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Will Russia drop a nuclear bomb? Demanding unconditional surrender is dangerous

What would Truman do? (NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP via Getty Images)

What would Truman do? (NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP via Getty Images)


March 16, 2022   6 mins

Why would a leader decide to drop a nuclear bomb? Almost three weeks into Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, with still no end in sight, it’s a question that hasn’t felt so urgent since the outbreak of the Cold War. When asked recently whether the possibility of Russia using nuclear weapons was a “real concern” for the British government, Michael Gove replied: “Yes.”

But the answer is not so simple. Nuclear bombs have been dropped in conflict just once, in August 1945, by the United States. The horrific scenes of destruction and human suffering in Hiroshima and Nagasaki — and a death toll estimated to be about 200,000 civilians — provoked widespread condemnation. The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote in the New York Times that the bombings were “morally indefensible”. Even hardened military figures were aghast. “We had adopted the ethical stand common to the barbarians in the Dark Ages,” grieved Admiral William Leahy, the US’s highest-ranking military commander.

Years later, the former Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower told Newsweek: “It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing”. It was a comment that alluded to the military tactics behind the decision, which are separate from the more emotive philosophical debate over the morality of dropping the bomb. What does it mean for it to be “necessary” to drop a nuclear weapon? If it wasn’t necessary, then why did the US government — indeed, why would any government — willingly inflict such pain and suffering on civilians if there was a legitimate alternative path to peace?

The man who made the decision, Harry Truman, gave a lecture in 1959 to Columbia University students about the powers of the presidency. The talk was described as “earnest, good-humoured, and sometimes salty”, and was well-received by the 1,200-strong audience. But during the question and answer session, things took a more serious turn. A student thought it was odd that Truman had skirted over the nuclear question. When confronted with it, the usually good-natured Truman became a touch defensive:

“It was used in the war, and for your information, there were more people killed by the fire bombs in Tokyo than dropping of the atomic bombs accounted for. It was merely another powerful weapon in the arsenal of righteousness. The dropping of the bombs stopped the war, saved millions of lives”.

This is the orthodox view: dropping nuclear bombs saved lives. In this telling, the Japanese were not prepared to surrender, meaning the US and Soviet Union had two choices. They could either launch a land invasion, something on the scale of the D-Day landings in France, in which an estimated million US soldiers alone would be lost. Or they could prevent such a bloody undertaking by shocking the Japanese leadership into capitulation.

Death was not enough. The fire bombings of Tokyo, in which 100,000 people died in one night, had not proved sufficient. Something beyond conventional warfare was needed. Nuclear warfare was, as Truman’s Secretary of War Henry Stimson put it, the “least abhorrent choice”; though the bombs killed hundreds of thousands, even more would have died had they not been dropped.

The orthodox account depends on a number of key claims, including that the Japanese were unwilling to surrender in the summer of 1945. These claims have since been challenged by “revisionist” historians, who argue that Japan was in fact on the verge of surrender when the bombs were dropped.

The previous summer, Japan had lost Saipan, an island in the South Pacific, to America, meaning its mainland was within range of USAF B-29 bombers. This made Japan highly vulnerable to sustained US attacks from the air. On the night of 9 March 1945, over 300 B-29 bombers descended on Tokyo, inflicting the deadliest bombing raid in world history. After that, the revisionist account goes, the question was not whether Japan would surrender but on what terms.

The revisionists place heavy emphasis on contemporary reports that suggest the Emperor and some (but not all) of his advisers were inclined to surrender, so long as his position could be guaranteed. A month before Hiroshima, Navy Secretary James Forrestal wrote in his diary: “The first real evidence of a Japanese desire to get out of the war came today
 [indicating] the Emperor’s strong desire to secure a termination of the war”. A 1946 report by the US Strategic Bombing Survey concluded: “in all probability prior to 1 November 1945 [the planned invasion date], Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped.”

The revisionists believe that the US rushed to use nuclear weapons not because of Japanese intransigence, but because of the Soviet Union. Throughout the war, the USSR and Japan had honoured a neutrality pact. Stalin, however, assured Truman’s predecessor Franklin Roosevelt that three months after victory in Europe was achieved, the Soviet Union would turn its attention to the Pacific and declare war on Japan. Truman and his closest advisers believed that Roosevelt had already conceded far too much to Stalin at Yalta, effectively giving the USSR free rein to dominate eastern Europe. They were not keen for the same thing to happen in Japan.

The first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6. On August 8, exactly three months after the surrender of Germany, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. The following day, the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The day after, the Japanese government offered its surrender. The revisionists look at this timeline and intuit that the nuclear bombs were dropped primarily for political rather than military reasons. The US wished to deny the USSR credit for ending the war, which would have given Stalin greater leverage in the post-war settlement.

These two accounts — the orthodox and the revisionist — are the dominant explanations offered by historians, but they are not the only ones. Some scholars focus on the internal politics of Japan, arguing that the key figures who were ready for peace, not least the Emperor, were poor at communicating their wishes. They were, perhaps, drowned out by the powerful voices who wanted to continue the war. Many in the rank and file of the military were believed to be prepared to fight at all costs. US propaganda, which was racially inflected, tended to exploit the perception of Japan as a “warrior culture”, in which people would choose death over the shame of defeat. It was hard for Americans to discern Japan’s true intentions.

Other accounts suggest Truman was locked into decisions made by his predecessor. It was Roosevelt who had pushed for “unconditional surrender” at the Cairo conference in 1943. And the idea of dropping nuclear bombs on Japan was one Roosevelt had first dreamed up. In September 1944, he and Churchill met at FDR’s estate in Hyde Park, New York and agreed that “when a bomb is finally available, it might perhaps, after mutual consideration, be used against the Japanese, who should be warned that this bombardment will be repeated until they surrender”. Once Truman became president after Roosevelt’s death in April 1945, only one thing could apparently bring about “unconditional surrender”, and that was the bomb.

All of these interpretations offer important lessons to today’s leaders, but that last one is particularly chilling. If dropping the nuclear bomb was not militarily necessary to bring about an end to the war, then Truman opted for a decision that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians in part to save face. Once the US was committed to demanding “unconditional surrender” — for which there was enormous public support — Truman could hardly change his mind and say he wanted a negotiated peace. The new president, who had no political mandate of his own, would risk tanking his own domestic popularity before his term had even begun.

In other words, leaders must avoid making dangerous commitments from which either they or their successors will struggle to back down. Fortunately, in today’s conflict, no one has rashly insisted on “unconditional surrender”. A negotiated settlement is still possible.

With that in mind, it’s worth considering the vital role of intermediaries in such high-powered conflicts. With the help of a neutral party, could the Japanese peace camp have communicated its position more clearly, so as to assist those within the US administration who might have urged caution? The Japanese saw the Soviets as possible intermediaries, a view that was shattered when Stalin declared war on them. Today, Israel seems to be the go-between, though the nation has been criticised by Western commentators for not condemning Putin.

At Columbia University, Truman was asked, “With the development of nuclear weapons, do you think the United States would be willing to risk entering a third world war if a small European country in the Nato pact were to be involved in an act of aggression?” His answer was tepid: “I don’t know”. On consideration, he explained that the circumstances were now different, because unlike in 1945, the US was no longer the sole possessor of nuclear weapons: “I don’t think there’s any possible chance of doing what I tried to begin with, when we had absolute control of them, of nuclear weapons”.

This, strangely enough, is cause for optimism. When the US dropped its bombs on Japan, there was no other nuclear power to retaliate. In the intervening years, the threat of mutually assured destruction has seemingly prevented any other country from using such dangerous force.

It’s also worth observing that, while Ukrainians have shown an admirable fighting spirit in defending their nation from Russia, in the eyes of their people the two nations have a lot more in common than the Japanese did with the Americans. There has been no real attempt to use racial differences to demonise the enemy.

There is still a chance, then, that this war can be resolved through conventional methods. Putin is not in the same place Truman found himself in. Putin does not view it as “necessary” to drop a nuclear bomb. It has not yet become Putin’s “least abhorrent choice”. Let us hope it never does.


Richard Johnson is a Lecturer in US Politics and Policy at Queen Mary University of London.

richardmarcj

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Adam Bacon
Adam Bacon
2 years ago

It is inevitable that there must be a negotiated end to this conflict, since, even if he fails in a conventional military context, Putin has the nuclear option. The sooner this negotiation happens, the less slaughter and destruction.
Regardless of the rights or wrongs of the situation, the West needs to acknowledge that we are now living in a multipolar world, and that we cannot dictate terms. The unipolar hegemony of liberal democracy of the 1990s is now history.
The ceding of Russian speaking Crimea and Eastern Ukrainian enclaves to Russia, along with a robustly managed neutrality for the rest of Ukraine seems a reasonable alternative to nuclear oblivion to me.

Peter Branagan
Peter Branagan
2 years ago
Reply to  Adam Bacon

I agree 100% Adam.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Adam Bacon

I completely agree with you. And I would perhaps go a step further. If I were President of the United States I would get Zelinsky and Putin in a room to negotiate a settlement and I would lock them in there until settlement had been reached. I would tell Zelinsky in no uncertain terms that he has to give up the Donbass and Crimea. And as a measure of good faith I would immediately lift all economic sanctions with the threat that these would be reintroduced immediately if negotiations did not proceed in good faith, and further if they didn’t I would indicate to both parties that the same sanctions would be imposed on both Russia and Ukraine.
There are those who might characterize such an approach as appeasement and that I’m a Putin stooge, both of which are completely false. Rather, the fact of the matter is that Ukraine is of absolutely no strategic value to the West and there is absolutely no reason why we in the West should sacrifice our own economic well being and our own lives for the Ukrainians. While Ukraine is the underdog and the West’s favorite, equating Zelinsky to Churchill and Putin to Hitler, it’s in nobody’s interest to continue this fight. And it is certainly not in the West’s interest to declare total economic war on Russia especially since the Russians can retaliate in terms of denying us essential raw materials (in the form of rare metals, etc…). Far better to bring Russia into the Western fold, even if it is right now an autocratic state. And far better for the West not to meddle in countries that they have no reason to meddle in, and that includes Ukraine.

Last edited 2 years ago by Johann Strauss
Owen Morgan
Owen Morgan
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

I would tell Zelinsky in no uncertain terms that he has to give up the Donbass and Crimea.
Hang on…. Didn’t that happen before, sometime? You know: when a dictator claimed a slice of territory and then turned out not to be satisfied with that? Russia’s attacks have already extended far beyond Donbas and Crimea and Putin has verbally threatened Lithuania and is demonstrating a military threat to Moldova.
How far will your appeasement go? Putin wants to recreate the Tsarist empire, which included Finland and half of Poland. Is that a reasonable demand, or should we chuck in Sweden and Denmark and Romania, to keep Vladi sweet for a bit longer?

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Owen Morgan

Perhaps look at the situation as it really is rather than blindly accept Ukrainian and western propaganda. There are no good guys and bad guys here. They are all bad. The Ukrainians, encouraged by the western powers, overplayed their hand and the Russians reacted exactly as they said they would. The result is the tragic situation Ukraine now finds itself in. But it will be far more tragic if this encompasses the entire world in a WWIII, especially one involving the potential launching of nuclear weapons.
Here’s the thing. Putin et al. have been completely clear regarding Ukraine for at least 8 years, if not since the 90s. Further, the continual shelling of the Donbass by Ukrainian forces, leading to very significant loss of life there, was never a concern of the West. But Putin has never indicated that he wishes to take over Poland, Moldova or Lithuania, let alone Finland. Best to keep speculation in check and act upon the situation as it is rather than invent things that will lead to even further and far horrific bloodshed.

Last edited 2 years ago by Johann Strauss
Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

What has Zelensky done to warrant the bad guy tag you’re so quick to label him? Why are those Ukrainian volunteers desperately trying to protect their homeland from foreign invaders bad guys?
Tell me, would you defend a NATO invasion of Russia if the eastern bloc nations said they feared Russian invasion due to its recent actions in Georgia and Ukraine? You seem happy to condone Putin launching what he essentially classes as a preemptive strike to prevent danger on his western border, would you be as forgiving of the western powers doing the same?

Brian Burnell
Brian Burnell
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Punishing the victim?
Where have we heard that before?
In the end there has to be a negotiated settlement, but best for all concerned that the West butts out. Nor is the Russian bear invincible. The Ukrainian defence by a largely untrained civilian army has been magnificent, and has exposed the Russian Army as a paper tiger. But it is not the first time that has happened. When the Soviets invaded Finland (like Ukraine a former Russian province), The Finns fought back and gave the Soviets a bloody nose. But the Finns understood that they could never win a prolonged war with Russia, and conceded some small plots of territory, and most crucially opted for neutrality in the Cold War. All small states existing on the periphery of large powerful ones have to accept to some degree that their existence depends upon being good neighbors. Ultimately, a settlement will be on those lines. The Finns understood that, and Ukraine will have to do likewise.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Brian Burnell

Nobody is saying punishing the victim. But the fact is that the Ukrainians are not blameless here. They made choices and Russia reacted to those choices. Clearly the Ukrainians overplayed their hand, and whether they have fought magnificently or not is neither here nor there when lives are being lost needlessly. As you say small states have to accept that their existence depends upon being good neighbors.

Last edited 2 years ago by Johann Strauss
Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Zelensky must hand over his Don Bass and his Cry Me A River vinyl album. Unscratched! As Russia is bereft. It’s fed up with mere tapes. And needs some cheer. Nobody should hog what does not belong to them.

Hersch Schneider
Hersch Schneider
2 years ago
Reply to  Adam Bacon

Agreed. Plus assurances that Ukraine will not join NATO. Then let’s end this bloody thing

Owen Morgan
Owen Morgan
2 years ago

Russia, to all intents and purposes, had Donbas and Crimea before starting this war. There was also no realistic prospect of Ukraine’s joining NATO. Russia started the war, regardless.
Why, do you imagine, Putin will settle for what he already had? If he gets away with this, he’ll be launching invasions of the Baltic States, Moldova, even Poland and Finland, and you will be demanding that we appease him over all of that, as well.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Owen Morgan

Owen, That’s a big leap you’re taking. And it’s the sort of hysterical warmongering that can easily lead to disaster. There is no evidence that Putin wants to go any further. and Putin is not Hitler. The correct analogy for the current mess is not pre-WWII but pre-WWI. And as we all know, there were no good guys and bad guys in the WWI conflict, in contrast to WWII.
Here is the simple truth: if Mexico were to enter a military alliance with Russia, and the Russian funded biolabs working on deadly pathogens in Mexico, and in addition the country was replete with Russian military advisors, I suspect that Washington would not react too well, and might well take matters into their own hands. Now, of course that is a hypothetical, but that is the situation that Russia found itself in with the continual push to move the boundaries of the NATO alliance eastward, let alone fund dangerous biolabs. Now, of course, Romney and some readers on Unherd will accuse me, as Romney accused Tulsy Gabbard, of treason and Russian misinformation, but the biolabs and their funding is well documented and in the public domain.

Bruce Haycock
Bruce Haycock
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

The ‘shifting of NATO boundaries eastward is a demand pull of the citizens of those border countries, who have experienced Russian chauvinistic domination right up to 1991. Not a’ push eastward by Western powers’.

Let’s understand what it is those countries are wanting and then raise the wisdom arguments about how to support or otherwise those freedom based nationhood hopes and dreams

Andy Moore
Andy Moore
2 years ago
Reply to  Adam Bacon

The trouble with that approach, is that one day they’ll be on your doorstep.

Peter B
Peter B
2 years ago
Reply to  Adam Bacon

Disagree about this “multipolar world” assumption.
If anything, this war had shown up just how ineffective the Russian military is. It’s clearly ridden with corruption and incompetence and the American superiority in weapons, technology and intelligence is keeping the Ukrainians going.
So a smallish country with only unofficial US support is holding the mighty Russia at bay and you say the US is not the dominant world power ?
Why do we suppose the untested Chinese military is any more competent (and less corrupt) than the Russians ? Is their untested military equipment better than the US kit ? Are their soldiers and officers in the same class ?

Sam McGowan
Sam McGowan
2 years ago
Reply to  Adam Bacon

Considering that Eastern Ukraine and Kiev were given to Russia by Poland and Lithuania in the 17th century and that the Crimeans voted 97% to join Russia, that is the most logical solution. However, there is no logic in war.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago
Reply to  Adam Bacon

Neutrality robustly managed by Russia, USA and UK, as in the 1994 treaty?

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

Japan may have just been within range of American B29 bombers taking off from Saipan, but the taking of Iwo Jima, that was yet closer to Japan, meant that damaged war planes would not have to ditch in the ocean. The USAAF must have predicted that so many of their planes would be damaged on bombing runs over Japan that it was prudent to have a base even closer than Saipan to Japan.
Who knows how many hundreds or thousands of British or Allied aircraft were saved by the fact that, when returning back to Blighty from missions over Germany, a distance, at most, of a couple of hundred miles of sea (and land mostly in certain directions) separated danger from safety, targets from home bases.

In the Pacific arena, hundreds of miles of pure ocean had had to be flown over. And back again.
Japan knew too how critical the taking of Iwo Jima would be to America.
Barring D-Day perhaps, the biggest invasion force by sea had assembled off Iwo in I think it was January of 1945. Iwo Jima was a pinprick of an island. Perhaps eight miles by four, something like that. It took America two whole months to secure it. Overall, it is only estimated, but nearly 30,000 soldiers on both sides were killed, very nearly the whole of the 20, 000 Japanese defenders did. Tens of thousands were wounded. If my memory serves me right, I read that eight thousand US marines were killed taking it.

The intense brutality of the battle for Iwo Jima, I imagine, made the Americans think deeply about how difficult it would be to take Japan, an island a thousand times bigger than Iwo Jima.

That thinking must have led to a firmer decision to use the atomic bomb.

Sam McGowan
Sam McGowan
2 years ago

According to General Groves, who headed the Manhattan Project, there was no “decision” to use the bomb. As the author mentioned, the decision to use the bomb against Japan as soon as it became available was made long before Truman went into the White House. The first bomb was rushed to Saipan as soon as the test proved it to be successful and it was dropped as soon as it got there.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago

It seems to me that the author has missed some critical points. and the analogies to WWII seem to me to be completely irrelevant.
It is perfectly clear that Putin would not drop a nuclear bomb on Ukraine. There is absolutely no need, and whether one likes it or not, and no matter how valiantly the Ukrainians have resisted so far (and that’s not entirely so clear given that all the western news is filtered through Ukrainian and western propaganda), the Russians have a massive advantage, and it would take a miracle as well as military genius for the Ukrainians to defeat the Russians. However, if NATO and the US were to become actively involved in the fighting then all bets are off the table, especially given the risks of miscalculation. Russia is a lot bigger in terms f land mass than either the US or Europe, and they could potentially evacuate Moscow and other major cities, and then proceed to target US and European cities at will. Yes the Russians would suffer in a retaliatory strike but if Putin has nothing anymore to lose who knows what he might resort to. Might be worthwhile considering what I believe Mao once said about nuclear bombs vis a vis China. I believe, if I recall correctly, Mao said that even if the west killed over half the Chinese population in a nuclear strike, China would still have double the number of people left than the population of the US which of course would be decimated in a nuclear exchange.

J Bryant
J Bryant
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

I like your comment but I’m still worried about the possibility of a nuclear strike. I thought it highly unlikely at the beginning of this conflict, but the possibility seems to be growing.
the Russians have a massive advantage, and it would take a miracle as well as military genius for the Ukrainians to defeat the Russians.
Agreed although, as you note, Western media propaganda is doing a good job telling a different story.
However, if NATO and the US were to become actively involved in the fighting then all bets are off the table,
Tomorrow night President Zelensky addresses the US Congress in an attempt to pressure President Biden to become directly involved in the conflict, notably by creating a no-fly zone over Ukraine. There appears to be an emerging bipartisan consensus on creating a no-fly zone and I can only hope Biden is able to resist it. That level of involvement is exactly what might lead to a wider war and potential use of nuclear weapons. Supporting Ukraine is important but not at the cost of creating a wider war. The level of hysteria in DC right now is unnerving.
Russia is a lot bigger in terms f land mass than either the US or Europe, and they could potentially evacuate Moscow and other major cities, and then proceed to target US and European cities at will.
That seems like an optimistic assessment, not least because if Putin did that he’d be signaling what he was planning to do next and that might trigger either a political coup in Russia and/or a preemptive strike by the US.
Mao said that even if the west killed over half the Chinese population in a nuclear strike, China would still have double the number of people left than the population of the US which of course would be decimated in a nuclear exchange.
Mao’s arithmetic might have been correct but I think he underestimated the consequences of such a nuclear exchange. There would be enormous release of radiation and, with destruction of the cities and national infrastructure, the remaining Chinese would be back to the Middle Ages in terms of living standards.
Great article, though. I certainly learned something about the possible lines of thought that went into the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.

Last edited 2 years ago by J Bryant
Bruce Haycock
Bruce Haycock
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

There are two things which can be relied on
One, no democracy which trades with other democracies has ever gone to war against another democracy. No exceptions. (and a great recipe for those who hope for ‘world peace’

Two, the very phenomena of MAD pretty much forever prevents strategic use of nuke weapons between one or more nations which possess these. There may well be tactical field use of small nukes in some contingent situation, but all out exchange of strategic use of nukes is the same as exploding your own ones on yourself, which of course is highly unlikely. So we can rest easy about ‘nuclear war’

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Face facts. Look at the present situation.
Russia is well on its way to becoming a minor power. Putin bombs the cities because that is now the only thing his forces are capable of doing. His is the greatest geopolitical blunder of the 21st C.
No great power has to beg China for read-to-eat meals.

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Logan

You are blinded by propaganda

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Logan

A minor power perhaps, but a minor power that has more nuclear warheads and delivery systems than anybody else, and who can incinerate the entire US many many time over. That’s the reality.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago

There was a very good historical reason to demand unconditional surrender of Germany; because right wing militaristic and revanchist forces in that country had been able to maintain with a scintilla of plausibility that Germany had only been defeated in 1918 because of the machinations of decadent civilian politicians.

The same consideration did not apply to Japan. However, the ‘revisionist’ case is weak; the ultimate Japanese decision to surrender was a very close-run thing even AFTER the dropping of the two atomic bombs.

The difference unfortunately from the situation in Ukraine today is that Truman was a typical American politician; Putin an increasingly unhinged megalomaniac dictator whose actions have over the years demonstrated a total contempt for human life; Russians not excluded. There may be no racial factor, but the fact that the civilians being massacred by indiscriminate use of artillery are largely Russian speaking gives the lie to the fact that Putin’s main concern is that for ‘his people’.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Fisher
Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

That’s a pretty weak analysis Andrew, there’s no getting rid of Putin. If the idea is to get him out in the same way Hitler was removed, by an invasion, then it’s curtains for all of us.

Owen Morgan
Owen Morgan
2 years ago

There is simply no comparison between the situation of the United States in 1945 and that of Russia now. Japan then was the aggressor, unless Richard Johnson has found some “revisionists,” who tell him that the US Navy bombed itself at Pearl Harbor and all those IJN aeroplanes were just on a sightseeing operation.
Today, Putin is both the aggressor and the party with a nuclear button.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

Another interesting essay this morning giving history and context to the nuclear question.

Alan Shanks
Alan Shanks
2 years ago

Putin displays all the traits of a height functioning psychopath.
If a mild-mannered Teddy Bear can press the red button what would an angry Russian bear do if you tweaked his tail once too often. Don’t bit him; out smart him!

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Shanks

A lot of psychopaths are quite high functioning and a lot of politicians are psychopaths/sociopaths – considering only the fact that they have a high threshold for arousal. They are also very good imitators, as was discussed quite recently.
Hare’s 20 questions to identify a psychopath. Used it frequently during my days in corporate management!
A link – one of many https://www.rd.com/article/hare-psychopathy-test/

Benjamin Greco
Benjamin Greco
2 years ago

Although Mr. Johnson gives us a nice overview of the historiography surrounding America’s decision to drop the A-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he makes an unconvincing case that it is relevant to today. Of all the reasons Truman may have had for dropping those bombs the idea that it was to save face is the most ludicrous; I don’t believe any leader, even Putin, would reign such destruction down on humans merely to save face.
There may still be a chance for diplomacy to end this madness, however there is little evidence that anyone is negotiating in good faith or that NATO is negotiating at all. The west could have avoided the conflict entirely by guaranteeing Ukraine would never join NATO, but they didn’t.
Everyday this war continues the chance for escalation exists bringing with it a wider war between Russia and NATO where someone makes a strategic decision to use nuclear weapons. But what I worry about more than that is an accidental exchange in which one side falsely believes the other is launching an attack and launches a retaliatory strike of its own. The gravest danger is a communications failure that unintentionally brings about nuclear destruction, something that was impossible in 1945.

Last edited 2 years ago by Benjamin Greco
Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
2 years ago

A good article, but I would take issue with the “it’s been three weeks. Why isn’t it all over?” tone. That’s not actually very long – it’s only a long time in journalism/media.

This is a long way yet from being considered a protracted conflict. There is still plenty of time for a, hopefully negotiated, solution.

The risk of it going nuclear is no doubt there, but things aren’t going so badly for Russia that it is yet a likelihood through desperation.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

I wouldn’t count on things actually going badly for the Russians. If one reads the headlines and listens to talking heads, whether from right or left leaning MSM outlets, one clearly gets the impression that the Russians are doing very badly, their campaign has stalled, they are requesting arms from the Chinese, etc. etc… But then every day in the same outlets one can look at the maps showing where the Russian forces are, and everyday the Russians continue to advance. There is obviously a good deal of cognitive dissonance here, given that reality (the maps) doesn’t match up with the western MSM outlets (fed to a large extent by Ukrainian propaganda that frankly is beginning to sound more and more like Baghdad Bob).
It’s worth considering, irrespective of what was published in the western media, that Ukraine is not the size of Luxembourg or Belgium or Holland or Monaco; Ukraine is the size of France. i.e. it’s a big country. Even the Germans didn’t take over the whole of France in the space of 2 weeks. Rather the French surrendered with their tails between their legs rather than fight once the Germans overran the Maginot line, but not all of France was ever occupied during WWII – rather it was run by the French Vichy. Likewise, if I’m not mistaken it took the US 3 weeks to get to Baghdad with a lot of shock and awe bombing that probably killed a lot more civilians than have been killed in Ukraine to date. Yesterday morning, for example, I believe the UN stated that there had been 536 civilian deaths so far – while every unnecessary death is tragic, it strikes me that that number is actually rather small in the circumstances.

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Oh, I don’t think Russia will actually lose, which is why I don’t see a high likelihood of the nuclear option.

There’s an awful lot of propaganda of the ‘plucky underdog winning the day’ type, which I suspect is more morale-boosting than accurate.

I also suspect that Putin miscalculated in not thinking he needed to send his ‘A Team’ or sufficient numbers of troops or more appropriate material. That doesn’t mean he won’t, though. It just means the worst, for Ukraine, is probably yet to come.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

I would agree 100% with the first two paragraphs of your comment. Not sure about the third, because it is so hard to know what is actually going on, and it isn’t helped by endless propaganda from Ukraine, gobbled up by the Western press without any verification or cross-checking. All I can tell is that there is a significant mismatch between the maps of the advancing Russians, and the actual reports and the mouthings of so many so-called talking head experts, at least here in the US.

Last edited 2 years ago by Johann Strauss
Joe Wein
Joe Wein
2 years ago

Revisionist historians fail to take into account that no-one believed that the Japanese were going to surrender, least of all the Japanese. Don’t forget that throughout the conflict including in 1945, when entire divisions were surrendering in Europe, virtually no Japanese soldiers surrendered. You will look in vain for any record of any Japanese unit of any size surrendering. Ever. Anywhere. A record which has no parallel in any war, in any century, in any army. Ever. Even many Japanese civilians, women and children, chose suicide over capture.
It was ludicrous to believe that the Japanese would surrender if their mainland was invaded, and nobody at that time did believed it. Even after the first atomic bomb was dropped, Japan did not surrender. It was only after the second bomb, that the Emperor made the decision to lay down arms – over the objects of most of his military leaders.
The decision to drop the bomb belonged to Truman, but the responsibility belonged to Japan.

Hunter Hustus
Hunter Hustus
2 years ago

The WWII revisionists are wrong. They cherry pick quotes and theories to build a flimsy case. But more importantly, I don’t find the analogy to WWII helpful. As some have mentioned in the comments, it’s Putin that has put himself in a corner. Unfortunately, we’ll see how that desperation plays out.

David Simpson
David Simpson
2 years ago
Reply to  Hunter Hustus

The point surely is that we need to provide both sides, but especially Putin, with a way out of the impasse. If we simply keep upping the pressure on Putin, then he may very well act out of desperation.

David Simpson
David Simpson
2 years ago
Reply to  David Simpson

Unless of course some of us (and maybe them) do actually want Armageddon

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago

The point about the survival of Japan’s regime is of interest.
Our goal isn’t to remove Putin. But if he sees defeat in Ukraine as a threat to his survival, we may have some real work ahead.

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Logan

The whole “remove Putin” demands ignore that he’s popular. The elections might have been flawed but he would have won anyway. He’s even more popular now according to independent polls.

The second largest party in Russia, the communists, is also pro war. So “remove Putin and restore democracy” and you get Putin again. Or his party at least.

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago

“Real work ahead” is the opposite of removing Putin.
We need to manage this carefully. Russia is about to be poorer than in the 90s. Moreover, if Putin goes, the whole rotten Russian political system collapses. Yet it’s very unlikely he can survive.
Managing the Soviet Union’s fall was far easier.

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
2 years ago

Wishful thinking.
i am in Sweden right now heading north for a skiing holiday. Sport shops have been emptied of all what remotely resembles a gas cooker or dehydrated food with the sale assistant explaining me how she had to mother customers out of their fears

being scared herself.
The Finnish president war clearly of the opinion on CNN Putin would not hesitate to drop a nuke and between a knowledgeable scholar and someone holding an public office in the thick of it

that is 1300 km common border with Russia

..It is a no brainer to decide who I am siding with.

Last edited 2 years ago by Bruno Lucy
David Uzzaman
David Uzzaman
2 years ago

Even if Putin wants to use tactical nuclear weapons I can’t imagine what he would target. They are designed to be used on large formations of armoured vehicles. Ukraine doesn’t have that many armoured vehicles and those that they have are not concentrated in one place. Using them on thinly deployed infantry would obviously kill those in the immediate vicinity but would hardly justify the potential retribution which might result.

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago

This is all just one more example of the effectiveness of Western propaganda. They’ve flooded Unherd with so much anti Russia nonsense I can’t keep up with it. Straight from coronavirus hysteria to the evil Russians are coming hysteria. Nobody even batted an eye. It truly is incredible. I tried explaining to everyone that Russia is not losing this war. They are clearly winning it. They are taking over Mariupol and will control the Azov coast. The majority of the Urkainian army some 60,000 men are surrounded without hope of resupply in the East. They will not give back the Azov coast in any negotiation. They may take Ukraine’s entire black sea coast next. Russia is dictacting the outcome of this war and no amount of Unherd articles or Western propaganda is going to change that.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Boylon

Hi Dennis thanks for your comments. I am curious, is your background military?

Andy Moore
Andy Moore
2 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Boylon

You have to define winning first. They may flatten Ukraine, like they did in Aleppo, but they don’t have the ability to hold it. Even a pro Russian supporter can see that their logistical capabilities are lacking, and that’s what wins wars.

Graeme Laws
Graeme Laws
2 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Boylon

Of course they should win the war. Bigger country. Bigger population. Bigger economy. Bigger army. Bigger Air Force. Nor is there any doubt about the construction of the iron curtain post 1945, or the collapse of the USSR which Mr Putin apparently wishes to reverse. But to complain about an unprovoked attack on a neighbour, and the bombing of civilian targets is not anti Russian nonsense.

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
2 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Boylon

And then what ?

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago
Reply to  Bruno Lucy

More repression and propaganda, until one day, the latest Russian federation collapses because it has become economically unsuccessful, made more enemies, the enemies are more numerous and wealthy, and they have united.

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
2 years ago
Reply to  Colin Elliott

We will have been nuked well before that. Matter of survival or death wish as you please. If all is lost, Putin will try to take us into the valley of death with a nuke.
Thus is what makes him so dangerous

Paul MacDonnell
Paul MacDonnell
2 years ago

You’re assuming Putin is rational. Like he and Truman are different-coloured chess pieces. If he were to use a nuclear weapon it would be the last decision of Putin’s life. The US should point this out to him.. while offering a 1 billion dollar bounty to anybody who removes him

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago

Be careful what you wish for because the replacement may be a lot worse, and a Russia in disarray with 1000s of nuclear warheads is perhaps not the greatest idea. Actual it’s totally dumb.
Further, if Putin were to launch a nuclear weapon(s) it would not only be the last decision of his life but also for a very large number of people (probably the vast majority) in Europe and the US. Is that what you really want. There is nothing more dangerous than a cornered and injured bear (or lion or wolf, etc….). And by the way, if our leadership has access to nuclear bomb shelters, so does Putin and his cohorts. So Putin can continue firing for a quite a while if he so chooses.

D Hockley
D Hockley
2 years ago

When you ask: will Russia drop a nuclear bomb? Are you really asking: will Russia follow the USA?

Last edited 2 years ago by D Hockley
Malcolm Ripley
Malcolm Ripley
2 years ago

Where exactly would Putin drop a nuke without putting his own troops in danger? It is far more likely that the rabid neocons in the West lob a nuke into Russian territory.
Putin has still not sent in his A team yet!
I am not a Putin defender but I am 100% certain of one thing : we are being lied to from both sides with propaganda reaching ridiculous levels, for example :
“Defiant Ukrainian woman who brought down drone with jar of tomatoes vows to fight on”

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
2 years ago

Putin at the beginning of his invasion made veiled threats that if NATO intervened he would resort with a response that we had never before experienced and so we sacrificed Ukraine … now its appearing Putins war machine is not what we thought it was … the question that remains … should we have offered Ukraine a No Fly Zone

D Glover
D Glover
2 years ago

You don’t just announce a NFZ, you have to enforce it. One or more squadrons of RAF jets go to an airfield in Poland and start flying combat air patrols.
They shoot down Russian planes, and are shot down in turn. Russian SAMs are guided by radar stations, which could be in Belarus or Russia itself. You fire anti-radiation missiles at the radar stations to blind the SAMs.
The Russians drop a tactical nuke on the airfield in Poland.

Last edited 2 years ago by D Glover
Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago

Yet another who has heard of no-fly zones over Kurdistan, or Libya, so imagines that it is a tactic one can easily switch on over Ukraine. No, operating such a zone mean acquiring air superiority, which means not only attacking other aircraft in the zone, but those entering or leaving it, and any ground equipment which presents a threat, meaning radar and missiles. Escalation to nuclear war is all too likely, a risk no idiot would entertain.

Last edited 2 years ago by Colin Elliott
2A Solution
2A Solution
2 years ago

Are “we” really sure Ukraine got rid of all its bombs?

Last edited 2 years ago by 2A Solution
Sam McGowan
Sam McGowan
2 years ago

First, let me say that discussing whether someone would use nukes in Ukraine is premature. That’s not going to happen unless NATO gets involved. As for the A-bomb, I am one who passionately believes it was unnecessary. I wrote an article for WW II History magazine several years ago expressing my views and showing why. It’s pretty obvious that Truman wanted to drop the bomb before Japan surrendered to demonstrate it to the world. What’s 100,000 Japanese lives after all? They were mere Japs and Nips – and they were guilty of atrocities far worse than anything Zelensky has come up with to accuse Putin. As long as NATO, particularly the US, stays out of the Ukraine mess, it’s not going to happen. If the mentally incompetent Biden decides to involve US “troops” (fighter pilots are troops, after all), then God only knows what will happen.