Tag Archives: nuclear war

Thomas Schelling

There was a time, shortly after the first atomic bomb was exploded, when there was some journalistic speculation about whether the earth’s atmosphere had a limited tolerance to nuclear fission; the idea was bruited about that a mighty chain reaction might destroy the earth’s atmosphere when some critical number of bombs had already been exploded. Someone proposed that, if this were true and if we could calculate with accuracy that critical level of tolerance, we might neutralize atomic weapons for all time by a deliberate program of openly and dramatically exploding n – 1 bombs.

Thomas Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1960, p. 138

Robert Kennedy

The possibility of the destruction of mankind was always in his mind. Someone once said that World War Three would be fought with atomic weapons and the next war with sticks and stones.

As mentioned before, Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August had made a great impression on the President. “I am not going to follow a course which will allow anyone to write a comparable book about this time, The Missiles of October,” he said to me that Saturday night, October 26. “If anybody is around to write after this, they are going to understand that we made every effort to find peace and every effort to give our adversary room to move. I am not going to push the Russians an inch beyond what is necessary.”

After it was finished, he made no statement attempting to take credit for himself or for the Administration for what had occurred. He instructed all members of the Ex Comm and government that no interview should be given, no statement made, which would claim any kind of victory. He respected Khrushchev for properly determining what was in his own country’s interest and what was in the interest of mankind. If it was a triumph, it was a triumph for the next generation and not for any particular government or people.

At the outbreak of the First World War the ex-Chancellor of Germany, Prince von Bülow, said to his successor, “How did it all happen?” “Ah, if only we knew,” was the reply.

Robert Kennedy, Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis, New York, 1969, 127–128

Jeff McMahan

The main reason for thinking that nuclear war would be worse than Soviet domination where future generations are concerned is that nuclear war could lead to the extinction of the human race, and it is considerably more important to ensure that future generations will exist than to ensure that, if they exist, they will not exist under Soviet domination.

Jeff McMahan, Nuclear deterrence and future generations, in Avner Cohen & Steven Lee (eds.) Nuclear Weapons and the Future of Humanity: The Fundamental Questions, Totowa, New Jersey, 1986, p. 331

Bertrand Russell

Since the nuclear stalemate became apparent, the Governments of East and West have adopted the policy which Mr. Dulles calls ‘brinkmanship’. This is a policy adapted from a sport which, I am told, is practised by some youthful degenerates. This sport is called ‘Chicken!’. It is played by choosing a long straight road with a white line down the middle and starting two very fast cars towards each other from opposite ends. Each car is expected to keep the wheels of one side on the white line. As they approach each other, mutual destruction becomes more and more imminent. If one of them swerves from the white line before the other, the other, as he passes, shouts ‘Chicken!’, and the one who has swerved becomes an object of contempt. As played by irresponsible boys, this game is considered decadent and immoral, though only the lives of the players are risked. But when the game is played by eminent statesmen, who risk not only their own lives but those of many hundreds of millions of human beings, it is thought on both sides that the statesmen on one side are displaying a high degree of wisdom and courage, and only the statesmen on the other side are reprehensible.

Bertrand Russell, Common Sense and Nuclear Warfare, 1959, London, p. 30

Bertrand Russell

The political background of the atomic scientists’ work was the determination to defeat the Nazis. It was held—I think rightly—that a Nazi victory would be an appalling disaster. It was also held, in Western countries, that German scientists must be well advanced towards making an A-bomb, and that if they succeeded before the West did they would probably win the war. When the war was over, it was discovered, to the complete astonishment of both American and British scientists, that the Germans were nowhere near success, and, as everybody knows, the Germans were defeated before any nuclear weapons had been made. But I do not think that nuclear scientists of the West can be blamed for thinking the work urgent and necessary. Even Einstein favoured it. When, however, the German war was finished, the great majority of those scientists who had collaborated towards making the A- bomb considered that it should not be used against the Japanese, who were already on the verge of defeat and, in any case, did not constitute such a menace to the world as Hitler. Many of them made urgent representations to the American Government advocating that, instead of using the bomb as a weapon of war, they should, after a public announcement, explode it in a desert, and that future control of nuclear energy should be placed in the hands of an international authority. Seven of the most eminent of nuclear scientists drew up what is known as ‘The Franck Report’ which they presented to the Secretary of War in June 1945. This is a very admirable and far-seeing document, and if it had won the assent of politicians none of our subsequent terrors would have arisen. It points out that ‘the success which we have achieved in the development of nuclear power is fraught with infinitely greater dangers than were all the inventions of the past’. It goes on to point out that there is no secret which can be kept for any length of time, and that Russia will certainly be able to make an A-bomb within a few years. It took Russia, in fact, almost exactly four years after Hiroshima. The danger of an arms race is stated in terms which subsequent years have horrifyingly verified. ‘If no efficient international agreement is achieved,’ it states, ‘the race for nuclear armaments will be on in earnest not later than the morning after our first demonstration of the existence of nuclear weapons. After this, it might take other nations three or four years to overcome our present head start.’ It proceeds to suggest methods of international control and concludes: ‘If the United States were to be the first to release this new means of indiscriminate destruction upon mankind, she would sacrifice public support throughout the world, precipitate the race for armaments, and prejudice the possibility of reaching an international agreement on the future control of such weapons.’ This was not an isolated expression of opinion. It was a majority opinion among those who had worked to create the bomb. Niels Bohr—after Einstein, the most eminent of physicists at that time—approached both Churchill and Roosevelt with earnest appeals in the same sense, but neither paid any attention. When Roosevelt died, Bohr’s appeal lay unopened on his desk. The scientists were hampered by the fact that they were supposed to be unworldly men, out of touch with reality, and incapable of realistic judgements as to policy. Subsequent experience, however, has confirmed all that they said and has shown that it was they, and not the generals and politicians, who had insight into what was needed.

Bertrand Russell, Has Man a Future?, London, 1961, ch. 2

Michael Huemer

This is how our species is going to die. Not necessarily from nuclear war specifically, but from ignoring existential risks that don’t appear imminent‌ at this moment. If we keep doing that, eventually, something is going to kill us – something that looked improbable in advance, but that, by the time it looks imminent, is too late to stop.

Michael Huemer, The Case for Tyranny, Fake Nous, July 11, 2020

Norman Cousins

Several months after the end of the Cuban crisis, I was involved in negotiations with Premier Khrushchev for the release of two cardinals who had been under house arrest in the Ukraine and in Czechoslovakia for almost two decades. Premier Khrushchev spoke freely about the situation in the Kremlin during the week of the Cuban crisis. From his description, the Soviet situation emerged as a mirror image of the American experience. The people around Khrushchev sought to steer him away from any action that would be a confession of weakness.

“When I asked the military advisers if they could assure me that holding fast would not result in the death of five hundred million human beings, they looked at me a though I was out of my mind or, what was worse, a traitor,” he told me. “The biggest tragedy, as they saw it, was not that our country might be devastated and everything lost, but that the Chinese or the Albanians would accuse us of appeasement or weakness. So I said to myself: ‘To hell with these maniacs. If I can get the United States to assure me that it will not attempt to overthrow the Cuban government, I will remove the missiles.’ That is what happened. And so now I am being reviled by the Chinese and the Albanians. They say I was afraid to stand up to a paper tiger. It is all such nonsense. What good would it have done me in the last hour of my life to know that though our great nation and the United States were in complete ruins, the national honor of the Soviet Union was intact?”

Norman Cousins, ‘The Cuban Missile Crisis: An Anniversary’, The Saturday Review, October 15, 1977, p. 4

Ben MacIntyre

[L]ike every genuine paranoiac, Andropov set out to find the evidence to confirm his fears.

Operation RYAN (an acronym for Raketno-Yadernoye Napadeniye, Russian for Nuclear Missile Attack) was the biggest peacetime Soviet intelligence operation ever launched. To his stunned KGB audience, with the Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev, alongside him, Andropov announced that the US and NATO were ‘actively preparing for nuclear war’. The task of the KGB was to find signs that this attack might be imminent and provide early warning, so that the Soviet Union was not taken by surprise. By implication, if proof of an impending attack could be found, then the Soviet Union could itself launch a pre-emptive strike. Andropov’s experience in suppressing liberty in Soviet satellite states had convinced him that the best method of defence was attack. Fear of a first strike threatened to provoke a first strike.

Operation RYAN was born in Andropov’s fevered imagination. It grew steadily, metastasizing into an intelligence obsession within the KGB and GRU (military intelligence), consuming thousands of man-hours and helping to ratchet up tension between the superpowers to terrifying levels. RYAN even had its own imperative motto: “Ne Prozerot! — Don’t Miss It!’ In November 1981 the first RYAN directives were dispatched to KGB field stations in the US, Western Europe, Japan and Third World countries. In early 1982 all rezidenturas were instructed to make RYAN a top priority. By the time Gordievsky arrived in London, the operation had already acquired a self-propelling momentum. But it was based on a profound misapprehension. America was not preparing a first strike. The KGB hunted high and low for evidence of the planned attack, but as MI5’s authorized history observes: ‘No such plans existed.’

In launching Operation RYAN, Andropov broke the first rule of intelligence: never ask for confirmation of something you already believe.

Ben MacIntyre, The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War, New York, 2018

Bertrand Russell

It is surprising and somewhat disappointing that movements aiming at the prevention of nuclear war are regarded throughout the West as Left-Wing movements or as inspired by some -ism which is repugnant to a majority of ordinary people. It is not in this way that opposition to nuclear warfare should be conceived. It should be conceived rather on the analogy of sanitary measures against epidemic.

Bertrand Russell, Common Sense and Nuclear Warfare, London, 1959, introduction