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.