I thought we’d moved beyond this in the ’70s


I grew up under the cloud of nuclear war — we kids saw it as an omnipresent threat, any day now a bunch of bombs were going to come sailing out of the sky and roll everything back to the stone age. Then that got replaced with pollution, and starvation, and then global warming. None of that got fixed, and now we’re calling back the ominous danger of nuclear war on top of everything else? No fair.

You know, the biggest terrorists in the world are the ones with a nuclear arsenal that they wave around to terrorize people into doing what they want. We need to disarm everyone right now.

Comments

  1. birgerjohansson says

    The entrenched ruling political groups in USA, Israel and the even less democratic nuclear states will not listen. They have to be replaced.

    South Africa is the only nuclear power that has given up its capacity to manufacture nukes (the post-Soviet republics did not have that capacity).
    The colonial powers Britain and France maintain their nukes for political rather than military reasons, maybe the huge costs will make them give them up.

  2. Akira MacKenzie says

    Granted, my knowledge of nuclear physics is pretty limited, but I don’t recall a smug sense of moral superiority having any efficacy in shielding us from lethal levels of ionizing radiation.

  3. snarkrates says

    Actually, if I were an outlaw dictator, I’d be looking at the war in Ukraine and wishing I had the sort of nuke insurance policy Putin has. I’d look at the fate that befell Daffy Qaddafi and Sodamn Insane and thinkin’ I gotta get me some nukes. Hell, even the good ol’ US of A asserts it’s above-international-law status by rattling its nuclear saber now and again.

    Nukes are an Get-Out-of-The-Hague Free card.

  4. specialffrog says

    I re-watched Dr. Strangelove recently. Apparently so did a lot of media people, only they decided Buck Turgidson was the hero.

  5. KG says

    A point Bob doesn’t raise: there are now (it is believed) nine nuclear-armed powers: USA, Russia, China, France, UK, Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea. In the projected war between Russia and NATO, four would be involved, but five would not. If either side fired all its nukes at the other, even aside from the fact that it would itself suffer devastation from that other, it would leave itself at the mercy of the remaining nuclear-armed powers. And since both sides in the projected war can see that, would they not “have” to allocate part of their arsenal to pre-emptively attacking the neutrals – or even their “allies”, and potential nuclear-armed powers? And since the neutrals can see that, would they not have to pre-emptively launch their own nukes at whoever they most feared or hated?

    A complication Bob omitted: some of these powers have nukes on submarines, probably invulnerable as long as they stay hidden (This article indicates that those powers are the USA, Russia, China, France, UK, India and maybe North Korea). But they can’t do so indefinitely. So we can envisage that while billions are dying horrible deaths from blast, fire, radiation, and shortly thereafter disease and starvation, there would be a “who can hold their breath longest” contest between those powers with submarine-launched nukes.

    snarkrates@3,
    I’ve seen it noted elsewhere that among the many disastrous consequences of Putin’s war is a likely boost to nuclear proliferation. But it’s more an “Invade-the-Neighbours Free card: a dictator’s chances of ending up on trial have always been small.

  6. jack lecou says

    The tricky thing is that a lot of this deterrence logic only works if all sides share it, and are very transparent about their own thinking and intentions and red lines and so forth. Maybe this is the point Bob is making.

    Reportedly, USSR/Russia doctrine has always been a little bit more sanguine about the possibility of getting away with limited tactical strikes. Unfortunately, I’m not entirely convinced they’re wrong. If a smallish mushroom cloud suddenly appeared over a Ukrainian airbase or artillery concentration or something, could we expect an instant NATO response, with a retaliatory salvo winging toward Russian targets moments later? I’m not so sure. If Moscow isn’t sure either, it ups the odds that they might actually think about trying it.

    Hopefully things have been made clearer between the leaders involved, because from the outside, it looks like things are murkier than ever, and that’s a bit scary from a nuclear deterrence standpoint. (It does sound like Biden is confident Putin’s saber rattling is a bluff, FWIW).

  7. jack lecou says

    The tricky thing is that a lot of this deterrence logic only works if all sides share it, and are very transparent about their own thinking and intentions and red lines and so forth. Maybe this is the point Bob is making.

    Reportedly, USSR/Russia doctrine has always been a little bit more sanguine about the possibility of getting away with limited tactical strikes. Unfortunately, I’m not entirely convinced they’re wrong. If a smallish mushroom cloud suddenly appeared over a Ukrainian airbase or artillery concentration or something, could we expect an instant NATO response, with a retaliatory salvo winging toward Russian targets moments later? I’m not so sure. If Moscow isn’t sure either, it ups the odds that they might actually think about trying it.

    Hopefully things have been made clearer between the leaders involved, because from the outside, it looks like things are murkier than ever, and that’s a bit scary from a nuclear deterrence standpoint. (It does sound like Biden is confident Putin’s saber rattling is a bluff, FWIW).

  8. raven says

    I grew up under the cloud of nuclear war — we kids saw it as an omnipresent threat, any day now a bunch of bombs were going to come sailing out of the sky and roll everything back to the stone age.

    Yeah, me too and not too far from where PZ lived.

    We lived near a Trident submarine nuclear base, near an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile assembly plant, and not too far from a plutonium producing reactor complex.
    We knew we were a first strike target in any nuclear war. All the highways out had signs saying, “evacuation route” and the civil defense sirens went off at noon occasionally. There were also the duck and cover drills in grade school.

    By the time I was 5 years old in the 1950s, I knew that a nuclear war was possible. I could even tell you in simple terms how nuclear weapons worked. I would occasionally nag my parents about getting a stockpile of food, water, and camping gear ready so we could run for the mountains when the bombs come. The public schools helpfully handed out instructions and lists for that. They never said anything but never bothered either.

    So here it is 60+ years later and it is, “Oh Cthulhu, not this again.” My first reaction was mild panic.
    That quickly became, “So what else is new?”
    After spending my entire life dealing with possible nuclear war, I’m not even personally afraid any more.

  9. rorschach says

    @5,
    “If either side fired all its nukes at the other”

    You could have presumably stopped there, since once that happens, the planet will be uninhabitable or just break up into pieces. I read somewhere Russia has around 2500 of these cutesy little tactical nukes, and US about 100. If 2600 nukes go off in 20 minutes, no need to go to work the next morning.

  10. mordred says

    @8 I’m a bit younger, but growing up in the 1980s in Germany means I mostly thought “Oh, that shit again!”

    Funny enough, I used to live close enough to the German/German boarder so it wasn’t clear if our enemies’ or allies’ nukes would do the most damage to us, if central Europe was the battlefield.

  11. raven says

    Wikipedia

    As of 2020, the United States had a stockpile of 3,750 active and inactive nuclear warheads plus approximately 2,000 warheads retired and awaiting dismantlement.[14] Of the stockpiled warheads, the U.S. stated in its March 2019 New START declaration that 1,365 were deployed on 656 ICBMs, SLBMs, and strategic bombers.[15]
    and
    The thousands of tactical warheads wielded by both sides in the late-1980s declined to the estimated 230 American and 1,000 to 2,000 Russian Federation warheads of 2021, although estimates for Russia vary widely.[6]

    These are the current estimates of US and Russian nuclear weapons and tactical nuclear weapons. The Russian total nuclear weapons are estimated at 6,000. Most people wonder how many of them are actually in working condition though. The Russians aren’t known for keeping things together.

    Strangely enough, the US stockpile is way down. In 1970 it was 36,000 nuclear weapons.

  12. says

    #8: Somewhere near the Bangor trident base? We often had the wind blowing from your general direction, and I knew if the bombs hit that place, there’d be nowhere for us to escape.

  13. raven says

    #8: Somewhere near the Bangor trident base?

    That is the one.
    We lived north of Seattle.

  14. unclefrogy says

    We need to disarm everyone right now

    agreed but just how is that going to come about?

  15. unclefrogy says

    if Putin uses a tactical nuke in his war against Ukraine i would think the very first thing that would happen would be the start of a US NATO enforced no fly zone which might extend further east as well probably conventional cruise missiles launched at various command and control locations as well all in a matter of hours followed by demands to stand down or else.
    that is the best dream I can come up with because I have very little say in how things will work out just like always.

  16. Mobius says

    Some of the Russian news reports are really scary. They seem to be readying the Russian people for nuclear war. One opinion show I saw had the news guy saying, “We would all go to heaven. They would just be dead.”

  17. says

    No, we haven’t moved beyond most of the massively destructive forces of human stupidity. Decades ago I realized that ‘duck and cover’ was necessary to survive a lot of the hateful human behavior that runs our society. And dozens of careful analytical studies have show that nuclear power is just as wasteful, dangerous and impractical as nuclear weapons.

  18. drew says

    Tulsi Gabbard warned us about this danger when campaigning for POTUS and was pretty much laughed off the stage. Because she wanted to focus on real threats and not culture war BS.

    I realize she doesn’t pass the liberal purity tests, but some people are worth listening to anyway.

  19. Rob Grigjanis says

    Mobius @16: I suspect the intended audience is the western public more than the Russian public. It’s all about undermining support for Ukraine. Putin is counting on decadent Westerners becoming more concerned about the price of gas, more inured to Ukrainians suffering, and hand-wringing about the nuclear threat. It might work in the long run, if he can stick it out.

  20. says

    In addition to the appreciated insight of:
    2 Akira MacKenzie : I don’t recall a smug sense of moral superiority having any efficacy in shielding us from lethal levels of ionizing radiation.

    Though it is crude, we can always take comfort in the fact that certain Repugnantcant super-males will try to tan their testicles in the ionizing radiation!?!?

  21. Rob Grigjanis says

    drew @18: Gabbard’s position is that we should respect Russia’s desire to not have NATO forces on its border. Where does that leave Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland? And if Ukraine was just left to Putin’s tender mercies, he would also have Slovakia, Hungary and Romania on his borders.

    Either Tulsi hasn’t thought it through, or she just another Putin lickspittle, like our own jrkrideau.

  22. Walter Solomon says

    KG #5

    some of these powers have nukes on submarines, probably invulnerable as long as they stay hidden

    It’s probably safe to assume all nuclear armed countries have a combination of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and strategic bombers in the air.

  23. says

    One more nuclear related ‘little troubling thing’ to think about:
    https://www.counterpunch.org/2022/04/29/japans-toxic-dumping-faces-growing-protests/
    The Japanese government’s decision one year ago to dump radioactive water from Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant storage tanks into the Pacific Ocean, in 2023, is facing increasing pressure to back off, not only is it illegal but also morally reprehensible as well as a despicable disregard for the lifeblood of the ocean.
    Japanese citizens are outraged over a new government policy of brainwashing children by distributing flyers to primary school students claiming TEPCO’s “diluted, nuclear-contaminated water is safe.”

    Oh, great a ‘glow in the dark’ ocean off Japan!

  24. JustaTech says

    Uncle Froggy @14: Aliens. (As in some outside force because the idea that humans would give up a weapon is not well supported historically.)

    I feel like my parent’s love of Tom Lehrer has prepared me well for this, because I already have a full set of songs addressing this very topic!
    “So Long, Mom (a song for WWIII)”
    “Who’s Next?”
    “We will all go together when we go”

    And something slightly less before my time, the New Wave classic “99 Red Balloons”.

  25. jenorafeuer says

    @JustaTech:
    There’s also ‘The Merry Minuet’ (a.k.a. ‘They’re Rioting in Africa’) which I first heard from the Kingston Trio.

    They’re rioting in Africa. (Carefree whistling)
    They’re starving in Spain. (More whistling)
    There’s hurricanes in Florida (More whistling)
    And Texas needs rain. (More whistling)

    The whole world is festering with unhappy souls;
    The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles!
    Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch,
    And I don’t like anybody very much!

    (music shifts to more national-anthem like sound)
    But we should be tranquil and thankful and proud,
    For man’s been endowed with a mushroom-shaped cloud.
    And we know for certain that some lucky day,
    Someone will set the spark off… and we will all be blown away!

    (Music returns to initial light bouncy mood)
    They’re rioting in Africa (carefree whistling)
    There’s strife in Iran. (More whistling)
    What nature doesn’t do to us (More whistling)
    Will be done by our fellow man! (Last note deliberately off-key.)

  26. JustaTech says

    @jenorafeuer: oh that’s a good one, I hadn’t heard that before.

    My more all-purpose song for the 21st century is by the occasionally philosophical band Sublime “We’re only gonna die for our own arrogance”.

    “Early man walked away as modern man took control
    Their minds weren’t all the same and to conquer was their goal
    So he built his great empire and he slaughtered his own kind
    He died a confused man and he killed himself with his own mind
    Let’s go
    (5x)
    We’re only gonna die from our own arrogance
    That’s why we might as well take our time”

    The musical style is alternative (maybe even a little bit thrash).

  27. raven says

    The classic folk song from 1965

    Eve Of Destruction
    Song by Barry McGuire

    The Eastern world, it is explodin’
    Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’
    You’re old enough to kill but not for votin’
    You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun you’re totin’?
    And even the Jordan river has bodies floatin’

    But you tell me
    Over and over and over again, my friend
    How you don’t believe
    We’re on the eve of destruction

    Don’t you understand what I’m trying to say
    Can’t you feel the fears I’m feeling today?
    If the button is pushed, there’s no runnin’ away
    There’ll be no one to save with the world in a grave
    Take a look around you boy, it’s bound to scare you, boy

    And you tell me
    Over and over and over again, my friend
    How you don’t believe
    We’re on the eve of destruction
    (more)

  28. says

    After Ghadaffi was killed and Kim is not it is obvious that every dictator will look for nukes.
    And after Ukraine was invaded good luck trying to take nukes from anyone.

    Prospect of globar nuclear war is terrifying, but… what we can do about it?
    Russia threatens west with nuclear war every time it can. If we start complying with demands that accompany nuclear threats, we will have to first stop helping Ukraine and next week we will hear “throw baltics out of NATO or else……”
    As long as escalation is made in many small steps, none of the steps will be enough fo russians to decide “that’s it, lets die over this”.

  29. euclide says

    In France’s case, the nukes are the last resort to avoid yet another invasion. I’m the second generation in my family that was not implicated in a major war with my home region changing hands each time.
    One of my great grand mothers had four nationality changes during her lifetime, none of them voluntary.
    Even if Germany (and Italy) won’t never again invade France, due to the economic integration of the EU, the nukes and independence from the US means the country has some leverage.
    As a bonus, nukes means the country doesn’t have to maintain conscription, military service and a massive army.

    In Europe it never was the nuclear war that was scary, it was the massive land invasion from Russia that was a risk if there was no deterrence (and the Russians have the same fear of the US and NATO which have proven they could invade any country they want for more or less valid reasons)

    The US perspective is different because you don’t risk invasion unless Mexico become a military superpower, which is never be allowed to happen.

    To be honest, while the US maintains both a huge army, worldwide military bases and a massive nuke arsenal, no country will disarm, especially the one hostiles politically, it would be suicidal.
    Same thing for Russia, but they are proving that their army is not that formidable, which become scary with the nukes.

  30. dianne says

    What I don’t understand is why the right wingers get so upset at the idea of (insert country here) having nukes. Isn’t an armed society a polite society? If they believe that, then they should be encouraging every country, state, and individual to get them. The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a nuke is a good guy with a nuke, right?

  31. ajbjasus says

    I’d love to see global disarmament, but then one renegade state secretly develops Nukes again, and gets to be the totalitarian dictator of the planet.

  32. unclefrogy says

    @33
    I think the problem is if anyone else gets nukes we will not be able to force them to do what we want any more.
    also underlying is the idea that “we” are more responsible then those other countries and would not use them unless we had to.
    The reasoning does start to go off into magical thinking and bull shit pretty quickly.
    it is our nature that led us to make the dam things now we do not know how to deal with them. It would sure be nice if we could solve the problem of international competition with out resorting to violence and war.

  33. StevoR says

    @ ^ unclefrogy :Wasn’t that what the United Nations was kinda meant to be for?

    It seems that organisation has failed at doing its job and needs some very major reforms.

  34. raven says

    The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a nuke is a good guy with a nuke, right?

    We are about to find out if this works.

    The bad guys are clearly Russia and many times in the last few weeks, they’ve made threats about using their nuclear weapons.

    Is genociding the Ukrainians really worth starting a war with the rest of the world involving nuclear weapons?
    I don’t get it.

  35. ajbjasus says

    @37 Bob, the article seems to me to discredit the need for MAD, which is nuclear deterrence on steroids.

    @38 Raven. Not quite, Ukraine doesn’t have any nukes, and isn’t part of NATO.

    I’ve campaigned against nuclear proliferation all my life, and indeed had my MSc thesis “cancelled” 40 years ago because it challenged UK BNFL narrative, but these days I wouldn’t want to unilaterally disarm.

  36. raven says

    @38 Raven. Not quite, Ukraine doesn’t have any nukes, and isn’t part of NATO.

    Yeah, I know that.

    But we and NATO are now heavily involved on the side of Ukraine.

    And there is a principle here that we can’t ignore.
    Are we and the world just going to watch Russia use nuclear weapons and do nothing?
    If you think about it, in the long run that just makes things worse everywhere for the whole world.
    It normalizes nuclear weapons as part of warfare and defense and no country in the world can afford to not have a few nukes just in case.
    Instead of 9 nuclear weapon states, we would end up with maybe 50.

    I’ll add here, what is preventing Iran from finishing their nuclear weapons program.
    Nothing really.
    It is IMO, mostly because the day after they test their first nuke, Saudi Arabia will start their…nuclear weapons program. Because they are enemies and they have to do that.

    FWIW, strangely enough, Ukraine did have 5,000 nuclear weapons after the fall of the USSR. They gave them up for a security guarantee that the US, UK, and Russia wouldn’t invade them. Well, it worked for 2 out of the 3. They’ve said often that they wish they hadn’t done it now.

  37. blf says

    “[T]he only thing stopping a bad guy with a nuke is a good guy with a nuke.”

    Which is not the Mad hypothesis. Mad hypothesizes, broadly (but not as succinctly), “one side won’t use its nukes if it believes that will cause the other side to use it nukes and that it lacks the ability to maybe defeat, and probably survive, such usage”. Which, broadly, seems plausible, provided both sides always have fully-rational individuals (even in times of considerable stress) and reliable (if not defect-free) detection or confirmation systems (even in times of active sabotage, etc.), and so on.

    There are numerous nuances, and a lot of the Mad-discrediting is either ignoring or (more usefully, and usefully) exploring those nuances.

  38. StevoR says

    @ ajbjasus : From what I gather Ukraine actually once had but gave up its nuclear weaposn – fromtehold Soviet stockpile – in exchange for an agreement that Russia would never invade it. An agreemnet Putin obviously violated if that’s true.Anotherreaosn why Putin’s invasionis immensely unhelpful here in showing that national treaties cannot always be relied on when you have bad faith dictators.

    StevoR logged in but showing up as anonymous?

  39. ajbjasus says

    @42 Steve, yes I think they had 5k nukes.

    The fatal flaw in treaty based nuclear disarmament. Bad guys don’t play by the rules, even if we can work out who the bad guys are.

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