These days, the Left is desperately trying (just like during the Cold War) to delegitimize the US nuclear deterrent and thus to disarm the US unilaterally. To this end, they will not hesitate to invent any lie, even the most blatant and laughable one. Unfortunately, because most Americans know absolutely nothing about military matters, it is necessary to educate the public about the facts in order to counter the Left’s blatant lies.
One of the Leftists who has engaged in such behavior is Ward Wilson, a self-styled “Expert” at the “THINK” Center and the author of “Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons.” Therein, Wilson falsely claims that:
“A careful review of the facts shows that the usefulness of nuclear weapons has been overblown. Inflated claims were made (and kept being inflated by Cold War fears) that cannot be substantiated by the history [sic]. Much of the thinking of proponents of nuclear weapons is built on myth, misperception, exaggeration, and error. This book lays out those myths, examines the facts, and measures how far the measures of proponents have strayed from reality.”
Not only that, but Wilson also boldly proclaims that
“Most opponents of nuclear weapons […] argue that humanity needs to fundamentally change its nature. But neither emotional anguish nor revolutionary change is necessary in order to image solutions to the problem of nuclear weapons. […] Nuclear weapons are an anomaly, and we can therefore take practical steps to handle them without having to change everything.”
Later on in the book, Wilson boldly proclaims that one of the “myths” he claims to be seeking to debunk is that nuclear weapons cannot be eradicated from this world.
But an actual review of the facts – historical and present – shows that it is Wilson, not the proponents of atomic weapons, who strays very far from reality and is guilty of propagating myths, misperceptions, and error. Instead of carefully reviewing the facts as he claims to have done, he’s completely failed (or neglected) to do so and is just propagating the same old tired myths that anti-nuclear campaigners have been peddling for decades: that the Soviet Union and not nuclear weapons forced Japan to surrender, that nukes didn’t keep the peace during the Cold War, that nukes are utterly useless today, and that they can be banished from this world.
Not one of the claims Wilson makes in the book is even close to being true. Not even one.
Why did Japan surrender?
Let us start with the first belief that Wilson calls a “myth”: that Japan surrendered unconditionally because of the American atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and August 9th, respectively. Wilson claims Japan actually surrendered because of Soviet entry into the war against it, not because of the atomic bombings, and that Tokyo lied about its reason for surrendering (it cited the nuclear bombings).
What is the truth?
Let’s start with the historic background first. At the end of July 1945 – and even as early as the spring of 1945 – it was clear that Japan had utterly lost WW2, just like Germany had. It had lost everything except Manchuria, parts of mainland China, Korea, Sakhalin, the Kuriles, and the main Japanese islands. The US and its allies were marching from victory to victory. By June 22nd, American troops had completely overrun the strategically important island of Okinawa (an ideal base to jumpstart a invasion of the main Japanese islands).
In addition, as Wilson himself admits, Japan was starved of resources due to an absolute Allied naval blockade, had sustained enormous casualties in the last several years, and it had suffered massive conventional firebombings by the USAAF. Yet, none of that was able to cause Hideki Tojo’s government in Tokyo to surrender.
Immediately after Germany surrendered unconditionally, the Allies urged Japan to do likewise, or it would suffer horrible consequences. Yet, Japan stubbornly refused. The most it was willing to do was to surrender conditionally. And what conditions did it demand? That, for one thing, it be allowed to keep China and some of the other lands it had conquered.
Yes, you’ve read that correctly: even with their backs against the wall, the Japanese were STILL deluding themselves that they could keep China and their other takings in mainland Asia. They were STILL refusing to surrender as of August 5th, 1945.
It was not until the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that the Japanese warlords and Emperor Hirohito finally understood how hopeless their situation was. On August 14th, they communicated to the US government their willingness to surrender unconditionally.
Wilson and some other anti-nuclear propagandists falsely claims that it was the Soviet Union’s entry into the war on Japan, not the atomic bombings, that caused Japan to surrender. But they’re dead wrong, as always. The Soviet Union did not cause Japan to give up; the atomic bombings did.
Let’s recount the chronology and the basic facts here.
On August 6th, the US bombed Hiroshima. On August 8th, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan but did not actually begin hostilities yet. It did not do so until the next day, August 9th – by which time the US had already dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki.
Seeing the destruction of these two towns – unequalled by anything else in history – the Japanese warlords finally understood how hopeless their situation was, and on August 14th, they surrendered. By that time, the Soviet invasion of Manchuria was still in its beginning stages and was barely producing its first results; it continued until August 20th.
Wilson and other anti-nuclear propagandists claim that the Soviet invasion of Manchuria, Korea, Sakhalin, and the Kuriles was the decisive factor because, supposedly, these areas were of more strategic importance than Okinawa and the main Japanese islands or the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
This is one of the most ludicrous claims ever attempted. How ignorant of military matters and how stupid does one have to be to claim that the loss of Okinawa and the defense of the main Japanese islands was of elsser importance than Sakhalin, the Kuriles, Korea, and Manchuria?
Such claims only prove Ward Wilson’s utter ignorance of military matters and his unlimited stupidity (rivalled only by his unbrindled arrogance).
To realize just how important Okinawa is to the Japanese, compared to Sakhalin and the Kuriles, remember this: after WW2, the US took sovereignty of Okinawa (which is an ideal base for militry operations anywhere in East Asia). The Japanese continually pressured the US to restore Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty until, in 1972, Washington agreed. (The US still keeps several military bases on the island, because it’s an ideal base to conduct any operations against any opponent in East Asia, be it North Korea, China, or anyone else).
On the other hand, the Japanese have, since 1945, made only weak, half-hearted pleas to Moscow asking to get the Kuriles back – and are not even asking for Sakhalin.
So if you want to know how important these islands are to the Japanese, just ask the Japanese themselves.
In addition – and most importantly – the Soviet Union had NO amphibious capability to mount any invasion of the main Japanese islands on any serious scale. Taking the almost undefended Kuriles and Sakhalin was one thing; invading the main Japanese islands would’ve been something different altogether. The Soviet Army had NO capability to mount such an invasion; only the US military did. Hirohito knew it, the warlords in Tokyo knew it, the Truman administration knew it, Joseph Stalin knew it, everyone familiar with amphibious warfare and the Soviet Army’s capabilities knew it.
That deals with Wilson’s first blatant lie. Now let’s move on to his most ridiculous, and simultaneously central one: that nuclear weapons are useless today.
Nuclear Weapons: More Relevant Than Ever
Why is Wilson dead wrong? Why is his central claim a blatant lie (like all his other claims)?
Because nukes are VERY useful today, and have always been since 1945 – both to potential aggressors and to those seeking to defend themselves.
That’s because – as even the opponents of nuclear weapons admit – these weapons have an indiscriminate destructive, killing power unrivalled by that of any other type of weapons. There isn’t anything else in the world that comes even close to being as powerful; as devastating; as lethal.
For aggressors, such arms are thus perfect instruments of menacing and blackmailing their potential victims as well as delivering on their threats to show they’re not bluffing. If actually used against an opponent who lacks nuclear weapons himself, these weapons can destroy all of his military bases, economic centers, population centers, or even destroy him entirely.
For nations seeking to defend themselves, such weapons are perfect instruments of deterrence. Such nations, if armed with atomic weapons, can credibly threaten to impose such huge destruction and losses on an aggressor that he won’t attack, because the consequences of aggression would far outweigh the value of any possible gains. Potential victims can thus credibly threaten to destroy the aggressor completely if he ever attacks them.
Globally, nuclear arms have contributed more to world peace than anything else done by mankind. They have prevented aggression against nations and alliances of nations armed with such weapons and have completely eliminated wars between the world’s great powers.
But Ward Wilson and other anti-nuke campaigners fervently deny this. In his book, Wilson stubbornly denies that nukes kept the peace during the Cold War (or afterwards). He also lies blatantly that nuclear weapons drove the West (and the rest of the world) into an unaffordable arms race. Let us therefore deal with those two lies of his as well.
The Cold War: Nukes Kept the Peace… And Still Do
As everyone knows, during the Cold War the principal threat to US and allied security was a Soviet invasion of Western Europe through the plains of northern Germany. This is where the Soviets and their clients massed the majority of their armies and where all of their war plans assumed the key battles with NATO would occur. This is where the Russians expected to fight the decisive battles with Western armies and to clear their way to the Atlantic. Virtually all of their war plans were based on that assumption.
How many troops could they mobilize to execute such plans?
As of early 1953, the CIA estimated the Soviet Army’s Ground Forces to have about 175 divisions on active duty (available for combat all of the time), plus another 125-145 reserve divisions available for mobilization in a month. That adds up to a stagerring total of 300-320 divisions. This was just the Soviet Army; this does not take into account the armies of Soviet client states or the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
By contrast, the US Army only had 26 active-duty divisions at the time, and the Marines had three divisions. America’s allies in Europe could, at most, add about two dozen divisions.
Had the US and its allies tried to match the Soviet Army’s conventional strength, we would’ve bankrupted ourselves completely. President Eisenhower, who took office in January 1953, was aghast at the prospect of the Soviet Union bankrupting the US in wars at the time and place of its choosing – e.g. in Godforsaken countries like Korea. “A bankrupt America”, he remarked on the campaign trail in 1952, “is more the Soviet goal than an America defeated in the field of battle.”
Yet, the US still had to provide an effective defense – a powerful deterrent – to protect itself and its European allies.
As a professional soldier who knew war firsthand, President Eisenhower therefore opted for a sober, history-based approach to deterrence that reconciled the Western world’s security needs and America’s need for economic stability. In the summer of 1953, the administration adopted a new defense strategy called the New Look (and popularly called “massive retaliation” after Secretary of State John F. Dulles outlined it to the public in January 1954).
In essence, the Eisenhower Administration recognized the reality that the West never had the economic capability to field the same huge conventional forces that the Soviets had.
Therefore, the Administration pledged a massive nuclear retaliation upon the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites in case of a Soviet attack on the US or its treaty allies.
There was no other way to deter the Soviets from committing aggression. Even the entire NATO alliance, let alone America alone, would’ve never been able to afford to build huge conventional forces comparable to those of the Soviet Union.
So, if at any point during the Cold War – from the Berlin blockade of 1948/49 to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 – the Soviets had attacked Western Europe, we would’ve gone to a full scale nuclear war within a week at most. There was simply no way the US would’ve been able to defend Western Europe with conventional forces. All US Presidents of the Cold War era knew it, all Soviet leaders knew it, all military commanders on both sides knew it, everyone familiar with the opposing orders of battle in Europe knew it.
On the other hand, the US had a clear superiority in nuclear arms for most of the Cold War (until the 1970s) – and maintained parity with the Soviets for the rest of the period. In 1952, the US had 841 nuclear weapons, while the Russians only had 120. In 1961, the US already had 18,000 nuclear weapons – plus ICBMs, ballistic missile submarines, and B-52 intercontinental bombers capable of delivering them anywhere in the world. By that time, the Soviets only had 7-8 ICBMs, a handful of diesel-powered ballistic missile subs, and a handful of early-model Tu-95 intercontinental bombers.
The US had complete superiority over the Soviet nuclear force until the late 1960s, when the Soviets finally deployed enough SS-9 ICBMs to start threatening the US Minuteman fleet. But even then, the US had superiority in terms of its total nuclear triad (air-, sea-, and land-based delivery systems) that the Soviets could never hope to outmatch, even by the late 1980s.
Nuclear weapons are the only reason why the feared Soviet aggression never happened – because the Russians feared getting nuked to hell more than they desired territorial gain. The threat of massive Western nuclear retaliation was more powerful than anything else, including the Russians’ imperial ambitions. They had no intention of starting a nuclear war they were sure to lose.
It must be underlined: nuclear weapons, and nuclear weapons only, prevented the Cold War from going hot.
Wilson falsely claims that nuclear weapons did not cause President Kennedy or General Secretary Khrushchev to behave rationally during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He’s dead wrong on that score, too. Kennedy and Khrushchev DID behave rationally – because both wanted to avoid nuclear war at all costs.
As Khrushchev’s own memoirs show, he never had any intention of starting a nuclear war with the US. His real reason for placing SS-4 missiles in Cuba was to protect the Castro regime and to pressure President Kennedy to remove American missiles from Turkey and Italy – which Kennedy agreed to. This give-and-take compromise ended the crisis.
At no point did either leader seriously contemplate starting a war. President Kennedy was pressured by some generals, notably USAF Chief of Staff Gen. Curtis LeMay, to bomb Cuba, but he adamantly refused, not wanting to start World War III.
Why not? Because the Soviets would’ve certainly retaliated with nuclear weapons – and because there was no guarantee that all Soviet missiles in Cuba could be destroyed.
Nuclear weapons restrained both leaders – and saved the world.
In short, Ward Wilson is blatantly lying. Not even one of his claims is true. Not even one. He has shown utter, complete ignorance of all military matters (especially nuclear weapons) as well as irredeemable bias and an ideological zeal to simply delegitimize the US nuclear deterrent. None of what he says or writes can be taken seriously.