Nuclear Weapons

How I Learned to Start Worrying and Fear the Bomb

A new book tackles the myths that have grown up around nuclear weapons.


Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons, by Ward Wilson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 187 pages, $22.00.

Baby boomers grew up with nuclear bomb drills, premised on the interesting idea that plywood desks could provide adequate shielding from a radioactive apocalypse. That dubious notion has disappeared, but other assumptions limp on. In Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons, Ward Wilson, a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, tackles widespread misunderstandings associated with the world's nuclear arsenals.

Wilson carefully analyzes Japan's surrender in World War II and several supposed instances of nuclear deterrence at work, upending many accepted narratives. When he strays beyond history, however, his arguments become murky. His lapses into the abstract can be forgiven, though, in light of his thought-provoking breakdown of the reasons behind the development and spread of nuclear weapons.

Did Japan surrender in World War II in direct response to the atomic bombs detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Wilson suggests it isn't so. He assembles the correspondence of high-ranking officials to indicate that Japan's leaders were far less impressed with atomic warfare than they are portrayed in retrospect. The destruction of a city was by no means unique—Hiroshima's obliteration followed the destruction of 66 prior cities through conventional means. Those other staggering losses had not prompted surrender.

According to Wilson, the Soviet Union played a more decisive role than nuclear weapons in concluding World War II. Japan's leaders had prolonged a doomed war effort in hopes that inflicting staggering losses on the United States might lead to a conditional surrender. If America lost heart, the thinking went, Japan could feasibly keep some of its conquests, or at least spare its leaders from the same fate as the German war criminals already on trial in Nuremberg.

Those hopes were crushed when the Soviet Union, hitherto neutral in the Pacific Theater, declared war against Japan. Japan's entire military was already dedicated to forestalling an American invasion. The prospect of Russians advancing through the empire's unguarded back door meant imminent and unquestioned defeat.

Wilson's chronology lends credence to his theory of Soviet-induced capitulation. Americans bombed Hiroshima on August 6th. Yet it wasn't until August 9, the day after the U.S.S.R. entered the war, that Japan's Supreme Council convened to discuss surrender. These deliberations were already underway by the time word of Nagasaki's destruction reached Tokyo, meaning that the second atomic bomb had not itself prompted talks of surrender.

Wilson provides a coherent explanation for why official declarations from the emperor and his regime nonetheless point to atomic bombs, and not Russians, in forcing their surrender. Japan's rulers had maintained a doomed war effort for months, lied to the public, and led their country through years of disastrous warfare that ruined the economy and left millions dead. An unforeseen weapon of unfathomable destruction provided a convenient rationale for ending the war.

Wilson moves on to question the efficacy of nuclear deterrence in crises. During the Cuban missile crisis, he notes, President John F. Kennedy risked mutual atomic annihilation with the Russians. Even before Kennedy's risky blockade, Soviet missiles could have reached American soil. The president chanced unspeakable destruction over political posturing, not actual military significance. Wilson deftly asks, "If fear of nuclear war prevents leaders from taking steps that might lead to nuclear war, then why wasn't Kennedy deterred?"

He then explains three additional instances in which the world narrowly avoided atomic destruction. In 1962 an American spy plane accidentally strayed 300 miles into Soviet airspace, prompting both countries to send fighter jets in after it; the American jets were armed with air-to-air nuclear missiles, ensuring that if a confrontation had occurred, it would have been an immediately catastrophic one. That same year the United States attempted to force Soviet submarines patrolling Cuba to surface by means of deploying non-lethal depthcharges. One captain, hounded for two days and unable to contact Moscow, considered the possibility that World War III was already in action above. He ordered an officer to prepare his sub's nuclear missile for firing, but cooler heads prevailed before he joined a phantom war.

The same day, Soviet forces shot down an American spy plane over Cuba. Kennedy and his advisors had agreed ahead of time to attack whatever SAM missile site downed an American craft, but the president refrained from ordering a counterstrike and thereby avoided a military escalation. Wilson notes that if detterence is not entirely foolproof, we cannot rely on it.

When departing from these historical analyses, Wilson's arguments grow fuzzy. In disputing the "game changing" nature of H-bombs, he asserts that hydrogen bombs are not as destructive as we suppose. Even though modern nuclear payloads have exponentially greater yields than the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima, they do not translate into exponentially greater destruction. This point seems somewhat academic, however, when considered within the context of the some 45,000-bomb arsenal that Russia had pointed at us in 1988, or even the mere 10,000 presently maintained. More than enough for both sides to wipe each other out, with spares left to make the rubble bounce.

In disputing Myth Five, "There is No Alternative," Wilson relies on a series of his own theories and mental exercises to show that abandoning nuclear weapons is possible and desirable. He responds to the argument that "the genie is out of the bottle" with nuclear arms and that we therefore cannot go back, for example, by bringing up penny-farthing bicycles and perambulators. These antiquated bicycles with the giant front wheels and baby carriages with built-in gas masks did not disappear because we had to disenvent them, he says, but fell out of use when we realized the technology lacked utility. So too with nuclear weapons.

This abstract approach is an odd way to address to the issue, given the myriad instances of successful nonproliferation efforts he could have referenced instead. Countries like Australia, Sweden, and Switzerland once assumed that atomic bombs were merely the next development in military technology and that they would certainly acquire them eventually. South Africa was for a brief period a nuclear power, but in 1989 became the only nation in history to voluntarily disassemble its arsenal. There are only eight confirmed nuclear states instead of the 30 there could have been. (Primary credit for that arguably goes to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the International Atomic Energy Agency.)

These facts illustrate proven strategies for nuclear reduction, and they are evidence that stockpiling weapons of mass destruction is by no means inevitable. Yet Wilson strangely eschews these examples in favor of his own conjecturing, fittingly concluding his book against nuclear weaponry not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Despite these shortcomings, Wilson has produced a quick, digestible, and intelligent read. Even diehard Mutually Assured Destruction theorists will gain a deeper understanding of the history surrounding nuclear weapons, and most readers will begin to doubt the quasi-magical qualities often attributed to atom bombs. 

NEXT: Brickbat: Big Bear

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  1. Wow man, how messed up is that man.

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    2. just as Heather said I am shocked that any body can profit $5264 in 4 weeks on the internet. have you seen this page

  2. “Hiroshima’s obliteration followed the destruction of 66 prior cities through conventional means” This point is way too often lost on people who think the bomb was some sort of significant outlier, or a shift to something much more cruel or criminal.

    1. People think use of nuclear weapons makes a place of uninhabitable for hundreds of years. That is what scares them. I don’t know about current nuclear weapons but people were able to resume life in Hiroshima and Nagasaki fairly quickly.

      1. Current generation nukes are cleaner than WWII bombs.

        “Salted” bombs have been designed to produce much higher amounts of radiation.

        1. Interesting. Thanks.

        2. The real danger of the nuke is the gamma blast. That is where most of the rad’s come from. The resulting fissions products usually disperse rather quickly into the environment so as to become non-dangerous.

          I can’t find the link but it was talking about the National Ignition Facility’s true goal was to build a true fusion bomb without the need for any fission. It would be essentially a *clean* nuclear weapon.

          1. Fuck, keep missing words.

            …the real *radioactive* danger of the nuke…

            1. I think you are assuming an air burst. In a ground burst, the real radioactive danger lie in fallout, not in the initial gamma burst.

              1. It also depends on the size of the device. For smaller weapons, and enhanced radiation weapons, prompt radiation causes many of the casualties. For larger devices, say 100 kT and up, anybody who’d be suffering 500 rad or 5 grays prompt dose would have a lot of other things competing to kill them. Like 600 MPH winds or flash heat sufficient to calcinate bone.

      2. But what about the Fukushima meltdown? Japan is uninhabitable now!

        That is the book we need: dispelling popular myths about nuclear energy. Granted, they’re around, but it bears repeating.

        1. Habitable or not, the Federal liability subsidy for nuclear power is not a myth. That’s the issue for me that continues to make nuclear non-viable as an energy source.

          1. From what little I understand about Price-Anderson (very, very little), I’m still given to question whether the subsidies were or are actually necessary to make nuclear energy feasible. I’m not suddenly going to trust the word of industry insiders and their Congressional benefactors that liability indemnities were absolutely necessary any more than I would bankers or munitions manufacturers. I’m reading CATO’s piece now.

            1. I should add that liability caps and subsidies may have been necessary in the 60s but may not be now, given the advances in nuclear tech, but I can imagine strong resistance from the industry against removing either. I’m speculating, but I’m also not keen on taking their word for it.

            2. I don’t see how you can call Price-Anderson a subsidy. It is completely payed for by the nuclear industry. It has been more of a subsidy for the government since it has never been used in the United States.

              However, the US has never let private insurance completely insure the nuclear industry. Price-Anderson has been the law of the land since the beginning.

              1. As I understand it, the subsidy is indirect given the liability caps; otherwise industry would need to cough up the premiums to adequately cover their exposure. In any event, I’m not keen on liability caps, either. I woke after three hours of sleep with a mosquito hovering around my head, so I’m not keen on a lot of things this morning. However, your point is well taken.

            3. Heh…will they say some day that vaccines are not possible without some liability cap or exemption?

              1. IIRC vaccines already have a similar arrangement, with indemnities and an industry-funded federally-backstopped compensation program. Last I heard it paid the parents a few mil for a kid who suffered an encephalopathy after some routine vaccine, but this was a few years ago. Nasty case. Pharma insists vaccines wouldn’t be profitable to produce without federal help, and they may be right given the current climate.

                (Note that I don’t believe a jot or tittle of the vaccine hysteria.)

          2. Why? Because the government uses an archaic maximum dose regulation? The only reason a nuclear accident could even be credibly made liable for costs requiring liability insurance is because the US/a lot of countries still act like any radiation is dangerous. Japan, for instance, is still stopping people from returning to their homes over radiation levels lower than the background levels in Denver, Colorado.

            I would like to know why fossil fuel plants don’t require this subsidy? They inflict much more death and destruction on a regular basis. Nuclear plants are the safest form of electricity production know to man. Fukushima was a worst case scenario and nobody was killed or seriously injured from radiation.

            1. requiring *government* liability insurance

            2. I would like to know why fossil fuel plants don’t require this subsidy?

              Better lobbyists?

              1. Yeah, the nuclear industry is awful at lobbying or even public service announcements. Just to be clear, I am not advocating a liability cap for the fossil fuel industry or the nuke industry.

                The nuclear industry has had so many years of people making radiation out to be this incredible boogyman that if a nuclear accident did occur in the US, and radiation was leaked, even if it hurt nobody, lawsuits for property damage etc. would be insane from the perceived danger.

            3. “I would like to know why fossil fuel plants don’t require this subsidy? They inflict much more death and destruction on a regular basis”

              Not scary enough – nuclear power has been demonized for decades, fossil fuel plants haven’t (especially in a “will kill you!” way rather than a “will kill baby Gaia with Carbon Dioxide!” way).

              Sure, coal plants release radiation all the time, and plenty of nastiness. But the former still isn’t very much (more than every nuclear plant in the US, of course, but still nothing to really worry about last I checked), and the latter, well, the law doesn’t seem to hold ’em liable.

              Of course it can be tricky to prove that you got lung cancer or emphysema because of that coal plant, rather than something else… epidemiologically we can be sure it increased rates and statistically killed N people, but that’s not going to tell us which ones.

              Easier to achieve a civil liability success now that fewer people smoke, I bet; in 1970, they’d have the easy reply of “Sure, blame us, mister two-packs-a-day. Go sue RJ Reynolds.”

      3. There was a meme running around facebook that showed a picture of present day Nakasaki with the caption, 68 years after an atomic bomb, and below it a picture of present day burned out Detroit with the caption, after fifty years of socialism.

        1. ROADZ, John. ROADZ.

        2. Look at the amount of money Japan poured into their economy since the 90s. Clearly Obama needs to turn on the spigot for Detroit.

      4. You need to read “Hiroshima,” I cant remember the name of the author but he pointed out the utter annihilation, shadows of people against building, cancer, deformities that were even passed down to their children.

        1. Firebombs kill people just as dead.

          “Shadows of people” are impressive, but of no moral impact.

          And actual data on cancer rates don’t suggest an immense plague of them – 1900, total attributable to the bombings.

          Which isn’t nice, but is hardly earth-shaking in terms of outcomes from a massive bombing attack.

          (“deformities that were even passed down to their children”?

          If it was caused by the explosion it wouldn’t be genetic, and thus wouldn’t be inherited unless Lamarck was right.

          And if it was a congenital defect, “even” is redundant and the entire phrasing is baffling.

          The Japanese studying it found “Thus far, no evidence of increased genetic effects has been found” and “To date, there is no radiation-related excess of disease in adulthood”

          The internet tells me the author of “Hiroshima” was John Hersey – who wrote it in 1946, and can’t have had any idea about any actual change in birth defect rates or cancers; the former because he can’t have had time to get the data, and the latter because they take decades to show up, most of the time.)

        2. Silly ol’ Bear| 8.20.13 @ 9:28AM |#
          “You need to read “Hiroshima,” I cant remember the name of the author”…

          John Hersey, but no, don’t bother reading it. It’s appeal to emotion, end-to-end.

    2. Steve G| 8.20.13 @ 7:18AM |#
      “”Hiroshima’s obliteration followed the destruction of 66 prior cities through conventional means” This point is way too often lost on people who think the bomb was some sort of significant outlier,”

      Nope; it was an outlier.
      Those others required hundreds of bombers. In the case of nukes, all it takes is one plane.
      So even if you develop good defense against bombing, it has to be 100% to avoid what those earlier bombing did.

      1. Copy, but I was referring to the death/destruction aspect, not a methods/resources one. As far as death/destruction it wasn’t that much of an escalation from fire-bombing.
        Most people who are rabidly opposed to what happened in Hiroshimi/Nagasaki, apparently think we were pillow fighting with them before dropping the big one(s).

        1. Well, it was actually, Steve. Most raids, even in Japan, did not result in the hideous firestorms that overwhelmed Tokyo and Kobe. Destructive, yes, but not the meteorological events like the giant firestorms.

          The A-bombs, though, did cause those. Even the Nagasaki bomb, though it was confined by geography to a smaller area. Not only could you do with one plane that otherwise took a thousand, as Sevo notes, but you have a much greater chance of causing a firestorm.

          I agree with you in that the destructiveness of LeMay’s campaign isn’t widely known. Maybe Hersey should have written Tokyo as a companion piece?

    3. True, many don’t realize we switched to dropping incendiary bombs from 10K feet (hard to miss) in the last year of the war. You had something like 100,000 people killed in a single firestorm in Tokyo.
      And Tokyo was bombed many times.

      It was the Soviet Union plus the A-bomb that ended the war. There was talk of demonstrating the bomb first. That plus Soviet Union coming in probably would have ended it. Our aim was also to deter the Soviet Union due to fear of the bomb. Did not work as they already stole the designs. Contrary to what many have heard, we had an assembly line by the end of the war and had a bomb or so a month so it would not have been a problem to waste one in a demonstration.

      “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” by Richard Rhodes (Pulitzer Prize) is a great book and a great popular history of nuclear physics and the bombs from about 1898 to 1958.

      I also read a book on the silent service and was shocked at the reckless behavior our subs engaged in from 1946 for ~10 years or so (IIRC) entering Soviet waters and harbors to spy. That and the clearly illegal nature of the spy planes flying over and the depth charging of subs near Cuba – all these have little to do with how bad nuclear weapons are. Our behavior was the problem. I agree with what we are doing now as far as dropping down to a small number of weapons (200 – 1000).. We should stop trying to prevent Iran from getting one except through diplomacy.

  3. Ahhh another attempt to revise/reframe the Hiroshima narrative. Like the Enola Gay exhibit tried. All in an attempt to demonize the devil weapons. It is a standard progressive technique. Used to demonize guns (remember Belsilles?). Used to demonize chemicals (Silent Spring). Used to demonize whatever they don’t like.

    I admit I haven’t read the book, but this reviewer found a bit of “creativity” elsewhere in the book, but he accepted the “analysis” of the Japanese decision to surrender. If this guy writes a book that contains a whole bunch of speculations that are clearly speculative, why would anyone accept any part of the book as anything other than speculation?

    1. you would think Silent Spring would have been thoroughly discredited by now seeing as how it took us from malaria being eradicated to it making a comeback.

      But hey, send your $10 so the do-gooders can buy mosquito nets because simply getting rid of the mosquitos would mean the do-gooders having to get real jobs.

      1. How could it be discredited when every tenured, brainwashed entomologist makes their students read it.
        Demonizing innovation and business is a time honored and proven tactic to defeat either competition, defeat advancement and reallocation of labor, or to just plain appeal to the stupid.

      2. Sadly, the American Chemical Society came out with a book a few years ago (or this year?) for 50th anniversary. Some of the quotes about (from?) the book were talking about how solid her science was.

        Now I have to take some Pepto-bismal and read Silent Spring and this stupid ACS book to see what the truth is. Will take away from all my AGW reading time.

    2. The Soviets were not a threat to the home Islands, which is what the Japanese cared about more than anything. The Soviets had no navy in the Pacific that could have conducted the massive amphibious landing necessary. So the idea that the Japanese surrendered over the Soviets rather than the prospect of what remained of their cities being incinerated is a bit unlikely.

      And as far as why they didn’t surrender immediately after Hiroshima, they were not sure we had more than one bomb. After we dropped the second, it was clear we had more than one and intended to keep using them. That is what forced the surrender.

      1. The Soviets did threaten whatever gains Japan still had in China. Without Soviet intervention, maybe Japan’s leaders would have continued to hold on, hoping to force a settlement which would allow them to keep a small slice of China. After all, taking Chinese territory had been Japan’s motivation for going to war in the first place.

        1. The Soviets did threaten whatever gains Japan still had in China.

          Which they gave up in their surrender anyway. And the Japanese considered the home islands sacred. The gains in China did them no good at that point. It just tied up troops that were needed to repeal an invasion by the Americans. By August of 1945, China was no longer the issue.

          1. Which they gave up in their surrender anyway.

            Yes, but before the Soviets entered the war, Japanese officials could still entertain the fantasy that they could hold onto parts of China.

            The gains in China did them no good at that point. It just tied up troops that were needed to repeal an invasion by the Americans.

            That might assume a nonexistent level of rationality on the part of Japan’s Top Men. They went into China in the early 1930s. Giving it up meant explaining to the Japanese public, as well as to themselves, that over a decade of fighting in China had produced absolutely nothing.

      2. “it was clear we had more than one and intended to keep using them”

        Well, to be fair to the historical record, it appeared clear.

        This is actually type of crucial detail that get’s lost in the Wikileaks debate. The absolute secrecy of that program helped win the war. I’m not comparing WWII to the WoT, but it does help highlight that blind information dumps can in fact be dangerous.

        Filtered information dumps, a la The Guardian, tend to be a bit more respectful of true national security issues.

        1. And this is why I think leaking classified information is one of the few “ends justify the means” situations out there. If you leak an NSA citizen spying program, that’s good. If you leak nuclear sub blueprints, that’s bad.

        2. Yep. The Japanese had no possible way to know we were months (IIRC) from a third or fourth bomb.

          As far as they knew we could keep dropping them one a week until there wasn’t a Japan left… which has a Certain Effect on one’s calculus, doesn’t it?

          (Just as the book’s point about “how it was the Soviet threat that made the Japanese surrender” is irrelevant – nobody had access to the Japanese government’s deliberations.

          And while “waiting to see” if they might surrender because of Stalin’s threat, we’d have been sending thousands and thousands of troops to stage for invading Japan, losing ships every week, and watching yet more Japanese starve to death because of the blockade.

          There’s every reason to believe that everyone involved thought that the Atomic Bombs were going to save millions of lives – more of them Japanese than Allied – by compelling surrender.)

          1. IIRC, from “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” by Richard Rhodes, we had the equivalent of an assembly line in the sense that we had spent billions and had plants to enrich U-235 via several different methods and plants for Plutonium as well.

            So we had a stream of material from which to make bombs. I think trinity was U-235 plus Little Boy. We could easily make one/2 months. The Fat Man type about 1-2 a month but the bomb was not tested until Aug. 9th. A few months to get this going but it would have scaled up and if we invaded the war could have gone on for a year or two. The main argument against a demonstration is what if the demo failed? I think we should have tried the demo or even started negotiations and told them about the bomb. A few weeks delay to prevent a bloody invasion was worth it. We had the islands blockaded.

            A lot went back to FDR’s “unconditional surrender” statement which IIRC he and Churchill had just agreed they did not want to do as Winston had pointed out that it had prolonged WW1 (or some other war??). Then after agreeing to that in private, FDR got in front of reporters and said it.

            Then he died and Truman did not want to look weak and did not want to go back on FDR’s sacred words. Truman’s adviser (Jimmy somebody) was a real political hack and was already worrying about Truman’s re-election campaign.

  4. In disputing Myth Five, “There is No Alternative,” Wilson relies on a series of his own theories and mental exercises to show that abandoning nuclear weapons is possible and desirable.

    I wonder how Qaddafi felt about giving up his nukes when NATO was bombing his ass.

    1. Not too sure how he would have delivered a devise anywhere. Maybe he could have found a sucker to try driving it into a rebel camp.

      1. Didn’t Libya have some SCUDs?

        Those things are nearly useless with anything but a nuke on them, but their entire original point was to be a credible short-range nuclear threat.

  5. I bet Truman wondered if he would have even had to bomb the Japanese if he just had the surveillance technology to adequately spy on Americans.

    1. Why bother surveilling when you can herd the potential dissidents into camps?

    2. Had Truman not dropped the bomb and the Japanese hadn’t surrendered, the resulting invasion would have killed or wounded upwards of a million Americans. When the American public found out that Truman invaded rather than using a super weapon, they probably would have hanged him for treason. Truman had no choice but to drop the bomb. Saying he didn’t need to is one of the more tiresome arguments in history.

      1. Why invade? The US already had complete naval dominance and a well-developed strategy of mining Japanese harbors to cut off supplies. Sitting off the coast and letting the population starve would have been a viable option.

        1. Sitting off the coast and letting the population starve would have been a viable option.

          After almost 5 years of war? I doubt it.

          1. Operation Starvation (google it for more info) would have killed more civilians that both of the bombs did, especially considering how bad the ’45/’46 winter was. I don’t think you could have kept the U.S. armed forces together though for the additional 12-18 months a true siege would have taken. I need to find the cites, but I recall there starting to be some hideous discipline problems within the armed forces, as well as public opinion at home starting to turn against the war in a big way. People were sick of it all.

            Agree that Truman would have been impeached if it came out that there was a superweapon, we didn’t use it, and the nation either lost 200k KIA, 800k WIA (the figures for Operation Downfall that I’m familiar with, 1M KIA is a gross overestimation, by Herbert Hoover, IIRC.) or spent an additional year and a half under rationing and war.

            The costs for the Japanese citizenry would have made Timerlane shudder. The last one I read estimated them at greater than 1.5 million KIA, based on Okinawa and Saipan civilian casualty figures. It easily could have been much higher, especially if the Japanese got the civilian mobilization they wanted. Halsey would have been right about where the Japanese language would have next been heard.

            1. ^^THIS^^

              The use of the bomb saved both Japanese and American lives.

              1. How many civilians might we have spared had we accepted a conditional surrender?

                1. A lot, Dweebston. At the price of having to deal with a resurgent militarist Japan, WAG, 15 years later. Because TPTB in Japan were not going to have as conditions, the removal of the Army and Navy from calling the shots. Or war crimes trials. Or, I’m guessing, allowing an Allied occupation. So, it’d be like the situation in Iraq, post Gulf War I: a stalemate, only much larger, and requiring most of a military that was eager to be demobilized.

                  But in the short term, you’d have saved ~200,000 lives, minus the people the IJA was continuing to kill in the regions they still occupied.

                2. Dweebston| 8.20.13 @ 9:45AM |#
                  “How many civilians might we have spared had we accepted a conditional surrender?”

                  What conditions?

                  1. I’ve no idea. I see imperial sovereignty bandied about, so almost certainly leaving their emperor be. We ultimately made that concession. I’m certain that wouldn’t have been the end of it.

                    The more I read about the bomb the more agnostic I am about its use. Unless and until I’m better acquainted with the circumstances, I’m happy treating it as a deplorable but tolerable act of war. However, as with conventional terror bombing, it’s certainly not venerable.

                    1. I should also note that I use “we” by convention, but I don’t feel a sense of guilt or responsibility about American conduct during the war any more than I do the house payments my uncle welched on years ago. So we can dispense with the idea of white guilt, at least in this instance. My interest is purely academic and episodes like these test the bounds of libertarian revisionism.

                    2. Suggest “Downfall” (Frank)…..fall+frank
                      And “Making of the Atomic Bomb” and “Dark Sun” (Rhodes) (Amazon link no work)
                      Downfall is VERY well researched and makes it abundantly clear that it was close to taking three bombs to end the war. And also makes clear that the options were ‘way worse by nearly every measure.
                      Rhodes does a wonderful job on the weapons development and as soon as he editorializes (often enough) he ends up at odds with the facts.
                      Yes, nukes are horrible, No, there is no way they could have been avoided; governments aren’t gonna leave a weapon like that undeveloped.
                      And every so-called ‘moral’ effort to contain them sure looks like it would have been worse than we have; want the UN as a world government?
                      So, the bombs got used as the best alternative, and we haven’t yet died in a nuclear war; humanity finds its way.

                  2. According to this, published in 1985 by one Rufus E. Miles, Jr., Japan entreated desperately with the Soviets for a peace settlement with the West, but was ultimately put off because the Soviets planned to make good on their arrangement with Truman to enter the war against Japan and thereby secure spoils in the Pacific. According to Miles, acting Secretary of State Joseph Grew recommended to Truman that Japan

                    would capitulate soon thereafter if the unconditional surrender doctrine Truman had inherited from Roosevelt were publicly interpreted by Truman to allow retention of the Japanese Emperor — the revered symbol of the thousand-year-old Japanese dynasty.

                    Nearly a month before we bombed Hiroshima,

                    Foreign Minister Togo, at the Emperor’s behest, instructed the Japanese Ambassador in Moscow, Naotake Sato, to inform Foreign Commissar Molotov that the Emperor wanted the war ended immediately and wished to send Prince Fuminare Konoye to Moscow with power to negotiate a peace on almost any terms, presumably short of the unacceptable sacrifice of the imperial dynasty.

                    Would this have been sufficient? Speculative, but so is everything about it other than the actual bombing and aftermath.

                    1. “According to this, published in 1985 by one Rufus E. Miles, Jr., Japan entreated desperately with the Soviets for a peace settlement with the West,…”

                      Again, I refer you to Downfall. Yes, they asked the USSR to help ‘negotiate’ a peace. No, they in no way were anywhere close to even figuring out the terms they wanted, other than they didn’t want surrender.
                      That claim has been debunked more times than I have fingers.

        2. bmp1701| 8.20.13 @ 9:08AM |#
          “Why invade?”

          To end the war NOW. People were dying by the hundreds of thousands all over the pacific, including allied soldiers in SE Asia.

        3. Because politicians and generals did not have the patience for it. And they did not want to give the Japanese the chance to develop “secret weapons”.

          Not that I agree, but they already had timetables and schedules set up. Plus, with the distances involved and the coordination needed for huge amphibious assaults, the plans had to be made many months in advance. It seemed like it was all set in motion. Truman was not likely to interfere with ongoing plans just after taking over from FDR.

  6. Kinda curious now to read this book and see how he really proposes old timey bikes are analogous to nukes, especially since the latter are little more valuable to angry, non-state actors in an asymmetric environment.

  7. This book sounds like da bomb. I’m definitely going to have a copy drop shipped. I’ll be mad if it costs too much though.

    1. I’ll bet it blows you away!

  8. These are the same type of people that think taking away guns creates safety, well, it doesn’t, look at Chicago, NY, CA. America stays free by power, it is stupid to think otherwise. Yamamoto (sp?) said he would never invade America because “there would be a gun behind every blade of grass.” He was correct. We must continue our vigilance against potential aggressors. We must never disarm, we must always remain on the alert. I grew up during the Cold War so I might be a bit skewed, but I know the safest towns are small towns that can defend themselves against predators.

    1. He didn’t actually say that – to all evidence – but the sentiment is still correct.

      Unilateral disarmament makes one a victim, not a peacemaker.

      Though I suppose after you’re rolled over, there’s “peace”.

  9. “In disputing the “game changing” nature of H-bombs, he asserts that hydrogen bombs are not as destructive as we suppose. Even though modern nuclear payloads have exponentially greater yields than the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima, they do not translate into exponentially greater destruction.”


    So if New York City were to take a direct hit by an exact duplicate of the Soviet 50 megaton H-bomb that they detonated in the early 1960’s it wouldn’t have been exponentially more destructive than if the city were hit by an exact duplicate of the Hiroshima “little boy” bomb?

    1. What he’s referring to, Gilbert, is that the destruction doesn’t scale linearly with yield. Which is why both the Russians and the U.S. have mostly retired those large thermonuclear weapons in favor of multiple smaller weapons. It turns out that for the vast majority of theoretical (cause no one ever wants to actually see those fuckers fly) uses for nukes, you just don’t need that much yield. People die just fine when you shred them into quarters; you don’t need to vaporize them too.

      That said, though they retired it about 20 years ago, an SS-18 with 10 500 kT warheads, so 5 Mt total yield, is going to do what I’d agree is exponentially more damage to NYC than the 15-20 kT Hiroshima bomb would do. Not that I’m eager to see either. The one will kill, WAG, 100,000 people? Depending on when and where it was detonated. The SS-18? Probably in the neighborhood of 5 million.

      A 500 kT warhead is going to kill just about everyone within, IIRC, 5 miles of detonation. (The 8 cal/cm^2 line, or the thermal impulse that causes 3rd degree burns, is about 5.5 miles away, if the nuclear weapon archive is right.) So, about 75 square miles of land is going to feel the burn. X10, that’s 750 square miles. How many people live in 750 sq miles in the greater NYC area?

  10. Ah… nothing like a nuke war story to get me going in the morning. I can spend all day wondering whether the plaza outside my office window makes a great bulls-eye from space…

    1. I’m not super fond of my job either but I’ve never hoped to see it vaporized from space.

  11. “…premised on the interesting idea that plywood desks could provide adequate shielding from a radioactive apocalypse.”

    This is not the case. Wherever the bomb lands is toast, but there would be a shockwave propagating for miles that would cause damage with varying degrees of survivability. Plywood desks are pretty decent shields against flying glass from the windows that just blew out. Even in the cities that were targets it made sense to practice this, since you had no idea exactly where the bomb would land and how the city structures and geography would affect the blast before it got to you. It’s just a matter of shaping the odds as best as you can.

  12. We could argue all millennium long about what caused the “final” Japanese surrender: the Bombs or the Russians crashing through Manchuria.

    The fact of the matter: it was likely both. The two Bombs and the Russian invasion happened literally within days of each other. Does anybody think the Japanese leadership was thinking completely rationally at that time and were able to competently assign more weight to any of the events? They were likely panicked, confused and terrified. Some were probably thinking that — despite the legend of Japanese solidarity — their own people may start dissenting or even revolting.

    Yes, the Americans had destroyed dozens of cities “conventionally” so destroying a couple more using only one bomb each may not have been that big of a deal. As for the invasion of China by the Soviets, they had been transporting their battle-hardened army from Europe to the Far East for months at that point; it was only a matter of time before Stalin decided to invade. That the invasion actually happened would not — by itself — have been that big of a shock. All three of these things TOGETHER so close to each other, though, tipped the scales.

    1. “We could argue all millennium long about what caused the “final” Japanese surrender: the Bombs or the Russians crashing through Manchuria.”

      We could also argue about what have happened if the Soviets had stayed out of it and we had continued to build and drop more atom bombs on them as well as continue with conventional fire bombing, destroying their transportation networks and blockading any imports of food, fuel and other supplies.

      They would have either surrenedered eventually or there would have been no one left to surrender. They would all have been killed outright or starved to death.

    2. And by the way, according to a program I saw one time about the preparations for the potential invasion of Japan, a paper was preparded for the Joint Chiefs that discussed the possibility of using poison gas on the Japanese.

      So atom bombs and fire bombing might not have been the only means used against them if history had played out differently.

      1. History is written by the victor so these arguments are largely lost on the burden of proof.

        Japan was certainly in trouble and was going to lose the war. One thing is for certain, based on the multitudes of anecdotal evidence; the Japanese were very much married to the idea of suicidal defense of the home island. They found the notion of losing to anglo-americans and habitation of the homeland so deplorable that, out of shame, they inflicted heinous atrocities on POWs.
        What ever caused them to surrender was a circumstance of great luck because the ground war would have been uglier than the other invasions. In the end, a 100,000 dead people are still dead, no matter what you hit them with.
        Is our navy a great deterrent to war?
        I would say one of the best deterrents to war is actually not starting them.
        A better study on the deterrent effects of nuclear possession should be the india/Pakistan story.

      2. Doesn’t really surprise me; anything looked better than an invasion of the Japanese home islands.

        They were facing “us” with the credible threat of everyone in the country being armed with a rifle or a bamboo spear and trying to kill every invader in every possible way.

        Poison gas starts to look really promising when you’re up against that (even as high command leadership, let alone if you’re one of the guys in the landing craft…); it won’t kill any more Japanese than an invasion, and it saves a lot of Allied troops.

        1. Supposedly FDR scotched that from the Olympic planning, but so far the WWII history books tend to be hagiographal toward him.
          “From Roosevelt to Truman” (Miscamble) is the first to be a bit more honest.

  13. American jets were armed with air-to-air nuclear missiles

    Wait what? I’m pretty sure air-to-air nuclear missiles do not, an have never, exist(ed).

    1. We need them for when the aliens invade, like in the movie Independence Day!

    2. Wait what? I’m pretty sure air-to-air nuclear missiles do not, an have never, exist(ed).

      Think again. 1.5 kT and 250 t nuclear warheads. Just the thing for breaking up Soviet bomber formations coming over the Pole.

      1. Talk about warming the arctic.

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  15. Yes, if you select your Japanese documentation carefully, you can pretend it was the Soviet entry, because the Soviet invasion really was a major drawback. And yes, the Japanese had internal conferences and sent out peace feelers as a result.

    Of course, there are all the other conferences and peace feelers that they’d been having for over a year at that point, and the sources documenting how other Japanese argued the Soviet entry was meaningless because they wouldn’t be able to cross into the Home Islands, and the documentation of the belief that Hiroshima was a one-off that couldn’t be duplicated by the US for months.

    And the documentation of how Nagasaki shattered all that because it came in days. Which is to say, it faked Japan into thinking the US really could bomb them hard enough to make an invasion of the Home Islands practical, and thus eliminated the hope of holing up in Fortress Japan.

  16. As far as Kennedy not being deterred, he was a drug-addicted idiot incompetent playboy adventurer. No, MAD isn’t an absolutely perfect mechanism; it assumes rational people in control of policy.

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