J. Karl Miller's columns in the Missourian are always lively and interesting, and some of his views are on target. He is an intelligent, informed and thoughtful person.
Unfortunately, others of his views reflect dubious assumptions which, since they are widely shared and seldom criticized in our society, prevent him from seeing dangers that face the human race and appreciating the viable measures available for dealing with them.
My feelings about Mr. Miller's views were particularly strong when I read his Aug. 24 column, "U.S. nuclear arms are an unfortunate but necessary deterrent."
I would like to urge him to try to think out of the box in which his career and personal experience have encased him when he is dealing with matters of such importance as our nation's policy of nuclear deterrence.
Let me comment on three of his claims about deterrence in his column.
1. "President Harry Truman’s courageous decision to proceed [to approve the use of the a-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki] was both correct and justifiable."
Mr. Miller seems to think that the only alternative to killing the estimated 600,000 civilians with the two bombs was an invasion of Japan, which (Mr. Miller guesses) would have cost the lives of between 2.5 million and 5 million Americans and Japanese.
One would have hoped that a student of history would be aware that most of the scholars who have examined this issue in depth believe that there was a third alternative to the two, to bomb or to invade. It was to negotiate a surrender in which the Japanese would keep their emperor and accept occupation and disarmament.
The third alternative was not pursued, probably because members of Mr. Truman's administration, if not Truman himself, were anxious to end the war with Japan before the Soviets could enter it and play a role in the peace settlement.
Some also hoped to intimidate the Soviets by an overwhelming show of power in anticipation of the postwar rivalry that was about to begin. These advisers included James Byrnes, Leslie Groves and Curtis LeMay, hardly people one would look to for wisdom in such matters.
2. "... the notion that nuclear deterrence is not an effective defense has thus far been refuted. .. We have seen 66 years free from nuclear attack."
There is no way to prove either that that the non-occurrence of nuclear war was due to deterrence or in spite of it. There were many other reasons why the two superpowers avoided direct confrontation, and the Cold War spawned many lesser conflicts which could have escalated into nuclear wars.
Moreover, there have been a number of near misses in which unforeseen events almost triggered a launch of the weapons.
One thing is evident from our experience of the last 60 years: The world would have been a much safer place if the U.S. and USSR had negotiated a system for international control of nuclear energy after World War II rather than plunging into a disastrous arms race and eventually to MAD (a state of mutually assured destruction) with its specter of total extinction that still hovers over the human race as an ominous shadow.
Developed nations are now in grave danger from rogue states and terrorist groups that may gain access to the vast, insecure stock of nuclear weapons scattered throughout the world.
Proliferation, as Mr. Miller observes, heightens the threat to responsible countries, and proliferation is a natural response of countries who feel threatened by the U.S. deterrent and resent U.S. use of a double standard for nuclear haves and have-nots.
3. "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."
Mr. Miller relies on a dubious crew of self-proclaimed "experts" to tell him what to believe on this subject. I think it wiser to follow the lead of the more thoughtful politicians, diplomats and political scientists who advocate abolition of nuclear weapons.
Those include the people who helped to write the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty with its commitment by nuclear powers to work for abolition.
They include presidents and presidential candidates from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama and John McCain, who publicly pledged to work toward this end. And they include a large number of scholars and activists devoted to finding a way to a more secure world than the one in which we now live.
Obviously any moves toward disarmament would have to involve, in the words of David Krieger (whom Mr. Miller mentions), a "phased, verifiable, irreversible and transparent" process of arms reduction.
Knowledgeable and practical people have worked out the details of a step-by-step, verifiable process that would end in abolition without putting any nation at risk along the way.
Mr. Miller appears to be unaware of this work. More broadly he appears unable to conceive of any modification of the rigid structure of instruments of destruction and dire threats with which we have lived most of our lives and which pose a continuing threat to human existence.
I would be happy to provide Mr. Miller (and anyone else who is interested) sources that document the criticisms that I have voiced.
But in closing, I would like to thank Mr. Miller for bringing nuclear issues before the public in this small corner of the world.
John Kultgen is a professor of philosophy emeritus at MU. He has taught the course "Philosophies of War and Peace" for more than two decades, including this fall. He is also the author of a 1999 book on nuclear war and nuclear deterrence, "In the Valley of the Shadow: Reflections on the Morality of Nuclear Deterrence."