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The History of Nuclear Weapons - Part I The History of Nuclear Weapons - Part I
by Dr. Lawrence Nannery
2012-12-03 11:11:37
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What I will bruit in this article may cause negative comments, but I persevere in believing that the ideas I raise here are persuasive. 

Everyone is familiar with the questions that surround nuclear weapons, such as the fear of countries that do not presently have them might decide to develop them, a process called “nuclear proliferation.”   This fear has some validity, but, I shall argue, not enough to counter my claim that some nuclear proliferation has been, and is, beneficial.

The most common notion as to why we should worry about nuclear proliferation stems from the fear that a madman, someone like Hitler, say, might get control of a nation-state and use these weapons.  But, even as there has been some spread of nuclear weapons, no madman has ever had control of nuclear weapons in the near to seven decades that these weapons have been a reality.  I will try to show that, in certain cases,  proliferation has been a good preventative of nuclear wars. 

First, let’s take a look at the history of proliferation itself. 

Beginning with the famous letter of Einstein to President Roosevelt in 1939, a letter in which the great physicist let the president that it was theoretically possible to construct a bomb that would release many times more destruction than any weapon in all history, it was clear that it was only an engineering problem.  And, by August of 1945, it had become a reality.  It also shortened the war considerably, and made Americans think that perhaps with this weapon, America could rule the world. 

Interestingly, since German scientists also knew what Einstein knew, and, if it were not for a slight mistake in calculations on the part of Werner Heisenberg, the project leader, who thought as a consequence that the project would require much more time and resources than in fact it did.  So, the conclusion has been drawn, that dumb luck saved the world from a second kind of holocaust.  I do not believe this to be true, since Germany was at that time under too much pressure of resources to devote half the nation’s energy resources to the project, and Hitler was waging war on several fronts simultaneously, had already misspent much of his nation’s essence, and therefore he could not have concentrated on this one gamble to the neglect of all the others. 

Materials on this subject do not reveal much speculation on the question of what Hitler would actually have done with this weapon if it came into his hands, but, in my opinion, he would have immediately contacted the British and the Americans and revealed the existence of the new weapon, and asked them to join with him in destroying the Soviet Union, on the basis of shared values among the three cultures concerned.  At that time every important figure in Germany believed this to be the best fallback position to take if in fact Germany could not win the world by itself.  It was the position of even Doenitz, who had taken the title of “Fuhrer” after Hitler’s death. 

Neither the British nor the Americans could have believed what they were hearing, and would have thought it a crazy offer, unless it were a ruse.

With the defeat of the Fascist powers, things quieted down.  America went on to build a stockpile of nuclear weapons, conducting tests of many kinds for different types of such weapons.  In 1952 the U.S. tested a hydrogen bomb, a much more destructive weapon than the atomic bomb.  A small atomic bomb was the trigger of the larger bomb, which contained it and much else besides.  In the same year the USSR detonated their first atom bomb, and in 1955 their first hydrogen bomb. 

By this time both Great Britain, in 1952 and 1957, and France, in 1960 and 1968 had constructed nuclear weapons, and several nations were considering the pros and cons of following in their footsteps.  And, by 1964,  China had also entered the nuclear club.

All advanced nations had the human potential for developing these weapons, but most did not see a good reason to do so.  For example, the continents of South America and Africa foreswore the development of these weapons, with the exception of South Africa, who seem to have detonated a nuclear device in conjunction with Israeli scientists in 1979.  But South Africa almost immediately changed its mind and foreswore atomic weapons. These latter nations focused upon developing nuclear devices that might contribute to medical advances, or precision instruments, or any number of other useful things in scientific research.

Things died down after this, with the Soviet Union declaring that it would never use nuclear weapons except in retaliation for a nuclear weapon being used against them(“no first use”), but the United States refused to make such a pledge.  But this lack of mutuality did not make any difference, presumably because the horrors of nuclear weapons’ destructive power deterred both powers from being serious about their use.   A scare occurred in 1961 in Berlin, when tensions arose over interpretations of the rights of the occupying powers, but both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were sensible of the absurd disparity of the issues at hand and the destruction that could result, and so they found a way out of the situation. 

At the abstract level, there was an argument for the banning of nuclear weapons altogether.  This had been the original position of the Soviet Union in 1946. In the 1950’s Bertrand Russell, the philosopher, who had a track record of being wrong about political affairs so often that it seemed wrong of him to “lead” any political movement, in calling for the banishment of all nuclear weapons by all powers, reasoned thus: nuclear weapons are weapons of terror and there is no defense against them, and given enough time and developments that can no one can predict it is certain that some power, somewhere, for some reason, will unleash nuclear weapons.  This will encourage other powers to do the same, probably, and then the race to the bottom will be on.  Nuclear wars would poison the air and the waters of the world to the point that human life — indeed all life — would be forfeit.  The only solution is to destroy all of these weapons.  The obvious retort is that it is not the physical existence of the weapons that is the problem, the knowledge of how to build them.

Over time there was a welcome development, fostered by the United Nations, of foreswearing the development of nuclear weapons by many states.  This would seem to be all to the good, but there were exceptions.  In fact, something else besides the official versions of the Cold War mentioned by the governments and all the professors of international affairs decade over decade was in the offing, and it has not really been acknowledged to this date, even though it has proved to be a deterrent as much as anything that the great powers had accomplished. 

Part I - Part II - Part III

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Emanuel Paparella2012-12-03 13:58:16
Dear Larry, I don’t know yet what the conclusions of your argumentation on nuclear weapons will be. I look forward to the other parts of the argument. However, I do have a preliminary brief and modest opinion and comment on your intriguing speculation on what Hitler would have done had he beat the Americans at building a nuclear bomb, namely that he would have invited, nobles oblige, all the allies to band together to defeat the perceived real enemy, the Soviet Union. Presumably all that Hitler had done (including the Holocaust) would have simply been overlooked and forgiven and forgotten by the allies. I suspect that such a scenario would have been possible only under duress and would have been an obvious confirmation that the bully had prevailed with his theory of the super-race and his philosophy of “might is always right.”

Hitler was definitely not the kind of beast that went in for alliances aiming at dividing the world equitably between its adherents so that the world could live peacefully for ever after. I think he would have eventually have betrayed even his temporary allies: Italy and Japan, as became quite evident once Italy signed a separate peace treaty with the allies in 1943. He was the ultimate consummate bully, just as his nemesis Stalin was, the one who brought peace to Eastern Europe; moreover Hitler would have insisted on complete and unconditional subjugation and the imposing of the “right” ideology of all nations that dealt with the super-race.

One cannot forget that a bully never reasons; he thinks he does and will give you iron-tight logical arguments and rationalizations galore but invariably it is his way or the highway.

Of course our divergent viewpoints remain in the realm of speculation. That’s what makes history and the philosophy of history so fascinating: it remains open to speculation on hypotheticals and interpretations in the light of future events.

Emanuel Paparella2012-12-03 15:36:54
P.S. To my mind, what is even a more intriguing historical speculation is this question: had the US been able to develop the atom bomb a few months before it did and then promptly used it against Japan, say in January 1945, would it have also promptly dropped it on the Germans before dropping it on the Japanese? Moreover, on what grounds would Hitler have appealed to the allies not to use it on Germany, a Western nation? On “common humanitarian values”? I think not. His humanitarian values with the allies and Western democracies had already been revealed to be that of a bully and were considered bankrupt, just as those of Stalin would eventually reveal themselves.

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