Nuclear War’s Unlearned Lessons

The upcoming 70th anniversary of the U.S. nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is a fitting moment for the world to contemplate the dangers from the continuation of nuclear arsenals and the cavalier attitude that many countries take toward geopolitical crises, as Robert Dodge explains.

By Robert Dodge

This week the world remembers the events of 70 years ago in Japan, on Aug. 6 and 9, when the U.S. dropped the first atomic bombs on two cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We are reminded that these bombs instantly killed more than 100,000 human beings and that in the days and weeks that followed, tens of thousands more died from injuries suffered during the bombing and from the effects of nuclear radiation afterward.

This year, on Aug. 6, the day the atomic bomb was dropped over Hiroshima, there will be worldwide vigils to remind humanity of the beginning events of our world’s nuclear history tragedies of death and destruction.

A nuclear test detonation carried out in Nevada on April 18, 1953.

A nuclear test detonation carried out in Nevada on April 18, 1953.

To ensure these events are never repeated, we must educate those among us who are unaware or are uninformed about the real threats nuclear weapons pose. People need to know that in the seven decades that have followed the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, some of the world’s governments have done little to move away from the use of nuclear weapons. Inexplicably, many governments have even chosen to move closer to the brink of destroying civilization and the probability of causing the extinction of our species.

After witnessing the horrific reality caused by these weapons 70 years ago, mankind has always had two options. The first is to rid the planet of these weapons and the second is to build more. To the detriment of the world, governments like U.S. and Russia have consistently chosen the latter option.

The insane doctrine throughout the Cold War, appropriately called Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), was based on guarantees of the annihilation of an adversary in retaliation for a first-strike. The MAD doctrine has resulted in an incorrect notion of nuclear war deterrence and has provided a false sense of security for most civilians who hope their governments are wise enough to not attack another nuclear power. The ill-advised faith in MAD has been the major driver of the arms race, which has so far encouraged governments to build another 15,685 nuclear weapons.

Following the bombings of Japan and subsequent nuclear testing by numerous governments, the world has proof of how destructive nuclear weapons really are. We have also recently learned that these weapons have the potential to be much more dangerous than most had ever imagined.

We now know that even a unilateral attack using the nuclear arsenals of either the U.S. or Russia, even without retaliation, would ultimately result in such catastrophic global climate change that billions would die from starvation and disease, including the people of the attacking nation. In effect, the MAD doctrine of the Cold War has become a doctrine of Self Assured Destruction which ultimately turns any nation that would unleash its nuclear arsenal into suicide bombers and the destroyers of their own civilization. SAD indeed.

Even a limited regional nuclear war using “only” 100 Hiroshima-size bombs, possibly between India and Pakistan, a vulnerable nuclear hot spot on the planet, would cause immense injury, death and destruction. It is estimated that a nuclear strike of this size would kill 20 million people outright and the after effects resulting from global climate change in the days that follow would be catastrophic, killing more than two billion people around the world. The effects of a regional nuclear war like this would continue for more than 10 years. Remarkably, this scenario uses less than half of one percent of the global arsenals.

On this 70th anniversary of the nuclear age, we have an opportunity and responsibility to act. Knowing what we now know, we can no longer make the choice to sit idly. Ultimately the longer we adhere to the MAD doctrine, the more probable that our luck will run out and we will experience nuclear war either by accident or intent.

Citizens of the world must demand that our governments work together with the majority of nations, now numbering 113, who have signed the “Humanitarian Pledge” to ban nuclear weapons by convention. Every other weapon of mass destruction has been banned and nuclear weapons need to be banned as well.

All attempts at nonproliferation and diplomacy must be supported including the nuclear deal with Iran. America’s citizens must demand that our nation join the non-nuclear nations of the world and work together to abolish these weapons. We owe this to the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, to our children and to the future generations who deserve a nuclear weapon-free world.

Robert F. Dodge, M.D., is a practicing family physician, writes for PeaceVoice, and serves on the boards of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Beyond War, Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles, and Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions.

19 comments for “Nuclear War’s Unlearned Lessons

  1. Zachary Smith
    August 3, 2015 at 22:45

    We now know that even a unilateral attack using the nuclear arsenals of either the U.S. or Russia, even without retaliation, would ultimately result in such catastrophic global climate change that billions would die from starvation and disease, including the people of the attacking nation.

    This is a strong claim, but without any supporting evidence. It’s difficult for me to understand how 100 Hiroshima-sized weapons could eventually kill two billion humans. I’ll agree that completely abolishing nuclear weapons held by national governments is a worthy goal, though doing away with all other conventional weaponry would be equally necessary.

    To Kiza

    In the US the Westerlies blow from west to east. While regional climate isn’t my strong suite, internet searches suggest the same is true in Europe and Asia. Except for exceptional circumstances, I believe Europe would be quite safe from most detonations in Asia.

    It’s true that the USSR had to develop a deterrent to US nukes. But it’s also true that Stalin was totally ruthless. The era of the Fifties and Sixties was an awfully dangerous period.

    Your remarks about the dangers of the US ABM system are good ones. The BHO administration is truly playing with fire on this and some more issues.

    • Kiza
      August 4, 2015 at 20:40

      Let me deal with some issues which you raise.

      The effects of the nuclear weapon use on the climate.
      There is little doubt that the ash and the soot blown up into the atmosphere by the above-ground nuclear explosions would cause major disruption to the agricultural production. The only “theory” which has not been verified and cannot ever be is that the Earth’s atmosphere may pop like a baloon under 50 gigatons (50,000 megatons) of almost simultaneous nuclear explosions (if both Russia and US managed to launch and deliver all their warheads). This is almost impossible to model and verify.

      Prevailing winds
      It is true that some of the Russian nuclear missiles are in the Asian part of Russia, but all industrial centers are in European part. I could not imagine the US targeting Russian tundra, whilst the administrative centers like Moscow get spared. When one Chernobyl nuclear reactor in Ukraine exploded, the first wave of the radiation released went Westwards and was discovered in Sweden. In the following days, the radiation spread all over Europe.

      Thank you for understanding that ABMD is as dangerous as the nuclear weapons themselves, because it encourages the First Strike. The average Joe Blow can be easily convinced that the word Defense in the ABMD is for his own defense and not for the offence (to which he may not agree). But ABMD is simply an enabler of the First Strike.

  2. Abe
    August 2, 2015 at 23:52

    “NATO claims that the missile shield was not built against you but against Iran.”

    Note Vladimir Putin’s response:

    in 2011 and 2012, German journalist and documentary filmmaker Hubert Seipel became the first Western journalist to accompany the Russian President for several months.

    The German public broadcast consortium ARD aired the documentary film, Ich Putin, Ein Porträt in February 2012.

    Seipel later conducted the world’s first television interview with Edward Snowden after the Snowden leaks. ARD aired that interview in January 2014.

  3. Kiza
    August 2, 2015 at 21:51

    Firstly, one author’s error – the nuclear weapons were developed by Soviet Union, not by Russia and in response to the US development of the nuclear weapons. Considering the preparedness of the Western allies to continue WW2 by attacking Soviet Union, Europe would have been showered by radiation from the US nuclear bombs dropped on Soviet Union. Thus, ironically, Soviet Union saved itself and the Europeans from the effects of nuclear bombs by developing the same as the US. Even Hitler’s Germany appears to have been not too keen on nuclear weapons. US was and is the only country in the World which:
    1) wanted nuclear weapons,
    2) could produce them, and
    3) was prepared to use them (well illustrated by Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

    Therefore, moral relativization is a standard feature when most Western authors write or talk about nuclear weapons.

    Secondly, one needs to see nuclear war simulations to understand the importance of the First Strike. MAD is not necessarily always MAD. Anti-ballistic missile defense (ABM), combined with First Strike (FS), would guarantee a huge assymetry in the destruction, easily 10,000:1. Whilst 99% of the US population could survive the primary effects of a nuclear strike, 99% of Russian population and its defense capability could be destroyed by a combination of ABM and FS. The secondary effects of a nuclear war are an entirely different matter.

    Therefore, the US was not only the only country in the World with the three factors of nuclear development, then is also now a World leader in the second “technology” of domination and destruction – the ABM.

    Let us have some more of that moral relativization to cover this.

  4. olga
    August 2, 2015 at 18:56

    These articles are printed by order of the US leadership with fear?

    I say with all seriousness. Give me 1,000 people from GRU and within 6 months, I introduce them to the US and be able to seize all nuclear facilities. No war will not be simple. Either the US will accept unconditional surrender. Either will be destroyed. No missiles do not even need. I do not know what Putin generally tolerate the United States …

    • Abe
      August 2, 2015 at 21:28

      Raskolnikov! By order of Fearless Leader, I say with all seriousness. Give me two no-goodniks from Pottsylvania, and Moose and Squirrel will accept unconditional surrender. No missiles do not even need.

  5. Hillary
    August 2, 2015 at 11:50

    If 1% of the nuclear weapons now ready for war were detonated in large cities, they would utterly devastate the environment, climate, ecosystems and inhabitants of Earth. A war fought with thousands of strategic nuclear weapons would leave the Earth uninhabitable.

  6. Hillary
    August 2, 2015 at 10:59

    Advances in nuclear weapon technology costs the US Taxpayer $ Billions EVERY YEAR.
    There has never been a slow down in the nuclear arms race & for many years the US has looked to maximise a first strike capability.

    Israel the country representing 0.2% of the worlds population , after building nuclear weapons for 30 years ,threatened the US that their nuclear arsenal would be used in the 1973 Yom Kippur War,

    Israeli historian Van Creveld was quoted in David Hirst’s The Gun and the Olive Branch (2003) as saying: “We possess several hundred atomic warheads and rockets and can launch them at targets in all directions, perhaps even at Rome. Most European capitals are targets for our air force.”

  7. Abe
    August 1, 2015 at 23:38

    “Hair-trigger alert” is a U.S. military policy that enables the rapid launch of nuclear weapons. Missiles on hair-trigger alert are maintained in a ready-for-launch status, staffed by around-the-clock launch crews, and can be airborne in a matter of minutes.

    The hair-trigger policy has its roots in the Cold War. Military strategists feared a “bolt from the blue” Soviet first strike, involving hundreds or thousands of nuclear weapons that would compromise our ability to retaliate. By keeping land-based missiles on hair-trigger alert—and nuclear-armed bombers ready to take off—the United States could launch vulnerable weapons before they were hit by incoming Soviet warheads. This helped ensure retaliation, and was seen as a deterrent to a Soviet first strike—a concept known as “mutually-assured destruction,” or MAD.

    Submarines, which can’t be targeted when at sea, also kept weapons on hair-trigger alert. The decision to launch any nuclear weapon was based on information from radars and satellites, and remains so today.

    The United States no longer keeps its bombers armed and ready to take off. But even though a Russian first-strike is not a credible risk, the United States still keeps its 450 silo-based nuclear weapons, and hundreds of submarine-based weapons, on hair-trigger alert. Thousands more—around 3,500 total—are deployed on other submarines or bombers, or kept in reserve.

    Hair-trigger alert increases the risk of an accidental nuclear missile launch, or a deliberate launch in response to a false warning. The results of such a launch would be catastrophic: modern weapons are many times more powerful than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, capable of killing millions of people with a single warhead.

    The risks of hair-trigger alert aren’t theoretical. A training tape was once misinterpreted as reality, initiating the steps needed to launch an attack. A defective computer chip once falsely reported an incoming attack at a time of extremely high tensions. And radar and satellite systems have both delivered false positives, giving decision makers limited time to sort out the truth.

    Removing U.S. land-based missiles from hair-trigger alert would immediately reduce these risks. It would also encourage reciprocity from Russia, increasing our safety further. And because the United States deploys missiles on submarines—which are invulnerable to attack—we would maintain a nuclear deterrent against any first strike.

  8. Nexus789
    August 1, 2015 at 22:49

    Don’t you mean the mass murder of Japanese civilians.

  9. Abe
    August 1, 2015 at 21:37

    The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed as Senate Joint Resolution 23 by the United States Congress on September 14, 2001, authorizes the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the attacks on September 11, 2001.

    The AUMF, which remains in effect, allows the President of the United States “to take action to deter and prevent acts of terrorism against the United States” without consulting Congress, and the War Powers Resolution “allows” the president to attack anybody in the “global war on terror.”

    The AUMF has been cited by a wide variety of US officials as justification for continuing US military actions all over the world. Often the phrases “Al-Qaeda and associated forces” or “affiliated forces” have been used by these officials. However, that phrase does not appear in the AUMF.

    The 9/11 Commission Report, formally named Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, was issued in 20014. The report claimed that Iran had connections with al-Qaeda.

    Americans appear to be willing to support any course of action that could potentially protect them from real or imagined terrorist threats.

    During the George W. Bush Administration, National Security Presidential Directives (NSPDs) were used to promulgate Presidential decisions on national security matters.

    NSPD 17, National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction (2002) promises to respond to a WMD threat with nuclear weapons.

    NSPD 35, Nuclear Weapons Deployment Authorization (2004) is classified.

    Nevertheless, we can infer that every element needed for a nuclear strike on Iran remains “deployed”, primed and ready.

    Nuclear weapons enthusiasts who occupied key positions in the top echelons of the Bush administration, including Stephen Hadley, Robert Joseph and John Bolton, have been clamoring against the Iran nuclear deal. One can imagine how they might advise a future Republican President.

  10. Abe
    August 1, 2015 at 17:48

    Developed in 2005, the new US nuclear doctrine (Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations (DJNO) calls for “integrating conventional and nuclear attacks” under a unified and “integrated” Command and Control (C2).

    War planning is largely described as a management decision-making process, where military and strategic objectives are to be achieved, through a mix of instruments, with little concern for the resulting loss of human life.

    Military planning focuses on “the most efficient use of force”, i.e. an optimal arrangement of different weapons systems to achieve stated military goals. In this context, nuclear and conventional weapons are considered to be “part of the tool box”, from which military commanders can pick and choose the instruments that they require in accordance with “evolving circumstances” in the war theater.

    None of these weapons in the Pentagon’s “tool box”, including conventional bunker buster bombs, cluster bombs, mini-nukes, chemical and biological weapons are described as “weapons of mass destruction” when used by the United States of America and its coalition partners.

    • Abe
      August 1, 2015 at 20:59

      The following statements in the Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations suggest that tactical nuclear weapons have been already deployed and are ready to be used, given that “all options are on the table” with respect to Iran and that many of Iran’s facilities are underground:

      “Integrating conventional and nuclear attacks will ensure the most efficient use of force and provide U.S. leaders with a broader range of strike options to address immediate contingencies. Integration of conventional and nuclear forces is therefore crucial to the success of any comprehensive strategy. This integration will ensure optimal targeting, minimal collateral damage, and reduce the probability of escalation.”

      “Combatant commanders may consider the following target selection factors to determine how to defeat individual targets. … 1. Time sensitivity. 2. Hardness (ability to withstand conventional strikes). 3. Size of target. 4. Surrounding geology and depth (for underground targets). 5. Required level of damage.”

      “Nuclear weapons and associated systems may be deployed into theaters, but combatant commanders have no authority to employ them until that authority is specifically granted by the president.”

      “Deployed nuclear-strike capabilities include … theater-based, nuclear-capable dual-role aircraft.”

      “Nuclear-capable aircraft offer a greater degree of flexibility in escalation control because they may be a highly visible sign of resolve and, once ordered to conduct a nuclear strike, are recallable, if necessary. Aircraft-delivered weapons also provide strike capability across the range of nuclear operations.”

  11. Abe
    August 1, 2015 at 17:38

    A simulation of RNEP used against the Esfahan nuclear facility in Iran, using the software developed for the Pentagon, showed that 3 million people would be killed by radiation within 2 weeks of the explosion, and 35 million people in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India would be exposed to increased levels of cancer-causing radiation

    The Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP)
    By the Union of Concerned Scientists

  12. Abe
    August 1, 2015 at 17:35

    In a twisted logic, a “humanitarian war” using tactical nuclear weapons, which according to “expert scientific opinion” are “harmless to the surrounding civilian population” is upheld as a means to protecting Israel and the Western World from a nuclear attack.

    America’s mini-nukes with an explosive capacity of up to six times a Hiroshima bomb are upheld by authoritative scientific opinion as a humanitarian bomb, whereas Iran’s nonexistent nuclear weapons are branded as an indisputable threat to global security.

    When a US sponsored nuclear war become an “instrument of peace”, condoned and accepted by the World’s institutions and the highest authority, including the United Nations, there is no turning back: human society has indelibly been precipitated headlong onto the path of self-destruction.

    Planned US-Israeli Attack on Iran
    By Michel Chossudovsky

  13. Abe
    August 1, 2015 at 15:30

    Suppressed U.S. Military Film on the Medical Effects of the Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki filmed by an Army Air Force squad in 1946.

  14. Andoheb
    August 1, 2015 at 12:53

    If nukes are ever effectively banned, would not be surprised if this triggers an enormous hike in stocks of chemical and biological weapons. The human drive for self destruction seems unstoppable.

  15. mememine69
    August 1, 2015 at 09:50

    ISIS is offering the United Nations a nuclear winter to help try and reverse the effects of unstoppable warming of the planet Earth.

    • Aman
      August 1, 2015 at 10:03

      That shouldn’t surprise anyone that knows ISIS is the creation of Israel’s preplanned wars, as carried out by Israel’s patsy, the US government, against Iraq, Libya, Syria and Iran.

      Here’s an excellent summary of events covering roughly the last two decades:

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