Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Making of the Atomic Bomb - Foreward

I’d like to initiate dissuasion appropriately enough at the Foreward (to the 25th anniversary edition).

In a speech on the Iran nuclear agreement Barack Obama said “… but the truth of the matter is: Iran’s defense budget is $30 billion. Our defense budget is closer to $600 billion. Iran understands that they cannot fight us. … You asked about an Obama doctrine. The doctrine is: We will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities.”

The stance of “preserve all our capabilities” has been the doctrine of every president in the last 60 years.

In the Foreward of The Making of the Atomic Bomb, author Richard Rhodes writes, quoting the Australian ambassador-at-large for nuclear disarmament, Richard Butler,
“My attempts to have the Americans enter into discussions about double standard have been an abject failure—even with highly educated and engaged people. I sometimes felt I was speaking to them in Martian, so deep is their inability to understand. What Americans totally fail to understand is that their weapons of mass destruction are just as much a problem as are those of Iraq.” Or Iran, North Korea—or of any other confirmed or would-be nuclear power.
Rhodes talks of the blatant unfairness to preach disarmament while holding “our capabilities”. “As long as any state has nuclear weapons, others will seek to acquire them.” If there must be a deterrent, wouldn’t the threat of rearming be fairer (and safer)?


Big Myk said...

While nobody has actually disarmed, it's still part of the conversation. The Gang of Four -- former U.S. officials Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Bill Perry, and Sam Nunn -- proposed in January 2007 that the United States rededicate itself to the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. As Shultz has said, "If you think of the people who are doing suicide attacks, and people like that get a nuclear weapon, they are almost by definition not deterrable."

In his 2009 address in Prague, Obama committed “to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” Although he added, “I’m not naive. This goal will not be reached quickly — perhaps not in my lifetime.” Actually, Obama has not reduced our warheads at all during his presidency. Most of the reductiuons were made during Republican administrations. Nevertheless, at one time the US had over 31,000 warheads. We're now down to 4000 and only about half of those are deployed.

Recently, others have called for nuclear disamament. Pope Francis' Latest Mission: Stopping Nuclear Weapons; Iran calls for global nuclear disarmament timetable.

My point is that total nuclear disarmament is not a pipe dream; it is a real possibllty that people have been thinking about and working for.

James R said...

As more incentive everyone to get on board, I emailed James since it may have been his original idea, and he is ordering the book. I also told Bill, so he may post also.

james said...

I’ve always found this sort of tu quoque argument lacking.

During the Cold War, when some Americans were trying to inform the world of the mass murders under Communism, Soviet propagandists replied with "And you are hanging blacks." So long as crime exists in your country, they said, who are you to criticize ours?

Is anyone persuaded by this line of reasoning? Can anyone honestly say that a nuclear weapon in the hands of someone like Assad, Saddam Hussein, or Kim Jong Un is equally worrisome as France’s nuclear capabilities?

In any event, it seems like the biggest risk of a nuclear attack is not from terrorists, but from a murderous, narcissistic Germanwings-style employee with access to nuke codes.

Looking forward to some good discussions on this book!

James R said...

Ah, I can see plenty of fuel for discussion already.

In the parade of latin fallacies the tu quoque must march next to the ignoratio elenchi. Fortunately, Iran can not say "We'll dispose of our nuclear threat when you dispose of yours." This is not quid pro quo but "We have a bomb to your head, so you do what we say."

But even that, to me, is not Rhodes' (or Butler's) point. His point, as I see it, is that nuclear weapons are categorically different from doing evil or killing people. The mere capability, whether the risk is terrorists or postal employees, is the problem. There is no benefit for anyone in having nuclear weapons anywhere, even in one's own country. It's just not a smart thing to do. A counter strike is just as bad as a strike.

One could argue, the benefit was ending the war with Japan, but that was when no one understood the destruction. (We'll have to get to the end of the book to tell if that is true.) Let the deterrent be reaming.

james said...

Fair enough. By the way, is there a schedule for reading this? I've never been a great self-motivator, but I am coachable.

Should we designate people to write a post on a certain chapter on a certain date? Or are we looking for this to be more free-flowing? I'm good with whatever, just don't want you to feel like your'e doing all the heavy lifting.

James R said...

I'm all ears, also. If anyone has experience in this sort of thing, speak up. I'm on page 50. I think Bill said he is on page 200.

Ted said...

Just showed up at the library - picking it up this afternoon. Never been in a book club before - megan has one, maybe I will ask her for ideas. I think we have a target date (lets say 2 weeks from now, or a week?) to give everyone time to read it and then its open for discussion. That's my two cents anyway.

James R said...

I was thinking commenting as we are reading—perhaps, chapter by chapter. It's not as if we are having cookies and ice cream at someone's house.

Also, Patricia, Mike, Sean, Renée, if not too busy, Ellen, any others who often read this—please join in.

James R said...

How could I leave Martini out?! We need the European perspective!

Big Myk said...

I'm only up to page 43.

I got the sense that Jim's original idea was to run this like a Quaker meeting: people as they read through the book would post their thoughts and reflections as the spirit moved them, hopefully generating other discussion.

First, this may not actually be Jim's original idea -- only my impression of it. And, even assuming that it was Jim's original idea, just because it was Jim's original idea, doesn't mean that it's the best idea. I'm open to any way we want to proceed. I should say, it's a pretty hefty book -- my edition has 750 pages -- it may take some of us more than two weeks to read it all.

But there may be something to James' idea of having some sort of target schedule: say, by x date we'll all have completed Chapter 5, by y date we'll have completed Part I. Then at least we'll all be roughly on the same page, so to speak.

Finally, we have to find some way to get Bill involved. After all, it was his passion for the book that inspired us all to get this far. Based on our discussion over Palm Sunday weekend and Bill's eloquent comments about the book, I'd love to hear more of Bill's observations.

James R said...

One more incentive: I understand that much of the book deals with the people who were the players. It might be the most interesting collection of characters ever assembled in history. I'm somewhat familiar with two, Niels Bohr, and John Von Neumann, and those two are worth the price of admission by themselves.

James R said...

You're right. That was my sense of what I was thinking also. Let's say Chapter 1 for next week, and I"ll see Bill again this week-end to impress his responsibilities.

James R said...

Hmm...Let's say, discuss chapters 1 and 2 nest week? Just my suggestion, feel free to suggest something else. I kind of like doing it as we go, but I don't want it to take forever.

Big Myk said...

My partricipation in the book study may be a bit thin over the next two weeks. Sue and I are flying to San Diego on Tuesday. We'll be there for a few days and then travel up the coast to San Francisco. I'll have the book with me and a cell phone; we'll see what I can do.