The voice of young liberal democrats


Mcnamara and Nuclear Weapons by georgeinwashington
October 30, 2007, 5:08 am
Filed under: defence, nuclear weapons

Update, full excerpt from the fog of war, now below

I was not going to reply to the last reply by London Liberal on nuclear policy, I felt enough had been said by all. However after just finishing watching “The Fog of War” I wanted to share some of the things said by former US defence secretary Robert Mcnamara. “The Fog of War” is a documentary on Mcnamara where he himself explains the lessons he learned during his lifetime. Mcnamara was Secretary of Defence during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. He is well known for being the architect of early Vietnam policy, presiding over a massive expansion of the US nuclear capability and perhaps most importantly for this debate. was Sec Def during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In his own words:

“Any military commander who is honest with himself, or with those who he is speaking to, will admit that he has made mistakes in the application of military power. He has killed people unnecessarily, either his own troops or others through mistakes – through errors of judgement 100 or 1000, tens of thousands maybe even one hundred thousand people – But he hasnt destroyed nations. Conventional wisdom would say, dont make the same mistake twice, learn from your mistakes and we all do…. [but] there will be no learning period with nuclear weapons, you make one mistake and you’re going to destroy nations.”

“I want to say, and this is very important, at the end we lucked out. It was luck that prevented nuclear war, we came that close to nuclear war at the end. Rational individuals, Kennedy was rational, Khrushchev was rational, Castro was rational. Rational individuals came that close to total destruction of their societies – and that danger exists today”

“The major lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis is that the indefinate combination of human fallability and nuclear weapons will destroy nations”

“Is it right and popper that today, there are 7,500 strategic nuclear warheads, of which 2,500 are on 15 minute alert to be launched by the decision of one human being?”

“I think the human race needs to think more about killing, and conflict. Is that really what we want in this 21st century”

It strikes me and even reassures me that despite the being advocates of nuclear build up men like Mcnamara and Nitze seem to have displayed a true understanding of the terrible, catastrophic moral consequences that that build up presented. I can only imagine that they advocated such policies as they saw no other course, and would have been happy to have had the opportuntity of alleviating themselves of the burden of nuclear arms.
Today however I find it worrying that advocates of the continuance of nuclear arms do not seem to display such an understanding of the gravity of situation. Nuclear weapons are still treated in terms of strategic or political tools. However nuclear weapons are much more grave. The possibility of an accident, either mechanical or human, has catastrophic consequences. Leaving aside the immorality of their use by our military, is it not insane to even possess these weapons that have the possibility to bring destruction on our society, despite the lack of any credible military threat to our homeland? To paraphrase Mcnamara is it right and proper that we have given the power to destroy the world to one man?

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