You remember MAD, right? (I put the periods in the title so that it’s clearer that it’s not that I’m mad about something.) The concept that, because each of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. maintained a nuclear triad with second-strike capability, neither would launch a first-strike nuclear attack because of the certainty that the other would retailate. Mutual Assured Destruction — and it seemed to have worked pretty successfully.
I’m thinking of this because Obama’s speech at Hiroshima (see my prior post) has inspired, not just the usual “we had to do it” essays but a contrarian viewpoint, coming across my facebook news feed, making the claim that, regardless of how much longer the war would have lasted, it was still not justified to have bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, because it is immoral to target civilians, regardless of whether your opponent has done so first. Hence, the atom bomb was immoral. The firebombing of Tokyo or Dresden was wrong. The conventional bombing of cities across Germany and Japan was immoral — only conventional warfare, in which your army directly confronts the enemy’s army, as well as, perhaps, bombing runs limited to weapons factories, are acceptable, even if you’re the “good guy”.
Now, this almost reads as if I’m building a straw man here. But here’s some reading from a fellow Patheos blogger.
And there are two issues that I’d like to explore.
First: why, exactly, is it that we make the differentiation between civilians and military? Consider the Nazis: their civilians were as brainwashed to support Hitler’s ideology as their soldiers. And, on the other hand, their soldiers were typically conscripts, not volunteers.
Second, the entire concept of MAD relies on the retaliatory targeting of civilians. Had the unthinkable happened, there would have been no national debate, of course — a second-strike capability, if the first-strike was as large as was assumed to be, required immediate action. But in the year 2016, we’re more concerned about an attack from a rogue actor. If the North Koreans launched an attack on Seoul, would we obliterate Pyongyang? If Iran attacked Tel Aviv, would we wipe Tehran off the map? (Well, OK, in that case, the Israelis might not even need our help.) And if ISIS got their hands on a nuclear bomb, what would our retaliatory target be?
For your consideration.
Image: a 1953 nuclear bomb test. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AOperation_Upshot-Knothole_-_Badger_001.jpg; By Photo courtesy of National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons