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Hey, look: A new thread in the Den. It's about nukes.
#1
It's been neglected for ages. So, let's get our debate on.

One of the most hotly-debated subjects of the last century has been whether or not America was justified in using atomic weapons against Japan to end the second World War.

I am not the man of black and white morality I was years ago, which is why I can only say that the ends justified the means in this particular scenario. Certainly, the reason America used the atomic bomb had everything to do with the short-term goal of defeating a very obstinate enemy. Certainly, there weren't too many people involved with the decision who were thinking of how this event would influence the course of human history thereafter. As we all know, the weapon had its effect: Japan realized that fiery nuclear death was the only alternative to surrender, and wisely decided against fiery nuclear death.

But, was this necessary? One opinion is that there is no justification for using nuclear weapons for any reason, towards any end--a laudable goal if perhaps too idealistic. Another is that one was necessary and two was overkill. Maybe this was true.

However, I am firmly convinced that the destruction of Hiroshima, in spite of how horrible it was for those who fell victim to it, the most fortunate decision of the entire 20th century.

Once atoms were confirmed to exist, it was probably inevitable that the potential of the atom to produce amazing amounts of energy would soon be realized. It was certainly inevitable that this revelation would result in a drive to weaponize this phenomenon. It is a simple, yet basically true, statement to say that nuclear weapons were going to happen after certain scientific discoveries were made.

The United States won the nuclear race by several lengths, thanks in large part to the defection of several genius physicists from Europe before and during the rise of National Socialism and Italian fascism. Germany and Japan both had at least some interest in developing atomic weapons, the Germans especially. Had they not been so relentlessly xenophobic, the Nazis may very well have acquired the bomb before the United States. Clearly, it was to the world's benefit that America won this race, because America was, in relation to Nazi Germany, not as crazy and bloodthirsty. I doubt anybody believes the Nazis would have hesitated to use atomic weapons with little or no discretion against anybody they liked, especially if they had exclusive access to the weapons. America simply has not been so inclined. But, America did use two of them, and on civilian population centers rather than military targets.

I believe this was absolutely necessary. Not for the purposes of making Japan surrender; any successful demonstration of the atomic bomb would have probably done that trick. In this, I think the Nagasaki bomb was dropped in the belief that it was necessary to prove to the Japanese military establishment that we weren't fucking around and we could keep on doing this if we wanted to. Maybe this is true, maybe this isn't true. Maybe the destruction of Hiroshima would have been enough to convince Japan to sit down and shut up. We'll never know for sure.

However, Hiroshima had to happen, and the people living there had to suffer and die. A terrible fate for them, and I don't wish to make light of it, but in a sense, they were sacrifices to the future of humanity. Their deaths were not in vain. In fact, I believe they may helped save the world.

Given the situation, completing the Manhattan Project and getting functional atomic weapons was a high priority of the Allies. They were some of the very first, and the destructive power may have been exponentially greater than anything mankind had come up with previously, but they were followed in the coming decades by warheads with yields exponentially more destructive still than even Fat Man or Little Boy. The bombs dropped on Japan were some of the weakest ever made until research into tactical nuclear weaponry began decades later.

This is important because we were able to see, firsthand, just what these things could do. There exists much visual material and in-depth description of the devastation, the death, the suffering, and the slow, terrible destruction to the body brought about by radiation poisoning and full-body burns. We needed to see these things. When the physicists and engineers tested prototypes in the New Mexico desert, they saw how much shit you could blow up, but they had no idea of what the true human toll would be if one of these things fell on a major city. Hiroshima gave us this lesson, and it is a lesson we absolutely had to have in a world in which nuclear weapons were inevitable.

Imagine if the bombs had not been used. A land invasion of Japan would have probably happened, and if the estimates were anywhere near accurate, the final death toll would have been far greater, for both sides, than what the bombs produced. This is, actually, rather beside the point. Once the United States had a nuclear weapons arsenal, the Soviet Union had to match it. As a result, ten years after the end of World War II, you had the world's two superpowers on their way to practically bristling with city-erasing weapons of doom and well on their way to inventing missile delivery systems to carry these things thousands of miles. Yet, the Cold War lasted close to 50 years without a single one of these things ever being exploded in anger. We like to attribute this to the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction. This is true.

But, imagine how differently this might have gone if MAD were based upon a theory, rather than the hard and terrible reality witnessed by Japan? One of the reasons America wasted little time in using its new bomb was that, as previously mentioned, we only had theories about how devastating its effects would be. People, both individuals and groups, are willing to do dangerous things if the dangers exist to them as mere hypotheses. Hiroshima and Nagasaki gave us stark evidence we absolutely had to have. We now knew just what these weapons could do. We now understood how terrible it would be to see our own cities destroyed, our own people incinerated. We were now able to comprehend that, if dozens, hundreds, even thousands, of these things were used at once, the actual end of the world could be a very real possibility.

If we did not have this lesson, is it so hard to imagine that some flashpoint might have seen either the United States or the Soviet Union launching in response to some real or perceived threat? To me, it is not hard at all, nor is it hard to imagine that the other party would respond in kind with everything it had, using hundreds of missiles with destructive power hundreds of times that of the bombs dropped on Japan. It is not hard to imagine that our world would be a nearly-lifeless hell afterwards. The lesson of nuclear warfare would be learned then, if anybody survived to learn it.

For that reason, it is plain to me that America's use of the bomb was necessary for the peace of the world, both in the immediate sense of ending the worst war mankind ever fought, and to giving people to come a very good reason to not ever want to launch any more of them.
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#2
A protracted invasion of Japan would have also left the door open for a second invasion by Soviet forces, setting Japan up for a Germany-esque situation.

Of course, it's absurdly cynical to say "Well, it was worth it to kill all those people", but, well, things DID seem to turn out okay in both the short term and long term.
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#3
Saw this old thread.

I think today no one in either party would ever suggest using nuclear weapons. No matter the political affiliation, only the most extreme of extremists would ever suggest using nuclear weapons in any of today's conflicts. (Those people tend to use XBox Live and suggest "turning the desert to glass" as a way to end middle east conflict. They aren't taken seriously.)

The victory against Japan was already assured, but it is certainly true the nuclear weapons ended it faster.

Something much bigger came out of their use in war than the end of the war though. The most positive thing we can say about the use of nuclear weapons is that they made the entire world terrified of nuclear weapons. It seems they had to be used at least once for the world to learn we should never ever use them. (Though, we still haven't learned that it may be a good idea to not even have use them as a threat.) It's been suggested that one reason we don't see any alien communication out there is because most civilizations blow themselves up. Maybe we got lucky, only one side inventing them at the very end of a war that was sure to be won anyway and using them anyway taught us the lesson before we had the chance to destroy everything.

Life is sure complicated, isn't it?
"On two occasions, I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able to rightly apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question." ~ Charles Babbage (1791-1871)
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#4
Couldn't here have been some other demonstration that would make people shit their pants and not murder/torture a hundred thousand innocent civilians?

That's the million dollar question of course. The idealist in me says that as soon as you sell out a few humans for the sake of the rest, you've lost what it means to be human. As recently as 7 years ago I would have taken the opposite and pragmatic position. Now I just don't know. Done is done, and like we said, it certainly seemed to do its job.
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#5
I don't think there was any other way, not when the stakes are all life on earth. If we didn't see firsthand what sort of shit we were playing around with, if we didn't see what they did when they were used where a lot of people lived, it seems obvious to me that the people wielding these horrifying sabers would have been much more willing to do more than rattle them.

That doesn't make Hiroshima right, but whether or not it was right is is a question more suited to the "would more people have died in a conventional warfare invasion of the Home Islands" debate. My position is that what happened to Hiroshima was just about certainly going to happen somewhere else, and it would have definitely been a catastrophe many orders of magnitude worse if it had happened later, when there were thousands of warheads that were thousands of times as powerful. Maybe it would have happened in Korea or Vietnam, or over Able Archer 83. And maybe nobody would have survived to learn from it.
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#6
Indeed, but I'm really looking at this from my safe vantage point of the future. I can't say I would support covertly deploying a nuke (or some other weapon of mass destruction like an engineered super flu) every 100 years or so just to keep every generation afraid enough not to use them on much larger scales. And, well, the cynical part of me says that's what it would take, due to humanity's shocking lack of long term memory on lessons like these. You know the attitude, "That could never happen today!" is only true if you think it CAN happen today and take measures to keep it from doing so. The good news, the fear of nukes won't die with WW2 era people. That fear was kept well alive right up until the end of the cold war. So, the fear of nukes dies with us, maybe.
"On two occasions, I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able to rightly apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question." ~ Charles Babbage (1791-1871)
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#7
I don't think it is necessary for any further demonstration of what nuclear weapons can do. Anyone who becomes familiar with the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki won't soon forget what they learn.

We were all born in the early 1980s, into a world which lived in constant fear of global nuclear annihilation. There is some debate as to just how close we got to the end of the world, but within a span of two months in 1983, there were two events that brought NATO and the Warsaw Pact to the very brink. One was a false launch detection from a Soviet satellite that led to nothing only because of a Soviet colonel named Stanislav Petrov, who kept his cool and reasoned his way to the truth (this in a time when Soviet nuclear doctrine was to launch a decapitating first strike in the event of a detected launch). The second was the ABLE ARCHER 83 exercise, which was only an exercise, but it was so elaborate and realistic that it thoroughly spooked Moscow, which was paranoid about a NATO surprise nuclear attack.

We were born into the most dangerous few years in human history. Imagine how either of these scenarios might have played out differently if not for the first-hand knowledge of the consequences.
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#8
The most dangerous moment almost certainly has to be the Cuban Missile Crisis. However, you're right, all through the Cold War there were moments like the ones you mention...


As for WWII, yeah, I definitely think that using the nuke was justified. The key is comparing the suffering that dropping those nukes caused, versus the alternative, invading Japan with an army. That would have caused more death and destruction than the nukes, there is no question. There also might have been a Soviet invasion of Japan, if it'd taken long enough, and it could have, so maybe Hokkaido today would be some North Korea-like state, or something? You never know.

Another thing to consider is that Japan had a very serious food shortage, and a MASSIVE famine was only averted in 1945-46 because of huge amounts of American food imports after the surrender. A prolonged war would have led to lots more civilian deaths from starvation.

Really, as awful as they were, the only way to say that the nukes were wrong is to say that Japan was going to surrender soon without either an invasion or nuclear attacks, and there just isn't any credible reason to believe that, unfortunately. The 'war party' in the Japanese government was too strong and too proud to back down until they were forced to by the use of nukes.


As for your point that no use of nuclear weapons during WWII might have made their use afterwards between the US and the Soviets more likely, though... huh, that's an interesting one. Not sure if I've heard that theory before; probably, but it's definitely interesting, and there could be truth to it for sure. It is true that most people did not fully realize how destructive nuclear weapons were until after seeing what actually happened when they were used in war.
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#9
A Black Falcon Wrote:The most dangerous moment almost certainly has to be the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Read up about Able Archer 83:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1983_Soviet...m_incident

A situation actually occurred which should have triggered a Russian nuclear attack, but didn't because the guy on watch was smart enough to recognize that what was happening was most likely a computer glitch and not an American nuclear attack. If it had been someone with less imagination or an itchy nuclear trigger finger...well, we wouldn't be having this conversation right now.
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#10
I think that, at least with Russia and the US, they specifically screen for cautious people when it comes to the job of nuclear response. This is good, though job fatigue has become a huge problem. Many other issues crop up which remind me of one of the longer cut scenes in Metal Gear Solid.

"On two occasions, I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able to rightly apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question." ~ Charles Babbage (1791-1871)
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#11
Yeah, I was thinking of the point where intentional nuclear war was the most likely, which I'd say was the Cuban Missile Crisis. But sure, there were many points where a nuclear war could have started by accident. We are very lucky it didn't.
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