August 6, 2005 [LINK]

Hiroshima + 60

Except in Bolivia, most people around the world remember today for the holocaust that befell the city of Hiroshima, Japan sixty years ago today. If Americans are puzzled why other countries so often fear or loathe us, they should remember what happened in August 1945 and bear in mind that from today's detached perspective, the exigencies of wartime mean nothing to average Egyptians or Mexicans. Harry Truman spent many years justifying his decision to drop the atomic bomb on the grounds that it saved many thousands of lives that would have been lost in a ground invasion of Japanese homeland. I happen to agree with that rationale, but it is not something that anyone should take lightly. Nuclear weaponry at once confirms one of the basic axioms of military science, Clausewitz's idea that the violence of warfare tends to escalate without limit. Yet on the other hand, the scale of destruction in nuclear blasts renders them almost impractical from a military standpoint. Strategic thinkers from George Kennan to Robert Jervis have questioned the utility of nuclear weapons stockpiles and the possible value as deterrent "leverage." The very irrationality of nuclear weapons is ironically what makes them so appealing to terrorists, who do not behave according to the precepts of rational political actors. Richard Rhodes, author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb, was interviewed on C-SPAN this morning, calling on the United States to accelerate the reduction of its nuclear stockpile so as to convince other potential nuclear armed states to abide by the Nonproliferation Treaty. We still have over 10,000 nuclear warheads in our arsenal, and the Russians have over 6,000, plus at least that many which have been "mothballed" pending dismantling. In spite of recent tensions between the two countries, there is no reason for maintaining such a huge nuclear force -- except for the fact that China and other countries are building up their arsenals, and in this new, unpredictable world in which more and more countries aspire to nuclear weaponry, keeping an extra reserve force on hand to face multiple potential adversaries is certainly understandable. Illogical? Perhaps. Necessary? Probably. Arms-control advocates will object bitterly, but in one form or another, the wretched angst spawned by the security-power dilemma will forever torment mankind.