Dictionary of Revolutionary Marxism

—   Nu - Nz   —

NUCLEAR WAR — Close Calls
Because of the outrageous preparations by imperialist powers for yet another world war, next time almost certainly involving nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, and because of the arrogance and recklessness with which these imperialist powers operate, there have already been a number of very close calls where all-out nuclear war could have easily begun. The most famous of these was the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 in which the U.S. was determined to start such a war if Khrushchev did not back down about stationing nuclear-armed ballistic missiles in Cuba (in the same way that the U.S. had already done in Turkey and aimed at the USSR). There were other very tense political periods during the Cold War as well, and serious considerations by the U.S. about using nuclear weapons in Vietnam and against China in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
        In addition to these periodic political tensions and threats there were also a number of occasions when the outbreak of nuclear war through accident came close to happening. (See quote below.)
        Although the old Cold War ended with the collapse of the state-capitalist Soviet Union in 1991, a new Cold War is now gradually building up, this time between the U.S. again and China (or a possible alliance of China with Russia). The world will be very lucky indeed if an inter-imperialist world war involving the extensive use of nuclear weapons does not occur in the 21st century. Capitalist-imperialism continues to be a very dangerous threat to the continued existence of humanity.

“On November 9, 1979, a computer problem led NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) to make a false report of an incoming full-scale Soviet attack on the United States. The USA made emergency retaliation preparations before data from early-warning radar systems showed that no attack had been launched. On September 26, 1983, the malfunctioning Soviet Oko nuclear early-warning system reported an incoming US missile strike. The report was correctly identified as a false alarm by the duty officer at the command center, Stanislav Petrov: a decision that has been credited with preventing thermonuclear war. It appears that a war would probably have fallen short of causing human extinction, even if it had been fought with the combined arsenals held by all the nuclear powers at the height of the Cold War, though it would have ruined civilization and caused unimaginable death and suffering. But bigger stockpiles might be accumulated in future arms races, or even deadlier weapons might be invented, or our models of the impacts of a nuclear Armageddon (particularly of the severity of the consequent nuclear winter) might be wrong.” —Nick Bostrom, Superintelligence (2014), p. 357 note 12.

“The ‘button’ can also morph into a perverse temptation for an unstable leader. In 1974, during his impeachment proceedings, President Richard M. Nixon said to reporters: ‘I can go into my office and pick up the telephone and in 25 minutes, 70 million people will be dead.’ Worried about Nixon’s state of mind at the time, Defense Secretary James Schlesinger asked to be notified before any nuclear launch order from Nixon was executed.” —Editors, “Take Nukes Off a Short Fuse”, Scientific American, March 2017, p. 10.

Atom bombs (based on nuclear fission) and thermonuclear bombs (based on nuclear fusion), the most terrible weapons of mass destruction of our era.

“The complete banning and destruction of nuclear weapons is an important task in the struggle to defend world peace. We must do our utmost to this end.
         “Nuclear weapons are unprecidentedly destructive, which is why for more than a decade now the U.S. imperialists have been pursuing their policy of nuclear blackmail in order to realize their ambition of enslaving the people of all countries and dominating the world.
         “But when the imperialists threaten other countries with nuclear weapons, they subject the people in their own country to the same threat, thus arousing them against nuclear weapons and against the imperialist policies of aggression and war. At the same time, in their vain hope of destroying their opponents with nuclear weapons, the imperialists are in fact subjecting themselves to the danger of being destroyed.
         “The possibility of banning nuclear weapons does indeed exist. However, if the imperialists are forced to accept an agreement to ban nuclear weapons, it decidedly will not be because of their ‘love for humanity’ but because of the pressure of the people of all countries and for the sake of their own vital interests.” —A Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement: The letter of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in reply to the letter of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of March 30, 1963 (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1963), p. 32.

NUCLEAR WEAPONS — America’s Use of in World War II

“Japan was already defeated... It was’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.” —Dwight D. Eisenhower, speaking of the U.S. atomic attack on Japan at the close of the war. Quoted in the San Francisco Examiner, Aug 5, 1990, p. D-15.

“Truman listened carefully to [Secretary of State James F.] Byrnes’s advice. At about the date of Byrnes’s appointment, the new secretary told Truman that (these are Truman’s words) ‘in his belief the atomic bomb might well put us in a position to dictate our own terms at the end of the war.’ Later, in May 1945, during a White House meeting at which the nuclear physicist Leo Szilard was present, Byrnes, according to Szilard, ‘did not argue that it was necessary to use the bomb against the cities of Japan in order to win the war. Mr. Byrnes’ view [was] that our possessing and demonstrating the bomb would make Russia more manageable in Europe.’” —Robert Smith Thompson, The Eagle Triumphant: How America Took Over the British Empire (2004), p. 311.

“Particularly important is the light shed on the American decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945. At the time, the justifications were murky: some hoped the terrifying display would avoid what they feared would have been a bloody invasion. Others wanted to test the bombs on which so many billions of dollars had been spent. Still others had their eye on post-war diplomacy, seeking to intimidate the Soviet Union and secure American dominance. Newly declassified files show unambiguously that America was aware of Japanese attempts to sue for peace before the bombs were dropped, undermining the military reasoning for using the weapons.” —The Economist, “A Rush of Energy”, Aug. 27, 2009. [Even a reactionary publication like The Economist now implicitly agrees that this episode of imperialist mass murder and genocide must have been done primarily as a warning to the Soviet Union that U.S. imperialism would be the top dog in the post-World War II world. —S.H.]

NUCLEAR WEAPONS — Current Arsenals
As of 2016 nine countries in the world possess a total of over 15,000 nuclear warheads. The United States and Russia have 93 percent of them. Although this is down from the vast numbers possessed by the two powers in the late 1980s—around 60,000 in total at that time—there are still more than enough such weapons to destroy human civilization if not wipe out humanity entirely. And of course many more such weapons can be quickly made during any developing political crisis. The chart at the right from the NBC News website at
http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/fact-sheet-who-has-nuclear-weapons-how-many-do-they-n548481 shows the number of warheads for 8 of the countries. North Korea also has a small number of nuclear weapons, perhaps as many as 15, though it has not yet demonstrated the ability to mount them on reliable missile delivery systems. Many other countries, including Japan and Germany, could very quickly produce nuclear weapons if they should choose to do so.

NUCLEAR WEAPONS — First Use Policy
Most nuclear powers, including China and the old Soviet Union, have promised that they will never be the first to use nuclear weapons and that if they use them at all it will only be in retaliation for the use of such weapons against them. The one country which has never promised this, is the United States. In fact, quite the contrary, the United States has often considered using such weapons first. Not only is the U.S. the only country to have actually used nuclear weapons (against Japan during World War II), they have seriously considered using them on several other occasions, including against China during the Vietnam War. During the early 1950s the U.S. even considered giving such weapons to France to use against the peasant-based Viet Minh in Vietnam. And at the present time, President Trump has threatened to use them first against North Korea. The American imperialists continue to threaten mass murder and genocide, even beyond the levels they engage in on a routine daily basis.

“[U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles] was at his most zealous in his discussion of nuclear arms policy. He proposed an unsettling shift in thinking about America’s fearsome nuclear arsenal, moving away from the concept of doomsday weapons as an instrument of last resort to one of first resort. The United States must reserve the right to massively retaliate against any Soviet aggression in the world, wherever and whenever it chose, he wrote. By making it clear to the world that Washington was not afraid to wield its nuclear arms as if they were conventional weapons of war, the United States would gain a commanding strategic advantage. It was the type of leverage enjoyed by a heavily armed madman in a crowded room. But Foster had a more diplomatic way of expressing it. Weapons of mass destruction ‘in the hands of statesmen ... could serve as effective political weapons in the defense of peace.’
         “Foster further sweetened his argument by pointing out that a nuclear-based military strategy would help contain the growing costs of America’s ‘far-flung, extravagant’ defense complex that was threatening to bankrupt the nation. Instead of maintaining an expensive troop presence at every global flashpoint, Foster wrote, all the United States had to do was keep a ready finger on its nuclear trigger.
         “Even master of war Eisenhower was initially taken aback by Foster’s proposal for a ‘first-use’ nuclear strategy.... But Eisenhower did share Foster’s passionate anti-Communism. And the cost efficiencies of the massive retaliation strategy appealed to the budget-minded general, who was equally concerned about the growing burden of military spending on the economy. So began the reign of nuclear terror—or ‘brinksmanship’—that would hold the world in its grip for the next decade.” —David Talbot, Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government (2015), pp. 201-2.

“From the beginning of the [Eisenhower] administration, Secretary of State [John Foster] Dulles argued that the United States must overcome the ‘taboo’ against nuclear weapons. At a February 1953 National Security Council meeting, just three weeks into Eisenhower’s presidency, Foster raised what he called ‘the moral problem’ that hovered over all nuclear decision-making. He was not referring to the profound questions about mass slaughter and human survival. Foster meant the moral revulsion against doomsday weapons that prevented policy makers from seriously contemplating their use....
         “Foster seemed to have a chillingly remote perspective on what it means to drop a nuclear bomb. When the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu was on the verge of collapse, he offered to give two ‘A-bombs’ to French foreign minister Georges Bidault. The French official was deeply shaken by Foster’s blithe offer. Bidault responded ‘without having to do much thinking on the subject.’ He pointed out to Foster that ‘if those bombs are dropped near Dien Bien Phu, our side will suffer as much as the enemy.’ Likewise, during the Formosa Strait crisis, Foster was surprised to learn that the ‘precision’ nuclear bombing of Chinese targets that he was advocating would kill more than ten million civilians. Still, he was not chastened enough to stop his campaign to ‘punish’ the Chinese.” —David Talbot, ibid., pp. 244-5.



“President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill were so intent on meting out a fitting punishment [to the Nazi war criminals] that they originally favored taking the law into their own hands and summarily shooting Hitler’s top military, ministerial, and party ranks—Churchill estimated the number would be somewhere between fifty and a hundred men. The prime minister thought that once the proper identifications were made, the killing could be completed within six hours. In one of history’s deeper ironies, it was Joseph Stalin who insisted that the Nazi leaders be put on trial, lecturing his Western allies on the merits of due process. ‘U[ncle]. J[oe]. took an unexpectedly ultra-respectable line,’ Churchill wrote Roosevelt after meeting with Stalin in Moscow in October 1944. The Soviet premier told Churchill that ‘there must be no executions without trial: otherwise the world would say we were afraid to try them.’” —David Talbot, Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government (2015), p. 62. [Talbot is a liberal bourgeois writer. —Ed.]

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