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The Gordian Knot: Moral Debate and Nuclear Weapons

  • Ward Wilson

We have the power of choice over nuclear weapons. But we do not feel our power. Instead, we feel their power. They are larger than life. They loom over us, seemingly beyond our control, shrouded in myth and dark mystery. Because of their power and our feeling that nuclear weapons are unique, we believe that these weapons require a special set of moral rules, specially tuned to the separate world where nuclear weapons dwell.

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1 Lee, Steven P., Morality, Prudence, and Nuclear Weapons (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 34.

2 Quoted in Lee, Morality, Prudence, and Nuclear Weapons, p. 1.

3 Schell, Jonathan, The Fate of the Earth (New York: Knopf, 1982), p. 129.

4 LeMay was the pugnacious and unapologetic commander of the air force units that mercilessly bombed Japan in the summer of 1945, and later one of the strongest advocates of nuclear weapons as the U.S. Air Force representative on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. LeMay, Curtis E. and Kantor, MacKinlay, Mission with LeMay: My Story (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1965).

5 It turns out that this is not a very good translation of the original Hindu text. See Ramana, M. V., “The Bomb of the Blue God,” South Asian Magazine for Action and Reflection, no. 13 (2001).

6 Clark, Ronald W., The Greatest Power on Earth: The International Race for Nuclear Supremacy (New York: Harper & Row, 1980), p. 199.

7 Jungk, Robert, Brighter Than a Thousand Suns (New York: Harcourt Brace & World, Inc., ca. 1958), p. 201.

8 Boyer, Paul, By the Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age (New York: Pantheon, 1985), pp. 1415.

9 The weather components of the theory have been recently confirmed and strengthened. See, for example, Robock, Alan, “New Models Confirm Nuclear Winter,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 45, no. 7 (1989), pp. 3235. However, the estimates about how much soot would be created by burning cities is harder to get without actually burning cities.

10 Kahn, Herman, On Escalation: Metaphors and Scenarios (New York: Praeger, 1965), p. 134.

11 “Atomic Education Urged by Einstein,” New York Times, May 25, 1946.

12 For more detailed arguments and scholarly references, see ch. 1, Wilson, Ward, Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013).

13 I have often heard U.S. soldiers say that their job is to “kill people and break things.”

14 Dummett, Michael, “Nuclear Warfare,” in Blake, Nigel and Pole, Kay, eds., Objections to Nuclear Defence: Philosophers on Deterrence (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984), p. 28.

15 Walzer, Michael, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations (New York: Basic Books, 1977), p. 160.

16 Lackey, Douglas P., “Missiles and Morals: A Utilitarian Look at Nuclear Deterrence,” in Beitz, Charles R., Cohen, Marshall, Scanlon, Thomas, and Simmons, John A., eds., International Ethics (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990), p. 111.

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Ethics & International Affairs
  • ISSN: 0892-6794
  • EISSN: 1747-7093
  • URL: /core/journals/ethics-and-international-affairs
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