I’m going to make a strong point and a controversial one. Then I am going to make another.
Had the King of Jordan two weeks ago possessed a tactical nuclear weapon (not the strategic weapons of Hollywood’s fantasists) he would have used it on ISIS in the Levant. And this war would be over. Had President Sisi of Egypt had a nuke this week he would have used it on ISIS in Libya. And that barbarity would be over.
(No, I’m not insane. Yes, I discuss that below.)
The questions is, is this a necessarily bad thing?
The entire purpose of war is to bend the will of an opponent. If not to your will, then at least to stop whatever it is that one’s opponent is willing to be done, and that you feel is worth both killing and dying to stop.
In turn, this means that the ability your opponent has to wreak havoc must be destroyed. “Hearts & Minds,” is a nonsensical kindergarten ideal that in the real world has never worked – but has cost America trillions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives. It’s also cost our enemies millions of lives before America tired of the battle and left the field, thereby ensuring all lives lost were in vain (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan).
The fewer lives lost in bending the will of one’s opponent, the better. Since war involves the loss of life (or we wouldn’t call it ‘war’, we’d call it ‘diplomacy’), one should strive to lose fewer lives than does one’s opponent, which is called “victory,” the absence of pursuit of which in any adult (i.e. non-Baby Boomer) society would preclude war.
Just as using the least amount of gasoline in traveling the most possible miles, productivity counts. Because productivity in wars saves human lives, the use of advanced technology and more productive weapons should be highly sought-after by any warring state.
One not only should strive to lose as few of one’s own lives as possible, one should strive to kill as few of the enemy as necessary to achieve the goal of altering his behavior, and to ensure a post-war peace. The latter may require killing many more of the enemy than the former, which was why Eisenhower pursued his “Broad Front” strategy rather than just race to Berlin as Patton wanted. Such a “Broad Front” would have been a far better strategy in reducing Iraq than the race to Baghdad, and for the same reasons.
Nuclear weapons – far and away – are the most productive of weapons. Contrary to popular feeling and conventional wisdom – and to Dr. Strangelovian fantasies – these weapons save lives. They always have and always will.
In 1945, President Truman could have accepted the Navy’s estimate of Japanese dead in an invasion (9M), or the Army’s (5M), added that to the estimate of American KIA (1M), and pulled the trigger on an invasion estimated by men who had been fighting this enemy for 3-1/2 years that would cost between 6M and 10M human lives, and last until 1949, the then-current planning estimate.
Instead, Truman dropped two of what would today be considered tactical nukes (15-21KT), and killed an estimated 400,000 Japanese (the immediate estimate + estimated radiation victims over the next four months), and zero (0) Americans.
Why was this not a good decision? Why was the decision to employ the most productive of weapons against a national enemy, “bad”?
The world’s most technologically advanced nation, using the world’s most technologically advanced weapons, put an end to a long, brutal, expensive war quickly, with fewer lives lost than any alternative.
(Some fantasize a “demonstration” detonation, say on a small uninhabited island, would’ve done the trick at no loss of life. Hiroshima was a heckuva “demonstration.” It didn’t cause Japan to surrender.)
At this point in discussion of using nuclear weapons people question my sanity. Rather than go with my opinion, the following is from Quartered Safe Out Here, an excellent battlefield memoir of the China-Burma-India theater of WW2 by a British Private Soldier who became best-selling author, George MacDonald Fraser.
Fraser published his memoir in 1992, decades removed from the field of battle. In the final chapter he described his feelings regarding Hiroshima and Nagasaki, introducing the topic via a 1990s bar discussion with one his own age who did not fight in the war. As Fraser’s words are the best I have found regarding using those weapons by the men who fought that enemy and who may have died in their absence, I quote him at length. (Full disclosure: my dad fought in the Pacific Theater of WW2.)
The dropping of the bombs was a hideous thing, and I do not wonder that some of those who bore a part in it have been haunted by it all their lives. If it was not barbaric, the word has no meaning. …
And so it was not only their lives, as I pointed out to my antibomb disputant. To reduce it to a selfish, personal level… if the bombs had been withheld, and the war had continued on conventional lines, then even if I’d failed my [promotion] board and gone with the battalion into Malaya, the odds that I’d have survived: 4 to 1 actuarially speaking, on the section’s [squad’s] Burma fatalities. But I might have been that one, in which case my three children and six grandchildren would never have been born. And that, I’m afraid, is where all discussion of pros and cons evaporates and becomes meaningless, because for those nine lives I would pull the plug on the whole Japanese nation and never even blink. And so, I dare suggest, would you. And if you wouldn’t, you may be nearer to the divine than I am but you sure as hell aren’t fit to be parents or grandparents.
Since 1945, and for the first time in history, a nation has rejected the use of its most advanced weaponry to defend itself and its own citizens. This is among the larger moral failures ever undertaken by a Great Power. At the least it ranks with Stalin’s Purges (30M), Mao’s Great Society (80M) and Hitler’s Holocaust (12M). Millions have died – unnecessarily – because of the refusal of American presidents to use America’s most productive weapons; their willingness, instead, to trade the lives of their citizens for the ego of leaders who want to be seen as strong war presidents, but who refuse to destroy our enemies and win our wars. (A nation’s enemy is the opposing nation. Armies are just policy tools. Killing an army does not win a war: I give you Iraq today.)
Americans killed over 2M Koreans and 54K Americans in that “limited war.” Had America chosen a tactical nuke strike on Pyongyang in 1950, would two-plus million lives have been lost?
Would the Korean War have concluded to the advantage of America, all of Korea, a threatened Japan?
Americans killed about 2M Vietnamese and 58K Americans in that “limited war.” Had America chosen a tactical nuke strike on Hanoi in 1964 (the same time our government was lying to us about the Tonkin Gulf), would two-plus million lives have been destroyed?
Would the War in Vietnam have concluded to the advantage of America and all of Vietnam?
In the decades since Korea and Vietnam, how many tax dollars from how many nations have been spent dealing with the military and civil repercussions from not having won those wars? How much higher would be regional living standards (and America’s) had trillions not been spent containing those we refused to defeat? That, too, is a cost of not using our most advanced weaponry.
In Vietnam and Korea alone, over 4M human beings were killed who did not have to be killed. Our conceit that not using our most powerful weapons somehow was more “humane” and “moral” than ending these wars quickly – and at lower human and economic cost – through one or two tactical strikes with smaller, nuclear weapons than those used on Japan, cost those millions of people their lives. And caused untold misery and disruption for, literally, decades.
North Koreans are eating grass and starving to death because America refused to use nukes and win the war.
Nor did it ensure a more just and prosperous peace. Who was freer, wealthier, better-educated and a better ally 20 years later? Japan in 1965… or Pyongyang in 1973, or Hanoi in 1995? Does anyone believe Afghanistan or Iraq will be free economic, political and military allies in 2035, 20 years after we leave?
America chased into the Tora Bora mountains thousands of the same men who struck us on 9/11 – and, it seems, all of their leadership. Had America chosen a tactical nuke strike on Tora Bora, would we still – 14 years, thousands of American lives, and tens of thousands of enemy lives later – be engaged in spending lives and money in Afghanistan?
Weapons don’t win wars. Willpower wins wars.
A president who does not want to win a war he fights (and this applies both to Bush43 and Obama, just as it applied to both Truman in Korea and LBJ in Vietnam), has no business sending men to kill and to die.
A president choosing to have the men he commands killed mercilessly on a battlefield by an enemy he can annihilate with no Americans killed, wounded or maimed, has no business leading a nation.
We all heard or read what the King of Jordan said after the barbaric burning alive of his pilot: “We are waging this war to protect our faith, our values and human principles and our war for their sake will be relentless and will hit them in their own ground.”
This is, of course, how war is supposed to be fought: with a seriousness of purpose and a goal of victory. And with the most productive weapons in one’s arsenal – otherwise you are saying that the needs of your ego outweigh the lives of those you send to die when an alternative exists
ISIS has, by most reports, about 30,000 fighters. The normal ratio of attackers required to overcome a placed defense is 5:1. To defeat ISIS conventionally Jordan would need about 150,000 troops, plus food, water, transport, weapons, ammunition, bombs and fuel to replace what is expended on the battlefield.
Jordan has about 110,000 active duty troops and 60,000 reserves. They spend about 6.7% of their GDP on their military, reportedly one of the best in the region.
ISIS is a barbaric, brutal, lawless enemy. Why would – why should – a small nation such as Jordan, with limited human and monetary resources, use an inordinate amount of those resources, lose a large number of its men in “waging this war… relentless[ly]” when one or two tactical nuclear weapons would allow “relentless” war… on the enemy alone?
Not to choose the most productive weapons is to choose the immorality of sending men to die when alternatives exist.
How many Yazidi did ISIS slaughter – for there is no other word?
Perhaps as many as 40,000 Yazidi took refuge on Sinjar Mountain, Ninawa, Iraq, surrounded by ISIS. How many did ISIS slaughter? No one knows, but hundreds a day were reported for a time. Women, children, men, shot in the head. Throats slit.
What is the geography of Sinjar?
Sinjar Mountain rises 1,480 meters above the surrounding plains, plains in which ISIS encamped for days, first waiting, and then slaughtering thousands of human beings.
What did America do? Almost nothing of consequence to ISIS, or of value to the Yazidid:
“Central Command says the nine airstrikes conducted so far had destroyed or damaged four armored personnel carriers, seven armed vehicles, two Humvees and an armored vehicle.”
We “damaged or destroyed” 14 vehicles. Nine airstrikes. 9.
It would be embarrassing if it weren’t so tragic.
What would an adult alternative have been?
The closest towns or villages to Sinjar Mountain are ten kilometers away. Ten kilometers. The bottom of the mountain on which the Yazidi sheltered is over 2km away horizontally at its nearest distance from the village of Kursi and the relatively flat areas at the top of the mountain on which the Yazidi were sheltering.
One of American’s current tactical nuclear weapons, the W80, has an adjustable yield as low at 5KT, less than one third that of the Hiroshima weapon (15.2KT).
What is the lethal blast radius for a 5KT warhead detonated at the optimum altitude for a soft target such as the ISIS encampments? We look here and discover the following:
- Radius for 3rd degree burns: 1.3 kilometers
- Air blast radius (widespread destruction): 1.3 kilometers
- Air blast radius (near-total fatalities): 476 meters
- Fireball radius: 40-80 meters.
Striking an enemy encamped 2 km away, 1400 meters lower and behind the shielding mountain, with a weapon having a blast radius of 500-1300 meters, would have annihilated the enemy and not harmed the Yazidi.
And it need not have been an airburst. A surface burst would reduce each of these distances, further protecting the Yazidi.
A tactical strike by an available weapon, centered on the ISIS encampments at the bottom of the mountain, would have done three things:
- Annihilated the ISIS encampment
- Saved the Yazidi
- Made a statement regarding serious of purpose that cannot be made any other way.
It is absurd that Jordan should have to lose men and money it can replace only in a generation, to destroy a barbaric foe that must be killed… if they had an alternative.
That is my second strong and controversial point: Jordan should have that alternative.
Americans value the 2nd Amendment for the simple reason that it keeps the peace. Philosophically, no difference exists between armed nations. If only a few have nuclear weapons, and those few refuse to use them, they are, as the title of a book on strategy by Tom Nichols points out, of No Use.
But that is talking about strategic weapons, city killers. The weapons that, through MAD, kept the peace in the Cold War. The kind Hollywood shows us in their fantasies.
Tactical nuclear weapons can – and should – be useful. Grouping strategic and tactical nuclear weapons is naïve, and lethal to peace.
I have noted before that the philosophy, proved via implementation, that more weapons among the peaceful reduces crime by the non-peaceful. This is true in every city and state in America, one of the very few nations in which the government trusts the people not only with a vote – but also with a weapon.
Why, then, should this philosophy not inform the proliferation debate?
Had Ukraine not foolishly given-up its nukes to a Russian and American guarantee of border sovereignty, would Putin be invading? No. Why? Putin’s opponent would be armed with weapons Putin respects.
If Shia Iran had a nuke it is more than likely that Sunni Saudi Arabia or Sunni Pakistan, would have a nuke. If MAD didn’t work, then killing Iran would.
In American states in which the 2nd Amendment is not infringed, oftentimes when the bad guy pulls a gun, a good guy pulls a gun and the show of force – alone – causes the bad guy to think twice. No one is shot. Violence does not occur. If, on the other hand, the bad guy shoots in an area with good guys with guns, the good guys shoot back, stopping the bad guy and usually preventing any recidivism: He’s dead.
In a 2nd-Amendment world, if Iran, like a gangbanger in the hood in Houston, tried to use force, they’d be killed by someone else – Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Israel – who used force back.
If Iran actually launched a nuclear attack in a 2nd-Amendment world, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and other regional powers would kill it and there would be no recidivism, for Iran – the government and any capacity to launch again – would be dead.
Again: is this a necessarily bad thing?
In non-2nd-Amendment world – what we have today other than between the few nuclear powers – Iran will nuke and the UN will complain, and tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, will still be dead.
Rather than McCain and other senility-challenged locked-in-WW2-fantasists proclaiming no one should have a nuke (except us), more nukes would ensure more peace – just as during the Cold War, and just as in every 2nd Amendment city and state in America.
At the very least, those who have nuclear weapons, who have the ability to use them to end barbarity and save lives, should have the historical awareness to see their value – and the brains to use them.