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Nukes

Friday, April 07, 2017 - 03:00 AM

(Photo Credit: Associated Press/Associated Press)

President Richard Nixon once boasted that at any moment he could pick up a telephone and - in 20 minutes - kill 60 million people.  Such is the power of the US President over the nation’s nuclear arsenal.  But what if you were the military officer on the receiving end of that phone call? Could you refuse the order?

This episode, we profile one Air Force Major who asked that question back in the 1970s and learn how the very act of asking it was so dangerous it derailed his career. We also pick up the question ourselves and pose it to veterans both high and low on the nuclear chain of command. Their responses reveal once and for all whether there are any legal checks and balances between us and a phone call for Armageddon.

Reported by Latif Nasser. Produced by Annie McEwen and Simon Adler with production help from Arianne Wack. 

Special thanks to: Elaine Scarry, Sam Kean, Ron Rosenbaum, Lisa Perry, Ryan Furtkamp, Robin Perry, Thom Woodroofe, Doreen de Brum, Jackie Conley, Sean Malloy, Ray Peter, Jack D’Annibale, Ryan Pettigrew at the Nixon Presidential Library and Samuel Rushay at the Truman Presidential Library.

Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.   

Guests:

Bruce Blair, Tony De Brum, Harold Herring, Sonya McMullen, Secretary of Defense William Perry and Alex Wellerstein

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Comments [59]

Katie F. from Philly

It seems lawmakers are looking into this very issue given the current leadership. However, the article linked below from CNN suggests that the system is NOT the way it was presented in the Radiolab story. Have things changed? Or is this just another way of saying things are okay when they really aren't? Perhaps a follow-up is warranted.... http://www.cnn.com/2017/11/14/politics/trump-nuclear-authorization-hearing/

Nov. 15 2017 08:30 AM
Charles Simpson from Breckenridge

Enjoyed listening to a topic I have discussed often, during and after my 30 years in ICBMs and nuclear weapons. One important point in relation to the Major and his discharge, when he took his oath as an officer in the US Air Force, he swore " I will support and defend the Constitution of
the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation
freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter." I sat on two officer discharge boards for officers who voiced similar concerns - reservations - they can have their opinions but if they can't uphold their oath of office, they can't serve.

Oct. 05 2017 03:44 PM
Amanda Barnett from Washington DC

The NYTimes article The Interpreter today posted a bit of information about this very question:

Quote of the Day
Jeffrey H. Smith, the C.I.A. general counsel in 1995 and 1996, has a long essay on the website Just Security on the tension between executive power and rule of law. It includes this breathtaking story from Richard M. Nixon’s final days in office:

"In 1974, I was an Army JAG lawyer assigned to the Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of the Army for International Affairs, who was a Foreign Service Officer and career ambassador. In the days before President Nixon resigned, he called me into his office and said, “I am not supposed to show you this, but you should see it. It’s important.” It was a message from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to the four-star Commanders-in-Chief, as they were then known, saying that if they received any “execute orders” from the N.C.A. (the National Command Authority, i.e. the President), they were not to carry them out unless the order was verified by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense. This episode is now being recalled as an example of how our institutions responded in a responsible way at an extraordinary and critical time.

In Watergate, our institutions – the courts, Congress, the F.B.I., the C.I.A. and the media – responded as they should. It was deliberate and professional. They understood our democracy requires preserving the rule of law, that we are a nation of laws. Ultimately, they put nation over party and deserve our undying admiration."

Jun. 14 2017 11:08 AM

Should have turned the show off when i the gay porn promotion about made me loose my lunch. Thank God my children were not in the car. The show was great until the political motivation appeared. Radio Lab will loose this listener if it can't remain objective. The promotion of sexual deviance is also disturbing. Our kids are screwed up enough today.

May. 31 2017 08:18 AM
Bill Steinmetz from Lakeville IN

This episode was disturbing but a riveting listen. I took the long silence as a way to sonically display the time involved from first warning to impact. I thought it was great! I love your podcast and I love the quirky sounds of your opening credits!

May. 15 2017 12:26 AM
Sam

It feels worth mentioning that the vice president can declare that the president is not in his right mind and cannot carry out his duty before Congress. The president can say that he's fine, but the vice president can, with the support of at last half of the cabinet, contest that and Congress decides what to do in no more than 60 days. During that time, there is no president. So, theoretically, the vice president combined with the cabinet could provide a check on the president.

May. 11 2017 08:31 PM
Christina

Sorry, this isn't content related, but related to the recording. I'm befuddled about the extensive period of silence at the beginning of the episode after the intro and before the Nancy advert, and then the extended ticking noises (music?) at the end after the credits, but before the final interview. Did the wrong file get posted?

May. 10 2017 10:44 AM
Randomshire from Randomshire, Ireland

Why do you hide the last story like its some easter egg. Quit being pussies and edit out that white noise, your sponsors wont flee.

May. 08 2017 08:17 PM
B.T.Mendelsohn from Ashburn, VA

The end of the broadcast seemed to mix up the issue of authority to retaliate with the issue of authority to launch a preemptive nuclear attack. My inclination is to support the proposed law that would require a Congressional Declaration of War to authorize a preemptive nuclear first strike, particularly a massive one that has the potential of initiating a nuclear world war. Congressional debate of a Declaration of War, as called for by the Constitution, can be considered a step in an overall stratagem to convince an enemy of the seriousness of our threats. We can’t be regarded as a “paper tiger” once Congress votes a Declaration of War.

For about 10 years in the 1960s and 70s my job at a major aerospace contractor was a strategic conflict analyst. Much of my analyses involved the ICBM leg of the US nuclear Triad (triply redundant assured destruction) strategy. The goal of the Triad was that a sufficient number of our H-bomb delivery capability would survive to retaliate to a first strike against us and totally devastate the Soviet Union. Less than half of our silo-based ICBM alone was judged sufficient. Our fleet of nuclear armed submarines were expected to survive because absent some new technology their locations were hidden from the USSR. Our bombers would survive because enough always would be airborne to escape the devastation on the ground. The design goal of ICBMs in hardened silos would survive because even nuclear tipped missiles would need almost a direct surface hit to destroy them.

Circular error probability (CEP) of a weapon is the radius of a circle about an aim point within which 50% of shots would on average hit. As the accuracy of ICBMs improved over the years (i.e., as US intelligence estimates Soviet's CEP got smaller) a silo upgrade program increased the “hardness” of the silos. But one year it was recognized that advances in satellite technology and guidance systems made direct hits likely. At that time I guess the hardened silo concept no longer worked, so the retaliatory ICBM would rely on “launch on warning”, resulting in the few minutes for the President to order their launch. Alternatives to hardened silos were proposed, such as mobile launchers (as the Koreans are said to be using) and antiballistic missile defense of the silos (called “hard point defense). The US did none of those.

There is logic to the suggestion of former Vice President Cheney that we get rid of our silo based ICBMs and rely instead on just 2 redundant legs of assured destruction for deterrent. The worst nuclear fall-out from a nuclear weapon if if the weapons detonated on the surface. Detonation at the altitude ideal for destroying unhardened targets gives considerable less fallout but wider range of blast and heat destruction of softer military and civilian targets. The apocalyptic “nuclear winter” predicted for a nuclear World War III possibly could be avoided if massive H-bomb attacks are restricted to air bursts.

May. 08 2017 01:38 PM
Noora

Wow, what a great episode! Truly chilling.. the ending creeped me out...
Thank you radiolab! :)

I have to say that I dislike some of the podcast ads you recommend. This Nancy podcast and the other podcast some time ago with two female comedians, it feels like we are the wrong target audience. If you could recommend more science-y learning type of podcasts, that would be great!

May. 01 2017 07:07 AM
Tucker

Is every point that was brought up in this episode relevant? Yes, but no matter how good of a system America makes for it's bombs, that does nothing about Russia and how it manages its bombs, we have no power over their system. The end point is that Nukes are hell. No management system will change that. We need anti-ICBM technology and much much more.

Apr. 27 2017 05:03 PM
John Austin from PNW

LOL, so many triggered conservative cucks in this comments section. GG

Apr. 25 2017 02:48 PM
Txe

Great story, RadioLab. The sound effects were pretty awesome, especially the ticking time (bomb) break. I teach in the radiologic sciences and share the following video with my students as a way to emphasize the nuclear aspect of the Cold War: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MM4V0YcPLHE

That war was not really cold at all; all sides just bombed themselves over and over...

Apr. 22 2017 11:27 AM
A. W. from Texas

This has to be one of the more politically motivated Radiolab shows I have ever heard. Jad's comments were so anti-Trump it was annoying. The anti-Trump agenda was so obvious that it was ridiculous. Donald Trump won 3,084 of America's 3,141 counties. Not all your audience is part of the 57 that he lost.

Most outlets in the media are anti Trump. It is all you hear or read, it is tiresome! When we come to hear Radiolab shows, we expect them to be better and different not just one more politically motivated anti-Trump outlet.

Here is some information for someone that complained earlier that Trump attacked Syria without Congress authorization.

These are sections of 2 articles related to the use of power by both Democratic and Republican presidents.
=====================================================================
ABC News How Obama Can Bypass Congress on Syria Strike
August 29, 2013

When the U.S. intervened in Libya in 2011, the Obama administration justified its decision to not request congressional approval beforehand by citing the 1973 War Powers Act, which allows the administration to conduct military activities for 60 days without first seeking a declaration of war from Congress.
=====================================================================

Another article from Business Insider
Trump didn't need approval from Congress to strike Syria
Apr. 7, 2017

Later, in 2016, Obama did not seek Congress' approval to strike Houthi-controlled radar sites in Yemen after the Houthis had targeted US Navy ships with anti-ship guided missiles.
...

"The law as to declaration of war is very clear in the constitution," Lawrence Brennan, a former US Navy captain and expert on maritime law, told Business Insider. "Having said that," he added, the constitutional law on declaring war "has not been followed since World War II."

So while Trump acted within the legal and practical norms of the presidency with his unilateral strike on Syria, congressional authorization for limited strikes is " lawfully not required, but practically, often a good thing," according to Brennan.
=====================================================================

Now, about the actual topic of the show...

The most important point from this show, in my opinion, is that NO president, be Democrat or Republican, should be allowed to make the decision of a nuclear strike alone. Going to Congress is out of the question. Congress is 100% partisan so nothing will get done fast, as this kind of decision will require.

We have 'The Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee' in Congress (8 members?) that specializes in looking at the threats against the US. I think that the president, with the help of this committee, the Joint Chief of Staff, and the Secretary of State will be a good group of knowledgeable people that can help make that decision.

I am looking forward to new non-political motivated Radiolab shows.

Apr. 19 2017 11:32 PM
colinalcarz from Iowa

When the justification for the protocol that allows the President sole authorization for a nuclear strike was originally under the assumption that such a strike would necessarily be retaliatory, that we would never act preemptively, only in defense; it is unconscionable that there has been no updated protocol. Congress should indeed pass a law that would require preemptive nuclear decisions be made in concert with them. Trump doesn't drink, thank goodness, but he can NOT be counted on to make rational decisions. I think in the back of our minds, many of us had the idea, as did those interviewing former secretary of Defense Perry in this piece clearly, that there was in fact some check at the executive level. I was not only surprised to hear that there wasn't, a chill ran up my spine.

Apr. 19 2017 05:14 PM
Mike from Hawaii

Regardless of the historical accuracy of the majority of the content, the message here was of such importance that I can't even fathom some of the production decisions contained in this episode. My first instinct when it ended was that everyone in America needs to hear this podcast. But then I remembered when I first tuned in and was greeted with "gaydiolab" and a brief few minutes of discussion about gay porn and a woman's sob story about how she can't fall in love with men. I thought I had possibly clicked the wrong episodee, or perhaps "nuke" was a new term used within the LGBT community that I was not yet aware of.

Don't mistake me for a homophobe. My grandfather was a gay man (so this post is technically a miracle). But even he would have been appalled that such an important message could be prefaced with such a blatant disregard for the social and political sways of potential listeners. I agree that all people SHOULD be able to hear such things without having a negative reaction, but they don't. Knowing your demographic is one thing but what you've done here is self sabotage. Here you are in a position to possibly make a difference and affect vast numbers of people into actions that could produce real change, but instead you've immediately remove yourselves from the spectrum of viable sources for THE EXACT PEOPLE THAT NEED TO HEAR IT!

Do you think anyone who will tune in to "Nancy" needs convincing that the president shouldn't have the only and final say, at a whim even, that the world should end on a moment's notice?

Are you out of your god damn minds??!!

Apr. 18 2017 06:33 PM
Greg in norCal from California

One of the most slanted, bias, misinformed and poorly reported stories on RadioLab I have ever heard. You never address the importance of the chain of command.. it's like you decided to address nuclear deterrence and decided just to represent the story of the disarmament community... Your "history" of Truman is not just slanted toward your desire to make him appear naive or purposefully mislead by those military men who only want war, but is demonstrably false! As an earlier commenter noted there are plenty of historically available documents a simple google away that suggest, if not outright show that Truman new and intended to hit civilian targets.. What's more.. lots of people were involved in the decision.. Wow. NPR complains of "fake news" and puts this out? I used to enjoy Radio Lab so much because of the thoughtfulness, even if a bit leftist-biased, reporting... thoughts were expressed and discussed. But this? This was so bad... I have lost my respect for you.

Apr. 18 2017 12:41 AM
Shaun parker from Los Angeles

I can understand the 6 minutes to launch in retaliation, there is no time to hesitate, but I would like if there was some form of checks and balances for the president if he wished to launch a first strike. I'm not talking about a full congressional approval, but something, to at least mirror the facts in the silos that need two people to act in concert. Make it, president and a sign off by the Secretary of Defense to issue a first strike order.

Apr. 17 2017 06:57 PM
Thomas Baxter from Tallahassee Florida

I'm pleased that the Soviet and US O-4s & 5s that refused orders to launch nukes did not ask before their moment of truth and got removed before they saved civilization.

Apr. 15 2017 07:22 PM
Danno from NY

Excellent episode. It doesn't matter which nation launches first, or that the U.S. tries to maintain ability to retaliate: if nuclear weapons are ever used, the "Deterrence theory" will go the way of the dodo, as will mankind.

Along with the movie references of "Dr. Strangelove" and "WarGames", I'd like to add "The Dead Zone" to the list. Whether you're among those concerned about Trump having the launch codes, or those countering that Hillary would not have been any better, the point is that we should NEVER have to fear someone like Greg Stillson having UNCHECKED power to launch nuclear weapons.

Apr. 14 2017 09:38 PM
Evan from Canada

I like the interviews, but this is my first time listening to Radiolab. These noises and audio cuts are so obnoxious and annoying it really makes me not want to listen. It took everything I had to power through these obnoxious sounds for the actual information in the podcast. Like who made this and thought it was sonically pleasant to hear that garbage layered over the actual interview?

did you even listen to this before posting it? I'd love to listen to an informational podcast like this but if this is the editing style I will see in the rest of the podcasts I want nothing to do with it.

TLDR; awesome interviews, Absolute crap editing and audio mixing.

Apr. 14 2017 04:41 PM
Chris

6 minutes is shorter than it takes for sun rays to travel through space and hit our planet.

One event keeps giving life for millions of years - the other takes it away in one moment.

Apr. 14 2017 01:50 PM
Jennifer Feldman from Here.

The world is resting on a powder keg again, and I spend all my time wound tight like the sting of a violin. please, Jad and Robert, give me something to recover my faith in humanity. We know his finger is on the nuke, and nothing can stop him. I am asking you, for 1 hour a week, to put visions of sugar plums in my head so that I will be in a relaxed state when the sky flashes. (yep, I'm over dramatizing on purpose)

Apr. 14 2017 01:23 PM
lydia

was it necessary to have dead sound in the podcast?

Apr. 13 2017 04:32 PM
Liz

A great discussion episode! My only problem with it was the part mentioning that Truman had no idea the bombs were dropped on cities instead of military bases. Oh please... that's just false. I expect more fact-checking from you or at least a mention that Truman twas just attempting to keep this fact from the public.

Apr. 13 2017 10:43 AM

A timely subject, given the predilection of our current President to drop bombs without consulting Congress or anyone else. Simply because he can. Scary that our lives & our World are dependent upon people like this who are have such power (that we give them so freely) — not only here in the USA but others in other Nations who are similarly unstable.

Apr. 12 2017 02:11 PM
protagonist from USA

As a long-time listener and admirer of Radiolab (my favorite podcast), I was dismayed by the sloppy fact-checking and/or disregard of facts displayed in this episode. I expect a higher level of journalism from you.

Specifically, you present the case that Truman was unaware that the bombs would be used against civilian targets, and that he specifically ordered that it not be used against women and children, but rather just against military targets.

A cursory google search "order to bomb Hiroshima" produced, as the first "hit", the actual declassified written order for the use of the atomic bomb against Japanese cities, dated July 25, 1945 and drafted by General Groves. President Truman and Secretary of War Stimson. The order made no mention of targeting military objectives or sparing cities.

It stated "The 509 Composite Group, 20th Air Force will deliver its first special bomb as soon as weather will permit visual bombing after about 3 August 1945 on one of the targets: Hiroshima, Kokura, Niigata and Nagasaki."

It went on to state: "Additional bombs will be delivered on the above targets as soon as made ready by the project staff. "

http://www.dannen.com/decision/handy.html

Any later public comments by Truman about wanting to save civilian lives were just a political smokescreen.

Multiple other sources confirm the above.

The podcast was a fascinating expose of the world's vulnerability left in the hands of a single, potentially unstable individual. To mar that with revisionist history of such a critical element is deplorable.

Apr. 12 2017 01:42 PM
Maus

This reminds me of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Apr. 12 2017 04:56 AM
Don from Olney, MD

An excellent story. Garry Wills' book "Bomb Power" (The Penguin Press, 2010) covered this same topic in depth. Wills make the excellent point that the unchallenged authority to launch a nuclear strike has fundamentally changed the relationship of the executive branch to the other branches of government. It is truly frightening to contemplate a president ordering an atomic weapon strike based on faulty information or, worse, a lapse in judgment or mental incapacity.

Apr. 11 2017 09:59 PM
John Lawler from Gaithersburg, MD

Hi,

I thought you might have referenced Donald Barthelme's "Game",
his short story about officers in one of the missile silos.

http://www.latexnet.org/~burnt/Game.html

Also, read on Selected Shorts.

Apr. 11 2017 04:40 PM
Ann

After a few minutes of tick tocking at the end a different interview started playing. It was cut off, where is the rest of that interview?

Apr. 11 2017 01:34 PM
Jen from Chicago

Only recommendation I have is to provide more information about the bill mentioned in this podcast. Here is a website to that information.

https://lieu.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/congressman-lieu-senator-markey-introduce-restricting-first-use-nuclear

Apr. 11 2017 12:19 PM
Sean F from Missoula, MT

Those commenting that this episode is a thinly veiled reference to President Trump's possible psychological or neurological issues have missed the point: imagine if Trump—or any future president—slips in the shower, hits their head on the spigot, and suffers some sort of brain damage severe enough to warp their mental faculties, but also targeted enough to convince those around them that they were mostly OK. Then imagine if this mentally impaired president makes the horrific decision to launch a nuclear strike based on nothing more than delusion. Or what if it was a targeted stroke? Or some other unforeseen impairment that spontaneously harms a president and results in the end of the world as we know it? The point of this episode is that in any of those cases there's absolutely no way to stop the president short of the 25th amendment (which would take time to implement, time those are on the president would not necessarily have to stop it.) I think the suggestions of removing all ICBMs and passing legislation that the president cannot act without Congress would be a reasonable check and balance for this issue.

Apr. 10 2017 11:13 PM
Eugene Ridge from Providence RI

Baffled at the naivety of the pilot interviewed and his inability to understand why his questioning of procedure was enough to ruin his military career.
Volunteering to literally turn the key that kills tens of thousands and possibly humanity itself then start questioning procedure?
He may still not understand but, the Soviets certainly did.

Apr. 10 2017 08:32 PM
David McCune from Tacoma, WA

I thought this was a great episode. Fascinating.

But I do have one quibble.

How could you do this without referencing either the opening scene in War Games (essentially a dramatization of the conflict of conscience that prompted Maj Herring's question) or Skynet from the Terminator franchise (created to remove human error and speed response time)?

Anyway, aside from the above, well done.

David

Apr. 10 2017 04:42 PM
James L. Goode from Houston, Tx

I've read a few of the comments here and understand the slant of worrying about Trump launching. But traditionally having the President make the final decision is much better than the military-even if it has flaws. Or would you have Curtis LeMay and his buddies making the decision about Cuba instead of Kennedy?

Launching weapons is a power I feared in both major Presidential candidates last year. The phrase "liberals are angry because they just wish it was Hillary lobbing bombs" is on spot as the worry about DJT with the A-bomb.

Apr. 10 2017 02:15 PM
Chris from Texas

Again this episode has a repeating section when the veteran first starts talking. In addition the last 10 minutes are nothing but a ticking clock sound. Sloppy sloppy. At least the repeating section is only about 10 seconds vs 30 or so like normal.

Apr. 10 2017 12:28 PM
Brad Aldrich from Texas

Important issue seriously mishandled. Why focus on the checks and balances risks of the United States, when the world's far greater threat lies in the 7 other countries possessing nuclear weapons, along with others seeking to possess them. Clearly, the risks are far greater from control and security shortcomings in Pakistan, India, and Russia. Those of you loosing sleep over the United States' challenges on managing these risks should broaden your perspectives.

Apr. 10 2017 11:51 AM
Beatrice Maneshi from New York.

Hi My name is Beatrice Maneshi I am the program coordinator and major organizer for the women's March to Ban the Bomb organized by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) in their disarmament branch "Reaching Critical Will" (reachingcriticalwill.org).

For those of you concerned about nuclear issues and would like to get more involved and know what the current status of affairs I would love to highlight that there is currently a treaty being negotiated at the United Nations for a legally binding treaty banning nuclear weapons (currently there is no legal framework that makes their development, use ownership, transfer, or sale illegal). At least 132 governments participated in the conference, despite opposition from the nuclear-armed states and their nuclear weapon-supportive allies.

The next round of negotiations start in June and run through mid-July. When talks resume in June, we are going to kick them off with a massive, women-led public event in New York City that will demonstrate widespread support for eliminating nuclear weapons.

Women Ban the Bomb is a women-led initiative building on the momentum of movements at the forefront of the resistance, including the Women’s March on Washington. It will bring together people of all genders, sexual orientations, ages, races, abilities, nationalities, cultures, faiths, political affiliations and backgrounds to march on 17 June 2017 in New York City in support of negotiations taking place at the United Nations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

The threat of nuclear weapons applies to everyone, regardless of race, class or gender. We believe there is a role for everyone to play in taking a stand against them, inclusive of organizations and individuals from different backgrounds. Endorse our efforts, march with us in solidarity, and spread our message at this pivotal moment in history.

We will also be have sister marches around the United States and the world, to show solidarity in our aspiration to live in a world free from the dangers of nuclear weapons. Check our website to find out about what may be going on in your area.

Learn more about how you can become a part of history on our website (wwww.womenbanthebomb.org), Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/events/226067891186187/)

Apr. 10 2017 10:51 AM
Alex

This episode seems to me to be thinly veiled liberal propaganda implying that trump is crazy, that presidents don't understand the power of nukes. How easy it would be for this crazy president to launch a nuke. That was probably only started on since trump became president.

Apr. 09 2017 02:48 PM
Timothy Schmidt from Kona, HI

The historian author you spoke to: what was his name? I couldn't find his name paired with his role in the episode and want to read his book.

Apr. 09 2017 04:04 AM
Dillan from Orlando

I havent listened to this yet, but Im excited and typing this because finally A BROAD SUBJECT IS BEING TALKED ABOUT! This is Radio lab's bread and butter in my opinion. Radio lab's best episodes were those that talked about broad subjects.
Just expressing my opinion at least.

Apr. 08 2017 06:44 PM
Adriana from Keene, NH

Thank you for this important piece of reporting. I was struck by the suggestion that we'd only want to destroy world with just cause. I believe that notion is based on the faulty notion that retaliation is always justifiable, regardless of the outcome. However, NO cause could possibly justify the end of the world. If nuclear war were ever to be initiated, the only reasonable moral response would be to protect as much remaining life possible (including plants and animals and children and old people, regardless of which landspace they occupied or to which nation-state they pertained). Most life forms, in most places, would carry no blame for whatever political machinations gave rise to the initiation of the attack. Therefore, retaliation resulting in total destruction could not be justified.

Apr. 08 2017 03:00 PM
Cary from Baltimore, MD

We're in an exciting age of political activism. Just as Radiolab's producers end every segment by listing contributors and their work, I'd like to suggest that they also help guide those listeners who want to take immediate action on the issue discussed.

Keep making innovative, compelling, and relevant storytelling!

Apr. 08 2017 01:53 PM
mike from Redmond, WA

Pretty good piece but read Command and Control. A lot of detail regarding how the chain of command came about. It was McNamara that insisted that the President have the "OK" and wrestled it from the military.

But, really? The narrative that Trump is "untrustworthy" and Hillary is? Please....

Apr. 08 2017 12:35 PM
Jack Ford

Thank you for putting the question out there!

Hopefully more folks will question, it does not matter who got elected, one person should not decide the fate of the planet. I know we can not control other governments of the world, but we can try to control ours so that the act of another dictator does not ruin it for all of us as we play the game of 'an eye for an eye'. We both end up blind...........

Apr. 08 2017 11:07 AM
Tamara Al-Kasey

Thanks; I won't sleep tonight.

Apr. 08 2017 09:34 AM
shodypoo

Reading through these comments scare me. The fact checking topic really makes me doubt radiolabs credibility.

Apr. 08 2017 12:21 AM
John from USA

That was one ANNOYING introduction. Stop the giggly crap.

Apr. 07 2017 10:33 PM
Fergus from Quito

If you found this interesting, I highly recommend listening to Atom Man from the BBC. Much more stuff from William J Perry.

I agree with Miles, you needed to fact check this episode a little more, especially with regard to Truman

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08bzdd1

Apr. 07 2017 08:14 PM
Dale

I have a solution for this issue.

Why not just introduce a two-part law. The first part unequivocally states that if the U.S. is directly threatened by nukes then the president has to issue the order to retaliate with our full nuclear arsenal. The second half of the bill forces the president to go to Congress to declare war for a preemptive strike. This both shows our foes that we absolutely mean business in the case of a nuclear strike, and that we are willing to take precautions to prevent a preemptive strike. Wouldn't this be the prime solution to deescalation?

Apr. 07 2017 05:16 PM
The Jones from Washington, D.C.

I am a long-time listener, and RadioLab has traditionally been very good about warning listeners of explicit or adult themes in its material. I have been very grateful for that. However, in this episode, the story started out with a pitch for "Nancy," with no warning, by jumping into the theme of gay Asian porn stars. This was done in a tone that seemed as if you thought it was cute and funny.

I'm sorry, but it's not cute, it's not funny, and it makes it difficult for listeners to create the type of environments where they want to raise their kids while also consuming good content. I like your stories, but if it's going to create an environment where young children are asking about porn, that's not good. In fact, if the first time children encounter topics like "gay" is in the same context that they first encounter "porn," this is doublely troubling. Please fix this. That was bad. I was not happy at all.

Apr. 07 2017 03:19 PM
Tara from Vancouver, BC

Albuturkey from NM, do you think the reporter might have been including people who died from radiation sickness in the months after the bombing? To me, it would be fair to include these people as fatalities of the bombing, even though it was months after, as this type of bomb was unique in causing such a large number of slow deaths. What do you think?

Apr. 07 2017 03:16 PM
Albuturkey from NM

The Hiroshima attack did not kill over 200,000 people, in fact both atomic bombs combined didn't kill that many people, and the death toll from neither attack exceeded the 2nd Tokyo firebombing raid that took over 100,000 lives. Perhaps your reporter conflates "casualty" with fatality. A casualty is someone rendered "combat ineffective, " not dead.

Another side point, by Imperial Edict, all males 15-65, and all females 17-47 in the entire country were made into defense troops for the upcoming invasion, and as such were technically combatants.

Apr. 07 2017 02:20 PM
Bob TheBuilder from Chicago

President's accountability is always taken away because he is the prestigious president. Look at bush nowadays, being promoted on Liberal TV 'Ellen" With his new "art" book and everyone clapping and laughing with him... he committed war crimes and destroyed the economy. There's no accountability for these people ever.

Apr. 07 2017 01:04 PM
Miles

I'm sorry but the historian you got that talked about Truman being egged on to strike Hiroshima and that he was unaware of the destructive power of the atomic weapons is simply not true and is revisionist history and its excusing Truman's actions and taking away his accountability. There's well documented evidence that the military generals that oversaw the atomic weapon development; the Manhattan project including General Douglas MacArthur and General Leslie Groves who was in close proximity to the scientist Robert Oppenheimer who was the lead scientist of the Manhattan project. They knew first hand how powerful it was and when they knew that Truman was going to attack Hiroshima and Nagasaki they both wrote letters to Truman asking him to stop because the target areas had no tactical value and were full of civilians. Truman was determined to launch the atomic bombs regardless of what the generals thought and wanted to create a show of force and astound the rest of the world and essentially frighten every axis country into submission and let them know America had these weapons. There are also reports that after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed Truman had hardly any reaction to the destruction he had caused and was very apathetic and indifferent and was glad his goal had been reached, he wasn't confused or out of the loop he wanted it to happen. The point is, is that he knew the attacks were happening and gave it the greenlight himself. It wasn't snuck past him by his generals.

By saying he was unaware or didn't know about the attacks is excusing his involvement and making him out to be some kind of innocent victim which was not the case at all. Truman had real psychopathic tendencies and didn't really value or understand the human casualties he caused.

Apr. 07 2017 12:51 PM

And people wonder why trust in government is shaky.

Apr. 07 2017 10:09 AM
Elana Kimbrell from Washington, DC

I found it SO INCREDIBLY disturbing to learn that Truman apparently (unless he was deluding himself?) had no idea what kind of damage the atomic bombs were going to inflict, or that a second one was being dropped. I guess this is coming from the perspective that the President was in charge of that decision, so him not being fully aware of what he was doing is stunningly horrifying, when in reality the President was not yet the one deciding to drop the bomb. Yet, if he had been aware, would he have stepped in sooner?

Apr. 07 2017 08:49 AM
Thomas Bruinsma

Wow.. Isn't this topical..

Apr. 07 2017 06:34 AM

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