I read Bill Wickersham and Scott Jones' guest commentary on nuclear disarmament with more than a passing interest, generated from my service as a career military officer and a minor-league historian.
That this is a controversial subject — fanning fierce debate from the center, as well as from both ends of the spectrum — is understood.
Every civilized or sane person agrees that war is by its very nature a detestable method for settling disputes between nations. Nuclear war is a gruesome adjunct of combat between nations that, hopefully, will prove unnecessary.
Delivering A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 forever changed the face of and ramped up the consequences of warfare.
Historically, I suspect the developments of the spear, crossbow, gunpowder, machine gun, tank and high-explosive bombs and missiles were condemned as barbaric amid calls for their banishment from the field of combat.
Nevertheless, the tragedy of about 200,000 civilians and military killed in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts, along with an estimate of 400,000 perishing from radiation in the following years, will never be erased from history.
I understand fully the positions of Wickersham and Jones in their commitment to the late Admiral Noel Gayler's call for total nuclear disarmament.
Gayler — a highly respected naval aviator who flew combat missions in World War II — observed the destruction from flying over Hiroshima and retired as Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Command, and dedicated much of his later life to the elimination of nuclear weapons.
I would expect also that most civilized and sane individuals prefer that nuclear weapons had remained on the drawing board — that nuclear power instead be developed for serving mankind in peaceful ventures.
However, it must also be remembered that the immediate purpose of the atomic bomb was, ironically, to save lives by ending a costly and bloody world war.
Estimated casualties occurring from an attack on the Japanese mainland ranged from 500,000 to more than a million Americans killed, with an additional 2 million to 4 million Japanese soldiers and civilians slain.
Past and present-day ridicule of those casualty estimates as excessive, and the horror exacted from the atomic bombings notwithstanding, President Harry Truman’s courageous decision to proceed was both correct and justifiable.
Despite the voluminous writings of latecomers, armchair quarterbacks and the annual ban-the-bomb protesters, Japan's history of fierce defense in the Pacific augured unacceptable casualties and destruction.
Arguably, while the world would be better off without nuclear weapons, I must side with the contingent of senior military officers, geopolitical professionals and political realists. They reject nuclear disarmament as a well-intentioned but utterly unattainable goal.
An orchestrated destruction of strategic and tactical nuclear capability envisioned by Admiral Gayler and the authors of the guest commentary ignores the abject futility of returning the nuclear genii back into the bottle.
Five states — the U.S., Russia, China, England and France — are signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Three — India, Pakistan and North Korea — are nonsignatory members, and Israel is undeclared.
Iran is known to be pursuing nuclear-weapon capability. Possession of such weapons gives the owner significant military power. The prime question in their mutual disarmament and destruction comes down to one of “trust but verify.”
Verifying — finding what the subject state does not wish to be found — is problematic at best. England, France and India can probably be trusted, while China and Russia are considered iffy.
Pakistan is too unstable for an accurate assessment. North Korea and Iran are “rogue nations” led by certifiable nutcases who are ticking time bombs.
Inasmuch as the technology for producing nukes is now easily available, the possibility that materials might be provided to other rogue states renders nuclear disarmament too potentially calamitous to consider feasible.
Finally, in addressing David Krieger’s (the president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation) outline of four common misconceptions about nuclear weapons, addressed earlier by Admiral Gayler, it is hard to argue that physical defense against them is possible.
However, concluding that they cannot be used in a sensible manner ignores their successful and sensible employment to end World War II.
The last two misconceptions — that nuclear disarmament imperils our security and nuclear deterrence is an effective defense — are at odds when balanced against fact and logic.
First, the insatiable thirst for power, economic as well as tyrannical, coupled with the knowledge that the milk of human kindness does not flow through the veins of potential rulers and tin-pot dictators, makes verification of disarmament virtually impossible.
And, the notion that nuclear deterrence is not an effective defense has thus far been refuted. The last of the two atomic bombs delivered against Nagasaki fell on Aug. 9, 1945. Since then, we have seen 66 years free from nuclear attack.
One must conclude that the stewardship of the U.S., the first and the most powerful and responsible nuclear nation, has been a deterrent to nuclear warfare.
The urge to rid the world of these weapons is commendable. However, our national defense is best served by remaining a nuclear power actively engaged in deterring their use.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via email at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.