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Five myths about nuclear weapons via The Washington Post

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Myth No. 1
Nuclear weapons haven’t been used since Nagasaki.

In 2008 Cambridge University Press published a book titled “The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons since 1945” by international relations scholar Nina Tannenwald. The suggestion — that nuclear weapons haven’t been used whatsoever since the bombing of Nagasaki — has made its way into textbooks and magazines, with one 2014 Boston Review article wondering “nuclear weapons haven’t been used since 1945. Is the persistence of the arsenal really a problem?”

Although nuclear weapons have not been used again in combat, they’ve been detonated 2,055 times since Aug. 9, 1945, mostly by the United States and the Soviet Union. These tests have been both demonstrations of force, and experiments with weapon design and effectiveness. From 1946 to 1958, for example, the United States exploded the equivalent of 1.6 Hiroshima bombs every day in the Marshall Islands to study the weaponry and intimidate Moscow; the USSR wrought similar devastation near the Arctic Circle and in present-day Kazakhstan.

Myth No. 2
Nuclear weapons keep the peace.

“The sensible path to peace starts with the realization that peace can be secured only through strength,” Robert Spalding, a military fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in The Washington Post in 2013, adding that “nuclear weapons represent that strength.” In 2009, Jonathan Tepperman, then deputy editor of Newsweek International,argued that nuclear weapons ensure peace by “making the costs of war obvious, inevitable, and unacceptable.”

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If fear of nuclear war prevents leaders from taking steps that might lead to nuclear war, and if Kennedy knew that blockading Cuba might result in nuclear war, then why wasn’t Kennedy deterred?” Ward Wilson wrote in his book “5 Myths about Nuclear Weapons.”

A non-nuclear explosion laced with radioactive materials (a dirty bomb) is a more likely and far less destructive scenario: Since 1995 there have been 2,889 confirmed cases of lost, stolen or misused nuclear or radioactive material, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Also more likely: a major nuclear accident. From 1950 to 1968, at least 1,200 nuclear weapons were involved in “significant” incidents in the United States, according to Eric Schlosser’s book “Command and Control,” which details a 1980 explosion at an Arkansas missile silo that threw a thermonuclear warhead into the sky. And from 2009 to 2013 there were 1,500 reportable incidents involving U.S. nukes or the systems that manage them, according to the anti-nuclear nonprofit Global Zero.

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