The Logic of the Nuclear Age: The Insanity of Our Nuclear Weapons Policy via The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

By E. Martin Schotz, MD/ peaceworker

Let us begin by examining two moments from the media in the past year.  The first occurred on Radio 360  during a segment exploring under what conditions the United States might launch nuclear weapons.  At one point the host exclaimed, “Well we wouldn’t want to blow up the world, if we didn’t have a good reason to do so.”  Put a check by that comment.  We will come back to it.  The second moment was a question a reporter put to Senator Bernie Sanders as to whether he would be willing to push the nuclear button.  The sense of the question was that to be qualified to be President of the United States you had to be willing to “push the button.”

How did we ever get into this situation, where we are planning to blow up the world and need to make sure we have a “good reason” to do so, and  in which in order to be considered competent to be President of the United States, you have to be willing to blow up the world.  This is literally the absurd criminal insanity in which we are living with nuclear weapons.  How has this come about?  By what means have we as otherwise sane human beings allowed ourselves to be put in such a situation?  How can political representatives and military officials who ordinarily appear sane participate in such a situation?

I want to suggest in this essay that one key to understanding this insanity rests on our failure to grasp the irrationality of the concept “nuclear deterrence.”  Albert Einstein at the dawn of the nuclear age famously warned that “the splitting of the atom has changed everything in the world except our mode of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled  catastrophe.” 


Nuclear war does not begin with the weapons going off.  It ends with the weapons going off.  Thus the existence of nuclear weapons forces us to think of nuclear war as beginning prior to their being exploded.  Nuclear war must be seen as a process, a process in which the weapons are developed, tested and deployed.  A process in which war propaganda conditions the population to believe other countries are their enemies.  Looked at from this vantage point we must recognize that we are in a nuclear war right now. 

The idea that the US and Russia are separate, is not operative, when it comes to nuclear weapons.  Thus the age old moral adage – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” — this moral adage in the nuclear age has been turned into a practical necessity.  We cannot afford to see Russia as an enemy and Russia cannot afford to see us as an enemy.  We must see each other a partners in survival.  

Once the  US and Russia see each other as partners in survival, they would be in a position to work together to help other nations join in the process.  This is the way an international ban on nuclear weapons can eventually be achieved.

For those who find what has been written here unbelievable and say, “There is no way our officials could be so irresponsible”, an anecdote may be instructive.  Physicians for Social Responsibility, one of the leading organizations in the US for nuclear abolition, was begun in 1961, when a group of physicians decided to publish an article in The New England Journal of Medicine detailing what would be the result of a nuclear attack on Boston.  Following its publication the source of the largest number of requests for copies of the article came from the Pentagon.  It turned out that the Pentagon had developed and deployed a massive arsenal of nuclear weapons without taking the trouble to investigate what would happen if the arsenal was used.

Finally I want to quote the words of Four Star General Lee Butler who from 1991 to 1994 was commander of all US strategic nuclear forces.  Within two years of retiring from the Air Force he began traveling the world as an outspoken nuclear abolitionist.


… We cannot at once keep sacred the miracle of existence and hold sacrosanct the capacity to destroy it…..  We cannot sit in silent acquiescence to the faded homilies of the nuclear priesthood.  It is time to reassert the primacy of individual conscience, the voice of reason and the rightful interests of humanity.  (speech at the National Press Club, February 2, 1998)

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