on the psychological effects of the Cold War.
    The story went like this-
    “During the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, teachers at a secluded countryside elementary school are asked to walk their pupils home after a nuclear bomb warning alarm sounds. Unsure whether or not the alarm was false, the teacher and children walk through the countryside with a slowly building sense of doom about the upcoming nuclear holocaust. When the children finally gain access to a bomb shelter, they do not allow a female fellow student join them, claiming there isn’t enough room. The girl frantically searches for shelter and finds an abandoned old refrigerator to hide inside; she is not seen again and her fate is never explained. After a boy from the shelter fails to find her, we hear a loud whining noise overhead. The boy cowers in the shadow of planes passing in the sky above and yells ‘Stop!’ repeatedly as the camera moves closer to his face, goes out of focus and then fades to black. “

    The film script was based on a true story about an actual incident at an elementary school.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Robin Messing says:

    Thanks for linking to my article, William. I don’t think North Korea will give up its nukes, even if our President was someone who was reasonable and competent. But I can envision a regime where they kept a small number of nukes, abandoned testing, and relied on deterrence. That, I am afraid, is the best we can do, though even deterrence has risks. There were a few times during the cold war where we almost went to war because of a false alarm or failure to communicate. Our priority should be to turn down the hostile rhetoric between our countries (Which Trump has done, at least for now), learn to live with deterrence, and install a hotline with North Korea to avoid attacks due to misinformation. (I think North and South Korea have already agreed to establish a hotline between themselves

    Liked by 2 people

  9. whungerford says:

    Goldwater lost, I believe, because he was seen as accepting nuclear war as a possibility. I would be happy if this idea, that nuclear war is just war by modern means, would be dead and buried. Unfortunately, the idea that nuclear war might be justified persists.

    Liked by 2 people

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