Garry Wills’ BOMB POWER: THE MODERN PRESIDENCY AND THE NATIONAL SECURITY STATE is a troubling critique of the militarization of America in which presidents seem to equate (and confuse) military adventurism with foreign policy. Nuclear weaponry represents a particular threat to the world, but it is interesting the affect it has had on how America goes about doing foreign policy.
After the atomic bombs had been dropped in Japan, President Truman was asked to continue and expand the nuclear weapons program including the development of a “Super” bomb. Many of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan project opposed the continuation let alone the expansion of the atomic weapons program. The Committee composed to advise Truman on the project recommended against the project, with two scientists (Fermi and Rabi) writing an even stronger “minority report” against the project. Here was why they opposed the development of the “Super”:
“Necessarily such a weapon goes far beyond any military objective and enters the range of very great natural catastrophes. By its very nature it cannot be confined to a military objective but becomes a weapon which in practical effect is almost one of genocide.
It is clear that the use of such a weapon cannot be justified on any ethical ground which gives a human being a certain individuality and dignity even if he happens to be a resident of any enemy country. It is evident to us that this would be the view of peoples in other countries. Its use would put the United States in a bad moral position relative to the peoples of the world.
Any postwar situation resulting from such a weapon would leave unresolvable enmities for generations. A desirable peace cannot come from such an inhuman application of force. The postwar problems would dwarf the problems which confront us at present.
The fact that no limits exist to the destructiveness of this weapon makes its very existence and the knowledge of its construction a danger to humanity as a whole. It is necessarily an evil thing considered in any light.”
Most interesting is that the scientists involved in the original development of American nuclear weapons appeal to morality as the reason why the nuclear arsenal should not be expanded. The ethical appeal came from scientists not politicians. The US went ahead with the project anyway, and as has become our pattern, we did it (according to Wills) without consulting our allies. The ethical appeal of the scientists became prophetic for surely the world did not experience a desirable or lasting peace as a result of atomic weapons or mutually assured destruction. Even the end of the Cold War brought no security for now we must obsess over rogue nations and terrorists getting their hands on these same nuclear weapons. The development of atomic weapons proved to be a made in America terrorism which we both gave rise to and have spent tens of billions of dollars to defend ourselves against.
America’s creating and using Atomic bombs had an unusual affect on America’s own militarization. America (at the time of Hiroshima was the only nation in the world with the Bomb, and the only nation in the world to this day which used nuclear weapons on their enemies) became obsessed with its enemies getting this technology. America started the nuclear arms race before any other nation even had the bomb. We became pre-occupied with making sure our weapons were superior to, more advanced and more powerful, than any other nation which might attain nuclear weapons. Additionally, we couldn’t seem to understand why other nations were as fearful of our having these weapons of mass destruction (which we alone had proved willing to use) as we were of them getting them. We developed ever greater levels of security and secrecy and weaponry while our own levels of insecurity and suspicions grew pushing the Doomsday Clock ever closer to midnight.
The scientists who opposed the expansion of the American nuclear arsenal were right. They wrote: “The fact that no limits exist to the destructiveness of this weapon makes its very existence and the knowledge of its construction a danger to humanity as a whole.” A threat even to those who developed it and possess it.
(Wills’ book BOMB POWER was the subject of a series of blogs I wrote beginning with Super Power: Is The Bomb America’s True or only strength?)