Just finished a book by William Lee Miller, “Two Americans: Truman and Eisenhower”, 2012. It compares and contrasts the two presidents, both who grew up in humble beginnings in small Midwestern towns, both who served in the military with distinction, and both who came to power during the nuclear age. Here are some excerpts that stood out for me:
Harry S. Truman on the nuclear arms race: “We must realize that no advance we make is unattainable by others, that no advantage in this race can be more than temporary.”
Dwight Eisenhower on military expenditures: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”
Eisenhower, in his last State of the Union address, warning against the influence of the defense industry: “In the councils of government we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influences, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”
Those are interesting quotes from men who prosecuted war on the front lines of battle, Truman in WWI, and Ike in WWII. They did not hesitate to use every weapon at their disposal, including in Truman’s case, the decision to drop the A-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That was nearly 75 years ago, and no nuke has been used since. Not that others have not advocated for using them, on North Korea and China, for example, and even against the Soviet Union in a pre-emptive strike. We came close to nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Our current Commander in Chief has stated out loud what good are nuclear weapons if you don’t use them. Indeed.
In the history of humankind we have always used the ultimate weapons in battles, whether it is crossbows, catapults, machine guns or cluster bombs. We dropped millions of gallons of Agent Orange to defoliate Vietnam. The only time before the nuclear age we exercised self-restraint was to ban gas attacks after their horrendous use in WWI. That used to be a red line until Syria.
After we built and used the A-bomb on Japan, a nuclear arms race began. The Soviets built one of their own, followed later by China, India, Pakistan, and likely North Korea and Israel. Then we developed a multi-times more powerful H-bomb, and the Russians did the same. During the Truman and Eisenhower administrations there was a tremendous build up of the nuclear arsenals on both sides, initially with bombers, then with missiles and submarines. We became two scorpions in a bottle, knowing that if one attacked the other, both would die. The arms build up continued until the powers that be sobered up and decided to ban testing, and indeed signed treaties to stop the production and begin the reduction of nukes. Even Ronald Reagan wanted to rid the world of nukes. The result? Well, we’ll get rid of our over-supply, but keep enough to wipe you out anyway. Still, mutually assured destruction. In the meantime rouge states, like Iran and who knows who else, pursue the bomb. Our motto seems to be: We’ll keep enough of our nuclear arsenal to wipe you out while we build up our conventional forces so we can continue to fight. In the meantime, our current Occupant has the nuclear codes.
So is it by luck, or by the dominance of cooler heads, that we’ve not blown up the world with nuclear weapons in the last 75 years? Some say our arsenal has provided deterrence. Some would contend we are playing a dangerous game. Truman and Eisenhower while overseeing the largest nuclear weapons build up in history ultimately realized the folly of using them. Our survival depends on our current and future leaders to realize the same.
In the meantime while we experience the nuclear stalemate, we continue to dump 90 million tons of carbon into the air daily. Unless we do something about climate change, the world will be destroyed anyway without the unleashing of the nuclear cloud. Can we all sober up and work together to prevent this? We either will or we won’t. The signs are not encouraging,