The Cat's Cradle

"No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat's cradle is nothing but a bunch of X's between somebody's hands, and little kids look and look and look at all those X's . . . No damn cat, no damn cradle." -- Kurt Vonnegut

Monday, October 09, 2006

Thomas C. Schelling on nuclear inhibitions

In light of this morning's apparent nuclear test by North Korea, I found this article by Thomas C. Schelling especially apropos.

On the 40th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Alvin M. Weinberg wrote an editorial in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (December 1985). In 1941, Weinberg had joined the University of Chicago group that developed the first chain reactor which produced the plutonium ultimately used in the atomic bomb dropped on Nagaski. In his editorial, Weinberg expressed his conviction that both American and Japanese lives were saved by the use of the bomb in Japan, and that long-term good might result from the Hiroshima bomb:

"Are we witnessing a gradual sanctification of Hiroshima--that is, the elevation of the Hiroshima event to the status of a profoundly mystical event, an event ultimately of the same religious force as biblical events? I cannot prove it, but I am convinced that the 40th Anniversary of Hiroshima, with its vast outpouring of concern, its huge demonstrations, its wide media coverage, bears resemblance to the observance of major religious holidays.... This sanctification of Hiroshima is one of the most hopeful developments of the nuclear era."

A crucial question is whether the antinuclear instinct so well expressed by Weinberg is confined to Christian or "Western" culture. As we look to North Korea, Pakistan, Iran, India, or Iraq as potential wielders of nuclear weapons, we cannot be sure that they inherit this tradition with any great force.

Forty years ago, however, we might have thought that the Soviet leadership would be immune to the spirit of Hiroshima as expressed by Weinberg--immune to the popular revulsion toward nuclear weapons, immune to the overhang of all those peril-filled years that awed President Johnson. In any attempt to extrapolate Western nuclear attitudes toward the areas of the world where nuclear proliferation begins to frighten us, the remarkable conformity of Soviet and Western ideology is a reassuring point of departure.

Thanks to Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution for the link.


At 12:10 AM, Blogger David Meyrowitz said...,,1891568,00.html

After reading the article, make sure to read the 2nd comment (from RoderickvLouis).

I think the ideas proposed in the comment are a quite revolutionary idea, especially after President Bush today "rejected ideas of talks with North Korea" (

I think the key difference here is the specific dictator in question. While I am too young to remember the dynamics of the Cold War era, nothing I have heard has led me to believe of another dictator as literally crazy as Kim Jong-Il. I remember watching a CNN special this summer in one of the few times that Americans (especially reporters) were able to talk to him. The best description that I head of him (keeping in mind the CNN source and any spin that they might want to put, or not put, on the issue) is to that of Steven Spielberg. From the CNN reporters, Kim Jong-Il believes he is the great director, and that the ongoing nuclear debate with the US is just part of a movie in which he calls the shots.

So returning to the original question, can North Korea be trusted with a nuclear arsenal (or at least the potential to create one)? Possibly, but not under Kim Jong-Il, or any of his descendants.

The major problem with disarmament (as discussed further in many other related articles) is the ease of creating more WMDs. The technological know-how is out there, and I bet (if I weren't afraid of being wire-less tapped) that I could find them with a rather easy internet search. The hard part one would assume is the procurement of the necessary materials, but even that hasn't seemed to stop North Korea, so why would it in the future? I was reminded by a friend that this article, in theory, is the plot to Superman IV-- and it failed there, so he expects it to fail here as well. I quickly attempted to netflix Superman IV just to be disappointed that apparently it is not one of the 66,000 titles they have in stock (and I do believe that this is the first time I've used or seen netflix as a verb). So I suppose I will have to take his word on it this time.

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