Dan Carlin's Hardcore History - Show 59 - (Blitz) The Destroyer of Worlds

Episode Date: January 25, 2017

What happens if human beings can't handle the power of their own weaponry? This show  examines the dangerous early years of the Nuclear Age and humankind's efforts to avoid self-destruction at the ha...nds of its own creation.

Transcript
Discussion (0)
Starting point is 00:00:00 It's been a long time since we've done a Blitz edition. And as a friend pointed out to me when I explained that this latest program of ours was going to be a six hour long show that we were going to classify as a Blitz edition. They said, don't take this the wrong way, but I'm not sure you know the meaning of the word. And I laughed because he's right. These started off this idea of a Blitz show was going to be something to help us get more shows out. And some nice quick ones, right? In other words, in addition to these great epics that took forever and, you know, half killed us and half killed you to listen to them, we'd have things in between and they grew too, because I'm obviously, you know, I have a problem. I'm addicted to context, as one of you said. A firm believer in the past is prologue and that there's no good natural place to start any story, right? Everything's connected.
Starting point is 00:00:48 It's arbitrary where you decide to begin things. That's how I, you know, had a show I wanted to do about Cleopatra that stretched into a six part series on Rome, because where do you start the Cleopatra story? The reason I chose the topic that I originally chose for today's program was because I thought it artificially constrained me. It's two weeks long. How could you possibly do a really long show on a two week long event? Well, six hours later, here we are. And it's also a Blitz edition, which now doesn't have anything to do with the length of the show. It's turned out through evolution to be a different kind of show that focuses on different things. Instead of being about people or events or eras specifically, usually they focus on an idea or a question and then, you know, weave history around the question somehow. And usually the recipe has a slightly less drama than the historical epics, but slightly more twist as we call those musings and weird twilight zone things that sort of come with the territory with these programs.
Starting point is 00:01:58 For what it's worth, this could have been a two-parter, but we didn't want to do that to you. So you get one long one instead. And maybe in an experimental effort here to see what works. And in addition to some feedback we got from you folks, we tried arbitrarily after the fact. Mind you, it wasn't put together this way to separate the show into sections, books, book one, book two, in places where maybe there are natural breaks, you know, stopping points or what have you. We'll see based on your feedback whether you liked that approach or not. Finally, this is a very unusual story to tell because unlike most historical tales, which are about things that happened, this is about something that didn't happen, but almost happened and still could happen. And it's a tale being told from the middle of the story in an unfolding series of events that are still ongoing. And so while you can feel like you somehow have a bit of a spoiler knowing how this will turn out, in the specific case we're talking about here in this tale today, because it's an ongoing story, there's no guarantee that you actually do know the end. In that sense, this story is not just prologue for the event I originally wanted to talk about, which was the Cuban Missile Crisis, it's prologue for our own future potentially.
Starting point is 00:03:33 Strap in, get ready for a six-hour Blitz edition. We call it by the light and airy romantic comedy-style title of The Destroyer of Worlds. December 7th, 1941, a date which will live in Italy. It's hardcore history. The Blitz edition. Any time you hear an analysis of our species explaining our strong and our weak points and why we are where we are today, you'll hear someone talk about human adaptability, won't you? The fact that we can adapt, and this is something that's tied to our intelligence obviously for changing circumstances, has helped us overcome all sorts of problems and walls that you might have hit along the way for civilizational growth to transcend all those boundaries. And here we find ourselves in the 21st century today, alive and thriving. But with several major problems in the distance that have the potential to change that fact, unless we adapt around them.
Starting point is 00:05:02 Now, given our past history, you would think that we've shown quite the aptitude in adapting. But some of these problems may require adaptation beyond which we are capable. Do you hit an adaptation wall at some point beyond which you can no longer change as a society, as a species, as humankind? There are things that we have done from time immemorial that fill up your history books from start to finish that would be unimaginable if we did them today. But considering our track record history wise, what are the odds we'll never do them again? Case in point, we currently live in an era of human history that some have referred to as the long peace, which began in 1945. Now, obviously, there hasn't been a whole lot of peace since 1945. There's been lots of conflicts, people get bombed all the time.
Starting point is 00:06:08 I mean, human violence is ongoing and continuous. But what that refers to is conflict between the great powers, the kinds of wars you've seen from Mesopotamia onward, the World Wars, the Napoleonic Wars, the Thirty Years War, the Hundred Years War, the Punic Wars. I mean, it goes on and on, doesn't it? Forever, one of the constants of human history, right? Up until about 70 or so years ago. Of course, it was 70 or so years ago, 1945, where humankind continuously improving their weapons technology from the stone age forward finally reached a point where they had created a weapon system that might be too destructive to be used. And yet if mankind has always used their innovative technology to create better weapons and always use those better weapons,
Starting point is 00:07:13 what did this mean for the norms of human behavior? If mankind simply treated the things that we discovered at the end of the Second World War the way we've treated every other weapon we've ever created, what would happen to the world today? What makes you think, though, that this is a theoretical question? There is no guarantee that the long peace lasts forever. And it's unimaginable to think about what a general war amongst great powers would even look like with the kind of technology we possess today. Humankind is 70 plus years into an ongoing and unending experiment. Can we handle our weapons technology?
Starting point is 00:08:04 And the only way this experiment ever concludes is if we find out that we can't. There's a famous quote that may or may not have been said. You never know about these things by the great physicist Albert Einstein. He's supposed to have said something to the effect if he doesn't know with what sort of weapons the Third World War will be fought with. But the one after that will be fought with sticks and stones. One of my favorite phrases coined at a certain point during the Long Peace, which was attributed to Air Force General Curtis LeMay, but he swears he never said it, was bombing someone back to the Stone Age. Is something like that even possible?
Starting point is 00:08:54 And what are the odds that we get to find out? I think what I find so interesting about both those quotes, the Einstein one and the LeMay one, is that they both invoke this idea of knocking humanity back on the civilization scale a few rungs below where we are now. As we all know, human history, as I've described, is kind of like a stock market. And you have your ups when civilization reaches new levels of sophistication and technological capabilities and all that. And then you have your downs. And it's sort of weird for modern people to realize that there were ever people who lived in a time where their forebears were more technologically sophisticated than they were. We've been kind of on a long stock market run since about the Renaissance or really the Middle Ages.
Starting point is 00:09:49 Haven't had any downturns within a thousand or more years. Start getting pretty fat and happy and comfortable. And you forget that there may be our variables out there that could do to us what giant plagues that wiped out a quarter of the population could do back in the old days. Take, for example, what both Einstein and LeMay were referring to. Nuclear war between the Great Powers, what we used to call World War III. What once upon a time when I was growing up even seemed to be like a gun aimed at your head. And you walked around with this all the time, a sort of Damocles over your entire society, really the entire world. Because it didn't matter if you were a neutral country during the Cold War, if a all out nuclear exchange happened between the United States and its allies and the Soviet Union and its allies.
Starting point is 00:10:45 Switzerland wasn't escaping unscathed, right, just because they were neutral. It became the first time in human history where you had the potential for a single human being. We really don't know how these things run, but the potential for a single human being to have the power to destroy tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions of lives with a decision window of minutes by the giving of an order. You think of all of the really scary people in human history from a power standpoint. Your Genghis Khan's, your Alexander the Great's, you name it, your Hitler's, it doesn't matter, none of them had that kind of power. If Genghis Khan decided he was going to destroy your civilization, you were in for 10, 20, 30 years of war maybe, especially if you were China. If Richard Nixon in 1969 decides to nuke China, you destroy 100 million people in an afternoon. Nobody's ever had that kind of power before. It's a unique new human experience and you don't get many of those.
Starting point is 00:11:49 Although the people that were there, the 400, 450 special human beings that witnessed the birth of the atomic slash nuclear age realized the minute they saw it that everything had changed. This successful testing of an atomic bomb was of course the famous Trinity bomb test from July 16, 1945. And not only was the weapon successful, which was not a given, but it was more powerful than the physicists had expected. And many of them, if not all of them could look into the future and see that this was a weapon that was only going to grow in power as time went on. As powerful as the test they had just witnessed was, this is scratching the surface of what this new era will provide in terms of weaponry. J. Robert Oppenheimer, sometimes called the father of the atomic bomb, described the moment that the bomb went off. This way in the 1965 interview on a program called The Decision to Drop the Bomb. Quote, we knew the world would not be the same.
Starting point is 00:13:04 We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita. Vishnu was trying to persuade the prince that he should do his duty. And to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds. I suppose we all fought that one way or another.
Starting point is 00:13:57 Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds. All the old religious texts always have so much power to the language, don't they? And in this case it matched what Oppenheimer and his fellow scientists created and saw and witnessed and that day must have been a whole slew of mixed emotions for those people. The famous Manhattan Project was a giant endeavor to build a super weapon. And some of the greatest minds in physics and sciences related to that from all over the world were brought together massive amounts of resources and manpower and money devoted to the project. And all these people sitting on pins and needles during the test because nobody knew if this was going to work or not. There were a lot of reputations on the line, all sorts of giant amounts of pressure and tension and so when the bomb went off there was a huge sense of relief and triumph but mixed emotions among some of the physicists. Not all of them by the way, but people like Oppenheimer for sure and the reason for the mixed emotions was if you had already seen how the last year, what would become the last year of the Second World War 1945 had gone,
Starting point is 00:15:20 who would have thought anyone needed to create a super weapon that was much of an improvement on the technology as it was being unleashed that year in the war. And in 1945 cities were being wiped off the map a couple of times a week. Cities. If there's one thing the Second World War proved yet again is it doesn't matter how many arms limitation ideas you want to float, you know when you're not in total war, how much you have these genteel ideas about how weapons will be used and when they will and won't be employed. When you are fighting with everything you have against the other great powers in what's called total war, there is nothing in the arsenal that you are not prepared to use. People sometimes point out poison gas wasn't used in any sort of major way in the Second World War but the reason why is because it wasn't a war winning tool. If it had been, they'd have used it. It wasn't worth what would happen in return to you for something that amounted to essentially a minor irritant in terms of the war effort.
Starting point is 00:16:32 Nuclear weapons would have been a different thing. I mean imagine if Hitler and the Nazis had gotten hold of a nuclear bomb first. That's the thought that motivated a number of those physicists involved in the Manhattan Project, deny Germany the chance to get nuclear weapons before the Allies. Some of them were less enthused once they realized well there's no way that they're going to beat us in this race because then all of a sudden you've worked to create a super weapon and you put it in the hands of human beings. Therein lies both the problem and the challenge and the physicists when they thought to themselves about this knew it. When they talk about how we're all going to survive a world where the weaponry is as powerful as the modern descendants of those weapons that were originally used at the end of the Second World War, the physicists talk about us needing to grow as a species or else is sort of what's implied. And I would suggest that in most of these quotes you can hear them looking on the bright side or putting the best face on the idea of now that we have these super weapons, what does it mean for mankind?
Starting point is 00:17:55 Oppenheimer himself said, quote, it did not take atomic weapons to make man want peace. But the atomic bomb was the turn of the screw. The atomic bomb made the prospect of future war unendurable. It has led us up those last few steps to the mountain past and beyond there is a different country, end quote. In other words we could never quite get that peace thing right until we had the right incentive. The fact that we'll all be blown to kingdom come is the right incentive, you know, hail peace. That's putting a good face on it. Oppenheimer wasn't always so positive. Arthur Holly Compton, also a physicist, wrote quote, it is hard to think of fissionable materials when fashioned into bombs as being a source of happiness. However, this may be if with such destructive weapons men are to survive, they must grow rapidly in human greatness.
Starting point is 00:18:53 A new level of human understanding is needed. The reward for using the atom's power toward man's welfare is great and sure. The punishment for its misuse would seem to be death and the destruction of the civilization that has been growing for a thousand years. These are the alternatives that atomic power as the steel of Daedalus presents to mankind. We are forced to grow into greater manhood, end quote. Is that a nice way of saying adapt or die when it comes to altering modes of human behavior that have been a part of the story since there's been a story? Of course, not all the physicists always looked at the bright side on this question. There's a famous quote by Albert Einstein that makes him sound like he's a bit of a pessimist when it comes to the question of, you know, society's ability to adapt or die. In this question, he's supposed to have said, quote, the unleashed power of the atom has changed everything, save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift towards unparalleled catastrophe, end quote. A gun aimed at our heads, sort of damically, something we were very aware of. When I was a kid, we did duck and cover drills for atomic bombs dropping nuclear bombs, thermonuclear bombs by then.
Starting point is 00:20:17 That gun is still pointed at our heads. We just don't notice it anymore because so many people have grown up in the shadow of that that they're used to it. If somebody's pointing a gun at your head all the time, eventually do you forget about it? If you're born with a gun pointed towards your head, do you even notice it? In a way, I kind of see the ability of people to forget that that gun is aimed at them as an evolutionary success tool. And why should these people be traumatized because of something that happened 70 or so years ago? They had their own lives, their own problems, their own world to deal with? I mean, if we all had to carry the baggage of preceding generations on our backs all the time, what would we be dealing with? So in a sense, it's a healing mechanism, but is healing the same as forgetting? It seems to me one of the main things working against the idea of this long piece continuing indefinitely.
Starting point is 00:21:20 At least we don't remember why it was so important. We never have another great power war to begin with. If the Sword of Damocles has not fallen in a while, you forget how sharp it is and what a horrible mess it can leave. British philosopher Bertrand Russell once made it sound like the odds of human beings managing to avoid having to be reminded how sharp the Sword of Damocles is when it comes to nuclear war seems unlikely. He wrote, quote, you may reasonably expect a man to walk a tightrope safely for 10 minutes. It would be unreasonable to do so without accident for 200 years. End quote. If you want to be reminded of what that Sword of Damocles can do, there's only two real world examples that you can go study that will tell you. There's a lot of scientists out there and calculations done and testing, but the only thing that really compares, if you want to see not a glimpse into the past of a singular human experience that only happened twice to a certain group of human individuals in a certain situation, but instead you want to see what a future nuclear attack will look like. You have to look at the only two that there have ever been.
Starting point is 00:22:44 The atomic bombings at Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and the one right afterwards a few days later at Nagasaki. These days when the atomic bombings are discussed, it's often in the context of discussing the morality of dropping them. Was it right to use them at all? I find that the problem with these discussions, and I've talked about it at length in other programs, is this idea that the people involved at the time the decision makers had as much free range of options as people today assume they have when they didn't. I mean, the idea that President Truman could have done something besides drop the bomb is a little bit out of step with the political realities he was dealing with at the time. Historian Gary Wills, who wrote a whole book on the power of the atomic bomb to change everything, had this to say about what would have happened if Truman had decided not to use the bombs or to have used them in another way. The other person, by the way, mentioned in this quote is General Groves. General Groves was the military head of the Manhattan Project. In his book, Bomb Power Historian Gary Wills writes quote, If it became known that the United States had a knockout weapon it did not use, the families of any Americans killed after the development of the bomb would be furious, the public, the press, and Congress would turn on the president and his advisors. There would have been a cry to impeach President Truman and court-martial General Groves.
Starting point is 00:24:20 The administration would be convicted of spending billions of dollars and draining massive amounts of brain power and manpower from other war projects and all for nothing. End quote. In addition to that, and this is often overlooked, I think, by people who talk about the morality of dropping a bomb like the Hiroshima and Nagasaki weapons on civilians, and that's what the Japanese civilians were already putting up with on a daily basis. What the Germans had started in places like Rotterdam in 1940 and the Japanese had done in China before the Second World War even officially started had been developed into the aerial weapons we saw from 1943 onward. And they were devastating without the nuclear bombs at all. In March 1945, months before the atomic bombs were dropped, Tokyo was hit with a fire-bombing raid that killed 100,000 people and vaporized 17 square miles of the capital. And by the time the atomic bombs were dropped, 50 to 60 square miles of Tokyo were gone and it had been taken off the top priority targeting list. Some 60 plus other Japanese cities had had the same fate meted out to them.
Starting point is 00:25:35 It was a logical extension, a natural progression, if you will, of total war. It's a dynamic that would have been very difficult if not impossible to stop. It's partly the reason why when we discuss another total war today, it's so scary because the idea that human beings could control what's going on is an illusion. It has a momentum all its own. Now there are some things that were different about the atomic bombings and that blow me away to this day. One is the instantaneous nature of it. It's hard enough you would think to get your mind around the changes that happened to your city during a massive late-war bombing raid. I mean, if you have 500 or 1000 heavy bombers flying over your city, practically wingtip to wingtip, dropping incendiary and high-explosive bombs on your town, how hard is that to get your mind around?
Starting point is 00:26:37 When you crawl out of the bomb shelter and see what used to be your city in ruins, how hard is that to get your mind around? But if instead of happening over a 24 to 36 hour time period, it happens in the blink of an eye, well that's what the atomic bombs did. The best relatively short description I've read of the effect of the two bombs was penned by author Susan Southerd in her book about Nagasaki. She says that within a second of the bomb being dropped, the fireball was 750 feet in diameter and the temperature in the fireball was 540,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Higher than at the center of the sun, she writes. She says, quote, The bomb's vertical blast pressure crushed much of the Urukami Valley. Horizontal blast winds tore through the region at two and a half times the speed of a Category 5 hurricane, pulverizing buildings, trees, plants, animals, and thousands of men, women, and children.
Starting point is 00:27:48 In every direction, people were blown out of their shelters, houses, factories, schools, and hospital beds, catapulted against walls or flattened beneath collapsed buildings. Those working in the fields, riding streetcars, and standing in line at city ration stations were blown off their feet or hit by plummeting debris and pressed to the scalding earth. An iron bridge moved 28 inches downstream as their buildings began to implode, patients and hospital staff jumped out of the windows of Nagasaki Medical College Hospital and mobilized high school girls leaped from the third story of Shirayama Elementary School, a half mile from the blast, end quote. She then points out that a survivor emphasized that it all happened in an instant. Think of the shock that this engenders, and there seem to be, you know, two things in quick succession. Well, really three. First, if you saw it, you got the light, and if you weren't shielded from the light somehow, it burns you. And it looked kind of like it's been described differently, but like a flash bulb going off of an old camera, that sort of bluish white light. Then there was the blast wave, which, you know, could level everything depending on how far away from it you were.
Starting point is 00:29:10 And then there were the fires, which seemed to break out several minutes after the actual blast, as though everything were sort of heated up and it took a minute for, you know, the kindling to catch a light. But then it did everywhere at once, and some of the most harrowing stories come from family members who would be trying to get another family member, you know, who was stuck in the debris that was all of a sudden everywhere out as the flames approached and had to leave them. I mean, essentially saying goodbye as they watched their child stuck in the rubble as the flames approached. It's horrifying stuff, and the people who were first on the scene in both cities talk about running into human zombies, if you will. Silent people burned almost beyond recognition that were like in a trance. Hiroshima survivor Hiroshi Shiba Yama saw the explosion and ran toward the city center where the bomb had gone off and said, quote, When we had gone about one kilometer, we were brought to a standstill by a grotesque group of people. The blood pounded in our heads again.
Starting point is 00:30:19 I remember that my eyes were drawn inoxurably to the scene. The people were burned so badly that it was hard to distinguish feature from feature, and all were blackened as if covered with soot. Their clothes were in rags, many were naked, their hands hung limply in front of them, the skin of their hands and arms dangled from their fingertips. Their faces were not the faces of the living, end quote. He then went on to point out that he'd seen quite a few normal air raids up close, but this was different, quote, How could I comprehend what I saw before me now? It was not just a group of injured people, nor was it a procession of the dead or a band of ghosts. No sound came from these figures. They seemed to have given up. The pity that they engendered is beyond expression. They continued to stream past in deathly quiet.
Starting point is 00:31:11 How can anyone describe them? Their clothes ripped from them by the force of the explosion, their bodies burned by the intense heat. Some were completely naked, and others had only the shirts stuck to their bodies. The injuries to their faces were particularly cruel. Unscathed and with clothes intact, I felt like an intruder, end quote. The general estimates of the casualties from the Hiroshima bomb, for example, are between 70,000 and 80,000 dead from the fire and the explosion. More killed later by radiation, and probably an equal number of people injured. The Nagasaki bomb numbers were somewhat lower due to all sorts of different reasons. Nonetheless, the tens of thousands of deaths, maybe almost 100,000 in one city, caused by a single bomb, was an exponential growth in the power of the weaponry. After the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, US President Harry Truman went on television to try to explain to the American people and the rest of the world what this new weapon was.
Starting point is 00:32:26 And to essentially, officially, bring the rest of the world up to speed that an entirely new era had begun, the atomic age. A short time ago, an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima and destroyed its usefulness to the enemy. That bomb has more power than 20,000 tons of TNT. The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many foes, and the end is not yet. With this bomb, we have now added a new and revolutionary increase in destruction to supplement the growing power of our armed forces. In their present form, these bombs are now in production, and even more powerful forms are in development. It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force from which the sun draws this power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East.
Starting point is 00:33:40 Historian Michael S. Sherry says that there were overlapping feelings on the part of the American public to finding out that this new reality existed. He writes, quote, A carcophony of reactions to the bomb's advent arose swiftly among Americans. Some stressed pride in American achievement and satisfaction in gaining vengeance against the Japanese. Truman's announcement that the Japanese, quote, have been repaid many foes, end quote, for Pearl Harbor, a minority of Americans wished the war had gone on longer, so more atomic bombs could have been used against Japan. Others, especially soldiers who assumed that an invasion of Japan was the only alternative to the bomb's use, welcomed the peace that the bomb had speeded, and the bomb itself as a tool for enforcing continued peace. Overlapping those other reactions was another. As in responding to the Holocaust, many Americans saw the bomb as evidence of the scourge of modern war, in the face of which the wisdom of American use seemed a minor matter. Now he quotes a New York Herald Tribune article from the era, which said, quote, One forgets the effect on Japan as one senses the foundation of one's own universe trembling, end quote.
Starting point is 00:35:03 Famed CBS News correspondent Edward R. Murrow put it this way at the time, quote, seldom if ever has a war ended, leaving the victors with such a sense of uncertainty and fear, with such a realization that the future is obscure and that survival is not assured, end quote. So while Americans could be glad that the bomb was in their hands, it was a clear sense and understanding that this would probably not always remain the case. And something like that, when you were used to having two oceans that kept you safe from anybody doing any major damage to your country of the sort that other countries were very familiar with during the Second World War, could set the foundations of your universe trembling. And this is where you begin to get this divide, this idea on the part of some that everything has changed. And so the human species is going to have to shed themselves of habits they've had forever. And people who view themselves anyway as much more firmly attached to reality, who think that what we have here is just a natural extension of technological change, working in the benefit of our side, the good side. President Harry Truman called the atomic bomb the greatest thing in the history of the world. The following year after the bombs were dropped and the war was over, there would be a famous meeting where the scientists who headed up the Manhattan Project meets face to face with the president who dropped his creation twice.
Starting point is 00:36:47 Oppenheimer is a perfect example of the side that feels as though Pandora's box has been opened and he feels increasingly responsible for picking the lock on it. And it sounds like President Truman was caught off guard by Oppenheimer's guilt. There are many different quotes of this account and they're all different. In their book to win a nuclear war, Michio Kaku and Daniel Axelrod tell the story this way. Oppenheimer and the president and the secretary of state are talking. In the course of the conversation, Oppenheimer told Truman, Mr. President, I feel I have blood on my hands. Truman then reached into his top pocket, removed a neatly folded handkerchief and offered it, saying, would you like to wipe them? After Oppenheimer left, Truman turned to Dean Atchison, the under secretary of state, instructed him not to bring Oppenheimer around anymore and declared, blood on his hands? Damn it, he hasn't half as much blood on his hands as I have, you just don't go around belly aching about it. And quote, a more R rated version of the story is told in Jean-Jacques Solomon's Science at Politique, where he said quote.
Starting point is 00:38:16 Oppenheimer, when he went into Truman's office with Dean Atchison, said to the latter, wringing his hands, I have blood on my hands. Truman later said to Atchison, never bring that fucking cretin in here again, he didn't drop the bomb, I did, that kind of weepingness makes me sick. End quote. Truman could dismiss Oppenheimer, but he was far from the only atomic scientist who was gravely concerned. Even before the two bombs were used on Japan in the Second World War, more than 70 atomic scientists signed a petition with a bunch of different things in it, but among other concerns were that the bombs were going to be used against cities and people and they suggested using them offshore or in uninhabited areas. Truman, as we said, had a whole bunch of different pressures working on him that these scientists didn't have working on them. But once the war was over, all of a sudden the outlook could change because it could afford to be changed, you're not in hot blood anymore, you're in cold blood. And now you have in your hands these new weapons.
Starting point is 00:39:31 What do you do with them? How do you control them? Who's in charge of them? And what if other countries get them too? There were, in the years 1945 and 1946, a lot of tug of wars and all sorts of questions being debated, I mean, the number one for a while was who's in charge of atomic weapons? The military seemed like a logical choice. Their argument was if we're going to have to use them, we ought to be in control of them and know what we're doing. Truman is supposed to have said something to the effect of, I'm not going to let some dandy lieutenant colonel decide he wants to start an atomic war.
Starting point is 00:40:15 Eventually that power would be rested into the hands of the civilian authorities and the president particularly, he was going to be the one who had the power to decide to push the button as it will be known later. Historian Gary Wills said this is one of the effects the atomic bomb had. It changed the American constitutional system almost quietly due to the technological necessities that the weapon required, he wrote quote. Lodging the fate of the world in one man with no constitutional check on his actions caused a violent break in our whole governmental system. General Groves had a mere simulacrum of that authority and only for a single project. Presidents now have it as part of their permanent assignment. This was in effect a quiet revolution. It was accepted under the impression that technology imposed it as a harsh necessity. In case of nuclear attack on the United States, the president would not have time to consult Congress or instruct the public. He must respond instantly which means that he must have the whole scientific apparatus for response on constant alert, accountable only to him. If, on the other hand, a danger to our allies or our necessary assets is posed, calling for a nuclear initiative on his part, he cannot issue a warning ahead of time without alerting the enemy.
Starting point is 00:41:50 Like President Truman, who was told he could not forewarn Japan, he must act with a lone authority. The nature of the presidency, he writes, was irrevocably altered by this grant of a unique power, end quote. So already the nature of the weapons was changing the way we do things on a national level here in the United States. But the question of how this might change things on a human wide level was being widely debated as well. In the years 1945 and 1946, there were some very interesting, relatively unique ideas floated in the world of public opinion and governmental proposals. There is an attempt in those years, an active attempt to try to put the nuclear genie back in the bottle, to eliminate atomic weapons from the face of the earth, and almost as if to pretend that they had never been discovered at all. Now there are two things to understand before we get into this. The first thing is all this is occurring when the bodies from the Second World War are still warm.
Starting point is 00:43:07 And after these terrible earth-shattering wars, you often have a hangover period afterwards where people are understandably in one of these moods where they say, Never again. This can never be allowed to happen again. And at the end of the Second World War, you throw the advent of atomic weapons in at the very end there. That's a definitive extra exclamation point on that never again. And so if this seems like a pie in the sky, rainbows and unicorns, utopian approach to things, realize that they're living at the last time the sort of Damocles dropped and they have a justifiable fear of it. The other thing to take into account, and I'm not a historian, so you're not going to see me picking the right approach, is that this can be a legitimate proposal that we're talking about here. Or this could be for public consumption and behind the scenes, realpolitik and geopolitical chess matches and business as usual can be going on. In October 1945, which is right after the Second World War ends, President Truman gives a speech to Congress, which kind of begins to deal with that question about how are we going to control these nuclear weapons now in this new atomic age.
Starting point is 00:44:27 And he gives one of these speeches where he says, you know, the hope of civilization rests on international agreements where people renunciate the use and development of atomic weapons. It's a pretty big deal. And then he begins work with the heads of Canada and the United Kingdom a month after that on formulating some sort of policy. One of my nuclear experts, I was reading Joseph Siriccione essentially says it's the first nuclear nonproliferation agreement ever. They send their financier representative, a guy named Bernard Baruch, to the brand new United Nations. And on June 14th, 1946, he makes this proposal and he does it with this very dramatic famous language. You know, he says, we are here to make a choice between the quick and the dead. That is our business. If we fail, then we've damned every man to be the slave of fear. It's a great speech that is supposed to set the apocalyptic tone, though, that a world with these weapons out there, you know, conjures up.
Starting point is 00:45:35 And the discussion talks about, you know, taking all the uranium and plutonium everywhere and everything you would need to build these bombs and putting them in a central location under an international sort of security situation where nobody could get their hands on them and you couldn't have these weapons anymore. Now, if you are one of these people that thinks in terms, maybe, that the physicists were using about people growing into greatness, maybe you could see this as an example of that. These are human beings treating this with the respect and rationality that it deserves and eschewing all of the normal power politics one would expect. You know, 5,000 years of human history would lead you to believe and truthfully, from a humanitarian viewpoint, the United States offering to essentially give up their monopoly on atomic weapons. I mean, when in the history books does somebody do that, you know, with a super weapon? We've got the only one, but we'll give it up for this humanitarian cause. Now, here's the catch sort of the United States said they would do this as soon as everyone else had renounced them and all the materials had been put into a central location and all of the agreements to make sure no one was cheating and building these weapons on the side were in place. And then as soon as that was done, the U.S. would give up all their weapons too.
Starting point is 00:46:56 Well, there was a little counter proposal made by the people that were going to begin to be the other superpower in the world for this next 40 years after this period that we have called in the history books all label the Cold War. And by the way, there's a decent number of historians who believe it's a Cold War instead of a hot war because of the existence of atomic and later thermonuclear weapons. Our former wartime allies, but we weren't exactly buddy buddy with them before the war, the Soviet Union, the seeds of the suspicion that will explode into rabid animosity in just a few years are already apparent in 1946. And the Soviet counter proposal to the United States, Britain and Canada saying, let's all just renounce the use of development of these weapons. And as soon as we can prove you've all done that, the United States will throw theirs away and the Soviet Union said, why don't you throw yours away now? Since you're the only one that has any and then we'll figure out how to keep the world from developing anymore after that. That's exactly the kind of attitude that anybody studying human history forever would expect, right? Many out there would say that's just rational. Absolutely. Don't get hoodwinked.
Starting point is 00:48:17 There was a belief on the Soviet side that what the United States really wanted to do with this arms control agreement if you will is extend the length of the monopoly that they had on atomic weapons. Let's make sure no one else can develop any and then, you know, we'll have a longer period of time where we're the only ones who have them. But it began to sort of lay the groundwork for what we would see in the future. A three dimensional geopolitical chess match where the board itself is booby trapped with nuclear weapons and no one knows where they are on the board. So every time anyone conducts a major move, everyone tenses up. The board itself was determined by where the armies were when the Second World War ended. And there are some notable trouble spots. The number one geopolitical trouble spot on this chessboard, Berlin, the former German capital.
Starting point is 00:49:27 At the end of the war, Germany is divided. The Eastern half is under the control of Soviet forces. The Western half under control of the United States, France and Great Britain. All four of those powers are sharing jurisdiction and occupation of the former German capital in Berlin. The problem is, is that Berlin is geographically speaking well within the Soviet zone of control in Eastern Germany. The Soviets control all access to the city. A couple of roads that the Soviets watch over carefully is where all the supplies come in from the West. It's an important piece on the chessboard, but it is a piece that from the beginning of the game is effectively held hostage. The most important piece the Soviet Union has on the chessboard is the Red Army.
Starting point is 00:50:20 The Red Army is constructed differently than armies in the West were. It's an army that was meant to slug it out with German forces, with tanks, with heavy artillery. It is a hammerhead, sledgehammer of an army. It is full of veterans and their commanders are well versed in how to use the very large forces that they possess. When the war ends, the other powers like the United States and Great Britain quickly start demobilizing their forces. The Soviets demobilize forces to a degree too, but the Red Army stays where it is, large, powerful, threatening. And the Allied forces really have nothing on the ground in terms of an army that can stand against it. When asked what the Red Army would need to advance into, I believe it was Switzerland, one US commander said, shoes.
Starting point is 00:51:18 I mean, the belief that it could just advance all the way to the Atlantic in 1946 with little to stop it was widespread. The chess pieces on the West side, though, were compensatory. They balanced out the Red Army to some degree. The West had the great air forces and naval supremacy. And they also had the atomic bomb. The problem that the United States found itself in in terms of a dilemma is the only thing that they had that they knew could blunt the Red Army's, you know, march to the sea if it came to that were atomic weapons. It may have been early on too valuable a piece to give up. Of course, let's remember the Red Army was not sitting on the edge of Soviet territory, defending the motherland.
Starting point is 00:52:14 They were perched basically along the farthest extent that they had taken over in wartime and were occupying unwilling populations of people who before the war were living in their own countries. Places like Poland and Romania and Hungary and the Baltic States and a lot of other places were now occupied and were being incorporated slowly but surely into the communist bloc. This became a bone of contention and something that would have kept good relations from breaking out probably in any case. The other issue that divided the two sides after the war was ideological and that should come as no surprise. I mean the 20th century is such an ideological century anyway. And in the 1930s, you had three giant different ideological bloc sort of competing with each other fascism, communism and the democratic free market West. The war essentially eliminated the big fascist powers. Leaving a dynamic that as historian Gwyn Dyer points out, diplomats from hundreds of years ago would have understood they would have predicted a war between the Soviet Union and the United States based on power politics alone.
Starting point is 00:53:33 I have to bear this in mind because growing up when I did the idea of communism versus democracy was such a huge part of the equation that it's hard to rule that out or minimize that. But as Dyer points out, it's a lot like the role religion played in the wars of the 16th and 17th century. It's important and it makes a big difference but if you took that out of the equation, you probably would have had the same competition anyway. He writes quote. The United States and the Soviet Union have no common border, no claims on each other's territory, no history of national animosity. They're not even serious rivals for trade or resources, but their post-war confrontation was perfectly predictable and widely predicted as soon as the probable outcome of World War II became clear around 1943. He said quote, our gravest error in the late 20th century is to overestimate our distance and our difference from the past. We believe that the present round of competition between the great powers is different from all the others in history, that it is invested with special significance because of its ideological dimension and because of the appalling consequences if it were to lead to war as all such other competitions have eventually done in the past.
Starting point is 00:54:55 End quote. He then goes on the list that both sides can use to point to the other and say, well look at all these provocative things you've done. And then he says quote. Each side has an ideologically watertight explanation for why the adversary behaves with such persistent wickedness and aggression, but none of the post-1945 developments would seem surprising to a 17th century Spanish or Ottoman diplomat. Neither communism he writes nor liberal democracy would mean anything to him other than as a useful label for the players, but he would have no trouble understanding why the victorious alliance so quickly fell apart. They almost always do after victory because the winners are the biggest players left on the board, hence they automatically become the greatest potential threats to each other's power. End quote. Now, who am I to disagree with Gwen Dyer's excellent point about power politics?
Starting point is 00:55:55 Yet at the same time as someone who grew up in that era also, it's hard to discount what the dread and disdain here in the United States for communism, the impact that that had overall on events. There's a Foreign Affairs magazine review of Steven Whitfield's book, The Culture of the Cold War, that I thought was an interesting description that sort of spanned the width and the breadth and then sort of the weirdness as you look back on it now, decades later, of the entire affair. It says about the book quote. A lively and well-documented account of how the Cold War both produced and was sustained by super patriotism, intolerance and suspicion, and how these pathologies infected all aspects of American life in the 1950s. Entertainment, churches, schools, older readers will remember and still be amazed. Younger ones will find this a readable introduction to a bizarre aspect of the American past. End quote. And you know, looking back on it, there was something bizarre about it and I didn't even exist in the time when it was at its most bizarre, the 50s, the 1950s. At the same time, and I've said this before, I wish that there was this potion or serum that you could drink that would allow you for a moment to feel what the people living in that era felt about this. Ideology that to many of them seemed little better than what Hitler and the Third Reich was offering.
Starting point is 00:57:42 And whose desire as they saw it to extinguish freedom all over the world was about the most evil thing they could think of. When you are fighting the most evil thing you can think of, there's not a whole lot of things you're not willing to use to win. Case in point, atomic weapons. There's another element that's involved in this story that contributes to how bizarre it looks as we look back on it now. It's something that for a great many people was an article of faith at the time period, which we know to be false because, well, what they were worried about happening never happened. But they don't have that luxury and every era has its conventional wisdoms that it has to use in factoring out how to make decisions. We are as trapped by our own as they were by theirs. But a great many people and it's hard to quantify exactly how many, but it spanned the entire spectrum from world leaders and decision makers to the intellectuals down to the farmers and the ma and pa operators of hardware stores in Middle America.
Starting point is 00:59:05 It was this idea that war with the Soviet Union wasn't just a possibility, but that it was an eventual inevitability. And that colors your thinking in ways that if you don't believe that or if as we do, we know that that wasn't what was going to happen. It looks insane because you consider things that don't make sense outside of that context. For example, if war is going to happen eventually, more than 5000 years of human political and military history tells you it's better if it happens at a time and at a place of your own choosing. And also when your advantages are maximized and your adversaries are minimized. Since the end of the Second World War, no greater disparity in weapons technology has ever existed than when the United States had a monopoly on atomic weapons. Now, it should be pointed out that there were those even at the end of the Second World War, Patton famously and legendarily, the American general had suggested that since, you know, we already had our stuff all over there, everything was mobilized, everything was at the height of how we ought to fight that war with the Russians right now. But he was a notoriously gung-ho in a general. But even stone cold pacifists will be tempted by this temporary window of opportunity that exists. If the one atomic power on the planet wanted to, you know, kill the other potential one by strangling it in the cradle, and no one knew how long the window of opportunity was going to last, expert opinions differed.
Starting point is 01:00:56 President Truman is supposed to have asked J. Robert Oppenheimer how long he thought the monopoly would last. When do you think the Soviets will get the bomb? He's supposed to have replied, I don't know, to which Truman is supposed to have responded, I know, never. Truman didn't explain his thinking on that, whether or not he thought perhaps that the, you know, collective minds of mankind would come to their senses and international agreements would fix this problem, or because he believed World War III was imminent and the Soviet Union would be wiped off the map and your problem would disappear in a giant mushroom cloud. The military head of the Manhattan Project, General Groves, thought it was going to be two decades before the Soviets got the bomb, but concerned scientists and even pacifists were worried enough to consider the potential value of a preventative nuclear war. Bertrand Russell was jailed for opposing the First World War as a pacifist, wrote, you know, right after the Second World War, quote, Russia is sure to learn how to make it the atomic bomb. I think Stalin has inherited Hitler's ambition for world dictatorship. One must expect a war between USA and USSR, which will begin with the total destruction of London. I think the war will last 30 years and leave a world without civilized people, from which everything will have to be built afresh, a process taking, say, 500 years. There is one thing and one only which could save the world, and that is a thing which I should not dream of advocating. It is that America should make war on Russia during the next two years and establish a world empire by means of the atomic bomb. This will not be done, he writes. He then gives a speech pretty much right after that time to the British House of Lords. I'm quoting this, by the way, from Prisoner's Dilemma by William Poundstone, a wonderful book on one of the most famous scientists associated with atomic power, John von Neumann. And he quotes Russell as telling the House of Lords his nightmare scenario that would turn a pacifist into somebody that wanted a preventative nuclear war to be started. On his advice, he told the House of Lords, quote,
Starting point is 01:03:26 As I go about the street and see St. Paul's, the British Museum, the Houses of Parliament, and the other monuments of our civilization, in my mind's eye, I see a nightmare vision of those buildings as heaps of rubble with corpses all around them, end quote. When Russell, who's one of the more intelligent people of the century, theorizes that the next war, which he sees as imminent, will leave people uncivilized and that civilization will have to be rebuilt anew and it will take 500 years to get back to where we are now. Think of how apocalyptic that is. Now, humankind obviously faces these sorts of threats periodically. In fact, we still face this one now, although we don't think about it much. But I mean everything, for example, from global warming to some meteor hitting your planet or anything like that constitutes a grave potential threat and the dynamics of each one is different. So our reaction is different. Climate change, for example, because it needs to be figured out via mostly things like data and observation and science that it becomes an arguing ground for people with vested interest. These people had a different situation going on. The dynamics around atomic weapons had just been proven and seen. Basically, the attitude was, if you don't want to end up looking like Hiroshima and Nagasaki and here are some pictures, by the way, if you didn't see it, we have to do something. Doing something was a conundrum that these people found themselves a lot more trapped by than we would find ourselves trapped if we invented atomic weapons yesterday.
Starting point is 01:05:10 It is one of those little vagaries of history, isn't it, that a lot of these things happen at a time period where everyone is still all traumatized and stressed, not when you really want to hand the new powerful super weapon over to human beings. Let's let the human beings heal a little bit. I mean, if you discovered atomic bombs yesterday in a laboratory and we were talking about it today, how different might our approach to them be? You know, oh, these are terror. These could really do some damn. We better think about this. But, you know, nobody's ready to kill each other. We're not sitting on the knife's edge of tension. When Bertrand Russell gives that speech, remember what's going on in this guy's memory banks. Remember the life experience that he's forming his decision making with, which is the best line I think a history teacher ever gave me. He says, remember what these people have seen. Their life experiences determine how they formulate, you know, the best reaction in any given situation or the approach. Bertrand Russell was born in 1872 into a completely different world. And the reason it wasn't the world he was born into anymore is the two worst world wars in history destroyed it twice. The first one was so bad that they had this entire period afterwards where humankind said never again, not the first time nor the last time, and built up whole structures and treaties and arrangements and deals and everything. The League of Nations is just one example to see that this never happened again. And instead within 20 years, it did and it was worse than the first one. And at the end, it ended with atomic weaponry.
Starting point is 01:06:49 So if you're a Russell in 1945, a month or two after the war ended, you are suffering from historical post-traumatic stress disorder and so is everyone around you. So when you wonder how atomic bombs might be used, you're thinking they're probably going to be used like the last two things I saw happen within living memory. And it's going to be a lot messier than any of that. The other thing that these people have going on that I have to continually remind myself of, and it would be again so different if we developed these weapons yesterday, is that the two sides that are the, shall we call them, the tip of the spear in the Cold War, the USSR, the Soviet Union and the United States, both entered the Second World War as the result of a devastating surprise attack. Barbarossa, the German surprise attack on the Soviet Union in 1941 and then in December 1941, of course, Pearl Harbor. Imagine the next devastating surprise attack happening with atomic or nuclear weapons. And then remember that these people had already seen that movie just a few years ago. The other thing that they were absolutely certain that they had learned from the Second World War and the time leading up to it had to do with appeasement and how tough you had to be on people.
Starting point is 01:08:11 And all of these elements combined to create a dynamic where everyone was on a hair trigger alert and now they had these weapons that were so dangerous on one side. And this was key. In 1946, in northern Iran, when the Soviet Union did not leave as quickly as they were supposed to, President Truman is supposed to have threatened to use an atomic bomb on them and then seem pretty darn happy when they got out real fast. In other words, the idea that when you have this super weapon, you can impose your will on other people is really, really seductive. Truman, Secretary of War Henry Stimson explained the advantage that the atomic bomb gave the President and the United States and the West in poker terms. He said that when it comes to world power, the atomic bomb was the equivalent of a royal straight flush. That is a hard geopolitical hand to avoid playing, isn't it? I mean, what would people from earlier eras had done if they had nuclear weapons and a monopoly on them? Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, a bunch of Chinese emperors, Japanese Damios, or heck, Hitler.
Starting point is 01:09:32 Here, here's 50 atomic bombs, but don't use them. If Oppenheimer and those physicists who were talking about human beings having to rise to another kind of level of evolution in order to avoid destroying themselves, you can see why. Because actually imagining them in the hands of most of history's great figures in the past would sound like the prelude to a nightmare. It occurs to me maybe that question could be phrased a little differently and examined also. I mean, if the physicists were talking about a new level of human understanding being necessary to live with this sort of technology, maybe it's not fair to imagine atomic weapons in the hands of some of the most sociopathic leaders in history. How would humankind in general in the past have dealt with something like this as perhaps a fair comparison? If you could go back in my famous time machine, a very large version of it, and bring back nuclear weapons and some technicians to set them up and show them what button to push and everything. Do you think of people from the Bronze Age or the Iron Age nukes their adversary? If you give Hannibal nuclear weapons, explain what they do, set them up for him, hand him the button and say, if you push this, all of Rome will be gone and they'll be walking zombies with their skin hanging off and thousands dead and all that.
Starting point is 01:11:01 Does he push it or does he say, maybe I should think about this? It's interesting to wonder about the development over time of human ethical systems, but also something based on if you want to suggest the species learning, how about the idea of imagining Hannibal with that nuclear weapon? Having gotten a chance to already live through things like the First and Second World Wars, to have experienced Verdun and Stalingrad and gas and atomic bombs used in warfare, and then hand him the weapon and say, maybe now you understand the mess this sort of Damocles will leave, do you still want a new Chrome? I'll tell you what's fascinating to me and again it's part of the human condition, I'm not sure you could get around it. Is at this moment, and maybe this is the kind of stuff the physicists were talking about also, at this moment when it's all on this like doomsday clock knife edge and in 1947 scientists will inaugurate the doomsday clock because it's showing how close we are to destruction because of atomic weaponry and all that. Doesn't matter how close it is though to striking midnight, we're still playing politics in the world's democracies because that's how democracies work. To go back and read the political pressure on a guy like Truman that the opposition party uses against him and the typical political dynamics of trying to appeal to rural voters and swing states and it's insane how it changes a dynamic that you would really wish humankind could sit in a room and coldly and dispassionately with about one ounce of concern about the politics of it and think about this issue that bedevils us, right? And maybe all humankind, maybe all succeeding generations if you want to take it to the logical nth degree of hyperbole.
Starting point is 01:13:00 But no, we're still going to call the president soft on communism because it's going to help us in the congressional elections in a place like New York and we're darn close to taking the Senate back. But how else can a democracy run? I think and I don't think this is an unusual statement to make at all. If you look at US history, there are certain time periods where the country fundamentally changes. It's almost like a body part breaks and we replace it with something else that's reasonably similar if you want to fool yourself and dress it up but has been altered irrevocably and is unrecognizable to previous generations. The founding of this country and the change from the Confederation to the Constitution is one of them in my opinion. The Civil War and Reconstruction is another one in everybody's opinion. But if you look at the period and people would have different dates on this from about 1946 to about 1952, you see the United States government transformed. Historian Gary Wills and we described him talking about how the presidency and the power of one person to decide to go to war in a window of minutes changed that aspect of presidential power.
Starting point is 01:14:14 But then he goes on to list things that people who know American history all know anyway. All of the famous national security decisions and things like the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine and all these different things that when taken as a whole and when you look at them on the list, it's amazing how many happen in the space of a few years. Create the national security state and you should know my own biases before I go farther because I do have them in this case and it's worth factoring that into your thinking when you hear me. But I talk a lot about politics and in my opinion, the United States made the wrong course change during this time period and became a different country. A country much less connected to the one Americans believe that they have when they study what I like to call the myths of America and the Constitution as a lay person would understand it. I think September 11th and the 9-11 attacks is another one of these periods in US history and I think you see a similar dynamic then as well. In neither case, by the way, do I hold the decision makers accountable for having made the decisions at the time? I think it was inevitable, for example, that any US administration given what's going on would have freaked out and overreacted after 9-11.
Starting point is 01:15:29 I think the same is true in this period we're talking about here between 1946 and 1952. It is the later generations afterwards that I'm upset with for not fixing it. But the problem with historical memory is if trends go on long enough, whole generations are born never knowing what needs to be fixed because they never lived in the time before the change occurred. If you wanted to say, today we need to go back and fix the things that we did between 1946 and 1952 that Dan Carlin thinks were overreactions, how the heck do you get back that far? And a more critical question for a person like me is what if we like it better this way? So please note my biases at the outset, but this new national security setup that was developed from about 1946, 1946 to about 1952, it's when the CIA was created, the NSA, the entire structure of government that we know today that protects secrets and spies on the enemy and keeps us safe. I mean, it's our world now and this is when it happened. It seems to run counter to the very things that some of those scientists were saying we were going to have to do if we were going to avoid World War III, where they called for a new level of human understanding, whatever that is, and I don't pretend to understand exactly what these physicists wanted who said things like this.
Starting point is 01:17:01 But you got the opposite with the national security state, whereas some of these famous physicists, some of the most famous were saying in 1945 and 1946 that we should tell the Soviets about the bomb right when we started making it, or that we should give them the nuclear secrets after the war. Or think of how crazy that sounds to us today, you know, with our modern mentality, we should just give the terrorists all the nuclear bomb secrets. That sounds insane, doesn't it? And it sounded insane to a lot of the military class after the Second World War. We executed people in US history for turning over nuclear secrets and some of our physicists were suggesting that that's the sort of level of understanding that will take us to a new world where we can ease tensions so we don't have World War III. That's a pretty hard evolutionary tool to have to fight against because you have to combat your own fear. And as I think I've said before, fear is one of those evolutionary developments that has probably saved more lives in human history than anything else I can think of. Normally, it's a very good thing to have, right? Sabertooth Tiger comes at you back in caveman times, run, or kill it, or whatever you have to do, then protect yourself because you're afraid from Sabertooth Tiger attacks and put up fences, and the fear thing is not a bad condition. It helps with security, but if the very things that have always helped with security threaten not just your existence, but civilization, can you turn that evolutionary tool off if that's the only way to survive?
Starting point is 01:18:44 As I try to play with counterfactuals, you know, what if scenarios in this period, imagining it turning out differently than it did, I can't think of any that sound like they would be rationally imaginable. I mean, take for example the military in this situation. What are they supposed to do after the Second World War? Pretend they don't have a bomb if you're the United States? Or if you're the other side in this growing distrust, you know, that will turn into the Cold War, if you're the Soviet Union, do you just pretend the United States doesn't have an atomic bomb? How does that work? Like we said, it's, for the President of the United States, almost too good of a hand to resist, at least threatening to play. I mean, that's just politics, right? That's just foreign policy the way it's always been handled. And if you look at this from a strictly, you know, age-old power politics viewpoint, historian Michael Howard does a great job of just setting up the way the military saw this thing, to them, and we're speaking of them as a whole rather than some of the individuals, and even perhaps some of the various services, more on that in a minute, you know, saw these things, because that's what they're paid to do. Howard wrote, quote, when confrontation developed between the Soviet Union and the West shortly after the ending of the Second World War, the military on both sides foresaw business as usual. The Soviets planned to advance their Western glaces to the Atlantic to deny to the Americans the use of air bases in Western Europe, while the Americans hoped at least to retain bases in the British Isles, Spain, and the Middle East, from which to bombard the Soviet Union, and then in due course, in quotes here, liberate Europe for a second time. He continues, quote, the peoples of Europe knew nothing of these plans and would have shown little enthusiasm for them if they had. Next time, remarked a French Prime Minister who did know about them to his American colleagues, you will be liberating a corpse, end quote.
Starting point is 01:20:53 The problem you face in 1946-1947, if you're the United States military or Harry Truman and maybe you've already threatened to play that royal straight flush on the Soviets in Northern Iran once, the problem you have is you have very few of these bombs, although no one knows that, and you have no good way to deliver them. The next couple of years, the military and Harry Truman and the government of the United States will focus on a system to deliver Armageddon, if that's what's needed. Its official name was the Strategic Air Command, and it was part of this brand new branch of the United States military known as the Air Force, which used to be a part of the Army, and it was part of an entire reorganization that was also a part of this post. Second World War transformative period that changed US foreign policy and the whole design of government, the new Department of Defense, the new Pentagon, it was all part of this. And Strategic Air Command's job, if called upon to do it, was to destroy the Soviet Union's major cities with atomic weapons, and in the process, kill tens of millions of people. The mind sort of reels, doesn't it, when you think of how quickly we went from that. Well, to us today, it even looks like a rainbows and unicorns place of trying to craft legislation to rid the world of the scourge of atomic weaponry. To a year and a half, two years later, when the President has to deal with the approval of Air Force plans for winning World War III, that involve as the key part of the strategy something commonly referred to as the atomic blitzkrieg or atomic blitz. Trying to explain all the various things that go into why these decisions were made is complicated. And one of the main reasons why is how recent all this is. As we said before, you know, reality is complicated.
Starting point is 01:23:06 I don't have to tell you that. Social, cultural, economic, individual forces. I mean, a thousand things working on us in every direction all the time. Well, that's pretty much how it's always been. But you can't always see it in the sources. So when you go back to like ancient Egypt and you look at what historians write about that, they don't have access to all the information that would flesh out the reality of those people the way we feel it now. Consequently, history seems much more simple because the minor strands that are all interwoven around events are not visible back then. But the closer you get to now, the more visible those minor threads become and it's impossible to quantify the importance of this thread over that thread. For example, as I said earlier, he would love to think in a situation as important potentially as nuclear, you know, global nuclear war that we would have philosopher kings sitting in quiet rooms discussing with the most intelligent physicists and ethical people in the world how we deal with this situation. But instead, the normal things that impact humankind are at work here too, despite the stakes. We said politics in a democracy a little while ago. But it's more than just politics. How about such banal concerns as budgetary questions and interservice rivalry? To name just two. For example, I think you could make a pretty good argument and a lot of people have that the number one reason that you have an atomic blitz style strategy as the plan to win World War Three should it come during this time period has more to do with budgetary restraints than anything else.
Starting point is 01:24:51 And you again would wish that you had your philosopher kings and everything in the back room not worried about anything banal like politics and budgets and what have you. But reality intervenes, which is why this whole argument about having to change humanity in order to survive in a post atomic world is so difficult. As Einstein said, the atom changed everything but our modes of thinking. But it's hard to change your modes of thinking. I mean, think about Harry Truman after the war. Harry Truman's got to cut the budget because it's spending a fortune because it was just in the biggest war in history and it was doing the lion's share of funding. Can't stay at those levels, right? Can't live at those levels. So Harry Truman has to cut the military by what he figures is going to be 70% after the war. While still having to be able to fight World War Three should it come. And as we said, a lot of people thought it was imminent. How do you do that? Truman brought in business people who, you know, opened up their business books from college that just said, listen, it's all about prioritization and consolidation. There's no reason for all this redundancy. First of all, you know, you should just combine all these services and have no Air Force and no Navy, no Army, just one whole military defense structure.
Starting point is 01:26:09 You hear this argument all the time in this country. You hear it in other countries too. The services hate that because they all have a lot of pride in their own service and sometimes a little bit of antipathy toward the other ones. What's more, you had a whole new branch of the service out there, the US Air Force that had just been created, and all of them competing for an economic pie that was going to be cut by 70%. As you might imagine, in any country in any time period ever, you know, the knives came out and the backbiting started and the services had to get up there and essentially argue for why they were relevant and why they mattered and why they should get a larger piece of the economic defense pie. And it was the Air Force that ended up winning the argument. They went to the president and they basically said, if I can simplify this, there's only one branch of the service that will win World War III for you and it's us, because we're the ones who will send fleets of bombers over to the Soviet Union and bomb them with atomic bombs. Boom. This was a very contentious period in US defense history. Again, it's part of that entire era where the big change occurred between 46 and 52, but the services in some of these cases were fighting for their very existence. I mean, the second defense secretary, a guy named Louis A. Johnson, who was totally on board with this, let's get rid of a bunch of branches of the service idea, is supposed to have said this, quote, There is no reason for having a Navy in Marine Corps. General Bradley tells me that amphibious operations are a thing of the past. We'll never have any more amphibious operations.
Starting point is 01:27:48 That does away with the Marine Corps and the Air Force can do anything the Navy can do, so that does away with the Navy, end quote. He then goes on to cancel this giant supercarrier the Navy was building. And as you might imagine, things just go ballistic. It leads to something that's considered to be one of the more unusual and serious because there hasn't been a lot of them revolts by a branch of the service in American history. It's often referred to as a mutiny in some spheres. It would be very strange mutiny because usually it's the mutiny is from the lower levels of the Navy to the higher levels. This involved the highest levels of the Navy who came to the defense of the service by arguing for all sorts of things that you would understand. You know, they're just trying to make themselves look relevant. And of course the Navy can do this and no one else can. But the unusual argument that they also brought to the table and they brought it out in congressional hearings in a way that when you think about it as just shocking was they questioned the U.S. strategy of atomic bombs on moral grounds. In something known as the revolt of the admirals in congressional testimony, a bunch of war heroes from the Second World War, I mean guys like Chester Nimitz and everything came out.
Starting point is 01:29:02 And in arguing essentially that we don't like your plan to just go and drop atomic bombs on cities and that's how you're going to win the Third World War. But at the same time, you know, defending their own branch of the service, they decried the entire idea as un-American and immoral. As Eric Schlosser writes in Command and Control, quote, I don't believe in mass killings of non-combatants, end quote. Admiral Arthur W. Radford testified, quote, A war of annihilation might bring a Pyrrhic military victory, but it would be politically and economically senseless, end quote. The harshest criticism of the Air Force came from Rear Admiral Ralph A. Osti, who had toured the burned out cities of Japan after the war. He described the atomic blitz as, quote,
Starting point is 01:30:21 Random mass slaughter of men, women and children, end quote. The whole idea, he said, was ruthless and barbaric and contrary to American values, quote, We must ensure that our military techniques do not strip us of self-respect, end quote. Once again, hard to quantify and really know how much of the Navy's opposition to use of atomic bombs as the war-winning thing you base your strategy on was because their service didn't have any, and how much of it was based on moral grounds. The complaints would be notably muted when submarines could carry nuclear weapons, it should be noted, later on. But the admirals bring up a key moral question that people will wrestle with for decades, as a matter of fact, they still wrestle with. Is there an ethical way to fight an atomic or nuclear war?
Starting point is 01:31:17 Is there a way to bomb cities and civilians with atomic weapons and have it still square with American values and the values of the freedom-loving West as it would have been known back then in general? I mean, they're fighting a bad guy, as I said, you go read the literature at the time, it is clear. This might as well be, you know, the Third Reich again, and Joseph Stalin might as well be Hitler. Now, little known fact here in the United States, but the Soviet Union will mellow out a bit after Stalin goes away, but this is the hardcore era still. He is considered to be a ruthless guy, and communism appears to be on the move. But if you kill tens of millions of civilians using atomic bombs in order to thwart the evils of a totalitarian superpower, how much evil do you get splashed on you in the process? And what if you strike first? That's the second thing that came into play, even pacifist Bertrand Russell for a little while was thinking that the United States should strike first to keep the bomb out of the hands of guys like Joseph Stalin.
Starting point is 01:32:30 Interesting to think about what our history books would look like today and how it would treat the subject of a preventative nuclear war had the United States acted on that kind of premise back in the day when Bertrand Russell was making those speeches. By the way, in all fairness to Bertrand Russell, he would change his opinion later on this. Nonetheless, I can't imagine the history books treating it all that nicely today to try to explain away all those deaths to keep the Soviet Union from getting an atomic weapon. One is reminded of Friedrich Nietzsche's line about be careful when fighting monsters that you yourself do not become a monster. It's a tough ethical dilemma, isn't it? And from my own standpoint, I find this period fascinating because if you think about the ethical dilemma, maybe of putting a handgun that's loaded into the hands of a five year old boy, that's kind of what I feel like this period is here. Maybe the most dangerous period in atomic history because it's the one where we're still trying to figure out, you know, if Oppenheimer is right and we have to grow into a new higher version of ourselves to survive, this is the period of like adolescence. Can we do it before, you know, we shoot something and it's a period where the tension is mounting at such a pace. I think Michael Sherry, the historian says that the drumbeat of crisis and initiatives was relentless during this time period. You go look at a timeline and it's one thing after another, bam, bam, bam, bam.
Starting point is 01:34:05 And remember, those are the things that make it into the history books. That totally discounts what the people in that era, reading their morning newspaper on a day to day basis would have had to contend with. All the rumors and lies and threats and maneuvers and things that might happen but never turned out to be true. They sweat that out on a daily basis. So if you're talking about these things that sound horrific to us today that anyone would even consider, you don't understand the threat those people thought they were facing. The fact that we know that their worst nightmares won't come true can't be allowed to blind us from the position that they found themselves. And remember, we have the luxury of knowing how things turn out. It changes everything, doesn't it though? It makes it very difficult to put ourselves back in those shoes and I want that serum that instantly allows you to go, oh my God, I'm so scared that the communists are going to take over the world. You know, when I was growing up in the 1970s, there was something known as the domino theory of communism and it was this idea that it spreads from one country to another. And that, you know, as soon as one falls, it subverts the next one over there and it was supposed to explain this exponential growth of communism in the world and why you needed to be concerned about all these little countries.
Starting point is 01:35:19 You would say, well, who cares about this little out of the way place if they go communist. It's not exactly like they're in the center of the world. You know, why do they matter? And you say, oh, you don't understand. It's the domino effect. They will subvert the country next door and then you can't let it get a foothold. And in the 70s when I was growing up, you were beginning to think that that was crazy, although there were still a lot of proponents. But the reason it looks so out of whack is because in the 1970s when I was a kid, things had stabilized. That was a theory developed by people that were watching reality unfold back in the era we're talking about now where it did look like dominoes were falling and it looked like they were falling quickly. And there were a couple of different kinds. Covert and overt, for example. At the beginning of 1948, the Czechoslovakian government is overthrown in a coup and they become part of the communist bloc. One of their famous ministers found at the bottom of a multi-story apartment dead in an apparent suicide out of his window, which many people believe now was nothing but Russian agents tossing them over the side.
Starting point is 01:36:20 But that began to give everything sort of a very spy, underhanded clandestine, you know, the enemy within sort of feel. And communism was different than fighting Nazism. You didn't have to worry about Nazism as an intellectual contagion very much. Whereas communism was something that could appeal to downtrodden peoples everywhere, including in your own countries. So all of a sudden you had a new enemy to deal with. Potentially some of your own people had changed things too, as everyone knows. A couple of red scares, if nothing else. The McCarthy era. And some legitimate problems with, you know, people who were spying because they had an intellectual affinity for the beliefs of the Soviet Union. And I get letters from communists all the time saying, you always portray communism in such a terrible light. All we can go on is the examples we have. If they don't match the potential of the classroom theories, well, I can't help that. I can only tell you what the Joseph Stalin regime was like. And it wasn't pretty. And if you want to point out the problems that the West has, I'm going to agree with you on all of them, but there's still no comparison.
Starting point is 01:37:34 In this case, the Soviets just were ruthless. And the United States and others argued that you had to meet that kind of ruthlessness with a similar sense of resolve. And some of this resolve required the ability to push back in places. A couple months into 1948, Joseph Stalin does something that tests the resolve of the West, if you will, in a way that is so challenging, it's like calling your bluff in that high stakes poker game. Michio Kaku and Daniel Axelrod in their book How to Win a Nuclear War say that by this time period, Harry Truman has already threatened the Soviets four times with a nuclear bombing. Maybe bluffs, but never came to a head because the Soviets gave in. On June 24, 1948, a pretty darn good geopolitical chess player himself, Joseph Stalin makes a move that basically calls the entire nuclear bluff of the West and shuts down all the rail lines and the land routes that were supplying West Berlin. The place occupied by the French, the British, and the Americans that they shared with the Soviets and that was deeply inside the rest of Soviet Eastern Germany at the time. Only allowed to exist because Stalin allowed food and everything to go through. On June 24, 1948, he stopped allowing that.
Starting point is 01:39:10 And then basically looked at the United States and the rest of the world and in his own geopolitical way said, check. Now you may be thinking to yourself that we are overplaying the poker and chess analogies a little bit. Because they are things, by the way, that can always be applied to diplomacy and foreign affairs and realpolitik and all that. You can always compare those things to chess matches and whatnot, but nothing so fits the model as the Cold War. And in fact, in due time, an alternative approach to Oppenheimer and the physicists idea that we're going to have to grow as a species or we're going to wipe each other out will begin to be developed along the lines of things that we call today game theory. And that we're already underway in the minds of people like John von Neumann and others, developing ways to see if we could use our intelligence to not drastically lose the game. If humans had to adapt or die to their new weapons technology, was the only kind of adaptation that was going to work an evolutionary one? Or if that was impossible, did humankind have a backup plan for living with this sort of technology? In this case, what Stalin had said in a foreign policy sort of terms is, are you really going to start World War Three over this?
Starting point is 01:40:44 All I did was say, you could no longer have access to a city deeply behind the border in our territory or at least where we're in charge of defending our zone, our sphere of influence. We haven't attacked anybody, you'd be attacking us first. What would world opinion say, you're going to start World War Three over this? And if you do, not only, you know, will the war start, but we'll start with wiping out all of your forces that are in Berlin now. An appetizer for World War Three, if you will. How do you respond to that? And especially in this period where, once again, it's hard to get into the minds of these people, but everything you read talks about how much both sides in this Cold War thought that they learned from World War Two and the lead up to that. The whole idea of appeasement is ever present in the discussions, right?
Starting point is 01:41:39 Hitler proves the point for every maniacal, aggressive dictator everywhere, right? They're all like Hitler, so everything that would have applied to Hitler applies to everything else, and in the sense of a Joseph Stalin, you cannot show weakness. So do you start World War Three over this? Well, the wheels were in motion. And very soon, a solution on the ground, apparently, by a local commander who started to have food flown into Berlin, because apparently Stalin wasn't going to shoot down airplanes, I guess they found pretty quickly. And very quickly, Harry Truman saw that as the life preserver thrown to him, right? What are your choices? Start nuclear war or let Stalin get away with it?
Starting point is 01:42:21 Well, what about we don't start nuclear war either? We just start supplying the city. Now, what are you going to do? You're a move. See how this game thing works so well in this situation? I'm not going to start nuclear war first. And what will be known as the Berlin Airlift by the time it's finished and it'll be, you know, ongoing for more than a year, the United States and the other Western allies will fly in 1.5 million tons of coal, fuel, and other necessary products for everyone in West Berlin with nearly 200,000 flights into the city. It's an amazing achievement and was an easy out to avoid World War III.
Starting point is 01:43:06 But worth noting that during the crisis, especially in July 1948, discussions and real discussions were had amongst the United States, the President, his advisors about whether or not you start nuclear war over this. And they're fascinating to go back and look at. You begin to see this big divide between those who think that nuclear weapons are this special class of weapon that you must treat totally differently than any weapon that's ever been invented ever and those who think it's just a bigger bomb. For the purposes of our story here, which is more about humanity adapting to its weapons capabilities. The 1948-1949 Berlin Airlift crisis is key because it's the first time that you get the rubber meets the road practical questions that hadn't really arisen to this point. It's almost like you have to have the crisis before people will actually sit down in a room together and debate questions that should have come up a long time ago, like, what can we really accomplish with these weapons? What can you do with them? Now, everyone understood that you can threaten with them because they'd already done this before.
Starting point is 01:44:16 By the way, it's a strategy known as escalation dominance and you don't need atomic or nuclear weapons for that strategy. It's always been used, actually. It just works very well with atomic weaponry, but it's basically the idea that you're willing to take it to the next level. You really want to fight over this? We'll nuke you. And if the other side doesn't have nuclear weapons, well, that's the end of that game, right? The problem is, is that that's a bluff game. And what these people are asking now, having played the bluff game three or four times already since the Second World War, is what if we're forced to play this hand? What does that mean? And then getting to the really practical realities, things like, do we have the planes in place? How many bombs do we have? What are we going to target? And if we target those places and destroy them, does that get us what we want? These are the kind of things that had been sort of compartmentalized and talked about in various branches of government.
Starting point is 01:45:07 The Berlin Airlift Crisis brings all these people together with the President to have really fundamental discussions of the sort that hadn't happened before, and you could see these broad differences of opinion. The military men, by and large, are under the impression that when we go to World War III, we're just going to use the new weapons too, the way we use the old ones. And some of the other people, for example, the head of the Atomic Energy Commission, David Lillenthal, he's part of the group of people that are counseling Truman in this key moment during the Berlin Airlift Crisis, not to use the nuclear weapons. The July 1948 meeting between Truman and his various advisers is talked about in the Chio Keiko and Daxle Ross book, and they write, quote, In his journal that day, Lillenthal, the Atomic Energy Commission head, wrote that Truman, quote, greeted us rather solemnly. He looked worn and grim, none of the joviality that he sometimes exhibits. I rather think it was one of the most important meetings I have ever attended, end quote. The authors continue, quote,
Starting point is 01:46:10 At the meeting, some, like Lillenthal, expressed reservations about using nuclear weapons. Secretary Royal, however, spoke for the hardliners when he said, quote, We've been spending 98% of all the money for Atomic Energy for weapons. Now, if we aren't going to use them, that doesn't make any sense, end quote. But even those who are trying to figure out maybe that you can just use these weapons as a bluff have a problem themselves. They want to deter with these things, and something strategy-wise that would become known as deterrence, their problem is that for that to work, the other side needs to think that you would use the weapons. So you can't publicly come out there and say, these are the most awful things in the world.
Starting point is 01:46:56 We would never use these weapons because then you can't threaten to use them anymore, and then they have no utility if you're one of these people who believes that you won't really use them. You won't play the hand, but you'll threaten with them. But in order for the threat to work, people have to believe you'll go there. As one author I was reading pointed out, where he said, If the bomb's too terrible to use under any circumstances, it has no deterrent value. So even if you're one of those people that would never foresee the use of atomic weapons, you can't say that because then they're no good at all.
Starting point is 01:47:30 This becomes the main conundrum of using the bomb, and during this period, there's one main part of the conundrum that we understand today that's missing. Because if World War III breaks out in response to some event connected to the Berlin Airlift in 1948, only one side is going to have atomic weapon reused on them. If you're the American public and you're sweating out these increasing tensions, you can at least comfort yourself in the idea that in the era of atomic war in 1948, you're still safe from being nuked because your government is the only one that has the weapons. In 1949, that will change, and that will change everything.
Starting point is 01:48:17 Part two of The Destroyer of Worlds. 1949 is a terrible year in terms of the Cold War. The only thing that keeps it from being, say, the most terrible year in all world history in terms of danger are technological limitations. You give 1949 the same technology we had in 1969, and I think it is the worst year ever, most dangerous. A lot of things happen in 49 that make people very edgy. I mean, for example, after a long-running civil war with an intermission during the Second World War, the Chinese communists finally gained victory in their civil war over the Nationalists.
Starting point is 01:48:56 The Nationalists go over to Taiwan, the communists declare a communist country, and all of a sudden, Soviet Russia, the largest land power in the world in terms of actual geographic size, has added to it a country roughly the size of the United States geographically and with the largest population in the world. Communism just took in 25% of the world's population and added it to its ranks. That's how a country like the United States or the UK would have seen the situation. To zero some game and all of a sudden, communism just took China and we lost it. Be a big political debate in the United States for a long time. Which party in the White House lost China as though China was ours to lose? 1949 is also the year NATO is formed, an attempt to begin to cobble together a European defense strategy
Starting point is 01:49:46 from a whole bunch of countries still trying to recover from the damage of the Second World War. Remember, only one country came out of the Second World War, major ones anyway, any better off than they went into it. That was the United States. Everybody else was recovering. Certain countries like the Soviet Union from really grievous wounds. And that's partly the reason why the estimates may be on how long it would take the Soviets to get their own atomic bomb were so off. How did they do it so quickly? The military head of the Manhattan Project, General Groves, didn't think that the Soviets would get it for 20 years. They got it 16 years sooner than he thought they'd get it.
Starting point is 01:50:24 Now there's no doubt that espionage played a key role in helping, but it doesn't change the fact that it took the Soviets about the same amount of time it took the United States, the UK, and the Canadians in the Manhattan Project to build their bomb. On August 29, 1949, in the Central Asian Deserts, the first Soviet A-bomb test goes off. The United States finds out from a monitoring plane that was just sort of keeping track of radioactivity, Joseph Stalin, not the kind of guy to come out and announce anything about anything. The USA though thought he was going to, so after debating whether or not they should tell the people of the world that the Soviets were in atomic power now, one of Truman's advisors specifically mentioning the panic after the war of the world's broadcast by Orson Welles and saying that the whole thing might cause a panic,
Starting point is 01:51:18 but in an attempt to sort of get ahead of the Soviets if they were going to announce it and to put the proper spin on it, Truman came forward and basically said, the Soviets have it and this is why it's so important to control these kinds of weapons. Thus ends that tiny little period at the beginning of the atomic and nuclear age, where atomic power rested in the hands of merely a single country. It's somewhat amazing given the state of human affairs that with its monopoly, one country didn't use that weapon to dominate the world, so maybe one could suggest that in an ethical sense it showed human progress. But perhaps Bertrand Russell's line about how long you could expect a man to walk across that tightrope would say, hold on, they haven't had to do this for very long.
Starting point is 01:52:11 First round goes to man's ethical and evolutionary growth because we avoided bombing the Soviet Union when only one country had the bombs, but now two countries have the bomb. How's that going to change the dynamic? Well it takes the fear level and exponentially confounds it because now all of a sudden the United States has to worry about having the same thing happen to it that places like Belgium and Germany have had to worry about forever. Now the US isn't going to get invaded in the old fashioned sense, but what's the difference if eventually some other power can just ignore the fact you have a couple of oceans protecting you and turn your cities into smoking heaps of rubble? The United States hadn't faced anything comparable to this since the British burned the capital building in the war of 1812. Psychologically it would affect any power. The United States though, with this extra sense of invulnerability it's always had,
Starting point is 01:53:08 was in a unique place in its history. Now the other side becoming a nuclear power does a couple of things. First of all, it closes the circle in terms of creating the dynamic that we have lived with ever since. This dynamic of both sides being able to do incredible amounts of damage to each other, at least theoretically. Very different dynamic than only one side being able to do that. The other thing that happens in a geopolitical sense is the era of the United States having that mastercard, as the Secretary of Defense had said, the royal straight flush, that's over with. The window of opportunity as another advisor had said this period when the US was the only nuclear power, that's over with too.
Starting point is 01:54:00 And predictably the question of how to respond ran the gamut with even sober humanitarian type scientists trying to figure out if all of a sudden the balance of rational thought had swung towards the idea of, well now that they are a nuclear power, we should nuke them while we can. In his book Prisoner's Dilemma, author William Poundstone quotes Harry Truman's science advisor, a guy named William Golden, who penned a letter where he tried to imagine how a man from Mars might view the geopolitical situation. In other words, somebody who didn't have any human skin in the game, just from a purely dispassionate outside observer's viewpoint. About the Soviets having the bomb now in the way that the US and the rest of the West should respond and he said quote. This brings up the matter of immediate use or threat of use of our weapons.
Starting point is 01:54:59 Let us not delude ourselves. To bring about a true international control agreement with Russia, we would have to use them. The consequences would be dreadful indeed, even though I assume that the Russians have so few A-bombs now that they could do little or no damage to the USA, even if they could put them on target. In theory, we should issue an ultimatum and use the bombs against Russia now. For from here on, we inevitably lose ground. And this is true no matter at how much greater a rate we produce, no matter how much more potent weapons. For once Russia is in a position to put A-bombs on our cities, no matter how inefficient those bombs may be and how few in number, she is in a position to do us unspeakable injury, that we can retaliate a hundredfold or wipe out every Russian will not repair the damage. So a good though immoral case can be made by the disinterested man from Mars for our shooting at once. End quote. He then goes on to say, however we won't do it of course, no matter what the alternative, because the public would never support it.
Starting point is 01:56:03 The last comment is fascinating again, because you're again tempted to see it as some sort of an ethical evolutionary change. I mean, would the ancient Bronze Age civilizations have hesitated a minute? I don't know. Of course, if one wanted to look at it in a more cynical way, maybe you just say, no one wants to be living on what will turn into a nuclear battlefield if such a war breaks out. So when your country talks about starting one, or being the first to introduce such a weapon, I think maybe there's just a survival instinct that kicks in and maybe the people from the Bronze Age would have understood that perfectly. But we come to another one of those moments now, a fork in the road, a decision between maybe what you could call doing things the way we always have for all the right reasons, enacting in a way that would sort of defy your expectations given human history. And it's what do you do now? What do you do if you're the United States and you just had your atomic monopoly destroyed?
Starting point is 01:57:12 Human nature and all of human history would say you try to go get another monopoly. You continue work, right? You develop the next system. You regain dominance and superiority in that field. Nobody wants to be the one who's the last person to invent a machine gun or something like that. You could lose a war that way. The last nation to get an air force, right? But if you are already struggling to try to figure out how to handle, you know, not having catastrophe strike in the world of atomic weapons, how sort of against the grain from an Einstein or an Oppenheimer viewpoint does it sound to talk about making a super, super weapon? The super was actually the nickname for the next level in human weapon redevelopment that was already theorized and that work had already begun on. A weapon that would make the atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki look like nothing.
Starting point is 01:58:19 Weapons that required a bomb like the bomb used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a primer for its main explosion. A guy named Edward Teller is most famous for association with what will be the weapon that makes atomic bombs obsolete. A guy like J. Robert Oppenheimer, who one of Truman's aides said was too much of a poet and not enough of a hard-headed realist. But the kind of bomb that a guy like J. Robert Oppenheimer would say is farther than we should go. We should no longer develop more powerful weapons than the ones we have. But think about how much that runs against the grain of human behavior. Could we, if faced with extinction, decide to cap weapons research and development, we will never discover anything more powerful or deadly than this? How do you shut off information like that? How do you keep someone else from developing it?
Starting point is 01:59:25 These are the age-old problems that humanity has always had to deal with. And right after the Soviets demonstrate that they too are now in atomic power, Harry Truman has to wrestle once again with all sorts of forces and uncertainties. And he's in a brand new era of human history with no roadmap. This is a guy, by the way, who had been vice president for like five minutes when Franklin Roosevelt died and who had cried saying he wasn't up to the job. He's dropped two nuclear weapons on Japan, ended the Second World War in effect, and now he's called upon to face these kind of pressures. It's crazy. One can only, whether you think he did a good job or not, have some sympathy for the, for the haberdasher from Missouri, which is what this guy was. The artillery captain from the First World War.
Starting point is 02:00:22 Truman is not one of the great minds of history, one of the Marcus Aurelius-type leaders. He's just a pretty normal human being put in a situation where he literally is making decisions about whether or not we can build stuff to destroy the world with. And whether or not that's a good decision. After the Soviets blow up their first A-bomb, Truman asks for some help and some advisors, and he gets the wise men together. It's not exactly philosopher kings, but it is the physicists who invented the first weapon. A bunch of them anyway, led by the guy Truman's aide thought was too much of a poet, J. Robert Oppenheimer. Obviously quoting texts from the Bhagavad Gita, so maybe there's a point there. Nonetheless, puts him in a room in October 1949, says, should we develop the next level of weaponry above atomic weapons?
Starting point is 02:01:18 Is it possible? And if we did it, would it help? And do we need a Manhattan program for the next super weapon? The one that makes our current super weapon obsolete. And the physicists went in a room, talked about this, and issued a report. And the report by the physicists said, don't build this weapon. This weapon, by the way, is something today we call a thermonuclear bomb, or a thermonuclear warhead, a hydrogen bomb. Thousands of times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and described by nuclear expert Joseph Cerencioni as the equivalent of bringing a literal piece of the sun down onto Earth. There is no upper limit to their power.
Starting point is 02:02:12 In the report, Oppenheimer and Friends, essentially now five years after the atomic bomb was dropped, have a chance to see how humanity's dealing with it, and they've decided maybe, in reading between the lines here, that we haven't evolved enough yet for something like the hydrogen bomb, the report says, quote, we believe a super bomb should never be produced. Mankind would be far better off not to have a demonstration of the feasibility of such a weapon until the present climate of world opinion changes. End quote. Is that code for until we evolve more? They also seem to be suggesting that this is a chance to provide an example
Starting point is 02:02:56 on how we can break the patterns of the past because we have to to survive. They write, quote, in determining not to proceed to develop the super bomb, we see a unique opportunity of providing by example some limitations on the totality of war, and thus limiting the fear and arousing the hopes of mankind. End quote. There's that poet Oppenheimer and his rainbow and unicorns coming out again. The people around Truman might say. The great Enrico Fermi and another physicist penned an even more apocalyptic response.
Starting point is 02:03:41 They didn't think that the one that I just read to you goes far enough. They wrote this and I'll quote it in its entirety because it is shocking. They are basically saying you are inventing weapons that can now do the equivalent of creating giant natural catastrophes. If you could turn on, for example, the ability to cause a massive tsunami or something. Fermi and his colleague write quote. A decision on the proposal that an all out effort be undertaken for the development of the super cannot in our opinion be separated from considerations abroad national policy.
Starting point is 02:04:17 A weapon like the super is only an advantage when its energy releases from 100 to 1000 times greater than that of ordinary atomic bombs. The area of destruction therefore would run from 150 to approximately 1000 square miles or more. Necessarily such a weapon goes far beyond any military objective and enters the range of very great natural catastrophes. By its very nature it cannot be confined to a military objective but becomes a weapon which in practical effect is almost one of genocide. It is clear that the use of such a weapon cannot be justified on any ethical ground
Starting point is 02:04:54 which gives a human being a certain individuality and dignity even if he happens to be a resident of an enemy country. It is evident to us that this would be the view of peoples in other countries. Its use would put the United States in a bad moral position relative to the peoples of the world. Any post-war situation resulting from such a weapon would leave unresolvable enmities for generations. A desirable peace cannot come from such an inhuman application of force. The post-war problems would dwarf the problems which confront us at present." That's pretty harsh and you can say to yourself,
Starting point is 02:05:31 well you know some of these physicists live in their own unreal world but David Lillenthal from the Atomic Energy Commission one of the people who pushed back against the idea of using atomic bombs during the Berlin Airlift wrote in his diary about the way the government was leaning and it was not in the direction the physicist wanted when he said, quote, More and better bombs. Where will this lead? Is difficult to see. We keep saying we have no other course. What we should say is we're not bright enough to see any other course.
Starting point is 02:06:05 End quote. So you run into the people that give you the old Machiavellian reality which is we've got to build these bombs because the other side is going to build them too and the last thing you want to do is be the last person to own the next level of weaponry which makes total sense given our history. What the physicists are telling us is that everything you learned in your history everything that's been you know pasted onto your DNA from thousands of years of human evolution since cities first cropped up is obsolete
Starting point is 02:06:37 and you can either change that standard template you know by which you gauge what you should do in any given situation or you can find yourself a victim of a weapon that makes an atomic bomb look like a conventional bomb. Truman as usual had many more pressures weighing on him. David Lillenthal in his diary also records a statement by Senator Brian McMahon who describes sort of the mood that the American people would have if they found out that the Russians had an H-bomb but the United States didn't
Starting point is 02:07:16 he said quote why a president who didn't approve going ahead on the H-bomb all out would be hanged from a lamp post if the Russians should get it and we hadn't end quote. Kind of hard to argue with that logic isn't it? It's the same logic we'd operate with today. Man it's hard not to be struck here isn't it when you consider this strange divide between the level of the intelligence of the people that were put together to create these super weapons
Starting point is 02:07:50 versus the level of intelligence of the people whose decision it will be whether or not to use them. The political class in these democracies and republics for example but let's remember as that statement by that senator points out how heavily influenced they are by public opinion. If we're living on a knife edge over how these weapons are used and how wise we can be about them do you really want that decision devolving down to the average Joe and Jane level?
Starting point is 02:08:24 The counter proposal by the way by physicists like Oppenheimer over why you don't need to build this super weapon is that you've reached a maximum threshold when it comes to the power of these weapons to do anything. They offer the idea that you can just use atomic bombs to deter anyone who's got any weapon greater because you don't need anything bigger than that. They may say we'll drop a hydrogen bomb on your city that's a thousand times more powerful than your puny A-bomb.
Starting point is 02:08:54 Yes but the puny A-bomb still basically takes out the city. You're trading cities for cities and what Oppenheimer and those guys were saying is that once you lose a city in this deal and once you're trading city for city you have the deterrent value you need to stop somebody else from attacking you with any kind of weapon. This is the beginning of the ideas of nuclear deterrence and you begin to see the introduction into this debate of a civilian class of intellectuals
Starting point is 02:09:27 who become sort of the alternative to the rainbow and unicorn poets like Oppenheimer's approach where they want us to become different people than we've always been. The other side of that coin is these people who would say we're not going to change and it's too hard to change the system isn't flexible enough even if we wanted to change so we're going to have to learn how to live with these weapons as intelligently as we can.
Starting point is 02:09:51 And big civilian thinkers started to meet with each other starting in about 1945 right after the first A-bombs were dropped at the end of the Second World War and they began to coalesce in groups and meetings at major universities places like Yale for example and these experts would come from a wide range of disciplines social scientists, political scientists, physicists of course but also people like the civilian leaders of agencies
Starting point is 02:10:15 David Lillenthal from the Atomic Energy Commission was there and they would debate these fundamental questions that simply had to be answered in this new era. First of all, could you use these weapons? If you used them, did that make ground war and tanks and armies obsolete? What would World War III be like? All kinds of fundamental questions now
Starting point is 02:10:39 the problem for these people is that all of this stuff is part of what you normally consider to be the responsibility and the prerogative of the military leaders. You don't tell the general how to use his weapons that's not your business you tell me where to go and what to do in terms of winning I'll take care of it. But now the weapons were so powerful
Starting point is 02:11:04 that many of the big thinkers out there argued that simply using them had huge political implications something you could not delegate to a general on the ground who might think he needed atomic weapons to blow up the entrenchments on that enemy hill not realizing that he could lose the entire war of global public opinion by doing so, right? In other words, the use of this most powerful weapon
Starting point is 02:11:27 had to be in the hands of the supreme leader whomever that might be. Well in 1950, that's still Harry Truman by the way and in January 1950 after reading the report from Oppenheimer and his fellow scientists saying don't build the super bomb Truman decides to build the super bomb the reasons given
Starting point is 02:11:49 and the people around him who have given the reasons they all revolve around the same thing again, easily understandable stuff you can't be outgunned Truman even mentioned the psychology of it even if you believed the idea that Oppenheimer floated, that you can just use A bombs against their H bombs the psychological effect on the American people was unacceptable
Starting point is 02:12:09 so it was a standard understandable response they're gonna get it so we have to have it and you know the way you can kind of reliably test to see if this is something that you know if there was such a thing as collective human DNA I mean for the species as a whole that it's in there somewhere can you imagine humankind
Starting point is 02:12:30 saying no to a more powerful weapon system I mean I'm sure there's groups on the planet there's a very peaceful group of people in that part of the world they would say no but as a whole when you think of the powers at the very height of you know importance can you imagine them saying you know yes we know that's a much bigger and more powerful weapon than we have but we're okay with what we currently possess
Starting point is 02:12:51 we don't need that bigger weapon it's I mean if the aliens landed tomorrow and we found out the biggest weapon they had destroy the galaxy in the blink of an eye was the X-14 there are gonna be people on this planet right away that say we have to have an X-14 they'll walk all over us if we don't have one
Starting point is 02:13:09 even if we don't know how to use it even if it might destroy the galaxy as long as we have one they can't just roll all over they have to take it into account right we become a player we will not be subject to escalation dominance psychologically it's important for those aliens to know we have an X-14 too
Starting point is 02:13:29 here's the thing though the Truman administration at the time that he approves going ahead with this hydrogen bomb still hasn't figured out how to use the great power of the atomic bomb they're still trying to figure out what you do with that because it's so powerful and yet now we're gonna move ahead with something that's hundreds of times more powerful than that Truman has taken the pistol out of the hands of that five-year-old
Starting point is 02:13:53 who was trying to figure out what you do with that and handed him a machine gun instead he still doesn't know what to do with it but at least it's a lot more powerful and that's kind of where we are because in this period between 1945 and 1950 when it's this theoretical period punctuated by lots of scares and near misses and threats and all that
Starting point is 02:14:16 people are trying to figure out what you can really do with these things Oppenheimer and his folk had said you don't need anything bigger than an atomic bomb the problem is is during this time period there is no chance to do what will later be called counter force really counter force means using your nuclear weapons
Starting point is 02:14:34 against the enemy's military targets at this stage of development you are lucky to use them against anything you use them against big things cities with people these are city destroying weapons and that's what you use them for in this period the question though that more political minds are asking
Starting point is 02:14:55 during this period is does that get us what we want? I mean if the thought is that you're going to kill millions and millions of people do you end up with an outcome you know in the end that was better than what you had before and then of course a really important question during the entire period of the Cold War
Starting point is 02:15:17 now is does the other side really think you do that? remember there are really during this period two kinds of people when it comes to nuclear weapons the kind who thinks you can use these things and who plan to and the kind who thinks you can't use them but even those people think that they still make up a part of what you can use
Starting point is 02:15:41 to threaten other people I mean the best use of this tool as many theorists during this period thought about it anyway was that it created something where you could tell someone else do that or else or don't do that or else
Starting point is 02:16:00 you'll get nuked remember Truman did this several times after the Second World War before 1950 but in April 1950 Truman is presented with a document that will become one of the most important and yet very little known actually documents in American history
Starting point is 02:16:19 it's called NSC 68 and it did a lot of things including you know pushed forward some of the hydrogen bomb development stuff but what NSC 68 did in paragraph after paragraph is spot the holes in this entire defense strategy the fact that you basically were relying
Starting point is 02:16:39 on a threat that the threat were called you either had to nuke the other side and kill millions of people or back down well other powers could test that they could try to find a point underneath the threshold
Starting point is 02:16:58 of when you would use these weapons I mean what if somebody just sort of gobbled up their neighbor a little at a time and say you nuke them allies were worried about this too because they were starting to think that maybe the United States would be willing to use nuclear weapons for themselves and their own protection
Starting point is 02:17:20 but if it was somebody in Europe that they said they'd protect maybe they don't nuke anyone for that maybe they don't kill millions and millions and millions of Russians if the Russians invade West Germany that kind of thing would make the West Germans nervous for example one of the things NSC 68 said is that the risk that they were running right now with their strategy of
Starting point is 02:17:43 nuke everything or nothing was quote the risk was having no better choice than to capitulate or precipitate a global war end quote in other words they had no flexibility at all it was nukes or nothing and so NSC 68 becomes this document that advocates a huge increase
Starting point is 02:18:00 back to spending on conventional weapons tanks, planes, naval ships all the other stuff but doesn't back off the nuclear stuff either in other words whereas before the budgetary choice was between this or that now it's this and that and everything more this becomes the document
Starting point is 02:18:17 that begins the giant military buildup and the US in the role as sort of the policeman of the free world that we still live with today now initially Truman looked at this thing and we were told by the history books thought this was going to be horribly expensive and Truman tended to be fiscally conservative
Starting point is 02:18:36 and he sort of put it on hold and thought about it a little bit and then in June on the 25th actually, 1950 the North Korean Communist invaded South Korea and what that meant was that all of a sudden and moving very quickly and hard to get your mind around and react and debate and deliberate
Starting point is 02:18:56 what it initially seemed like it was too much money to spend for Truman and probably Congress and the American people I think it was something like a virtual tripling of US defense expenditures seemed like a no-brainer now that all of a sudden for all intents and purposes
Starting point is 02:19:15 as far as anyone could tell with quickly moving events the fuse for the Third World War seemed to have been lit the Korean War as it's come to be known is so fascinating and has so many things involved that have nothing to do with the great powers that would make a wonderful discussion all by itself I'm going to really resist going off into too many tangents
Starting point is 02:19:39 and try to stay on the focus which is that it's a completely different sort of challenge than trying to live with these amazingly powerful weapons and the temptation and the fear and the uncertainty that they bring to the table this new thing in peacetime even with all the threats and the scares it's an entirely different matter
Starting point is 02:20:03 to try to deal with the temptation and fear and uncertainty involving them in wartime and let's also remember the very other human elements involved that are operating sort of underneath the scenes here there are a lot of people who have invested reputations and viewpoints and all sorts of things into the efficacy of these weapons
Starting point is 02:20:26 and what you can do with them and what sort of game changers they are and so now we were going to find out whether they were right were all these pronouncements and positions taken in peacetime going to play out the way the advocates and opponents thought they were going to play out now that we have a real live fire situation going on
Starting point is 02:20:50 and if there was ever a conflict that would tempt a leader to use atomic weapons the korean war seems tailor made for it because eventually it will settle down to an almost first world war style very little movement kind of stalemate but initially it is an absolute bar brawl
Starting point is 02:21:14 where the momentum swings wildly from side to side and there's crises after crises and each side gets into their own trouble I mean initially the North Korean communist forces with tanks and people that had fought in the Chinese Civil War just swarmed down and start smashing the South Korean forces driving themselves towards the water I mean this is going to be a Dunkirk with no place to go
Starting point is 02:21:38 if you catch my meaning they outnumber them, they have armor I mean there's a whole bunch of reasons why it happened now Korea had been just sort of getting the idea of independence down after being occupied by Japan at the end of the second world war the Soviets occupied the top half of the country
Starting point is 02:21:57 basically, the west, the bottom half of the country they put in governments that they were friendly with a communist one in the north and a non-communist one in the south and then kind of sort of looked elsewhere while the whole Berlin thing is playing out I mean there's bigger fish to fry as a matter of fact when the Korean war breaks out there's a large contingent of people that thinks that this is just a diversionary faint
Starting point is 02:22:18 sure, old Joe Stalin does a little move in Korea the entire free world you know, moves their military forces there we get bogged down and then he invades in Europe a lot of people thought that the historian John Lewis Gattis makes a very interesting point saying that if this hadn't been a World War II style attack with tanks and the whole thing going over the border
Starting point is 02:22:44 basically an open and overt challenge to the post-war idea that we're going to have collective defense and there's never going to be another Hitler and aggressive war is never going to win again Gattis says that this attack had been more like the way the Vietnamese were very good at attacking 15 years after this where they would send in guerrillas and it would be subversive and slow and infiltration and you never know where the decision points are
Starting point is 02:23:09 that the Americans probably wouldn't have gotten involved at all but this was a challenge and somebody had to stand up to it or at least that's the way it looked to Truman who was just in the major stages of codifying one of the policies he's most known for instigating it's something called containment there were several different views on how you handle the spread of communism from the domino effect the one that was eventually part of NSC 68 was called containment don't let it spread any farther
Starting point is 02:23:39 there were other more aggressive ones like rollback or another one that liberation was what some of the far-right hawks wanted but containment is what sort of became the policy of the United States and if that's going to be your policy even if you thought that just meant you were going to give money and aid and help certain governments now you had a situation on your hands where if you didn't act and you didn't act soon South Korea was going to disappear and it was going to be a fate accompli and no matter what you said there wasn't going to be two Koreas anymore
Starting point is 02:24:10 you weren't going to be able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again you know in like three days the capital of South Korea falls what are you going to do? and there were so many other things we have to remember we're ongoing at this time the importance of which has faded in the 70 years since but remember this is five years after the Second World War these people had begun to think that they had made war illegal for lack of a better word they had once again built structures
Starting point is 02:24:39 what they thought were new and improved structures over the last World War structures the League of Nations proved to be a toothless tiger so now we had a new and improved version of it called the United Nations and this is a real test for the United Nations Truman involves them basically right away they start debating what to do and as fate would have it and it never went this way again the Soviet Union happened to be boycotting the UN at the time
Starting point is 02:25:07 so they were not there now as we all know today what we would have expected to happen given our understanding of history was that when this question of what should we all do about this Korean War thing came to the UN the Soviet Union as friends and backers and fellow communists with the North Koreans would have used their veto which several members of the UN are on the Security Council permanently and wage
Starting point is 02:25:32 and have a veto that they can use and often do the Soviet Union would have vetoed the whole thing and everything would have been muddled and there wouldn't have been any unified effort but because they happened to be boycotting at the time they couldn't do that and the US with a bunch of other nations got an agreement together to go in and save South Korea quickly and the US and other countries
Starting point is 02:25:53 became really a United Nations army at least in terms of the marketing I mean there was a United Nations flag that flew on some of these tanks it's never been quite this way again the implication was that all of a sudden you were going to have a global world army that could go in and do things like this in addition Truman puts in charge one of the heroes of the Second World War
Starting point is 02:26:17 Douglas MacArthur right the guy who so famously in the Pacific said I shall return and then eventually he comes back and he goes I have returned and I mean he's Eisenhower famously said he studied dramatics for years as a subordinate to MacArthur so MacArthur's put in charge of these forces they're rushed over from Japan these are a bunch of guys who've been sitting in Japan enjoying themselves for a few years
Starting point is 02:26:41 they're not exactly crack combat troops when they get there and there's not many of them and the Air Force comes in and the Navy gets involved and very quickly you find out that that Defense Secretary Louis A. Johnson that said we'll never need another amphibious operation you don't need a Navy was about as wrong as you could be because when the Korean War broke out
Starting point is 02:27:00 and within five days the United States is trying to be there on the ground to save South Korea from falling and they just don't have what they need straight up and they get in there and now it looks like they're going to get defeated with the South Koreans it's just a terrible situation the first moment where you think, God, you know, if you had some really good tactical nuclear weapons during this period
Starting point is 02:27:21 you could see some places where you'd just love to use them but they don't have that right now but over and over again the situation will change eventually there'll be enough forces built up so the U.N. forces can start pushing back and creating a larger perimeter and then MacArthur and maybe the greatest move of his career lands an amphibious operation in your face
Starting point is 02:27:43 Louis A. Johnson at Incheon behind the North Korean lines cuts them off, begins to, you know, push back up now towards North Korea so we've gone from defending South Korea to now moving in and invading North Korea and there are warnings, be careful, you're approaching China they might not like that
Starting point is 02:28:03 even though MacArthur is supposedly finding Chinese dead people when he goes over and looks at what should be North Korean dead people he tells President Truman, don't worry, Chinese aren't going to get involved and secretly later on you find out he's not scared of them anyway so they don't have the logistics, you know, what are they going to do, blah blah blah nothing's going to happen and he continues to move forces closer to their line and then they whack him with like 200, 300,000 guys
Starting point is 02:28:27 boom and the war changes again and now the Chinese have entered the conflict think of how quickly this escalated from a North Korean, South Korean affair to something where you now had the United States of America and a multitude of its Western allies the great powers of the West
Starting point is 02:28:51 facing off against red China on the Asian mainland backed by the Soviet Union I mean we started this on June 25th, 1950 within a couple of days the US and the West are involved by September you have the Incheon landings and the whole complexion of the war changes by late October early November the Chinese are in it but not officially
Starting point is 02:29:18 and that becomes part of where you begin to see this evolving into a very post-Second World War form a form that is largely dictated by the existence and possible use of nuclear weapons this is when it becomes apparent that to keep this from becoming World War III all the major powers that would be needed to fight World War III are doing their best to create some plausible deniability
Starting point is 02:29:53 so that nobody has to admit this is World War III I mean one of the interesting theories out there is that if you don't have nuclear weapons in the world during this time period maybe there's a decent chance this does turn into World War III but you can watch Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union Mao in red China and Harry Truman all bending over backwards to be able to tell the world no this isn't war in Truman's case famously
Starting point is 02:30:20 when the fighting breaks out and it's the worst since the Second World War pretty hard to deny what's going on there isn't war and the reporter says to the president he says president Truman is this war are we at war and Truman famously says right there no we are not at war and so the reporter counters with something like so so what is this is this like a police action and Truman famously says something to the effect of
Starting point is 02:30:42 you know yeah that about sums it up and forever after it's been called the police action as though the proper label on this thing puts a limit on it it's not just about marketing either there are real changes I mean if Truman calls this anything besides a war does he have to go to Congress and ask them to declare war this is another thing that you know a bunch of modern historians are suggesting was seen by the people around Truman as kind of a quaint relic of a pre-nuclear age
Starting point is 02:31:19 his secretary of state and people like that not huge fans of you know more people being in on the decision-making process and Truman was able to put troops in harm's way without ever having to ask anyone else's permission I mean historian Gary Willis said the decision to intervene in Korea was made amongst Truman and a tiny group of advisors around himself the reporter asked that question about are we at war because normally you would know there'd be a big declaration
Starting point is 02:31:48 they'd do it, the country'd be all in, they'd ramp up for the war effort they'd use everything in their power, they'd demolish the other side and they'd come home but can you do that in a nuclear age? the reason the Korean War is germane to this story is because well here's the way historian John Lewis Gettis explains it the outbreak of fighting in Korea in June 1950 provided the first hard evidence the Korean War demonstrated how awkward it would be to use atomic bombs even in the most desperate military circumstances
Starting point is 02:32:21 from this perspective they proved to be irrelevant to the outcome of that conflict but from another perspective they were of critical importance for Korea determined how hot wars during the Cold War were to be fought the rule quickly became that neither the United States nor the Soviet Union would confront the other directly or use all available force each would seek instead to confine such confrontation within the theaters in which they had originated this pattern of tacit cooperation amongst bitter antagonists
Starting point is 02:32:54 could hardly have emerged had it not been for the existence on both sides of nuclear weapons end quote in order to give them some plausible deniability and basically say we're not at war with the United States you don't have a Chinese American war going on Mao and the Chinese labeled their hundreds of thousands of Chinese army troops volunteers as though you almost don't even know what's happening
Starting point is 02:33:22 what there's hundreds of thousands of our people in Korea fighting well who knew and eventually when the Soviet Union who kind of deliberately doesn't get involved I mean they kind of stay away from this instead I mean you gotta be careful because the Soviet Union and China have signed a pact a defense pact so if it looks like China is attacked
Starting point is 02:33:43 automatically the United States is now at war with the Soviet Union too which the Soviet Union doesn't want either so they're not getting directly involved they're staying as far away as they can and when eventually almost because they're shamed into it they have to send pilots to help they make the pilots you know they paint the planes like they're Chinese volunteer planes
Starting point is 02:34:04 they give them fake names they tell them if they're captured you know you say you're a Russian they're living in China they tell them don't fly over water because you might get caught I mean the whole thing is a disguise now it's not fooling any of the other countries this is essentially to be able to say that this is not the kind of war where we need to use nuclear weapons
Starting point is 02:34:23 although the temptations keep coming I mean there'll be a point for example when 11,000 soldiers most of them American in sub-freezing temperatures are surrounded around the Chosin Reservoir and there are people that will go to President Truman and say you know Mr. President we'd like to use atomic bombs I keep trying to remind myself
Starting point is 02:34:47 that Truman is the first human being to ever have that sort of question put to him to have that kind of responsibility dropped in his lap and you can't fake understanding the ramifications because he'd already done it twice but that's a heck of a thing to put on a human being and Truman as I said didn't just cry when he got the job he basically said
Starting point is 02:35:09 I'm not a big enough man for it I'm not a big enough man for it and yet he's the first man in human history to have this kind of responsibility in his lap there was a 1952 article in Fortune magazine where a writer I liked named Headley Donovan did something which I think is really cool where he zoomed out sort of
Starting point is 02:35:31 and imagined how Harry Truman's power at this stage in world history would have been viewed had we been looking at it from 500 years ago or something if we were treating it like we would treat the Carolingian Empire or the Byzantine Empire or something in your history books because we tend to treat modern history totally differently we look at it through a totally different lens and Donovan's article puts this in terms
Starting point is 02:35:57 that we could recognize if we were talking about events from a thousand years ago when he writes quote a Californian named Robert Carney now commands the greatest striking power in the Mediterranean world the seat of the classic empires of Alexander and Caesar Augustus Admiral Carney directs all NATO forces in Southern Europe and the US 6th Fleet
Starting point is 02:36:20 in Northern and Western Europe the old realms of Charlemagne and Napoleon extraordinary military and political influence is held by a Kansas man Dwight David Eisenhower in Korea the bridge and battlefield of half a dozen Oriental imperialisms the largest western army ever lodged on the Asiatic mainland
Starting point is 02:36:41 is led by Matthew Ridgway from Virginia all of these officers are answerable of course he writes to a native of independence Missouri if the president of the US were ever tempted to think of himself as Emperor Harry I there is no evidence that he has been he could look about the world with considerable personal satisfaction
Starting point is 02:37:03 end quote and yet several times in this war he will be asked to unleash the sort of hell that none of the people who ran those earlier empires could ever dream of being able to inflict and it's noteworthy that he turns them down essentially every time this is kind of a great interesting psychological question
Starting point is 02:37:29 to which there is no clear answer but there are lots of speculations as I said as to why Truman doesn't drop this bomb if it's going to help him out of this jam and he's got a lot of political pressure at home why doesn't he do it well this becomes another place in history
Starting point is 02:37:46 where it depends on who you believe now as a fan of history I simply read all of these different ones and I try to pick the ones in my head which I think are the most logical or make the most sense but oftentimes they all kind of have a good point I mean in how to win a nuclear war
Starting point is 02:38:03 Machio Kaku and Daniel Axelrod amongst other people suggest that the reason Truman didn't use nuclear weapons in Korea was because he didn't have any extras to people who subscribed to that theory the reason isn't moral at all it's simply that the surplus doesn't exist and if this really is a faint
Starting point is 02:38:24 and the Soviet Union is just trying to get all our attention over to Asia and then they're going to attack in Europe you're going to want all 300 or 400 atomic bombs in your stockpile so that's one attitude out there there's another view that they're particularly unsuited to this kind of warfare where you have these individual Chinese peasant type
Starting point is 02:38:42 infantrymen carrying all they need on their backs over the hills and you know scattered numbers of nuclear weapons not really set up for that there's another school of thought that they're afraid of using them and having them not be as scary as everyone thinks they might be maybe Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the best place
Starting point is 02:38:59 to demonstrate them in terms of scaring people the most effective conditions you could use them under maybe anything else might be underwhelming so they're scarier if you don't use them there's all sorts of theories but I can't help but notice a certain pattern and that's that if you look at the first three US presidents that have had to grapple with this amazing amount of power
Starting point is 02:39:21 they have often had to do so at odds with their military advisors on several occasions Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy they all will have their advisors saying we think you should use these things and they will all say no it's fascinating to think about that
Starting point is 02:39:39 and again one is forced to confront our past and ask if this is how we would have behaved in earlier generations or earlier human eras in the same circumstance or whether or not this is indicative of some sort of evolution
Starting point is 02:39:56 or growth and if it is growth is it ethical growth are these people becoming more ethical than the people of the past or is it intellectual growth are we becoming intelligent enough to manage these unbelievably sophisticated and dangerous weapons
Starting point is 02:40:18 I can't answer that but I can say one thing for sure it's on a collision course and you don't have to be a genius to see that with the principle way that the experts fight wars during this period remember Truman is trying to adapt to this new atomic age he's got generals in charge of forces
Starting point is 02:40:36 fighting complicated wars on a nuclear booby trapped geopolitical chess board who were born in the 1800s MacArthur does not want to worry about which chess pieces he wants to use on this nuclear booby trapped chess board or what squares he can and can't move to he's used to having a free hand
Starting point is 02:40:56 and he and Truman clash over what he can do Truman is creating something that will be known as limited war whether he knows it or not during this time period the general that he personally put in charge of all these forces and they're not just American forces there's Australians, there's Turks, there's Brits
Starting point is 02:41:15 it is a multinational UN force headed up by this guy Truman put into place and a guy who has famously said and will during this entire crisis in war there is no substitute for victory when I was a kid it was widely thought that Douglas MacArthur wanted the power to use atomic weapons himself
Starting point is 02:41:34 against his adversaries in Korea and that Truman wouldn't let him but none of the modern histories seem to think so they point out that he didn't want to use nuclear weapons but he did want to be able to fight the war in Korea the same way he'd fought every other conventional war with the standards and the attitudes towards victory that he was accustomed to using
Starting point is 02:41:57 the problem was is if he did those things he would cause the Third World War to break out most likely if you're a Truman Truman and you're playing this knife edge dangerous game it's way too much of a gamble MacArthur didn't want any rules telling him what he couldn't do to fight a war and win and when he said this enough publicly
Starting point is 02:42:19 that he disagreed with the president's policy to the media he had to go and you know once again when you think about the bravery involved here with Truman not a Truman fan particularly but his poll numbers were much lower than Douglas MacArthur's Douglas MacArthur was a hero to a lot of people
Starting point is 02:42:39 and there were a lot of people that just plain didn't like Harry Truman after he fires MacArthur MacArthur comes home and a half a million people come out to give him a ticker tape parade most of the newspapers come out for MacArthur I mean if you're Harry Truman you just made the biggest negative move of your entire presidency
Starting point is 02:43:02 and it took an amazing amount of guts and you paid forever for it probably cost you another term and it was the right decision you can say in hindsight because if MacArthur had been allowed to do what he wanted and a third world war had broken out imagine how different our history is today I mean all you have to do is look at what the plans were right
Starting point is 02:43:27 or the assumptions of what the plans were in some cases Western military leaders assumed that the Red Army would simply launch attacks across from their bases in Eastern Europe into Western Europe and roll all the way to the Atlantic think about the destruction that that entails right there US plans involved the use of this most dangerous of all human weapons ever invented no, not the nuclear bomb
Starting point is 02:43:57 because remember that's a component in a weapons system you still had to be able to deliver the bomb this was the problem the Soviets had during this period they may have had like 10, maybe 20 of these bombs they didn't have an adequate delivery system they had no strategic air force they didn't have a way to bomb anybody yet they were working on it
Starting point is 02:44:17 but it wasn't a real threat the real threat was that the Red Army would just crush all opposition all the way to the ocean the US however would unleash strategic air command who had a bevy of different plans that they had on paper and variants of every plans they had plans like shake down and off tackle and all these kinds of things but what these plans had in common
Starting point is 02:44:37 was a massive atomic blitz using about two thirds of the atomic weapons in the stockpile right away, the same day actually in most cases and then keeping about a third in reserve to go re-bomb places that needed re-bombing during the period we're talking about here it's something like 200 bombs
Starting point is 02:44:58 maybe 300 bombs maybe on 20, 30, 40 Soviet cities a bunch of these cities to be bombed multiple times it's millions and millions of people though any way you look at it and you wonder what the history books would look like today with the photos and accounts of the survivors
Starting point is 02:45:23 of let's just say 35 Russian cities after they had been bombed on the same day in the world's first atomic war like Hiroshima or Nagasaki on steroids I guess and you know I've often felt that especially my own people, Americans but maybe a lot of other people too
Starting point is 02:45:51 don't look carefully enough at what these weapons do because there are overtones that people tend to push away because we're human in the United States when you'll talk to people about the atomic bombings of Japan there's a defensiveness that often comes up because they assume you're trying to heap
Starting point is 02:46:11 some sort of guilt on them and they will get defensive and point out what the Japanese did or many of the other elements involved and what the conversation about atomic and nuclear bombings usually break down towards and it keeps us from examining the most important part of the story though not the past part that can't be changed but the future part that needs to be understood
Starting point is 02:46:34 when we are talking about doing things that might lead to the kind of outcomes we've only seen a couple of times before those outcomes are so important and I'm struck by the fact that even people who were living through them at the time and trying to survive realized that they were essentially
Starting point is 02:46:53 guinea pigs of a new age and tried to write things down so we could benefit from it today but in order to benefit we have to look at it history makes you look at things there's a part of me that thinks there'd be something beneficial in talking a lot of people around the death camps after the Second World War
Starting point is 02:47:16 where people were exterminated just to remind them history forces you to look at these things and realize that this isn't just some weird occurrence one time this is what happens periodically these are the stakes, be aware of them and know what can happen there was a diary kept by an amazing doctor
Starting point is 02:47:39 Hiroshima, a guy named Dr. Michihiko Hachiya and in his diary, first of all he's a survivor of the Hiroshima bomb but then he goes on to the nearest hospital and he begins treating people one of the things that's so terrible about these weapons is because they create an almost natural disaster the first responders and the people
Starting point is 02:47:59 that have to help all the damaged people are themselves victims and their facilities are part of what's damaged so you compound a difficult situation by killing all the doctors and nurses and destroying the hospitals at the same time but in a move that just shows how sometimes like in this case it's scientists
Starting point is 02:48:19 but there are other peoples and professions also in this case this Japanese scientist realizes as soon as he's not having people literally dying at his feet and it's like four days later or something he tells the other doctors they have to start writing stuff down the data is going to be really important to people
Starting point is 02:48:39 in the future because there hasn't been many people who've lived through this yet in other words this guy was already thinking beyond the war to posterity and knowing that actual data on live subjects in real world conditions will be rare and important for the future he puts that in his diary
Starting point is 02:49:00 I found that amazing and heartwarming but it doesn't help us if we don't use it so you have to look at this stuff straight in the face and then say when you're talking about nuclear war you're talking about this and you're not talking about it happening to some foreign people you don't know
Starting point is 02:49:15 you simply have to put the faces of your own friends and family on the victims and imagine that instead Hiroshima survivor Asimayakoshi was in the bathroom when the Hiroshima bomb went off and the bathroom collapsed around her
Starting point is 02:49:36 and she finally got out with the help of someone else and found her sister dreadfully injured mostly from the heat of these bombs that's one thing they had that the regular conventional bombs did there was almost a flash some people describe it like a blueish white like a flash bulb flash
Starting point is 02:49:51 and it would burn you like the worst sunburn all the way to the bone you've ever seen but funnily enough it was so quick that if you had clothing on especially light clothing you could be perfectly protected under the clothing and your skin falling off everywhere else
Starting point is 02:50:07 and this woman describes getting out of this bathroom after it collapsed around her and what happened next and remember this could be your wife or your mother or your sister or your daughter looking around for my sister
Starting point is 02:50:20 I saw her lying sprawled in the corridor the right side of her body covered with terrible burns she had probably been washing her hands with her right hand stretched over the washbasin when caught by the searing heat I put my sister on my back and fled barefoot to Hajima Park
Starting point is 02:50:37 her face was festering from her burns and her right eye was hanging out I pushed the eye back into its socket and tried to use a gauze mask to hold it into place but her ear had melted away and there was nothing to attach the mask to her mouth was twisted to the right
Starting point is 02:50:54 and she could do no more than whimper for water only the first syllable of the word emerging distinctly on reaching Hajima Park I laid my sister down on the ground and set off to search for my children the fires were still burning fiercely in a streetcar that had been burned bright red
Starting point is 02:51:11 surrounded by people already killed by the fire I saw a woman still holding on to a strap and calling for help the intense heat prevented me from approaching her however there was nothing I could do the man sitting on some stone steps I said come on let's get away from here and pulled him up by the hand
Starting point is 02:51:30 but as I did so the skin came away from his hand and he fell slowly to the ground I could see his shadow imprinted clearly on the wall behind him where he had been sitting many people called out to me for help or water unburned because of having been in the lavatory I could only bring my hands together
Starting point is 02:51:48 and apologize to the people I passed as I searched for some sign of my children as it turned out none of those who left that morning ever came home again not my five children, my grandfather my sister Michiko or my cousin not a bone remained for me to find and treasure our house burned down so that I had not even a photograph
Starting point is 02:52:07 to remember them by my sister Hisako drew her last breath four days later on the evening of August 10th in agony from her massive injuries I will never forget the expression on her face when I tried to give her a drop of water I was alone end quote
Starting point is 02:52:24 that's not meant to be a tear-jerker that's meant to be an example that you multiply by the number of people who are involved in these catastrophes if they happen when you think about what people are afraid of understand that this is a science fiction dystopian type of nightmare story
Starting point is 02:52:47 until it comes true and in this era the possibility of it coming true at times appears to be about the same chance you're going to get a heads or a tail when you flip a coin and you know another interesting study into the human condition can be made if you ask about the kind of people who advocate
Starting point is 02:53:11 this as a viable and useful strategy because you might say to yourself who would do this, who would plan for this who could sit down and actually say no this is what we're going to do if the imminent third world war happens and it will so this is what we'll do who does that
Starting point is 02:53:29 you have to say well some kind of mass murderer right wants to kill people but that's not how the people that do these things see it they have what two people on the far other side the rainbows and unicorns Oppenheimer poet side think is an abhorrent way of viewing things but there are a lot of people here that are making calculations about relative disasters
Starting point is 02:53:57 you'll see this later on too when you'll get these people at these think tanks that will say that they're trying to reduce the number of dead in a nuclear war from 40 million to 20 million and other people think that simply even trying to do that is morally reprehensible we should be talking about having no millions dying right
Starting point is 02:54:17 but if you read the accounts of people like Curtis LeMay the very famous leader of strategic air command the one who will be turned into a stock character in the 1960s movies and whatnot Dr. Strangelove failsafe they all have a Curtis LeMay type of cigar chomping Air Force guy LeMay's attitude was one that you saw amongst a lot of generals
Starting point is 02:54:40 especially these first and second world war people who saw the major nasty part of modern war as being its length and that because the casualties mounted every day like a meat grinder anything you could do to shut that down and limit the length of time the war went on was humanitarian by its very nature even if what it took to do that
Starting point is 02:55:03 was a shocking amount of violence in a very short time to shock everybody into peace LeMay did not like what was going on in the Korean war he wanted to unleash his heavy bombers as he had over Japan in the second world war and he testified afterwards that it would have been I'm putting words into his mouth now the more humanitarian approach
Starting point is 02:55:26 this is the philosophy of strategic bombers and believe it or not it's based on humanitarian ethics and just to show you how ingrained it is it is not ironic when they name nuclear weapons delivery systems as they've done more than once with names like Peacemaker and Peacekeeper the new bomber that will carry out these nuclear destructions
Starting point is 02:55:52 of places like the Soviet Union if it happens in 1950 and 1951 is the brand new B-36 bomber which is nicknamed the Peacemaker LeMay said about the all out bombing campaign that they didn't do at the beginning of the Korean war so we go on and don't do it and let the war go on
Starting point is 02:56:13 over a period of three and a half or four years we did burn down every town in North Korea and every town in South Korea and what killed off 20% of the Korean population what I'm trying to say is if once you make a decision to use military force to solve your problem then you ought to use it
Starting point is 02:56:30 and use an overwhelming military force use too much and deliberately use too much so that you don't make an error on the other side and not quite have enough and you roll over everything to start with and you close it down just like that and you save resources, you save lives not only your own but the enemies too
Starting point is 02:56:48 and the recovery is quicker and everybody's back to peaceful existence hopefully in a shorter period of time end quote so when you wonder about the kind of people that could carry out these kinds of war aims war aims which may sound apocalyptic to you these are people flying planes called peacemakers
Starting point is 02:57:08 who firmly believe that their way of war will end up being more beneficial to everybody in the end it's a similar point of view to Douglas MacArthur it's the traditional modern 20th century military point of view total war saves lives limited war prolongs the nastiness
Starting point is 02:57:33 but once again, American presidents heads of the Soviet Union and China the heads of the western NATO countries they have a lot of things to worry about besides this idea of total victory take for example the idea that perhaps a total or even partial defeat in an atomic war might have been something in the back of their heads
Starting point is 02:58:01 nonetheless the way the Korean war ends up is something that either side of that total war versus limited war debate could probably use as ammunition in their discussion the friends of Harry Truman might say listen, by middle of 1951 both sides are at the armistice table talking and working out a deal
Starting point is 02:58:22 to which the friends of Curtis LeMay and Douglas MacArthur counter by saying yes, but the talks will go on for two years and soldiers will die on both sides the entire time to which the Harry Truman supporters could then reply yes, but we didn't get World War III boom, game over, what do you say to that? yes, the situation in Korea was a nightmare lots of casualties, lots of dead, lots of civilians
Starting point is 02:58:47 I mean, bad all the way around but it wasn't nuclear war presidents are often forced into making lesser of two evil choices and in this case got to be pretty darn bad of an outcome for nuclear war to not be the greater evil and in 1952 the greater evil is getting worse
Starting point is 02:59:14 I think you have to say that Harry Truman deserves a lot of credit for getting us out of his entire terms in office without us ending up bombing anyone with nuclear weapons after the Second World War ended because I think it was a flip of a coin whether or not we did that remember all he would have had to have done
Starting point is 02:59:34 is listen to some of his military advisors and he would have as Truman's term in office winds down you can see that it's easy to say that if the world is playing a three-dimensional geopolitical game of nuclear chess they're playing by the rules laid down by Truman and let's be honest
Starting point is 02:59:56 the people that he was playing nuclear chess with also Joseph Stalin and the Soviets it was a takes two detango situation and between the two major sides things are hammered out and there's input from Europeans and third world nations I mean this is a global effort to cobble together a way to deal with what is becoming
Starting point is 03:00:16 an ever increasing threat and a threat that is moving so quickly that the sheer speed of technological change is one of the most destabilizing parts of the entire equation at what point do you get used to this I mean we've been pondering the question about whether humans can adapt to their weapons technology but let's remember that once upon a time
Starting point is 03:00:39 people didn't have to adapt this quickly throughout most of human history the change was much less quick than it is today if you could take 1950s atomic technology give it to the ancient Egyptians and say this isn't going to change very much for the next 15 generations take some time figure it out
Starting point is 03:00:56 does the extra time they get help them do it or I mean is just thinking of ancient Egyptians with you know nuclear technology too weird to even contemplate the point is is that you know I try to again remember who these people are Truman is a grandfather surrounded by other grandfathers you ever had to help your grandfather with tech stuff
Starting point is 03:01:18 right this is a guy who is sitting there listening to different nuclear physicists describe the pros and cons of different ideas and pushing different points of view and he has to decide which one he agrees with why do I have an image of him having to call his kid in college to come home and help him figure out
Starting point is 03:01:35 where to turn the nuclear bomb off I can't find that button Truman kind of looks like the tweener president from the non specialist technical era to the one where you have to referee competing arguments between physicists like Oppenheimer and Teller requires a different kind of mind a different kind of an approach and maybe a different kind of background
Starting point is 03:02:03 as I said I feel kind of lucky we got out of that era intact but when you look at the last year of Truman's presidency in 1952 you can see the tsunami of dangers mounting in the distance and you just it's hard to have confidence that the haberdasher from independence Missouri who's already exceeded expectations you know and his flexibility in an atomic world
Starting point is 03:02:26 hard to see him flexible enough to deal with some of the things 1952 brings on I mean for example here's a guy who's advisors in administration helped craft as we said the rules for how you play this global chess match but it's always been a two-player game and in October 1952 the United Kingdom explodes their first atomic bomb
Starting point is 03:02:50 now they're in the nuclear club now it's a more than two-person game that'll change your dynamics especially when you know the part that really bothers everybody about the UK test becomes clear which is that they won't be the last power to join the nuclear club in a few years are you gonna have 10, 15, 20 powers with atomic bombs? so in order now for humans to adapt to this new weapon
Starting point is 03:03:16 they now have to adapt to more people having it so the dynamics get much more complex now you added that to change the power of the weaponry less than a month after the United Kingdom demonstrates that they're in atomic power the United States demonstrates that they have the technology and it works to build the super bomb they actually exploded only a couple of days before the US presidential election
Starting point is 03:03:44 and the power of the bomb is stunning truly paradigm shifting the test occurs on an island in the Pacific when it explodes there's a fireball more than three miles wide there's lightning crackling inside it the crater's more than 6,000 feet in diameter the hull's more than 150 feet deep it's somewhere between four and five hundred times more powerful
Starting point is 03:04:25 than either of the bombs that were dropped in the Second World War four to five hundred times more powerful and what's kind of interesting about this period compared to our own is how much of this weapons development is psychological again to have a psychological edge on your opponent to be able to use things like deterrents effectively everyone had to know you had these weapons and so today you would imagine governments wouldn't even tell anybody about any of this stuff
Starting point is 03:04:54 but the United States announced these things we have this weapon now, we have that weapon because that was important to its ability to be used the problem with something like the thermonuclear weapons the hydrogen bomb is that they're so powerful now that they're in effect working against the idea that you can use them for deterrents the bigger they get the less willing your enemy or adversary is to think you'll use it Joseph Stalin is quoted as saying he thinks in Pravda he said that public opinion
Starting point is 03:05:25 and the peace movement around the world will reign in their governments in no one's going to use a megaton powerful weapon on us because world opinion won't stand for it and there's some truth to that but if you're the military and you want to use these weapons or you're the intellectuals and the political associates of the president and you want your deterrents to still bite and work and you deal with that dynamic, right? that the weapons are so powerful no one believes you'll use them
Starting point is 03:05:55 you make smaller versions of them it's a decent argument to ask whether the most destabilizing effect of inventions from 1952 you could make an argument for all three is it nuclear proliferation starting is it the invention of the super the hydrogen bomb or is it the beginning of the revolution that we call today tactical nuclear weapons or battlefield nuclear weapons and the funny thing about it is that some of the people who worked on it
Starting point is 03:06:28 I mean Oppenheimer got roped into this thought he was doing a good thing I'm going to create smaller weapons because if I create smaller nuclear weapons the military won't be tempted to use the bigger ones turned out he was wrong about that he had a famous quote though when he years later tried to explain his thinking and he said to understand where I was then you would have had to have seen the Air Force's war plan for 1951 he says it was the most god damnedest thing I ever saw
Starting point is 03:06:54 so it scared him so much 500 atomic bombs dropped on Russia that he thought I'll give them something they can use instead of those it turned out as most thinkers assume today that tactical nuclear weapons open up the door dangerously to an escalation very quickly to the very big bombs that Oppenheimer hoped would never be used because you'd have the smaller bombs instead honest mistake though we're in new territory here technologically speaking aren't we
Starting point is 03:07:20 another reason maybe you don't want Truman running the show he's done about as well as maybe you could hope for so the guy who wins the presidency in 1952 is a very interesting choice for this era and I think more and more historians are realizing it now when I was a kid that a kind of a different view of general and now in November 1952 president-elect Dwight David Eisenhower it's interesting I saw a couple of historians I was reading were speculating and it's not far off from a decent speculation maybe
Starting point is 03:07:49 that partly what the United States was going for here in terms of the electorate was they had just had a president and a general sort of disagreeing about how you fight this war in Korea and all these questions about nuclear weapons and this whole new world and everything what if you just got a person with military experience put them in the top job and then when the general is arguing with the president the president's general too there are some people who speculate that Dwight Eisenhower was kind of
Starting point is 03:08:13 feeling like he stepped down in terms of responsibility when he took the American presidency for a job because he was coming down from like commander of NATO he was the general of the west as one writer I was reading called and the general of the west now he's just merely the president of the United States but Eisenhower is an interesting guy his administration by the way will follow a lot of the same cycles that the Truman one did and the administration after him will too
Starting point is 03:08:41 in part because they'll find that they have a lot of the same pressures and disincentives and incentives working on them that the previous administration also did and you often try to adopt the obvious solution in those cases which each one did successively so as we said the Truman administration seems to have established a pattern that will be followed by subsequent administrations in Eisenhower's case though a bunch of things happen basically right at the beginning of the Eisenhower administration
Starting point is 03:09:13 that completely upset the geopolitical chess board in ways that give him well both opportunities and dangers that Truman never had to face start with the fact that pretty much right after Eisenhower actually takes office January 20th 1953 Joseph Stalin dies March 5th 1953 and he doesn't die like a long slow lingering death where Russia has lots of time to prepare and the Soviets have lots of time to prepare for what you're going to do afterwards he has like a stroke or something so it's here today gone tomorrow
Starting point is 03:09:46 or here today on my way to going very soon but what the hell happens in the Soviet Union if there's no Joseph Stalin this guy's been running the show personally so long in that country that there's a logical question that happens and it happens right when Stalin debilitated and immobile and paralyzed from the stroke and urine soaked pajamas lay on his floor unable to communicate his underlings are outside his room you know outside the door talking going what do we do
Starting point is 03:10:19 there is no logical successor to Joseph Stalin there was no organized system that dictated well here's your vice premier who takes over once upon a time all that stuff had been around Stalin had come up in a system with lots of brilliant intellectuals and people from the original revolution people like Lenin and all those other great people Stalin killed a lot of those people on his way to power
Starting point is 03:10:45 and for more than 20 years he could easily say the same thing that Louis XIV the French King famously said about you know his relationship to the country Louis XIV said I am the state the state is me and Joseph Stalin could have been the poster boy that came up when you googled the phrase cult of personality as a matter of fact one of his successors will call it just that
Starting point is 03:11:11 and yet the problem is is that this guy's personality was completely infused on his country by the way as we've pointed out before badly traumatized by a surprise attack in the Second World War you add to that the Stalin view of communism which is also paranoid which again maybe just finely tuned self-defense antenna
Starting point is 03:11:35 at work here instead but that the non-communist powers were going to try to take you over added that you'd already been surprised attacked added that you're a paranoid dictator type anyway and isn't it interesting that that is all infused on the player that the historical role of the dice just manages to give the free world when you have your first ever nuclear chess match
Starting point is 03:12:00 who do you play Joseph Stalin it's going to be a little Machiavellian right you're not going to be all peace love poets and Robert Oppenheimer when you're playing that guy and by the way I've got quite a few books on the Soviet side of this story and the problem with the Soviet side of this story is once again it's all Stalin and you can't figure the guy out
Starting point is 03:12:20 so you're taking public statements and this and that but the question that was put to several people like Andrey Sakharov and others that had been involved in the Soviet nuclear program is what if the US had gone the whole you know full force Robert Oppenheimer ban this stuff route what would the Soviets and Joseph Stalin had done
Starting point is 03:12:41 and to a man they all say oh it would have been seen as weakness Stalin would have pushed forward with his weapons program I mean first of all he wouldn't have believed it he would have thought that behind the scenes it's all happening anyway in other words if the US and Britain and NATO and all of them had gone into a Robert Oppenheimer dream mode that would not necessarily have had any sort of real reciprocation
Starting point is 03:13:08 from the other side because the other side was Joseph Stalin and as of March 6, 1953 for the first time in the nuclear age it's not Truman never had the opportunity to deal with anyone else when Stalin dies new things happen the world changes a little bit and Eisenhower has a chance for example to come out with a proposal that's known as the Adams for Peace proposal
Starting point is 03:13:39 now I have to make a disclaimer here nothing can be trusted from this era nothing we alluded to this earlier for example these presidents from Truman to Eisenhower they will all have two faces to them and I don't know which one is real they will have one face where they will say
Starting point is 03:14:00 you can never use these weapons Eisenhower famously said you couldn't have a nuclear war there aren't enough bulldozers to scoop up the bodies from the streets and yet you'll have other statements where they will say they do not ever question our willingness to use these weapons so you have to say it for deterrence to work but did they secretly believe that you couldn't use these weapons
Starting point is 03:14:23 or is it the opposite some of these depends on how cynical you are as a writer but some of these writers and historians will say no no the plan the entire time was to nuke everything but you just can't say that in public so you get up there and have an Adams for Peace program where you talk about working together to ban these terrible weapons I will say this
Starting point is 03:14:44 I can't imagine our leaders today having something like Eisenhower's speech to the United Nations where he in 1953 laid the whole situation out now whether this is some sort of cynical geopolitical move that's a public relations ploy or whether he's serious and it's hard to know Eisenhower was a deep and interesting and complex character but everything that we've been talking about in this program
Starting point is 03:15:09 is stuff we know now the people in the time period are just as whiplashed by technology as Harry Truman was and in 1953 Eisenhower remember this is right after the hydrogen bomb concept is proven lays out the stakes to a bunch of people who maybe didn't realize exactly how threatened they were I feel impelled to speak today in a language that in a sense is new one which I who have spent so much of my life in the military profession
Starting point is 03:15:43 would have preferred never to you that new language is the language of atomic warfare the atomic age has moved forward at such a pace that every citizen of the world should have some comprehension at least in comparative terms of the extent of this development of the utmost significance to every one of us clearly if the peoples of the world are to conduct an intelligent search for peace they must be armed with the significant facts of today's existence
Starting point is 03:16:31 my recital of atomic danger and power is necessarily stated in United States terms for these are the only incontrovertible facts that I know I need hardly point out to this assembly however that this subject is global not merely national in character on July 16th 1945 the United States has set off the world's first atomic explosion since that date in 1945 the United States of America has conducted 42 test explosions atomic bombs today are more than 25 times as powerful as the weapon with which the atomic age dawns
Starting point is 03:17:29 while hydrogen weapons are in the ranges of millions of tons of TNT equivalent today the United States stockpile of atomic weapons which of course increases daily exceeds by many times the total equivalent of the total of all bombs and all shells that came from every plane and every gun in every theater war in all of the years of World War II a single air group whether afloat or land-based can now deliver to any reachable target a destructive cargo exceeding in power all the bombs that fell on Britain in all of World War II that's from the famous Adams for peace speech
Starting point is 03:18:30 and Eisenhower like Truman before him will evoke the specter of the world's great cities lying in ruins the cultural achievements of the past of thousands of years of work to build up to destroyed mankind having to arise from the ashes of irradiated and destroyed civilization just in case you were unaware of the stakes but there are so many different ways you can view people right we all understand that in modern history and close to modern history makes it the most apparent because you can find statements from all these people contradicting themselves they'll have private statements versus public statements
Starting point is 03:19:14 diaries that they write in that they assume will someday be published versus secret diaries that they never want anyone else to see what is PR versus what is behind the scenes I mean when Harry Truman talks about the terrible things these nuclear weapons can do he's the same guy that gave the go-ahead to make them when Eisenhower gives these speeches about these existential dangers mankind faces he is at the same time solving a budgetary problem by deciding to rely on a strategy with nuclear weapons that will be known as massive retaliation
Starting point is 03:19:54 so which Eisenhower do you buy or is it some sort of blend of the two and listen as we said good luck getting to the core of any of these public figures they're so multi-layered that to know you actually had what they really believe that would be tough to do in any time period add to that the fact that as we all know when history compresses these human beings into one dimensional figures you lose so much of the nuance I mean imagine if you made it into the history books a hundred years from now how much your life would be compressed into a few bullet points
Starting point is 03:20:29 and did that sort of really give the true picture of you I mean even J. Robert Oppenheimer Dean Atchison's too much of a poet wasn't always too much of a poet he was often opposed to nuclear weapons but not always sometimes his opposition was moral but sometimes it was technical and sometimes he saw good applications for nuclear power and weapons so he's been turned into an archetype by history as well even by me
Starting point is 03:21:01 so let's bear all that in mind and even with all that said Eisenhower is unusually confusing and misleading on purpose in his book Ike's Bluff author Evan Thomas weaves in Eisenhower's near addiction to strategy card games and you know draws that into Eisenhower's conduct of world affairs and how he handled the various cards in his hand if you will the uncertainties involved in other people's hands
Starting point is 03:21:40 he was I guess a huge poker player but an even bigger bridge player and bridge I guess is played by all sorts of generals and politicians and strategists and they feel that it better represent the great geopolitical game than chess does because in chess you can see all the pieces openly whereas in a card game your hand is known only to you the adversaries have their hands secret you don't know what's in the deck you have to do a lot of bluffing and this is where Eisenhower's you know deliberate opaqueness and confusion
Starting point is 03:22:13 and misleading nature and ability to bluff his way into various situations seem to correspond to being a master bridge player I mean if you're going to have somebody sit in the chair to represent your side in this historical psychological game of strategy and uncertainty the very highest of stakes don't you want a gamer? and it sounds like when you're talking strategy games Eisenhower was one and he was good he's got a new opponent as we said and you got to be breathing a sigh of relief
Starting point is 03:22:51 because facing Joseph Stalin in the octagon at that game when he really didn't even have nuclear weapons imagine him during the 1950s and he really did get the ability to just start striking to you well, perish the thought he's gone though, replacing him in the chair is one of his subordinates and it's a fascinating guy to be playing against during this era because now you have the general of the west finally the west gets in there with one of these heavyweight candidates
Starting point is 03:23:19 okay bring on your best shot and their best shot is a guy named Nikita Khrushchev who I love Nikita Khrushchev is one of the great success stories you're ever going to find it's like a forget the Abe Lincoln log cabin story I mean it's Nikita Khrushchev was born a peasant the only reason that he finally is running one of the two great superpowers in this era
Starting point is 03:23:47 is because of the Soviet communist revolution the Bolshevik revolution, the Tappels the Tsar before the First World War is over and totally upends that society and puts people in power and authority who were mucking the manure out of the barn when they were teenagers Nikita Khrushchev is a peasant's peasant
Starting point is 03:24:14 he uses all the terminology he'll be at the big meetings and he's always using these peasant sayings that are supposed to be deeply philosophical and no one else in the room has any idea what they mean and who this guy was so the United States had the habidasher from Missouri running the nuclear arsenal for a while and trying to adjust the Soviet Union's about to gain the kind of power
Starting point is 03:24:35 where maybe they could begin to actually as opposed to theoretically threaten the United States with atomic weaponry and that gets given to a guy who was born a peasant and he's just fascinating I mean this is a man who's got a huge challenge ahead of him certainly in the West never understood this was all going on and it's still not well understood including by me maybe least of all by me
Starting point is 03:25:00 but Khrushchev was part of a group that comes to power in the Soviet Union intent on perhaps you could say guiding that state to a soft landing from Stalinism this was not some consensus though and there were powerful entities in that state vying for leadership also that adhered much more closely to the old Stalin line Professor David Holloway in his excellent book Stalin and the Bomb talks about how it was really the pressures
Starting point is 03:25:33 caused by the reality of nuclear war that forced some of these leaders to take a different look at even their orthodox communist in this sense very Bolshevik and very Stalinist view of the entire world reality because Professor Holloway says that it was Stalin's conviction and it was connected to his views on Marxism and the inevitability of a war between the imperialists
Starting point is 03:26:01 and the communist states that within 10 to 20 years World War 3 was coming and of course as everyone was awakening to World War 3 was going to mean nuclear weapons it was going to mean devastation a 1955 war plan that the US had commissioned to check out how many people would die if the US carried out their proposed strikes against the Soviet Union
Starting point is 03:26:20 when World War 3 broke out and the number came back to be 60 million and a decent number of those people coming from the countries like Poland and Hungary and all those places that were sort of under the thumb of the Soviet so how do you even justify that right? sorry you're a captive person right now but we're going to nuke you in order to free you up eventually burn down your village in order to save it
Starting point is 03:26:44 but Holloway talks about Khrushchev and his group getting power and beginning to talk about things that are famous in the history books like peaceful coexistence this violated Stalin's view Holloway says of the inevitable war that was coming because if the inevitable war that's coming is Armageddon well that'll mess up your long-term planning won't it and Holloway writes this about Khrushchev and his people
Starting point is 03:27:11 trying to walk back communist ideology in order to prevent it from inevitably running into global thermonuclear war he writes quote by asserting that capitalism and socialism could coexist for a long time the new leaders of the Soviet Union were rejecting Stalin's vision of another world war within 15 to 20 years of the end of World War 2
Starting point is 03:27:39 peaceful coexistence in quotation marks was defined as the alternative to nuclear war as the policy that had to be followed if nuclear war was to be avoided end quote Holloway then tells a story that Khrushchev had told about meeting the much more hard-liner Mao, the leader of China
Starting point is 03:28:00 and Mao is still talking in terms of the soon to come all-out war against the capitalists and Khrushchev already seems to be now have moved on from that this is part of what starts to create a schism amongst the communist states almost the way you would see religious break-offs two or three or four hundred years before this era
Starting point is 03:28:21 when all of a sudden a change in religious doctrine or dogma messed up enough people so that we're gonna go this way and you're gonna go that way the United States and the West saw the communists up to this period as a monolithic block who took their orders from Moscow and now all of a sudden some of these communist countries are beginning to have disagreements with each other
Starting point is 03:28:40 some of them are geopolitical but some of them are ideological but according to Professor Holloway people like Khrushchev see this as something that is simply bowing to reality in a nuclear world he says quote peaceful coexistence did not mean ideological coexistence
Starting point is 03:28:58 however nor did it entail renunciation of the struggle with imperialism but that struggle had to be conducted in such a way as to avoid nuclear war end quote in other words the new leaders of the Soviet Union are also trying to figure out how you operate under the old rules
Starting point is 03:29:19 in a world where you have nuclear weapons and where they are increasingly getting more and more powerful the Soviet Union explodes its first hydrogen weapon well you'll get a disagreement about this August 12, 1953 is a good date for this some of the real nitpickers will say well that's not a true hydrogen weapon they'll get into the physics of it
Starting point is 03:29:42 nonetheless over the next year or two the Soviets will refine the weapon to a point where no one will argue anymore that they too are a thermonuclear power the equation in terms of the global dynamics will be altered though by the big US test that goes off on March 1, 1954 this is a test by the way that was not supposed to be this large
Starting point is 03:30:07 and instead turns out to be the largest explosion ever set off by the United States to this day more than 15 megatons it's called the Bravo test this time the fireball was like four miles wide I mean everything just gets bigger and larger but what made Bravo so completely over the top
Starting point is 03:30:31 in terms of waking up the public to a level where the alarm buttons really were raised on a wide range of demographics whereas before if you were a European living on a likely nuclear battlefield you were always aware of what might happen to you if you were a person living in India with not a care in the world of these cold war events
Starting point is 03:30:54 in a particular time period you would notice what a lot of the rest of the world noticed about the Castle Bravo test it was a radiological disaster and because it was so much larger than experts had predicted this opened up the door to being wrong about some of this stuff there were physicists who had worst case scenarios in their nightmares
Starting point is 03:31:17 from before this period that thought if you did this wrong the whole atmosphere could catch on fire and all these kinds of things that sound crazy to physicists so I don't even know if that's possible but this test showed that just because you cordoned off what you think is a safe area and you try to make a zone where you can see what these weapons can do doesn't make them safe
Starting point is 03:31:36 they cordoned off a zone and people outside the zone got radiologically sick more than a hundred miles away famously a Japanese fishing boat outside the exclusionary zone was bombarded with radiation immense amounts of fallout went up in the air and when these tests happen and these Pacific coral reefs and whatnot are atomized
Starting point is 03:31:58 for lack of a better word and turned into like micro dust particles and blown up into the mushroom cloud up into the atmosphere all of them are radiated and when they fall back down to Earth they can make you well sick and die soon if you're close by but even if you're far away gets into your water, gets into your milk
Starting point is 03:32:18 gets into your food chain, starts affecting people and after the Castle Bravo test the rest of the world began to watch the giant geopolitical card game or three-dimensional chess game between the great powers as sort of a spectator audience and in this particular game the audience made a difference
Starting point is 03:32:38 and both sides tried to appeal to the audience the audience in this case metaphorically speaking is global public opinion something that really comes of age in this period in part because the whole understanding that nuclear weapons use even just testing on the part of a single global power
Starting point is 03:33:01 could affect everyone all of a sudden everyone had skin in the game and by the way the era of colonialism was over for the most part and major countries like Britain and France and others were shedding their colonies their former colonies and their former possessions and these places were forming their own governments
Starting point is 03:33:20 and had sovereignty of their own you know for a change and they kind of sometimes looked at the Cold War the way the man from Mars that we talked about earlier would as outsiders who were only worried about the idea that listen I don't care what your beef is with each other just don't pollute the world that we all need and this new power block
Starting point is 03:33:41 mattered increasingly so as communication and mass media allowed people to be involved in the conversation and all of a sudden you had groups of people that could be used in this discussion over how we go forward in terms of how we learn to cope with our weapons technology the group of scientists the Einstein's
Starting point is 03:34:03 and the Bertrand Russell's and the Oppenheimer types could all of a sudden appeal directly to world opinion and try to harness it to push more for their viewpoint of how you adapt to these weapons systems you adapt to these weapons systems in their opinion by getting rid of war not getting rid of the weapons of war because it's their opinion that you know if the weapons are there and we just pledge not to use them eventually someone's going to grab one
Starting point is 03:34:26 make one whatever you need to do especially if they're losing the Third World War so that they don't now these scientists are saying we know it's going to be tough but you're going to have to stop this whole policy of war that you've been using your whole civilized history and they issue something in 1955 again aimed directly at global public opinion they do it in a press conference
Starting point is 03:34:49 how modern is that where Bertrand Russell our old friend who before the Soviets got the bomb had these nightmares of London lying in ruins and thought maybe we should nuke the Soviets first he and Albert Einstein and one of Einstein's last gigs and others would get out there and push something known to history as the Russell Einstein Manifesto and it starts off with Bertrand Russell telling the media
Starting point is 03:35:13 this line this is a good way to start off a piece if you want to say basically just so you know we're directing this towards global public opinion and we're on its side the manifesto began with Russell saying quote I am bringing the warning pronounced by the signatories meaning of their manifesto to the notice of all powerful governments of the world
Starting point is 03:35:36 in the earnest hope that they may agree to allow their citizens to survive end quote the piece then goes on to talk about the power of nuclear weapons it then goes on to talk about how they understand that the idea of getting rid of war sounds pie in the sky but the power of these weapons has changed everything
Starting point is 03:35:58 including the power to pollute but they then go on to say as pie in the sky if you will as the abolition of war sounds you must keep your eyes on what failure in this realm would mean it's very similar to this idea of sending people to go look at the death camps five minutes after the liberation happens
Starting point is 03:36:22 the manifesto says quote the abolition of war will demand distasteful limitations of national sovereignty but what perhaps impedes understanding of the situation more than anything else is that the term mankind in quotes feels vague and abstract people scarcely realize in imagination
Starting point is 03:36:45 that the danger is to themselves and their children and their grandchildren and not only to a dimly apprehended humanity they can scarcely bring themselves to grasp that they individually and those whom they love are in imminent danger of perishing agonizingly and so they hope that perhaps war may be allowed to continue provided modern weapons are prohibited
Starting point is 03:37:09 end quote they then go on to explain why that's a pipe dream the point is that all of a sudden these scientists can appeal directly to the general public out there and they can position them as a block of power opposed to the governments of the world continuing to act the way governments of the world have acted forever
Starting point is 03:37:32 the Russell Einstein group of scientists has found their block of support and its international in nature now there are other great intellectual thinkers out there who will form the counterpoint to these people and we've talked about them already these people that started getting together at major universities places like Yale and what not these other intellectuals who don't buy this idea
Starting point is 03:37:55 can change so fundamentally that we could outlaw war and they begin trying to think of how once again you live with these weapons in a way that more closely corresponds to how history has shown we're likely to behave and if the worst happens how do you somehow mitigate the worst case scenario earlier we had said that Eisenhower was a good
Starting point is 03:38:19 strategic card game player and if you were going to be involved in this kind of a global game if you will didn't you want to have a gamer in that position but in a country of hundreds of millions of people why would you stop at one good gamer if you were playing a chess game for the survival of the world and your side wouldn't you want all your intelligent people getting together somewhere and analyzing it
Starting point is 03:38:43 studying the game if you will analyzing every move and possible counter move every variable that might crop up I mean if it's a card game and we're holding atomic bomb cards in our hand and somebody draws an ace of clubs in a minute you know what do we do those people began to coalesce after the Second World War these amazingly intelligent intellectuals
Starting point is 03:39:07 and will eventually find themselves working together in places like the famous Rand Corporation but they didn't start that way they started by essentially asking the kind of questions that are a function of the time the sort of higher questions of the sort that got Truman in trouble with MacArthur over war aims right I mean famously one of these people
Starting point is 03:39:31 who are the founding fathers of what today we would call civilian defense intellectuals was a guy named Bernard Brody and Brody will famously get involved initially with all this just because the Air Force wanted him to look at some World War II bombing results and to analyze them but this eventually led to Brody asking fundamental questions like ok well how big of bombs do we need to do what
Starting point is 03:39:55 in order to achieve what and all these deep questions that in general the military guys weren't thinking about because this wasn't part of their gig in Korea MacArthur's job was to win the war not to figure out the political situation afterwards and all this in the nuclear era these intellectuals were pointing out that there is no separation between those things anymore how you fight the war will determine so many other things
Starting point is 03:40:19 for example one of the big problems that Brody had with the entire war plan that guys like Curtis LeMay had come up with you know Nukhda Soviet Union all at one time quickly as possible get it over with was that you lost every bit of leverage that you might have Brody argued that the game goes on even when nuclear weapons start falling and that the way things turn out you know the difference between maybe 100 million lives
Starting point is 03:40:43 could be how you play the game once the bombs start falling now here's the thing all these people at the RAND Corporation and these defense intellectuals are often characterized as a combination of like Mr. Spock and Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory people with great mathematics and economics backgrounds who are so great at crunching numbers but often seem detached from the real world blood and guts
Starting point is 03:41:07 reality you know what they're studying if the worst case scenario happens nonetheless it's hard to argue with some of the things they say for example you know Brody had famously said early on that you know cities as hostages you know your adversaries cities held hostage is a lot more valuable than having a bunch of corpses made LeMay's plan created corpses Brody wanted to preserve
Starting point is 03:41:30 flexibility even after the atomic bombs dropped and he pointed it out this way Fred Kaplan in his 1980s classic The Wizards of Armageddon discusses it he says quote Brody reasoned that the final surrender of the Japanese in the Pacific war resulted not from the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki but from the implicit threat of more atom bombs on their way
Starting point is 03:41:53 if the Japanese did not give up then likewise he writes the Soviets would more likely stop fighting after receiving some destructive blows knowing that if they did not stop their cities would be the next targets to get hit if however we blew up their cities at the very outset of the war the bargaining lever would be blown up along with them hostages have no value once they are killed
Starting point is 03:42:16 consequently the Soviets would feel no inhibitions about blowing up American cities in return hardly an outcome that would serve the interest of American security end quote it's a combination of coldly passionately logical and at the same time in its own way especially when compared to the atomic blitz plan
Starting point is 03:42:39 that the air force had in place humanitarian these are the people that will coalesce and Brody is one of them Hermann Kahn is another John von Neumann will be involved and von Neumann has been called by some people the most intelligent man who's ever lived I think that's very debatable but you know if you're anywhere in that conversation and in the 1920s von Neumann famously in a poker game
Starting point is 03:43:02 devises the modern version of what you could call the mathematical theory of games because that's what they did call it today we just call it game theory the standard definition of game theory is a mathematically precise method of determining rational strategies in the face of critical uncertainties sounds like it might be pretty useful in a game doesn't it
Starting point is 03:43:27 or a war for that matter or a war game there had been antecedents of course before von Neumann others worked on it afterwards including von Neumann some more but by this time these are the kind of people that want to employ those kinds of theories to analyze this game but they're going to run into the same problem
Starting point is 03:43:51 that those intellectuals who want to see a man kind of evolve away from war are running into the speed of the pace of change everything keeps evolving so quickly that the minute you may think you have this atomic poker game figured out with one deck somebody decides okay now we're going to play with another deck added to it it upsets your paradigm on a regular basis it's arguable but perhaps the biggest destabilizer
Starting point is 03:44:18 between 1950 and 1960 is the growth of missile technology which you know at the end of the Second World War the Soviets and the West were both scouring Germany as they occupied it to grab as many Nazi scientists as they could because in a couple of key areas German scientists were ahead of the West and the Soviets missile technology for example they've been using at the end of the war a missile called the V2
Starting point is 03:44:43 against places like London and suspiciously for about the next 10 years some of these missiles would look like carbon copies of the V2 the United States would grab one of these scientists a guy named Werner von Braun who would of course be influential in the US space program later the space programs themselves of both the Soviet Union and the United States had we'll call it dual purpose technological applicability because when the Soviets launched the first satellite into space
Starting point is 03:45:11 Sputnik in 1957 some people worried that the Soviets are now ahead in space technology but a lot of people understand that if you can put a satellite in space you know at the tip of a rocket you can put a bomb on the tip of a rocket and send it to the United States the real key change for me reading all this material was the modern material makes it clear that even though the time the United States was most frightened of nuclear war hitting them when they were building bomb shelters in the backyard in Nebraska
Starting point is 03:45:39 the Soviet Union probably had very little chance of launching an attack on the US as we said earlier first of all any attack during that period would have involved aircraft and the United States had a wonderful defensive air force that could have shot down anything but it's missiles that change that they also start putting them on submarines which changes everything too the difference between 1950 and 1960 in terms of trying to control and corral the threat and the growing instability
Starting point is 03:46:12 is night and day as nuclear expert Joseph Cerencioni points out after discussing the atoms for peace idea that Eisenhower threw out there there would also be a summit in 1955 between Eisenhower and Khrushchev trying to break the tension somewhat Nikita Khrushchev even came to the United States in the late 50s and visited led around by Vice President Nixon and the press in tow sort of to get to know you in both sides to sort of humanize each other a little bit but for every decrease in tensions on one hand
Starting point is 03:46:43 there was something on the other hand to make up for it and the complexity and increasing power of the weapons just made the job of anyone who wanted to control these things darn near impossible listen to Joseph Cerencioni run down the growth in weapons technology in the 10 years between 1950 and 1960 he wrote quote while atoms for peace was promoting nuclear technology for peaceful purposes the US military was equipping their troops with thousands of nuclear weapons adapting them for use in nuclear depth charges
Starting point is 03:47:19 nuclear torpedoes nuclear mines nuclear artillery and even a nuclear bazooka this infantry weapon called the Davy Crockett would fire a nuclear warhead about half a mile both the United States and the Soviet Union developed strategies to fight and win a nuclear war created vast nuclear weapon complexes and began deploying intercontinental ballistic missiles and fleets of ballistic missile submarines the effective abandonment of international control efforts and the race to build a numerical and then a qualitative nuclear advantage resulted in the American nuclear arsenal mushrooming from just under 400 weapons in 1950 to over 20,000 by 1960 the Soviet arsenal likewise jumped from five warheads in 1950
Starting point is 03:48:07 to roughly 1600 in 1960 the United States was ahead but afraid end quote when you think about the situation that Harry Truman was trying to cope with you know from 45 to 52 and what seemed complex at the time look at how all of this stuff makes that look like a card game with a single deck and by the time Eisenhower leaves office he's playing multi-level chess or atomic poker with nine decks you know going at the same time but he's grown with it he's learned how to play this game
Starting point is 03:48:48 he started and stepped in at a time when it was much less complicated yeah Truman showed him his hand says this is what's in my hand this is what we think is in his hand this is my strategy good luck and handed his hand of cards over to you know one of the great gamers a guy you would say if you had to handpick them might have been uniquely qualified for this time in this place but he's also the head of a system that doesn't pick their people based on qualification the person that gets to sit in the chair and play the other side you know with the world as your stakes in the card game or the chess match is chosen by the electorate and they could choose anybody
Starting point is 03:49:33 1960 will be Dwight Eisenhower's last year in office the constitution mandates that you get no more than two terms his time is up he's done anyway the presidency wipes people out anyway he's had health problems I mean it's time for someone new the problem is is who is qualified to take over the game for Eisenhower and what if you get someone in there who plays poorly you know voters in the United States have always had a lot of responsibility but when they were voting say for president Roosevelt for reelection in 1940 they weren't voting for the most dangerous human being of all time
Starting point is 03:50:16 when they go to the polls in 1960 to vote for someone to replace the retiring Dwight Eisenhower that's exactly what they're voting for for all his power and authority in the 1930s and 1940s Franklin Delano Roosevelt didn't have atomic weapons so couldn't have taken us to nuclear war like presidents after 1945 what's more he operated in a constitutional framework that especially for the big wars required the involvement of other people the Congress for example he couldn't do this by himself 1945 and the advent of atomic weapons changed all that the Truman administration took that power to themselves rightly or wrongly they had some good reasons but you can disagree about them
Starting point is 03:51:01 but it solidified the power to use these extraordinary weapons in the hands of a single human being no one's ever had that kind of power and US presidents from 1945 on are infinitely more dangerous in a worst case scenario than they were before then and we Americans tend not to think of our own people as scary and dangerous but you can bet that in other countries in 1960 places that might be on the receiving end of a worst case scenario people for example living in the old Soviet Union those people certainly would have recognized the potential danger of the most dangerous figure in world history a person that will be determined by the particular whims of the US electorate
Starting point is 03:51:54 of course the problem one might ask is if you have issues with that who would you rather have picked that person and think about it carefully because the power of that person is getting more scary all the time the president that succeeds Eisenhower will be the first one to control the US nuclear arsenal in an era where a push button holocaust becomes possible during Eisenhower's time had nuclear war broken out the vast majority of it would have been fought with airplanes dropping bombs the next president of the United States is going to have enough intercontinental ballistic missiles deployed
Starting point is 03:52:37 so that you have the metaphorical because he really would just give an order and a code and all that but the metaphorical red button as they call it becomes a reality during this era the idea of how dangerous that human being is he's a person that's going to have to make a nuclear decision potentially with only minutes to debate and decide it what human being is qualified for that and what sort of qualifications if you could mold your perfect president and steward of that kind of power and authority what sort of professional or educational or personal background would you want would you want someone who was a politician controlling the nuclear arsenal with their finger on the button
Starting point is 03:53:25 or maybe you think that's something that you could trust a business person more someone more attuned to the questions of profit and loss and corporate survivability I mean maybe there's a lot of things you could argue that that would be beneficial or maybe you want someone who thinks about nothing but this geopolitical atomic card game all the time and you want one of those mathematical economists from some place like the Rand Corporation put them in the White House or maybe you want to go a totally different direction you need someone who's got the more big picture humanity side of this
Starting point is 03:53:59 like the people at the Russell Einstein Manifesto said remember your humanity and forget the rest right you want one of those guys maybe you want a philosopher or maybe you want someone who's very religious maybe you want a Gandhi type president or the first Buddhist president I realize it's a long shot but you know extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures or maybe you want to recreate the Eisenhower years and get yourself a general although you get term after term after term in the White House occupied by a military leader
Starting point is 03:54:34 starts to look a little wiggy in a democratic republic doesn't it what's more what made Eisenhower so particularly I thought suited as I said for the role wasn't that he was a general and because of that he was a super hawk it's because he carried the credibility of being a general and was actually less hawkish than his military advisors a lot of the time sometimes they would want to be more risky and more muscular and it would be Eisenhower that would say no and had Eisenhower instead been a civilian like Truman
Starting point is 03:55:07 maybe these incredible World War II guys who made up a lot of the military advisors in this era they were big powerful charismatic figures themselves they may have steamrolled another civilian like Truman but during this critical period where we were trying to get the formula right the guy who stood in the civilian role and protected the civilian role was himself a military guy and could push back against the generals because you know you can't accuse Eisenhower of not understanding the military situation but now Eisenhower was leaving
Starting point is 03:55:36 who was going to have the ability and the background to stand up if the generals were to push again in a hawkish direction the consequences for voters getting this wrong in 1960 are enormous it's probably at this point if the man from Mars we've been using as part of our discussion here is watching the 1960 election where he's not going to be able to figure out we human beings at all because in the mind of any Mr. Spock type character they're going to look at this and logically figure out
Starting point is 03:56:09 that the only thing Americans should care about is getting the sort of Damocles question right but that's not how human beings function in any system where they're allowed to have an opinion it will be one of the concerns that factors into their decision over who they vote for for most dangerous man in all human history but it will not be the exclusive thing I mean they're going to care about domestic issues too it might be a tax question that determines who they vote for it's probably going to be an issue of what party they are
Starting point is 03:56:39 where some Americans are going to vote reliably for the Republican candidate the other for Democrats even the sort of Damocles can't prevent party loyalty from coming into play finally and this is the part that I would imagine would really confuse the man from Mars the question of personal charisma and glamour and likability will come into this and you will think to yourself well of course that's just how these things function but if you back off and look at it from an outsider's viewpoint
Starting point is 03:57:07 what if that becomes the reason you vote for the person who plays a really poor game of atomic poker nuclear bridge three-dimensional geopolitical nuclear booby trap chess and of course as these international groups like the Bertrand Russell Albert Einstein group might point out it's also a heck of a lot of power for American voters to make a decision that impacts the people around the world who have no say at all in the decision the people that we were talking about in India do not care about the US tax rate at all
Starting point is 03:57:48 in the 1960 election but they sure as heck hope that the proper person is put in charge of the nuclear arsenal or look at the Central Europeans who are right smack dab in the center of the crosshairs if nuclear war breaks out in Europe what assurances do they have that the American people aren't going to vote for a president based on who's better looking well in 1960 the better looking candidate wins he's also by leaps and bounds the far richer candidate he's the less experienced candidate he is the younger candidate which is saying something
Starting point is 03:58:23 because Richard Nixon the Republican former vice president under Eisenhower is a mere 46 years old which is young but his opponent who wins is John F. Kennedy and he's a mere 43 still the youngest man ever elected to the office he's a kid the 70 year old Eisenhower and his old people you know walk off the stage and turn over the nuclear launch codes to a kid a playboy a millionaire playboy father's money estimated I thought I read in Forbes magazine like 300 million dollars it's so much it doesn't matter whether it's adjusted for inflation or not dad was an ambassador his earlier history of how he originally made that money a lot more sorted than being an ambassador
Starting point is 03:59:06 the son was a swinger I mean played around with guys like Frank Sinatra and those guys dated a lot of girls that weren't his wife down a lot of people knew that and the press didn't talk about that much but had one of these families that was so beautiful and photogenic that Life magazine and Time magazine and all these things that gave all the public exposure to him free of charge helped him out a ton all the photogenic nature of it all helped a ton and everybody can understand this that's just politics but is that something that's outdated by the time we're picking your leaders will give them the sort of power that Richard Nixon don't feel bad he'll get to be president too just not in 1960 will brag about in 1974 when admittedly he's got a few more missiles under his belt than Kennedy will have but he'll tell the press in 1974
Starting point is 03:59:58 and this should wake everyone up to the disaster you would have if you voted for the wrong person because they'd have this power too Nixon quipped to the press that I could go into my office and pick up my telephone and in 25 minutes 70 million people will be dead the real danger in the system created to manage nuclear weapons is that there is no margin for error it is a one strike in your out situation how long do you trust the electorate and the political system in general because after all the electorate can only choose the candidates who do well in the political system how long do you trust them to do this without making some sort of a terrible mistake in 1960 election when John F. Kennedy becomes the president of the United States there's a significant number of people that think
Starting point is 04:00:52 that a lightweight has just been given control of the nuclear arsenal and unfortunately for world events upcoming one of those people is going to turn out to be Nikita Khrushchev Nikita Khrushchev is going to be wrong about that but that's what sets the stage for disaster it's those kind of miscalculations that's the exact word Kennedy used that JFK thought might lead to war because by this period it's becoming apparent that neither side wants that so how could you have a war if neither side wanted it what's the relation something unforeseen in the book Inside the Kremlin's Cold War by Vladislav Zubalk and Konstantin Pleshikov
Starting point is 04:01:46 it's interesting to read exactly how much Khrushchev was hoping Kennedy would become the president but not because he thought he was weak but because he thought he might be another Franklin Roosevelt and who could reach out and you could have another relationship the way Stalin and Roosevelt's relationship was seen to be Khrushchev apparently and I didn't know this did everything he could to help Kennedy get elected told KGB officers in Washington you know analyze the situation if there's anything you can do diplomatically or with propaganda to help do it called Kennedy his president after he was elected and told him at the first eye-to-eye meeting they ever had you know I got you elected
Starting point is 04:02:32 now trying to figure out the motivations of the Soviet leader in this situation is as difficult as it is for any of these other politicians and people we've been discussing right the layers to the core of the onion are impossible to discern but Zubalk and Pleshikov in inside the Kremlin's Cold War seem to indicate that Khrushchev was excited about Kennedy coming to the presidency not because he was happy to have some sort of weakling or lightweight at least compared to Eisenhower who was a heavyweight's heavyweight in office but because he realistically believed that his sources told him that Kennedy was a pragmatist which he was not an ideologue maybe you could deal with a man like that Zubalk and Pleshikov write quote Khrushchev was prone to optimistic and often wishful thinking and in the early months after Kennedy's election
Starting point is 04:03:23 he had an irresistible temptation to see his, his is in quotes, new president in the best light he tried many channels to convey to Kennedy that his presidency could open up a new era in US-Soviet relations end quote now detractors and hardliners would say it's all part of a plan he's just gonna figure out a way to work this kid and that might be true too it's recent history you can't always tell but it seemed like there was this honeymoon period and the honeymoon period lasted pretty much up until about April because in April something happened if Khrushchev thought he was going to get to turn to an absolute clean slate new page after the Eisenhower administration
Starting point is 04:04:02 it's hard to believe he would really think that because he would be not taking into account the fact that nobody gets to start off with a clean slate especially not in the US political system where as we've said this is a tag team game of atomic poker and in the same way Eisenhower had to take over Truman's hand in mid-game Kennedy has to take over Eisenhower's hand in mid-game and Eisenhower has some crappy cards let's lay that out there right now he warns Kennedy about them too he says Laos gonna be some trouble just warning you Kennedy would find that next door neighbor Vietnam ended up taking more of his time and attention Eisenhower also handled him the one card everybody knew was danger handed in the Berlin card
Starting point is 04:04:44 which was once again hot as hell Khrushchev would say about Berlin that Berlin was the testicles of the West every time I want to make the West scream I squeeze on Berlin he was squeezing it in the late 1950s and it became one of the two closest times the Eisenhower administration came to nuclear war the other was over a couple of islands off the coast of China but you hand that card over to the new young president and then he handed Kennedy a new card an unexpected card one that has become more and more important but it's in a weird place it's Cuba
Starting point is 04:05:21 90 miles off the US coast normally a place the US would not be looking for trouble during this era as we said they see the whole freedom communism battle as a zero sum game if communism wins some country on the edge of the earth that's a big deal so how the heck it ever snuck into Cuba well it's a good story little off the beaten path for us except as it relates to this great game but in the late 1950s the government the autocratic strong man style government of Fulgencio Batista is toppled by some revolutionaries led by a guy named Fidel Castro and you may recall his lieutenants name Shea Guevara
Starting point is 04:06:01 for a very short period of time no one knows what these guys are about but then they end up by hooker by crook there's disagreements about this aligning themselves with the socialist side of the world this is a huge problem and as far as the Eisenhower administration was concerned during their last years in office it had to be dealt with they had a plan a CIA plan involving exiles from Cuba who were going to hit the beaches at a place called the Bay of Pigs and overthrow that Castro government but Eisenhower was going to leave office before the plan was ready so Eisenhower handed that card to John F. Kennedy
Starting point is 04:06:37 and only a couple months after getting into office the new kid during the learning curve decided to go ahead with the Eisenhower plan because the CIA says it's good the military wants to do it basically so Kennedy does it and it fails Kennedy took a ton of personal heat for not stepping in and overtly helping more when the CIA backed Cubans got into trouble and he was trying to preserve the same sort of figly fiction in Cuba that it was a Cuban on Cuban thing that the Chinese and Soviets had been trying to preserve in Korea that new way you fight you know wars during the Cold War most of his biographers though assert that Kennedy learned something from this that it changed him he had already had leanings in this direction but it changed him
Starting point is 04:07:28 he was a second world war veteran he was no Eisenhower he commanded a little PT boat with like 15 people on it but while he was commanding it it got cut in two by a Japanese destroyer that rammed into it and he lost two men instantly and had it was a highly publicized and used for his political gain story but it was essentially true he rescued his own crew towing one wounded man by his life vest with the rope attached to the life vest in his teeth as he swam two islands miles away see that Harvard swim team experience comes in handy but Kennedy had said that being a lowly lieutenant sort of on the ground on the scene taught him how out of touch the people he called the brass hats the military leaders back in Washington
Starting point is 04:08:20 were with the realities of what the troops were dealing with and that attitude a common soldiers attitude on the ground by the way was reinforced after the Bay of Pigs disaster when he got advice from the CIA and his military advisors that he thought was expert opinion and in one sense it was but that doesn't mean it's right Kennedy would be shattered by what happened at the Bay of Pigs he was supposed to be crying afterwards he was out of sorts for a long time advisors during meetings would catch him staring off into space saying how could I have been so stupid
Starting point is 04:09:02 biographer Robert Dalek writes quote how could I have been so stupid was his way of asking why he had been so gullible he puzzled over the fact that he had not asked harder questions and had allowed the so-called collective wisdom of all these experienced national security officials to persuade him to go ahead he had assumed he later told advisor Arthur Schlesinger that quote the military and intelligence people have some secret skill not available to ordinary mortals end quote the experience taught him quote never to rely on the experts end quote he told journalist Ben Bradley quote
Starting point is 04:09:42 the first advice I'm going to give my successor is to watch the generals and to avoid feeling that just because they were military men their opinions on military matters were worth a damn end quote you know it's tempting to say that there are some luck here historically speaking that Kennedy got this lesson reinforced at such an early time in his career before things really heated up and the stakes really got high because only a few months into his career Kennedy has decided that you have to be skeptical of expert advice sometimes
Starting point is 04:10:18 in this case though his acceptance of an Eisenhower type plan made him look a lot more like the previous administration and this happening right before the meeting with Nikita Khrushchev put the whole kibosh on the honeymoon between Kennedy and Khrushchev as though one spouse had cheated on the other after only a couple of months of marriage and if anybody was likely to do that well John F. Kennedy nonetheless he went into this summit right after the Bay of Pigs fiasco to meet Khrushchev eye to eye
Starting point is 04:10:52 and every book you will ever read on the subject no one can resist and we won't either obviously the visual and background comparison to these two guys when they get together could you find two more unlike people from their physical differences I mean John F. Kennedy's could have been he's the glamour president in terms of looks and charm and all that kind of thing and he's like the money man and he's a propaganda stock character if you're doing this for the Soviet newsreels I mean he's the money man from the monopoly game and Khrushchev is a peasant but he's one of these peasants who's sneaky
Starting point is 04:11:29 a survivor and he takes great pride in being able to outwit people who should know better than he does he has no real formal education he has however a background in life that is formidable Zubalk and Plechikov describe the two men's first face-to-face meeting at the Vienna summit starting on June 3rd and ending on June 4th 1961 this way quote Khrushchev met with Kennedy in Vienna as a prima donna meeting with a first time starlet I heard you were a young and promising man Khrushchev greeted the 43 year old president
Starting point is 04:12:08 the difference in age was almost a quarter of a century this generation gap grows into an abyss if one thinks of all the milestones of Russian history as well as the personal experience that it shaped Khrushchev and of which Kennedy had only limited understanding the only two links between the leaders were World War II and the nuclear polarization of the Cold War end quote Khrushchev had already decided after the Bay of Pigs fiasco that Kennedy was weaker than Eisenhower something he could have probably assumed
Starting point is 04:12:40 but now he thought he detected something at the Vienna summit he put his theory to the test at the summit for two days he put the hard press on John Kennedy and Kennedy stumbled he came in with a lot of proposals that sounded just like the kind of guy Khrushchev was looking for a typically first year president with all the idealism that comes with it and the sort of understated implied idea that surely reasonable people can sit down and settle our differences and ran into a buzz saw
Starting point is 04:13:17 Kennedy described the experience to James Reston of the New York Times he said that the summit meeting had quote been the roughest thing in my life he just beat the hell out of me I've got a terrible problem if you think I'm inexperienced and have no guts until we remove those ideas we won't get anywhere with him end quote Khrushchev said Kennedy was too intelligent and too weak
Starting point is 04:13:44 once again when you read the history books on this it's amazing how many of them use poker or some sort of strategic game to describe the situation because there's so much brinkmanship going on and so much bluffing and so much testing out of your opponent in this case Khrushchev between the Bay of Pigs and this summit has determined now that he's dealing with a much more immature as one of his aides said American leader far more immature than Eisenhower inside the Kremlin's Cold War they write quote
Starting point is 04:14:18 after the first day of talks at the Vienna summit Khrushchev's advisors who waited for his return in front of the Soviet Embassy asked him about his impressions of Kennedy Khrushchev waved his hand dismissively Kennedy he said was no match for Eisenhower he lacked the broad horizons and the statesmanship of the earlier president end quote but this changed Khrushchev's view of the man
Starting point is 04:14:44 and what he could get away with and what he might decide to try which is exactly what Zubok and Pleshikov say Khrushchev told his advisors when some of them said maybe we should kind of listen to this and maybe that will mean better relations and Khrushchev told them that the favorable situation must be exploited in other words Khrushchev originally went into this whole thing maybe trying to diffuse tensions
Starting point is 04:15:11 saw that he was faced with what he thought was a weak president a weak player on the other side of the table couldn't turn down the fabulous opportunity that the role of the historical dice seemed to have delivered to his side and so began to play the game the way you would have played it in a pre-nuclear era the way Machiavelli would have told you to play it but as Kennedy theorized when neither side wants war you're likely to have one break out over some miscalculation
Starting point is 04:15:40 Khrushchev was making a dangerous one by thinking that Kennedy was weak he was now going to play his hand based on the assumption that that's the kind of man he was competing against what happens when that gaming strategy runs smack dab into the fact that you have misjudged your opponent perhaps apocalyptically so Part 3 of The Destroyer of Worlds
Starting point is 04:16:15 the people from the Bertrand Russell side of the Evolve to deal with our weapons technology debate would say that the problem here is the game itself is too dangerous because it involves brinkmanship that's how it's played that's why everyone including me compares it to a game the rules were laid out very openly by US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles in the middle 1950s when he said
Starting point is 04:16:40 the ability to get to the verge without getting into the war is the necessary art if you cannot master it you inevitably get into a war if you try to run away from it if you're scared to go to the brink you are lost end quote but when the brink is Armageddon how often can you go to the brink and know you're not going to tumble over the edge
Starting point is 04:17:06 Kennedy will come into office as like the dream candidate for the defense intellectuals at places like the Rand Corporation because he will bring in people that think that the Rand people have it right Kennedy will bring in people from outside the government structure the defense secretary will be a guy who headed up Ford Motor Company so you're bringing in some of the business people to take a new look at all this and say we've been doing it this way for a long time is this the way we should do it and a lot of those people like Robert McNamara the defense secretary
Starting point is 04:17:37 thought those ideas that the Rand people were pushing about you know it's like a bunch of different cards and you have to play them strategically sounded logical the Kennedy administration is famous for one of the biggest changes in all of nuclear history they call flexible response traditionally you go from Eisenhower's massive retaliation to Kennedy's flexible response I used to be a little bit better talking about this before I read some of the newer books by people like Francis J. Gavin
Starting point is 04:18:05 that basically say something like flexible response was much more for PR than what it really was on the ground the idea that you could tell the people on the nuclear battlefield in Europe hey don't worry we won't go to nuclear weapons at the very first option had all sorts of benefits whereas Kennedy and Eisenhower and Truman all kind of thought that if nuclear war breaks out everybody's going to use everything they have anyway this game of being able to throw a few bombs out there stop and see what happens sounds good in the classroom but in reality that's probably not what's going to happen
Starting point is 04:18:38 nonetheless that's what they're known for a new look at the security strategy when it came to using nuclear weapons right at a time when Kennedy's up against a guy who is every bit as good of a bluffer as Eisenhower was Khrushchev's a fantastic card game player too and as historian John Lewis goddess points out he uses rhetoric and bluster and bluff to cover up for his own side's weakness because what the United States doesn't know when Kennedy gets into office talking about a missile gap where the Soviet Union has more missiles than the United States
Starting point is 04:19:11 is that the Soviet Union is woefully unprepared if nuclear war came tomorrow so when Khrushchev says they're turning out missiles like sausages in Russia you have no choice but to believe him the way that the U.S. has been finding out what little they could about what was going on is with these overflights of Russian territory with these amazing high-level reconnaissance planes called U-2 planes but you have to sort of dart in and dart out real quickly the radar shows that you're there but they're flying too high for the Russians to intercept
Starting point is 04:19:46 but they cause international incidents and eventually they start getting shot down by missiles and when those pilots fall into Russian hands you have real international incidents and that was happening during the Eisenhower administration but in 1961 Kennedy orders these satellites which are relatively new look at the Soviet Union and tell him what they see and over a period of several months they look down and they come back and the experts brief the president and say they've got like four intercontinental ballistic missiles and they're not even ready to go
Starting point is 04:20:23 they've got these nuclear submarines but they're all in port and basically they come to the conclusion that if you wanted to all these nuclear problems with the Soviet Union could go away now and stop them dead in their tracks it would be over a preemptive war would solve this catastrophe we all have looming where mankind could be bombed back to the Stone Age what a tempting idea that would be and the really attractive part was the potential to knock out the other side's weapons
Starting point is 04:20:57 before they could use them rather than nuke their cities in other words you know like disarming your opponent by shooting the gun out of his hand that sounds a whole lot better than launching a holocaust to keep yourself safe doesn't it the idea also worked well with some of the policies that the new administration had about using nuclear weapons something that would be known as the counter force strategy and the no cities policy and not for the last time something that was intended to make people feel more safe about nuclear weapon use
Starting point is 04:21:32 at the opposite effect Kennedy's defense secretary explained the counter force idea that now the weapons technology we had would allow the United States to target the weapons of the Soviet Union instead of their cities the truth is we would still target their cities they just wouldn't be the first option this was supposed to make people in cities think okay well the United States is a humane country which it is and it would never target cities if it didn't have to and after all this will return you know the battle to the battlefield
Starting point is 04:22:05 where it belongs and they'll only be using them against the military forces of the other side there were two problems with this one people quickly realize that that makes them much more usable as horrible as it sounds the idea that you would kill millions of innocent men women and children in these cities is a deterrent if you think well we'll just use nuclear weapons against soldiers well that's who weapons are supposed to be used against so does that make it a lot easier to start using them and then have it grow out of control where you do use the big weapons on cities
Starting point is 04:22:36 does it even matter isn't it bad enough if you just use them in the military capacity the other problem is savvy people realize something really quickly if the point of using these weapons and targeting them at the enemy's missiles is to hit the missiles so that those missiles don't hit the United States you have to shoot them before the other side shoots theirs you don't want to hit a bunch of empty missile locations and launchers and silos after the missiles are gone but that means you strike first the dynamic was turning into one like a old west gunfight where two gunfighters
Starting point is 04:23:17 are going to draw on three and everybody's worried that you know eventually you're going to get into a situation where what prevents the other side from drawing on two as long as it disables the other person or kills them before they kill you are you going to really question the moral issues which led to a whole need to develop what was called a second strike capability in other words something that said we can kill you even if you kill us after you kill us or we can damage you enough so that this whole thing isn't worth it in other words for deterrence to work you would eventually have to have something that
Starting point is 04:23:52 Robert McNamara Kennedy's you know former head of Ford Motor Corporation would develop he called it assured destruction today we often call it mutual assured destruction or mad for short but this was a concept that was fully understood in the 1950s it was the missiles that turned it into the kind of reality where people would start talking about the potential advantages if both sides had a doomsday device and eventually the Soviets would have something called the dead hand you know with the exact same rationale powering it which is
Starting point is 04:24:27 we really don't want to have to kill you after you've killed us but it might prevent you from killing us in the first place if we do have something like that this whole question of how you deter the other side and the weirdness of the entire mental construct of nuclear deterrence you know is going to enter the doctor strange love phase of weirdness during this era where they will have debates over whether or not you should ever respond with a nuclear response if deterrence fails Herman Kahn who is also associated with the Rand Corporation
Starting point is 04:25:03 who will be one of the main inspirations often cited for the doctor strange love character you know we'll talk about the red button you know the nuclear launch button the metaphorical one and he will say that people will have real discussions about whether or not that button should actually be connected to anything now he says it's important that the other side thinks it's connected to something but the idea was that if somehow nuclear deterrence failed and the other side launched their nuclear missiles at you the main thing to do would be to not respond right you've lost the war already there's no reason to kill them too
Starting point is 04:25:48 now I should point out Herman Kahn did not feel that way he definitely thought the button should be connected to something nonetheless he was sort of showing us the kinds of conversations that these theorists are having right the sort of questions that will come up they're academic in nature theoretical until they're not but tensions begin to spike after the Vienna summit the last line Kennedy will ever say face to face to Nikita Khrushchev is in response to some of the things that were said at that meeting when he walks out and says it's going to be a cold winter and he's right the situation in Berlin will get extremely serious at one point there will be American and NATO tanks facing off against Soviet tanks over the dividing line between East Berlin and West Berlin
Starting point is 04:26:42 and then the Soviets will put up a wall to stop a flight the whole thing becomes a nightmarish disaster and problems are narrowly averted the tensions will also increase to the point where both sides do away with the unofficial moratorium they had on nuclear weapons when everybody started getting worried about fallout they put a little temporary damper on testing these things and then boom everybody starts up again both because if you're going to have tensions skyrocket well you've got to make sure that your nuclear deterrence remains credible and that means testing at the same time it was a great way to send a message the United States will test 98 nuclear weapons according to Donovan Webster in a month in 1962 in a month now that's sending a message because if you haven't figured out whether it works or not after the 91st test you know you're just playing around
Starting point is 04:27:37 the Soviets have their own way of rattling sabers they like really really big sabers and Khrushchev tells his physicists including Andrey Sakharov that he wants a hundred megaton bomb remember the United States his test that was the radiological that was 15 megatons Castle Bravo and when you try to figure out megatons I'm no mathematician but the power grows exponentially you can't just say it's 30 megatons instead of 15 so it's twice as powerful it doesn't work like that especially with things like the thermal radiation part which is highly underrated I just read a whole book on that that says for the entire time nuclear weapons have been around everyone is underestimated the most dangerous part of them which is the fires that they start because they're hard to measure so you don't study those you study the blast so as scary as they are that's all based on blast evidence
Starting point is 04:28:31 according to Lynn Eden they're probably many times more deadly than that once fire is taken into account Andrey Sakharov is supposed to have had with Khrushchev an Oppenheimer Truman moment a moment where the physicist the real deep thinker who's thinking about the ramifications of his creation goes to Khrushchev to try to tell him maybe we shouldn't make a 100 megaton bomb remember it might take a lot more guts for someone to do it in that system than in say the United States context because before Khrushchev was Stalin and telling Stalin something like this could be bad for your health so already you see that it's a much more open situation but Sakharov goes to Khrushchev and says maybe we shouldn't explode this bomb it'll jeopardize future relations and the test ban treaties that we were unofficially
Starting point is 04:29:20 having worked for us and gets told this by Khrushchev quote leave politics to us we're the specialists we have to conduct our policies from a position of strength our opponents don't understand any other language I'd be a jellyfish and not chairman of the council of ministers if I listened to people like Sakharov end quote of course anyone who grew up in that era will note automatically that that's exactly the sort of thing we here in the US would have said about the Soviets can't be a jellyfish in front of them in other words Khrushchev understands the way it's all played just as Eisenhower did I mean these people would make Machiavelli's honor list they're good at the game they play
Starting point is 04:30:13 but the game is different and Sakharov at least manages to talk Khrushchev down from a 100 megaton bomb to a 50 megaton one because if all you really are trying to do here is rattle a big saber 50 megatons is as big as anybody would want even for intimidation purposes now slightly over 50 megatons might have been just about half what Khrushchev wanted but as John Lewis Gattus writes quote even so it was big enough the single largest blast human beings had ever detonated or have since on the planet the flash was visible 600 miles away the fireball now quoting somebody who saw it quote was powerful and arrogant like Jupiter
Starting point is 04:31:00 it seemed to suck the whole earth into it end quote and Gattus continues the mushroom cloud rose 40 miles into the stratosphere the island over which the explosion took place was literally leveled not only of snow but also of rocks so that it looked to one observer like an immense skating rink the entire spectacle was quote fantastic unreal supernatural end quote one estimate calculated Gattus writes on the basis of this test that if Khrushchev's full 100 megaton bomb had been used instead the resulting firestorm would have engulfed an area the size of the state of Maryland
Starting point is 04:31:41 end quote surely nobody would ever use a weapon like that but calculations can go awry with the ramping up of tension during the 1961-62 period Khrushchev attempted to do something that if this were really a board game of the kind I always enjoyed playing when I was younger a board war game a more complicated version of something like risk would have been an awesome move but with the stakes of something like Tsar Bomba and Castle Bravo and all these multi-megaton bombs involved
Starting point is 04:32:22 it's hard to see how people could justify the worst case scenario but under the pre-nuclear rules Khrushchev makes a move that is so bold that there are quite a few people that think this is the kind of thing that gave him a reputation as a gambler that got him in trouble after this period with the other people in Russian leadership who had some say in the matter because there was a recklessness to it but my goodness if we were really watching a game instead of life you have to admire the Hutzpah when nobody's looking Khrushchev solves a bunch of problems he's got in one fell swoop
Starting point is 04:32:58 by secretly beginning to put nuclear weapons onto the island of Cuba in many ways it's a brilliant idea but it all hinges on a single very slender reed and you can see why maybe his cohorts thought him a gambler or reckless because that reed was you've got to be able to get the missiles into Cuba and activate it ready to go before the US knows they're there because if the US finds out the entire plan falls apart and when the stakes are global thermonuclear war
Starting point is 04:33:34 how are you comfortable hinging a plan on such a narrow slender reed and not just that it's not like the US isn't paying attention there's been a conventional arms buildup going on in Cuba now for months so the US is watching it's become a political issue there are midterm elections in November back in September only about a month and a half ago the rumblings were so loud about possible nuclear weapons that Kennedy issued a public statement showing strength and resolve
Starting point is 04:34:04 you know typical Cold War rhetoric and drew a line in the sand and told the Soviets there would be the most grave ramifications if anyone did anything like that and then Kennedy went publicly and privately to the Soviet diplomats and said now you're not putting offensive weapons there right and they go oh no we're not doing it no offensive weapons at all so you can imagine how he felt
Starting point is 04:34:24 and you can also imagine how much gasoline has now accrued around this situation when Kennedy finds out that he's been lied to and that his opponents who charged him with being naive and saying you're putting the country security risk and the Soviets are going to put nuclear weapons on that island when he finds out that's exactly what they've done there's a reason that this crisis begins at such an intense level from the very first minute and that's because the stage is set for it
Starting point is 04:34:57 on October 16th in the morning of 1962 Kennedy's advisors bring him photographs the photographs show the construction of missile sites underway in Cuba the U.S. had been watching weird activity involving you know Russian handlers offloading ships I mean there was suspicion but these U-2 photos confirmed everyone's worst fears and that's that within a very short period of time
Starting point is 04:35:25 Kennedy CIA advisors thought maybe within a week you were going to have operational missiles 90 miles or so off the U.S. coast the minute that Kennedy realizes the reality of what he's looking at a dynamic starts and in the back of your head a mental stopwatch should begin ticking because the pressures will start to mount instantaneously
Starting point is 04:35:52 many historians point out that Kennedy was handing out a best-selling book to his subordinates during this period and you've probably read it it was Barbara Tuckman's The Guns of August it's a book of course that deals with the run-up to the First World War and it's really about a dynamic and at the beginning of the dynamic you have decision makers who are in charge of making moves on the great chessboard
Starting point is 04:36:13 and they have some control and they can do things but that somewhere along the way all of the forces and elements involved begin to turn the decision makers into historical passengers as well who are just along for the ride and who find the range of their possible decisions and moves so curtailed that at times they appear to have no good options and Kennedy was fascinated by this dynamic apparently
Starting point is 04:36:41 and thought he saw elements of it coming to play over Berlin already now he was about to take part in something very similar although from a time constraint that run-up to the First World War took a month and everybody thought they had no time to react Kennedy was going to have nowhere near a month because the move by Khrushchev to put missiles in Cuba makes the next move the United States is
Starting point is 04:37:05 if they don't do anything whatever Khrushchev is up to progresses farther the US has to do something and they don't know how long they have to do it the fog of war will drive this crisis dynamic because right away the first thing everyone wants to know is are any of these missiles anywhere ready to be fired?
Starting point is 04:37:25 and we found those missile sites but what missile sites haven't we found? are there warheads on the island? how many? is there more stuff on the way? but to accompany these critical uncertainties is one thing that US policymakers know for sure and that is that every moment you wait
Starting point is 04:37:46 the situation is getting worse regardless of what it might be now on the ground in Cuba because we don't know that but we know it will be worse for us tomorrow and that puts an incredible time pressure on all these events the attitude is that even if you sleep things are getting worse
Starting point is 04:38:03 so the need to move and do something is exerting a huge force on the people who have to make these decisions in a way that solves the problem without creating a bigger problem in this case the bigger problem would be World War 3 and as the president will have to remind his advisors the other side has a hostage
Starting point is 04:38:25 what if they decide to kill their hostage if we do something to solve our problem in Cuba remember the hostage is Wes Berlin and as Kennedy will also point out to his advisors trading Cuba for Wes Berlin is not a good trade and the Europeans definitely wouldn't think it was a good trade within hours of seeing the photos of the construction sites in Cuba
Starting point is 04:38:49 President Kennedy calls a meeting of what will be known as the XCOM it's really just a group of handpicked national security advisors along with some other influential voices that Kennedy wanted to hear from including the Attorney Generals and maybe his younger brother Robert that's his favorite advisor
Starting point is 04:39:08 I think there was about 13 of them and they convened the first meeting before noon on October 16 and they will begin to discuss how you react to Khrushchev's move the ball's in the US's court here what do you do? and at one point Kennedy will remind the participants
Starting point is 04:39:27 that we're talking about the potential for strikes on American urban centers that could create 80 to 100 million casualties he says you're talking about the destruction of a country not to mention any casualties elsewhere in the world has there ever been a more important series of conversations ever? and if you're in a position
Starting point is 04:39:51 like John F. Kennedy is in this situation with that kind of responsibility hanging over your head and the judgment of history you know to deal with wouldn't you want to cover your ass? somehow? Kennedy without telling any of the participants in the XCOM meetings taped them
Starting point is 04:40:16 his brother may have known but no one else did about 10 years later when this all came out and we found out that several presidents found taping systems useful and you can see why we had upset some of the participants in the XCOM meetings who felt a little betrayed