Last Chance for Peace

When prehistoric tribes could not resolve their differences they resorted to bludgeoning each other with tree limbs and stones.  They were face to face, hand to hand and eye to eye.  They could feel each others breath, sweat and rage.  The victor watched the conquered die at his feet.  In Caesar’s day, soldiers resorted to swords, spears and arrows making the science of killing one’s enemies a bit more efficient but still required that the victor be, at least, in visual range of the vanquished.  Although the Chinese invented gunpowder about 900 years before Christ, they used it primarily for fireworks and rockets.  It was not until the 14th century that Europeans discovered that gunpowder could be used to propel musket and cannon balls.  Finally, it was possible to kill one’s enemies without looking him in the eye.  During the American Civil War, the machine gun was invented allowing a single soldier to bring about the death of his enemies even more expeditiously.  The invention of the airplane in the twentieth century made it possible for militaries to bomb and shoot at their enemies from above.  During World War I, German scientists developed the V1 and V2 rockets which finally permitted one’s military to deliver death to locations not even visible to the dealer.  In the final hours of World War II, the United States unleashed a weapon so devastating as to be unthinkable.  On August 6, 1945, the first atomic bomb was detonated about one mile above the surface of Hiroshima, Japan.  In the blink of an eye, eighty thousand people were dead.  Tens of thousands of others would die later from the after effects of the bomb.  Three days later a second atomic bomb was detonated over the city of Nagasaki, Japan.  Another seventy thousand men, women and children lost their lives.  In the history of mankind, we have moved from the point where enemies had to face each other and could kill but one at a time to a point where a single bomb could kill more than eighty thousand people.  My God, what have we done.
The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were children’s toys in comparison to what has been developed since the close of World War II.  Those bombs had nominal yields of less than 15 kiloton.  Small strategic weapons in the arsenals of the United States and Russia amount to 250 kiloton yield.  Large weapons exceed 20 megaton yield or more than 4,000 times the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.  The hydrogen bomb is a particularly fearsome weapon.  There is theoretically no limit to the explosive yield that can be packed into such a weapon.
These terrible weapons are stored in underground silos, in bombers, on mobile launchers and in submarines that patrol the oceans.  An intercontinental ballistic missile launched from either the United States or Russia would reach its target in twenty six minutes.  Submarine launched missiles would reach their intended targets in six minutes or less.  Both the United States and Russia have detection systems capable of detecting launches against their countries and the ability to launch a retaliatory strike even before the incoming missiles detonate over their targets.  In such a scenario, the missiles of both countries would pass each other in flight and detonate almost simultaneously over both countries.  The result would be millions, possibly billions, killed in the first few minutes of the war.  Both countries would be immediately rocketed back into the stone age.  There can be no winner in a nuclear war.
All countries currently possessing nuclear weapons realize that launching a nuclear war against another country possessing nuclear weapons would be suicide.  Accordingly, there should never be a first launch.  If there is never a first launch, then there will never be a retaliatory strike.  Security comes from the fact that while under attack, you can launch a retaliatory strike that will wreak unacceptable, if not equal, damage on the aggressor thereby deterring the initial attack.
The security mentioned above is fleeting because the technology of war is constantly improving.  The speed of weapons delivery systems is constantly increasing. During World War II, delivery of weapons between the United States and Europe would have required days while ships moved within range of an opponents land and then launched missiles, artillery and aircraft to rain bombs on an enemy.  Today’s deliver systems make it possible for a war to start and end in thirty minutes with the deaths of more than half of the planet.  But there is still a period of time during which the subject of the attack has time to retaliate.
What happens when one side or the other develops a zero time of flight delivery system?  In just the last one hundred years, we have moved from Winchesters to nuclear missiles?  What about the weapon delivery systems of tomorrow? Will it be possible to launch an attack, perhaps from space, that would not give sufficient warning to the victim to allow any retaliation?  Would this perceived advantage cause one side to take the initiative and launch against the other secure in the knowledge that his enemy could not retaliate in the time between launch detection and impact?  Can we honestly be sure of the answers to any of these questions.
It would be naive to believe that there will never be another war.  Conflict seems to be the nature of man.  When conflicts can not be resolved peacefully one or the other usually resorts to force.  The problem is that the next resort to force may be the last for all of mankind.  There are likely to be very few survivors of the next nuclear war.  If there are any survivors, they would find the world to be a much different place than before the war.
Many Americans believe that the United States would never use nuclear weapons against the Russians.  Russians are not that sure.  Still other Americans, who have never met the Russian people, believe that the Russians are just waiting for the opportunity to destroy the United States.  Having had the opportunity to meet and talk to many Russians, I do not believe this to be the case.  Your perceptions seem to be determined by the part of the planet you happen to be standing on.  However, it must also be remembered that the United States is the only country to have ever used nuclear weapons in time of war.  Further, Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev was the first to propose the idea of elimination of all nuclear weapons – a proposal that the United States rebuffed when originally proposed in 1986.
Perhaps dialog between countries is the surest way to guarantee the future of mankind.  Communication between nations may foster a better understanding of the wants and desires of the respective nations.