In 500 B.C, Leucippus postulated the theory of atoms and void. In the succeeding 2,400 years, men of science and learning tried to make sense of what made things' things. Particles, atoms, matter and mass were all discoveries and theories. Eventually the relativity of mass to space was conceived. How were things "created?" Was the Earth and everything on the Earth just "fallout" from some enormous celestial "bang?" If so, then everything - atoms, particles, matter - had some relativity to this bang. If that was so, then these Earthly atoms had the potential to explode. They just had to be coaxed into doing so.
In the early 1900s, Viennese scientist Albert Einstein studied this. The result was the theory of relativity. I make no pretense at understanding it at all, but a lot of scientists did understand it and went forth figuring it out.
In the 1930's, discoveries about the fissioning of atoms by Enrico Fermi, Otto Hahn, Fritz Strassmann and Lise Meitner laid the groundwork for the development of nuclear weapons in the next decade.
During World War II, the Manhattan Project built and tested the first atomic bombs. This was the beginning of the arms race, first with the Nazis, then the Soviets, and eventually much of the world. J. Robert Oppenheimer, along with Edward Teller, ran the Los Alamos facility where the atomic bomb was devised. Teller was a patriotic American whose main goal was to arm his country with a weapon that would could defeat the Axis powers and keep any future enemies from engaging in aggressive war against the U.S.
Oppenheimer was a horse of a different color. A prominent scientist from the University of California, he might be considered the first Berkeley radical. With war raging overseas, Oppenheimer battled his Army boss, General Leslie Groves, tooth and nail. The way Groves saw it, Oppenheimer's job was to build the atomic bomb and build it fast. Oppenheimer attached a psychological fixation to his creation, as if it was his child. He seemed to resent the fact that he was expected to turn it over to the government to do with it what they pleased.
Oppenheimer was a patriot, but his strong liberal views gave him pause. He questioned whether it was healthy for America to be as powerful as the bomb would make it. He had reservations about making the most destructive weapon in history, because he was not comfortable with the concept of warfare. The fact that using the bomb would save American lives did not deter his reservations. He agonized over the fact that German or Japanese lives would be lost instead. In many ways, Oppenheimer's liberalism was a good thing. The atomic bomb was too powerful, and using it was too serious an issue to simply be done without giving great and conscientious thought to the act. There were many in the U.S. who saw it simply as a military device, damn the consequences. Using it was not immoral. Using it without agonizing about it would have been.
Where Oppenheimer swayed from liberal to something else - not a spy, not a traitor, but decidedly more dangerous than a "useful idiot" - occurred after the war. The Soviets wanted to know how to make an atomic bomb. Oppenheimer told them. He did not pass them secrets the way Julius and Ethel Rosenberg did. In the post-war era, hopeful "cultural exchanges" were arranged by the embassies. Oppenheimer befriended Soviet scientists. In private they discussed the atomic bomb. The scientists "agreed" that the military and the politicians were crass, not morally capable of handling the responsibility of atomic weaponry. Oppenheimer was quickly identified as a soft target, and the "scientists" he casually spoke to at cocktail parties were Soviet intelligence agents. Over time, Oppenheimer told them enough for them to piece the puzzle together. In 1949, the Soviets exploded their weapon. This event, combined with China's Communist take-over, emboldened them to give the go-ahead to the Korean War.
In the 1950s, space travel and bomb shelters dominated the thinking. The United States built the first Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles in 1958.
In the 1960s, France and China joined the "Nuclear Club." The Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world close enough to see the brink. This and the Vietnam War gave rise to social demonstrations across the Western world, demanding nuclear disarmament.
In the 1970s, the SALT I and Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaties opened the decade. The end of the Vietnam War was followed by the SALT II agreement. The tragic accident at Three Mile Island nuclear energy plant created added worry in the minds of Americans, who now feared not only nuclear war started by the Soviets or started by the Americans, but also fallout created by accident.
In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan declared the U.S.S.R. to be the "the evil empire." Reagan's Administration engineered a massive build-up of nuclear arms. In 1985, Israel was found to have up to 200 nuclear weapons. Reagan began testing a program called the Strategic Defensive Initiative (SDI). Pundits called it "Star Wars." The Soviets called it quits. In an effort to keep up with the U.S., the Soviets simply bankrupted themselves. Communism was not able to sustain an economy that could compete with the Americans. Star Wars, even though it did not materialize into a viable shield against incoming nukes, so frightened the Soviets that they felt compelled to match it or declare defeat. By the end of the decade, they were defeated and the U.S. won Cold War when glasnost exploded into a mostly peaceful revolution across the former-Soviet block.
In the 1990s, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus chose to give up their nuclear arsenals, inherited from the former Soviet Union. Other nuclear weapons states did not follow suit. By the end of the decade two other countries, India then Pakistan, tested nuclear weapons.
In the 2000s, the U.S. again began the Star Wars program in an effort to shield the country from any future nuclear missile threat.
The creation and military use of the atomic bomb, followed by the "arms race," the "space race," the "missile gap," nuclear weapons and military build-up of the Cold War, has been the source of the greatest controversy in the world over the previous 60 years. It has been the driving argument of liberalism and the wedge that most separated the right from the Left, and the doves from the hawks.
The atomic bomb has been determined by history to be a weapon that was justified. Nuclear arms, despite their terrifying dangers, have helped save the world from World War III, and the existence of these weapons are the pre-eminent factor behind American Cold War victory. All of these statements have a certain jingoistic flavor to them. There are still nuclear, chemical and biological weapons available to terrorists, Communist remnants and rogue states. Something terribly wrong could still happen; an attack, a mistake, a miscalculation. If this happens, the "victorious" language that describes the "American victory scenario" will not sound so rosy. As of this writing, it is still just a scenario.
There have been nuclear disasters in the past, too. Vice-President Nixon advocated the use of tactical atomic weapons at Dien Bien-phu in 1954. Had we done this, the consequences could have been enormous. On the one hand, there would have been fall-out in Southeast Asia that would have killed many civilians far from the central battleground. The world would have judged the U.S. harshly for using these kinds of weapons against a Third World country. Our moral high ground would have been challenged.
However, there is a flip side to it. The Communists would most likely have been completely defeated and the Vietnam War would never have been fought. Vietnam would have remained a French colony, and hopefully over time earned independence on their own terms. The rest of the Communist world would have been shocked and angered. The sheer military power of the U.S., demonstrated so blatantly not just in the act but by having the will to do so, might have caused international Communism to crumble in the face of pragmatic reality - from Korea to Southeast Asia to China to Eastern Europe. The forces that brought revolution, Communism and missiles to Cuba may never have gotten off the ground. This is all hypothesis, and the truth lies somewhere in the murky never-know land of what-might-have-been.
Aside from the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, Three Mile Island demonstrated that nuclear fallout could be a dangerous hazard even without any, and in 1986 the Soviets experienced a meltdown of horrendous proportions at Chernobyl.
Nuclear arms have every appearance of being the devil's ultimate weapon. There is no guarantee that someday it will not prove to be just that. But the bottom line is that America made more of them, made them better, and used them, more effectively, than their adversaries. If God has sanctioned America, then one is obligated to thank Him for the science, technology and know-how that has allowed for a dominant United States, as opposed to a dominant "somebody else." Like despot Third World dictators propped up by the CIA, and questionable alliances America made to battle the greater evils of the world, nuclear arms are the dangerous "friends" whose reality we accepted in a dangerous world. We accepted those realities because they were going to be built no matter what, and if we did not build them better and faster than the "other guys," they would have been used against us.
The Germans had begun the program under Hitler. Had the U.S. not developed the atom bomb, the Germans would have and it would have been dropped on us, and our allies, with impunity. Even if we had finished World War II by conventional means, the Soviets still would have had some of those German scientists. Even if the U.S. never had the A-bomb, disdained hydrogen and nuclear research, and not engaged in a "space race" or "arms race," the Soviets would have developed the weaponry. It would have taken them longer to do it. Much of their research was based on secrets stolen, spied on or handed to them by American traitors. If such research were not taking place in the West, the Russians would have had to make their own research. Chances are this would have pushed them back for an unspecified time, say 20 or 30 years.
This brings up an interesting point, one the Left would like to believe. If nobody had the technology, and nukes were not created, how would the East-West military showdown have played out in Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, and Berlin? Without nuclear arms, are these showdowns just standoffs? Are they confined to "regional conflicts" when unrestricted by nuclear arms? Is it reasonable to believe that Europe would have avoided war if nuclear weapons were not aimed at both sides?
This question does not place all the onus of attack on the Soviets, by any stretch of the imagination. Strong U.S. military elements would have lobbied long and hard to effect a "first strike" option against the Russians, most likely in Europe. 11 Presidents, Democrat and Republican, with all the disparate elements of advice and pressure that their respective advisors have brought to the table in 59 years, would have been pitted against nine Soviet (and Russian) premiers. Without the threat of nuclear war, the chances that World War III would not have broken out are, in this man's opinion, not very good. The Left would like to believe otherwise. They have this right. I only thank God they did not have the power to preside over such a slippery slope of events.
The U.S., in accepting its responsibility - a responsibility charged to it by the Free World even if one does not believe in such a thing as God's destiny - has been forced by circumstances to mix it up with some very unsavory elements. We have not had the luxury of standing on the sidelines, our hands and conscience clean. The game is not played that way, and we had to learn how to play it better than anybody.
The arms race was the age of acronyms. MIRV, SAM, ICBM. The most famous was MAD, which stood for Mutually Assured Destruction. The fact that this dangerous philosophy was the cornerstone of eventual American triumph, and in particular was the backbone of the man ultimately responsible for that triumph, Ronald Reagan, does not change the fact that some luck might have been involved. Maybe it was not "luck." Maybe it was God's grace shed on thee. Who knows? Triumphal language written by the winners (that being Americans, and in particular conservative Americans) needs to be tempered by some deep prayer. That is just my opinion.
MAD was a philosophy; that both nations had the power to destroy each other completely in the event of an attack. The nations had enough weapons do destroy the other, could detect a first strike before it arrived, and were able to respond adequately before hit by the first strike. The invention and perfection of the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) was the beginning of MAD. The ICBM was a creation of the space program.
The aim of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. was to decrease the amount of response time in the other's defense system. This created the tense practice of putting nukes in the others' "backyards." The Americans put nukes in Turkey, and the Soviets in turn tried to put them in Cuba. Both sites were dismantled after the '62 crisis. Had weapons been fired from either of these locations, response times in key cities like Washington would have been very short.
SLBM, or submarine launched ballistic missiles, were nukes that could be fired from undetected locations immediately off of the enemy's coastline. Admiral Hyman Rickover, the architect of the "nuclear Navy" in the 1950s, was most responsible for this set of circumstances. The prospect for destabilization was most unsettling. People worried about submarines; mobile, undetected, "silent killers" of the deep ocean. What if they crashed or were attacked? What if they were cut off from communication? The scenario of a sub, alone and unsure of what was happening on the Earth's surface, starting a nuclear war without access to the "big picture," was a nightmare scenario that had more reality attached to it than a Tom Clancy novel, and was the focus of the 1995 film "Crimson Tide".
My own brother was an officer on a nuclear submarine, and I can tell you that he was a special breed. The kind of man capable of living for extended periods under water, and in his case sometimes under the Arctic ice flow, is somebody who does not possess the normal fears and anxieties of the human condition.
The SLBMs were dangerous because they disrupted the concept of MAD. If fired effectively enough from a close enough range, they had the potential of de-stabilizing the enemy before they could respond effectively. This created two fears. One was that the Americans would think they could "win" a nuclear war launched from subs. The other was that the Soviet would try it.
Spy planes flew over Russia and photographed missile sites. Shortly after World War II, an American U-2 spy plane was shot down in Russia, having been photographing inside the country. It was surprised by a surface-to-air missile. The pilot was taken prisoner and the plane was dismantled for help in developing Soviet technology. In the late 1960s, the U-2 was replaced by the SR-71. It flew higher and faster than missiles. It could also fly higher along (but not supposedly not inside) Russia's borders, and had high-powered photographic equipment allowing it to take pictures over a large territory.
Sputnik had been the first spy satellite. Satellites were an effective way of spying. International law protected them from destruction. They could fly anywhere and take pictures of nations. Satellites made spy planes obsolete. The fact that both the U.S. and the Soviet Union had satellites, oddly, had a calming effect on the Cold War. We knew they knew, and they knew we knew. It all had the surreal effect of being a big game, a chess match. Espionage, in Berlin, Prague, Washington, the United Nations, in Latin America and the Orient, all became part of this game. The satellite confirmed so much that espionage became an adjunct of the technology. One-upsmanship, confirmation, blackmail, double-crossing, counter-espionage, defections, and double agents were wrapped up in a weird new twi-light world in which everybody knew everything. The KGB and CIA knew the principals by name; all the secrets, the affairs, the homosexuality, the alcoholism, drug addiction, child molestation, gambling, debts, and bad marriages became pawns in this world within a world. Technology became king. Better photography. Satellite tasking. Eavesdropping equipment. Bugs and moles. Espionage, thanks to the technology, became its own means, and less the life-and-death affairs that marked state secrets. Satellites could read license plates on cars. Now, the technology is used for upper-atmosphere research.
MAD scared hell out of people, which in the long run is what it was supposed to do. It was a deterrent. A "hot war" was never feasible. It allowed the natural fruits of Western freedom, capitalism, technology and education, to rise up and manifest themselves as the superior entities that they were. The Soviet Union was reduced to the knowledge that they faced either capitulation or suicide. The key was to prevent the kind of elements taking over in their world that could accept suicide.
Beyond worrying about "mad" Soviet leaders and "cowboy" Presidents, another threat was not their use, but misuse or disposal. They could be accidentally fired or used in a state of confusion.
The U.S. began work to detonate an atomic weapon on the Moon in the late 1950s. Noted scientist Carl Sagan was a graduate student, asked to calculate the project. A fission devise in a missile was to detonate on impact with the Moon, clearly visible from Earth. The idea was that it would reassure Americans of superiority while further scaring some Jesus into the Soviets. The program did not materialize because of the fear that a missile could veer off course and explode on Earth. Scientists also could not accurately predict the effects on the Moon, whose rotation affects sea tables on the Earth.
Conventional warfare capability increased greatly throughout the "arms race." Fast-attack submarines could seek out and destroy big nuclear missile subs. Attack planes could combat enemy bombers. Anti-missile systems, such as the Star Wars laser concept, were tried in an effort to destroy incoming missiles prior to reaching their targets. Military budgets became enormous. Vietnam spurred the U.S. into developing "light-action" field weapons that would give America the advantage in urban and open combat scenarios where nukes were not an option. The extraordinary success of this has been demonstrated to great advantage in the Persian Gulf War and the Iraq War I.
Could the Cold War and the "arms race" have been prevented? The roots of the conflict are found at Yalta. The influence of Harry Hopkins, Alger Hiss and other Soviet spies embedded in the U.S. government is debatable. Whether they influenced a dying FDR into "giving away the store" is a charge that conservatives may like to make. They may have a point, but the whole question is not one that can be answered succinctly. The concept behind it is one that says Communism could be "stopped," at least at the "water's edge."
Marxism-Leninism was a concept that was going to come. It was going to have its day. To "stop it" would have required a re-working of European history too enormous for any strategic planners, even time travelers. It was the result of centuries of European imperialism, colonialism, wars, poverty, racism and greed.
Given the nature of Communism and Stalin, the Soviets viewed expansion into Eastern Europe and beyond as their "manifest destiny." They justified it out of historical context, comparing it with American Westward expansion and the British Empire, all mixed with justifiable fear of invasion. Given these variables, blaming Hiss and Hopkins for Stalinist militarism is going too far.
History ebbs and flows in strange forms. Had the United States "hard-lined" the Russians in the postwar era, the Soviets might have been dangerously vulnerable along its borders. Isolated from Europe but armed with advancements in technology, the Soviet Union may have felt the need to use weapons of mass destruction to get what was "denied" them. This is just a theory, but if it holds weight it means that the subjugation of Eastern Europe meant all those people were "sacrificed" for the greater good. This is, of course, the great conundrum of war and history, from Troy to Baghdad. What calculations are feasible in determining how many must die so others may live?
World War II attached Russia to the European Continent. No longer isolated, it became the center of attention, instead of a distant prize for Napoleon.
Because Russia controlled East Germany and Poland, and found itself face-to-face with a Western Europe that was hegemonized by America, it also found itself in the odd situation of being "too close" to use its weapons. Not only were they close to weapons pointed at them, but also they were faced with the prospect of blowing up their "neighbors." A strange combination of fear and ethics entered the Cold War equation.
Nuclear weapons, like guns, became symbols of man's imperfections. Absent accidents at nuclear power plants, in silos or on subs, the weapons themselves were only as dangerous as the people who handled them. The greatest purpose of nukes was to create fear. Fear, in this case, was good, just as Christian guilt is good. Both fear and guilt were the stopgaps that prevented people from doing stupid, dangerous and wrong things.
The "arms race" created a new American Empire. Instead of colonies, spheres of influence were developed. Alliances have proven to be stronger than imperialist colonialism. In winning the ultimate battle for spheres of influence, the U.S. emerged as the most powerful empire in the history of Mankind.
The Soviets were at a distinct disadvantage in the battle for influence because they used Eastern Europe to create "buffer states." These buffer states found themselves being used as de facto hostages, as if the Russians were holding a gun to their heads and telling the Americans that if we fired, they would kill them. American influence succeeded because Western Europe and other allies did not view themselves as buffers between the U.S. and Communism. They did not want Communism, so the U.S. became their partner and protector, not their captor.
In many ways, the final chapter has not been written regarding nuclear weapons. Certainly, as regards the Cold War, they were a very big reason, if not the biggest reason, that we prevailed. A world in which the U.S. has them but nobody else does would be a very good thing. A world in which the U.S. and a few of our selected friends have them would be good, too. But this is not the case. Countries that we wish did not have them do possess them. Furthermore, terrorists may get their hands on them. This has the frightening prospect of being a "not if, but when" scenario.
Nukes are not the only weapons of mass destruction on the open market. Chemical and biological weapons that can poison the atmosphere, the environment and the water supply are out there. Some bio-weapons are so lethal that a few drops can wipe out large swaths of territory and population. While we are thankful that the U.S. has the so-called "upper hand" when it comes to research, defense, technology and intelligence, we are not invulnerable.
Nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction represent the conundrum of Mankind, and bring back a central point of this work. God and Satan are constantly at battle with each other. The way Satan gets his licks in is by making good men do his work. Good men like Edward Teller helped develop these weapons. Good men arm them, prepare them, and aim them at threats and potential enemies. Good men may have to use them. The genius and intelligence of America, which is responsible for doing so much good and inventing so many things that benefit humanity, also built these awesome things. They could wipe out all of our good work.
For now, there is little to "cheer" except that the U.S., not somebody else, got the upper hand when it came to nukes. This provides only limited comfort. However, if anybody is capable of "controlling" and creating a situation that makes the world "safe" from nukes in our lifetimes, it is the United States of America.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism