End first-use of nuclear weapons

A nuclear warhead on display as a museum piece at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/MCT)
A nuclear warhead on display as a museum piece at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

The president of the United States on Jan. 2 threatened 25.37 million human beings with nuclear war. As The Gazette noted recently, “public acceptance of (nuclear) threats already appears far more widespread than nuclear disarmament advocates would hope.” My wish is that you should no longer find nuclear threats acceptable.

The fate of your children and grandchildren, my upcoming marriage, and all the hopes, wishes, and ambitions of all humans rests on averting nuclear war.

As the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons notes, the United States has 6,800 nuclear warheads. Russia has 7,000 nuclear warheads, China has 270, Pakistan has 120, and India has 110. From a perspective that wishes for one nation to dominate another, the first-use of any one of our 6,800 nuclear weapons on our fellow human beings would unleash the world’s 7,400 nuclear weapons on ourselves. And what will the effects be?

As Britannica notes, a nuclear detonation produces a fireball with temperature matching our sun’s internal temperature. Even if defense systems stopped a nuclear strike midair, a midair detonation would produce a massive amount of energy. This energy’s initial blast, even at an altitude of 10,000 feet, would destroy most life and buildings within 4 miles. The remaining 15 percent of that energy would be dispersed in our atmosphere, contaminating all life, soil and structures up to 1,000 miles away. According to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, radioactive rain fell up to 1,800 miles away after the smaller nuclear catastrophe at Chernobyl. The effects on global food supplies because of irradiation of good earth and falling temperatures could cause mass starvation.

You and I are human. We are bound up in an often difficult struggle to make our way in the world. So are the 25.37 million humans our president has threatened. So are all those at home and abroad that stand to perish in nuclear war: your spouses and siblings, your children and parents, even your pets — and yourselves. All could be gone after a few seconds of madness.

I urge you to find nuclear war unacceptable. It is only through the rational acceptance of that conclusion that nuclear war is to be averted if it even can be. And we should put that belief into practice by making it the policy of the United States to refrain from the first-use of nuclear weapons, as proposed in House Resolution 669.

Bertrand Russell said in a 1954 address on the peril of nuclear weapons, “Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? I appeal, as a human being to human beings: remember your humanity, and forget the rest.” As a director of the Bertrand Russell Society that is committed to the causes he championed, I implore you to heed Russell’s words: Remember your humanity and forget the rest. The continuation of you and me, and all people, depends on it.


• Landon Elkind is the treasurer of the Bertrand Russell Society and a fifth-year doctoral student in philosophy at the University of Iowa.



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