Posting in Cities
A review of Five Myths about Nuclear Weapons, by Ward Wilson.
The top Google search result for Ward Wilson, author of Five Myths about Nuclear Weapons (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $22, January 15), links to a funeral home in Alabama. It's a cruel cyberspace cackle.
Wilson is a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, part of the graduate school for international studies at Middlebury College. Crystalline in thought and prose, in a world of lethal missiles, he remains optimistic about our collective fate.
"[Nuclear weapons] are tools, and like any other tool, they are controlled by us," Wilson writes. "It seems particular to have to say it, but the weapons themselves lack volition."
He argues that the scariest part of our nuclear era isn't the capacity for global devastation: it's psychological. This same immobilizing fear causes some to build bomb shelters and prevents others from having children. Even a daisy can signify cataclysm.
"Some of the most important work we face regarding nuclear weapons is emotional," Wilson writes.
I'm a nonproliferation newbie. Whenever an anchor mentions "warheads," "Iran" or "warheads obtained by Iran," I change the channel. I've cocooned myself in a blur of infotainment and paper cuts (I subscribe to 13 magazines). Growing up, "nuke" was slang for "microwave." Thus Five Myths was my stand-in for The Complete Idiot's Guide to Nuclear Weapons.
Wilson's compact text molded me into a better-informed citizen on a labyrinthine subject. Nine countries have nuclear weapons. Nine! We know exactly how many? Was it so long ago that we declared war over a burrowing bad guy's invisible WMD stash?
Maybe my cocoon was too twined. I didn't even know that there were "proponents" of nuclear weapons. I thought there were a dozen cranky Dr. Evils out to ruin Earth for the rest of us. The only people I ever heard say "nuke 'em" were man-boys who I assumed were either joking or quoting video games.
Many Americans support nuclear weapons for our national defense and superpower status. Among this group are power plant employees, scientists, politicians, sociologists, soldiers, scholars and perhaps your parents. Sure, I was ignorant. The feeling of seeing this fact in writing could be likened to the jolt a pro-choice feminist experienced the first time she saw her ilk described as "pro-abortion."
Wilson dispels four myths, plus one resulting from The Telephone Game of those previous misnomers. The myths are organized around four themes - the shock, the leap, the crisis, and the peace - and every paragraph seems to begin with, "...for these three reasons."
Basically, there are lots of numbers, and the author could have benefitted from bullet points, charts or lists.
In Myth No. 1, the Wilson provides compelling evidence that Japan's WWII surrender in August 1945 was caused by the Soviet Union's entry into the war, not the bombs America dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki earlier that week.
This chapter clarifies generations of oversights. For example, in May of that year, Tokyo was actually the source of "the single highest death toll of any bombing attack on any city;" we killed more people that time than with atomic bombs.
Measuring a nuclear weapon's potential wreckage is baffling. "A one-megaton bomb is 66.7 times bigger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, which might lead you to expect it would be 66.7 times more destructive," Wilson writes. In truth, the radius is 5.5 times greater.
A sentence I never thought I'd read in a book about nuclear weapons: "Pessimism is unnecessary." Five Myths is a tire swing lurching you back-and-forth from euphoric relief to trembling white knuckles. "The fact is that the essential conversation, the one that will make a difference, is a conversation we have not yet had...we have never examined...the usefulness of nuclear weapons."
Which is Wilson's plea: commence with the valid discussions. He even tells world leaders progress they can initiate today.
The one vulgar aberration (which may be corrected by the book's publication date) is the first line on the back jacket: "An explosive re-thinking of the power and purpose of nuclear weapons..." I doubt Wilson wrote this, but still, save "explosive" for a Michael Bay trailer. Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost in Japan during WWII, leaving blood on American hands (and the dubious distinction - as the only nation to employ such weapons - on our conscience).
Wilson closes with an excerpt from President Kennedy's 1963 commencement address at American University. "Our problems are man-made - therefore, they can be solved by man," Kennedy said.
To which Wilson adds an astounding coda. "Kennedy, of course, was expressing optimism about a much harder problem than the issue of nuclear weapons. He was talking about world peace. Taking concrete steps toward a world without war is far more formidable than coming up with sensible policies for nuclear weapons."
Jan 3, 2013
Even the Japanese admit to the wisdom of using the bombs. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2011/10/japanese-government-nixed-idea-of-obama-visiting-apologizing-for-hiroshima/ The Japanese were ready to make the horrors of Saipan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa look like walks in the park compared to an invasion of mainland Japan. Among other things, they were training entire schools of high school age boys to pilot suicide mini subs that would have attacked an invading fleet. Dry docks full of hundreds of the tiny subs were found after the war by sailors like my father and my uncle who secured harbors after the surrender. This Wikipedia page has a great picture of one such dry dock with 80 mini subs. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midget_submarine
It would be nice if Wilson was a little better informed about WW II. First Japan planned on using plague bombs in September, 1945. Read about Imperial Japanese Army Unit 731. Second, Soviet entry into WW II, August 8 occurred after we dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima August 6, not before. Third, the dropping of the two atomic bombs brought a just and morally correct end to WWII and saved millions of lives on both sides and made a land invasion of Japan unnecessary. I am so tired of hearing the politically correct crowd being given a voice on matters they are so ignorant about. To bad Wilson had a heaping helping of Rainbow Stew.
I think the difinitive proof of what the Japanese intended lay in the records of the Japanese Government. They show conclusively that the military had no intention of surrendering. Too many people on here are putting Anglo attitudes to inhialation of their populace onto the extremists of the cult that ran Japan. Remember also that Germany had no intention of surrendering either, even as Berlin was over ran. Those leaders were all mad and bad. The Soviets took the blood loss on their 'Great patriotic War' No doubt if they have had the bomb they would have used it on Berlin. The Americans were no longer willing to do the same with an invasion of the japanese mainland... and why should they have? Too much of this history has been distorted by evil hearts like Noam Chomsky.
Is there really such a moral difference between the killing of 50,000 people with a single bomb from a single plane than killing 200,000 people with thousands of bombs dropped from hundreds of planes? This was happening nightly over Tokyo in the weeks preceding Hiroshima. I don't buy Myth 1: The Soviets only got involved against Japan after it tactically didn't matter anymore, and the needed skin in the game for the post-war dealings.
President Eisenhower was an advocate of nuclear weapons as an economical alternative to bigger & more expensive conventional (non-nuclear) forces. His warnings about the alliance that he 1st called the military industrial complex were mostly ignored. In our time, some people in the West argue that nuclear weapons aren't useful because no one is willing to use them anymore. Other people say they're still useful as a deterrent. Iran has apparently decided the only sure deterrent to an invasion by the USA is nuclear weapons. The presence of them may provoke an attack, if not an invasion. And so it goes, around & around.
From "A one-megaton bomb is 66.7 times bigger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, which might lead you to expect it would be 66.7 times more destructive, Wilson writes. In truth, the radius is 5.5 times greater." If we assume that people live or valuable targets exists in the area, then the important measurement is NOT the radius, it is the area. And a bomb blast with a radius that is 5.5 times greater blasts an area that is over 30 times greater - and so could kill 30 times more people. The 5.5 figure is irelevant to the destructive power.
Yes Russia could have taken over Japan like it did to other Japanese Islands after Japan was weekend by USA. Thank your lucky stars that MacArthur told the Russian General he would be put in chains if he set foot on Hokkaido Island.
The "evidence" Wilson provides is neither compelling, nor particularly factual for that matter. While the Soviet entry into the war did have influence on the Japanese decision to surrender, it would have been absolutely ineffectual had it been the sole reason. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still the primary reasons for their surrender, and the right thing to do. War is not a sport, it is the primal struggle to survive. And if a fear were "immobilizing", then that wouldn't cause anyone to do anything, much less build a bomb shelter. I'll give you a "C" on your article.
Based on my recent reading, I believe that Japan would have surrendered soon anyway. The most compelling reasons for Truman to authorize use of the Bomb were 1) We had spent $2 billion US 1945 dollars on the project, and he needed to justify the massive outpouring of money and (wo)manpower, and 2) Truman felt we had to do something to take credit for the ending of the war before Stalin did.
To quote: This chapter carefully clarifies generations of oversights. For example, in May of that year, Tokyo was actually the source of âthe single highest death toll of any bombing attack on any city;â we killed more people that time than with atomic bombs. While that may be true, the thought of a nuke going off over Tokyo, was made real by Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan decided that it was too likely to occur and the deaths from a single nuke over Tokyo would have easily been more then what had been done by other means.
How many interpretations can we get from the same video? I have watched the entire series of Untold History on Showtime Network and like the Military Channel's version, I will watch them over and over too. Have you seen the 1942 Nazi version of Titanic? I love history whether it's true or not.
I should have reached out to Wilson myself beforehand to clarify the connection between the 66.7 and 5.5 numbers (I didn't want to compromise the review) . With only the text in front of me, I was very confused, which I consider Wilson's misstep - the rest of his book is accessible to admitted neophytes like myself, why not this? I included those to figures hoping readers like you could help me make sense of them.
Thank you for posting your comment. Wilson's reasons for debunking Myth #1 constituted his evidence. I was unable to transcribe the chapter word for word, but I found his argument and therefore his evidence compelling. I encourage you to buy Mr. Wilson's book to gauge your own opinion of its factuality. As the critic given the assignment of reading Five Myths about Nuclear Weapons, I am writing on behalf of only myself - this is my opinion. An opinion piece isn't a news article; it's a review. As a person, I find the fear of nuclear weapons crippling and immobilizing. I feel intense anxiety knowing that they are out there. And for the most part, I do feel that I can't do much of anything - I can't even keep the television turned on when nuclear weapons are mentioned. So I sought out Mr. Wilson's book to educate myself and see whether my fear is justified. He did help me: at least now I can have a conversation about nuclear weapons without running away. And by writing this review, I feel immobilized no longer.
...between the effects of an 'airburst', and those of a 'surface' detonation. Thus, the 2nd bomb was dropped to *finish the experiment* (as it was not known when the opportunity to do that type of 'study' would re-occur). The Allies refused to accept the Emperor's surrender, for this reason, until the 2nd bomb was dropped.
After the blood spilled taking Okinawa and other islands, there was absolutely no reason to expect that taking the mainland would have been the least bit easy. If you were to an infantryman on a ship crossing the Pacific in the spring of 1945, you would have had a very different outlook on the situation.
The myth of more people being killed in Tokyo, it really occurred in March 1945 not May, belongs to a boast Curtis LeMay made in his book "Mission". If you read "The Story of World War II" as updated by Donald L. Miller, he talks about this myth on page 624. If you count just the people killed on the day of attacks against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, more people may have been killed in Tokyo. If you count all the people who died within 5 years from radiation poisoning, the Tokyo bombing doesn't come close to the atomic bombs. Also just because we look back at the bomb and think it was wrong to drop them doesn't mean it was wrong to drop them. If you talk to the troops who had just taken Iwo Jima and Okinawa if the correct thing was to drop the bomb, they will all say YES. So lets leave the Monday morning quarterbacking to the football games.
Blast radius infers overpressure from the explosion. Yes it is 5.5 times a larger radius or 30 times the area. Damage comes from other things as well, such as thermal pulse that will ignite building materials, burn exposed skin, flash blindness, acute radiation syndrome, and so forth - beyond the blast radius. This does not usually include long term radiation sickness
We only fear the unknown. I am glad you had a chance to explore this topic and settled your nerves a bit. I am always commenting on anti-nuke sites because many of those people buy into the fear without doing their own research. The entire nuclear age was developed and sustained because of war (hot or cold). The nuclear warheads make no sense and the current nuclear facilities make no sense. I am one of those advocates from the small band supporting thorium energy solutions. Here is an amazing 12 year girl who gets it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2M81SYQXjI&feature=youtu.be
...that was exactly the sense I got from it, Jenna. I find it curious that commenters misinterpret what the reviewer is trying to say. If I were to - say - review "Mein Kampf" (a philosophy I definitely don't subscribe to) after having read it in order to come to terms with some of my heritage, I would certainly hope that my review wouldn't be seen as: "I consider what I read read in that one book a complete historical perspective of the times". The book turned on some lights. It brings new evidence to the table for that period of history. Thank you for the review and for your honest reaction to the book: I'm certain there are others who have exactly the same feelings about nuclear weapons as you do.
My dad was on a minesweeper sent to Japan. Without the surrender of Japan it would have been a nasty bloody thing indeed for both sides. My father hated war he saw the real cost washed up on the beaches from North Africa, Europe and Japan. No one should despise war more than a vet. If only mankind could war no more. Would it have been better to firebomb all the Japanese cities in preparation for invasion and then a beach head assault that would have been a sea of blood? The reality of that would have been beyond imagination. That is not factored in when people talk about what happened. There is no right thing in war. For there are those who are eager to join the club I hope they are content to allow this to be the only use of these weapons ever.
I argue that dropping the bombs on Japan likely saved millions of lives, both Japanese and American. I've always been amused by those who desperately argue that this was not the case, and the Progressive urge to always snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.