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Saturday, August 06, 2005

Making the rubble bounce

Today, August 6, 2005, is the 60th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan.

Bernard Brodie, The Absolute Weapon, 1946:
"Thus far the chief purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars. From now on its chief purpose must be to avert them. It can have almost no other useful purpose."
Winston Churchill, quoted in Reader's Digest, December 1954:
"If you go on with this nuclear arms race, all you are going to do is make the rubble bounce."
The single atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima had a yield of 15 KT (kiloton), which means it had the equivalent destructive power of 15 thousand tons of TNT.

Today, long after the end of the cold war, the U.S. "strategic" nuclear arsenal remains vast:
510 land-based missiles outfitted with 1,150 warheads;

889 submarine-based missiles outfitted with 2,016 warheads;

115 cruise missiles and other aircraft bombs outfitted with 1,050 warheads.
All these strategic systems have ranges of at least 7,360 kilometers and their warheads have yields of at least 100 KT. Every nuclear warhead deployed on land-based missile systems has a yield at least 10 times as big as the Hiroshima bomb (the smallest is a 170 KT warhead on the 200 Minuteman III systems).

Each MX missile carries 10 independently-targetable warheads, each with a yield of 300 KT. Just 10 of these MX missiles could target 100 cities, greeting each with a bomb 20-times as destructive as the Hiroshima bomb. Jimmy Carter declared in his 1979 "State of the Union" address:
For example, just one of our relatively invulnerable Poseidon submarines--comprising less than 2 percent of our total nuclear force of submarines, aircraft, and land-based missiles--carries enough warheads to destroy every large- and medium-sized city in the Soviet Union.
Poseidon was replaced by the "far more number of missiles carried and destructive capability" Trident sub.

The total U.S. strategic arsenal comprises 1,039 launchers, with 4,216 warheads. These bombs have a total destructive capacity of 1,813 MT. The U.S. also has hundreds of non-strategic weapons.

One caution. By highlighting the destructiveness of the atomic bomb, and the vast size of the U.S. arsenal, I don't mean to blame the bomb for the militarization of American foreign policy. Reflect on the power of the bomb, yes, but do not forget the destructive power of non-nuclear arsenals and war.

The "Jacksonian" strain has long-influenced American foreign policy and the US prosecution of "conventional" war has been plenty deadly.

Walter Russell Mead, The National Interest, Winter 1999/2000:
In the last five months of World War II, American bombing raids claimed the lives of more than 900,000 Japanese civilians—not counting the casualties from the atomic strikes against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is more than twice the total number of combat deaths that the United States has suffered in all its foreign wars combined...

Since the Second World War, the United States has continued to employ devastating force against both civilian and military targets. Out of a pre-war population of 9.49 million, an estimated 1 million North Korean civilians are believed to have died as a result of U.S. actions during the 1950-53 conflict.... The United States dropped almost three times as much explosive tonnage in the Vietnam War as was used in the Second World War...

[T]he American war record should make us think. An observer who thinks of American foreign policy only in terms of the commercial realism of the Hamiltonians, the crusading moralism of Wilsonian transcendentalists, and the supple pacifism of the principled but slippery Jeffersonians would be at a loss to account for American ruthlessness at war.
Next time someone advocates the use of U.S. military force to achieve a specific foreign policy objective, without fully considering and debating other policy options, be sure to speak out about the horrifically high costs of war.

And think about Bernard Brodie's admonition about the ultimate risk.

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