I’ve talked a bit about the lies of our times (translation: yammered on endlessly about it), but something jumped out at me today.
There has been some chatter about the supposed threat of Putin using nuclear weapons in his war in Ukraine. Whether or not there’s anything to it, I don’t know. Could be just fear-mongering by our leaders to keep us on board with spending endless billions of never-to-be-audited dollars there. But it occurred to me that if, say, Putin were to use a nuke to destroy a Ukrainian division, just what could anyone do about it?
Ukraine gave up its nukes: so, no threat of retaliation from there. If there was to be a proportionate response, it would have to come from the USA, UK or France – the three nuclear-armed NATO powers. Which nation will risk a nuclear exchange with Russia over that? Nuke Smolensk and risk Nancy, Birmingham or Boston being wiped out in response? Not gonna happen – not in any conceivable universe of possibilities.
So, in the end, if Putin decided he has to use nukes, he’s got a free-fire zone. And that also got me thinking: just why haven’t nuclear weapons been used since 1945?
They kill lots of people?
Ok. They sure do. But so does conventional bombing: the conventional bombing raid on Tokyo March 10th, 1945 killed an estimated 100,000: about as many as were killed at Hiroshima. Dead is dead – whether in a nuclear flash or a firestorm. And nobody has been shy about killing since WWII – just between Korea and Vietnam about 6 million people were killed. And think of all the fighting all through the past 75 years! War after war after war and nothing is resolved and then some more war and killing because it wasn’t resolved and so on and etc. This is better than a nuclear bomb?
So, killing really isn’t the reason nobody uses them. But what about the long-term effects of nuclear war? Nuclear Winter! Land and water poisoned for thousands of years! Well…if you look into Nuclear Winter, if it is something which can happen (and there are doubts), then it is predicated upon thousands of nuclear weapons going off nearly at the same time. This is something which is very unlikely to happen. And as for poisoned land and water – well, as I’ve pointed out before, people never stopped living in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Even around Chernobyl they’re doing nature documentaries to chronicle how plants and animals are thriving in the absence of human activity. Think about that – the most deadly and poisonous nuclear accident in history…and they’re doing documentaries about how plants and animals are thriving. People live there now, too; some people have apparently lived there all along, and nobody is growing a third arm or having any other unusual physical actions.
So, just maybe the dangers of nuclear radiation are a bit overblown?
Now you have to think back a bit – and be over the age of, say, 45. People younger than that simply won’t have a memory of how we were positioned in the last part of the Cold War. At our peak, we had more than 31,000 nuclear warheads. And we didn’t just have the nukes – with rockets, bombers and subs, we had the ability to deliver these weapons with pinpoint accuracy in literal minutes from the word “go”. Old time veterans like me can remember SIOP: Single Integrated Operation Plan. That was military shorthand for how to wipe out the entirety of the Soviet Union in about thirty minutes.
But here’s the real kicker – and is once again something we know but we don’t know. Any of us of the right age who looked into weapons and capabilities of the USA and USSR knew at a glance that any nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union was only going to have one outcome: a wiped out USSR. Sure, the Russkies would try to respond but given their technological and organizational level (which was low – see Invasion of Ukraine for an example of Russian combat effectiveness), they’d have been lucky to get one or two shots off at us before they were utterly destroyed. Dirty little secret of the Cold War was that most Russian ICBM’s were not launch-capable at a moment’s notice. It is actually tricky to keep a liquid fueled rocket ready to go and the Russians just didn’t have the skill to do that. Their liquid-fueled rockets were usually standing empty and it would have taken hours or days to get them ready…and we would have seen that with our satellites giving us plenty of time to attack before they could even launch. This is why the Soviets invested so much money in mobile nuclear launchers…they needed to keep something they hoped we would miss (we wouldn’t have – any rocket which can go between continents is large and noticeable from the sky). Their bomber force was obsolescent before it took to the air – and they never mastered the American ability to build a genuine penetration bomber which would have a solid shot of making it to the target. The Cuban Missile Crisis was caused by the Russian desire to have at least some missiles with a decent shot of hitting the United States before we could destroy them on the ground.
But we never thought of it that way, did we? Even after sizing up capabilities, we were still frozen in the concept that a nuclear exchange meant mutual destruction. Nobody wins. Everyone is dead. Civilization is wiped out – and the few survivors are living in a Mad Max dystopia. Just can’t do it! And we got to that mental attitude early on – about the time MacArthur was suggesting that the best way to deal with a million ChiCom soldiers massing in Manchuria would be to drop an atomic bomb on them. You can’t! It would be mass murder! The Russians would nuke us in response and we’d all die!
Well, can’t see as sparing those ChiComs nuclear destruction was all that helpful – not to them or to us. Nobody knows how many Chinese soldiers died in Korea: Chinese government assertions on it are quite useless and while we made estimates, we never really counted. But, rely on it, they were enormous. Again and again the Chinese leadership sent masses of their soldiers straight into American firepower. Their deaths must have been in the hundreds of thousands. And then there’s the deaths they inflicted – ours, South Korean, other UN allies. Over a three year slugging match in horrible conditions for both sides. So, a nuke in Manchuria is the morally inferior choice? Even if it brings with it the possibility that the mere threat of nuking might have got the ChiComs to climb down? Or, if it didn’t, bring the war to the same, swift end it brought to WWII? With a lot fewer of ours dead? And does anyone really think that if we nuked the People’s Volunteer Army in Manchuria that Stalin would risk Moscow for the chance of nuking New York City?
Where’s the downside here?
But we were told that to even contemplate it was immoral. And who said so? Well, the usual suspects when we discuss any historical restraint placed on the application of American power – the American left and Establishment was against it. But why were they? It isn’t like we’ve found these people over time to be opposed to death. Oh, sure, they don’t want to die themselves, but again and again they have sent people they don’t know into the shambles of war…had them fight and die for no purpose and then awarded themselves medals and commendations for doing it. So, I can’t see that morality is what got them to advocate against nukes. And, in fact, the only thing a refusal to use nukes helped was…the enemies of the United States. Here you have this Super Power with overwhelming force which can make all your bravery quite useless…and that Super Power pledges not to use it against you. You can do whatever you want: start wars, murder people, loot and imprison…kill as many Americans as you can! And rely on it, no matter what you do, that Super Power will never take the easy way out of his problem by simply exterminating you with a few bombs well placed.
I just have to believe that the campaign to make nuclear weapons unthinkable emerged from the USSR. Had to: it only helped them. It allowed them to feel safe from destruction while also make it seem like they were a power equal to the United States.
But now it is 2022. Things are different. And serious people with actual knowledge of how nuclear weapons work are in power and to them it is a mere calculation: a cost-benefit analysis. We might find out soon that plenty of players around the world are willing to use nukes against the nuke-free – because the target can’t hit back and none of the nuke-armed powers are going to risk themselves by retaliating in the name of the victim. What I’m saying here is that after quite a long while of living a pipe dream about nuclear weapons, we might have to live in the real world of them.
And that makes me wonder: it has been a long time since we built or tested a nuke. Just how effective is our arsenal? Because if it isn’t up to snuff – and our enemies have fully penetrated our government and probably know to the last detail the condition of our nuclear force – then we might find a nuclear sabre rattled at us.
We might be in for a very difficult time – and all because, ultimately, we allowed ourselves to be conned on this and so many other issues.