Unspeakable Or Unthinkable?

     There are things that must be said. Some of those things are terrible to contemplate. Fortunately, there are a few people, at least, who are willing to say them. I aspire to be numbered among them.

     Just now, the premier speaker of the unspeakable is Tucker Carlson:

     For those who don’t watch videos at all, here’s a transcript of the “controversial” part:

     I love, by the way, that people on my side — I’ll just admit it, on the Right — have spent the last 80 years defending dropping nuclear weapons on civilians. Like, are you joking? That’s just, like, prima facie evil. If you can’t — ‘Well, if we hadn’t done that, then this, that, the other thing, that was actually a great savings’ — like, no. It’s wrong to drop nuclear weapons on people, and if you find yourself arguing that it’s a good thing to drop nuclear weapons on people, then you are evil. Like, it’s not a tough one, right? It’s not a hard call for me. So, with that in mind, like, why would you want nuclear weapons? It’s like just a mindless, childish sort of intellectual exercise to justify, like, ‘Oh no, it’s really good because someone else could get’ — how about, no? How about spending all of your effort to prevent this from happening?

     That statement caused shocked expressions and outraged statements throughout the American Right. Here’s one from Erick Erickson:

     Carlson’s moral myopia avoids the obvious. Far more civilians died during conventional bombings than died as a result of atomic bombs. On March 9 and 10, 1944, Tokyo was firebombed. It was called the “Night of Black Snow,” and it killed about 100,000 people – most of them civilians. Like Dresden, people fled to water and were “boiled.” WWII was but 50 years removed from men on horses attacking entrenched combatants, often with swords in hand. Bombs, in WWII, were “dumb.” Gravity took them to the earth and killed people – noncombatants and soldiers alike. War 80 years ago was very messy.
     Carlson and Rogan didn’t moralize over Hamburg, Dresden, or Tokyo. Instead, they bobbed their heads and lamented the use of a particular type of weapon, not the death toll or civilians roasting alive from firebombs.

     Yet while Erickson has a point, Carlson was half correct at least.

     A week ago, in a comment to this piece, I wrote:

     Wars are normally the province of governments. Government can stick a gun in your ribs and tell you “You’ve just enlisted.” Then it can send you out to fight — and God help you if you don’t report.

     That’s been the case since the Peace of Westphalia. “Private” wars were forbidden by sovereigns jealous of their supreme prerogative. While it went largely unnoticed at the time, that was what gave rise to a worldwide armaments industry, whose customers are the only entities equipped to make others pay for their wares and still others use them in combat: sovereign states.

     War and its accessories are big business today: so big that in the shadows cast by the munitions makers there are numerous “arms dealers” who broker such goods to customers even less savory than governments. The federal government of the United States alone spends nearly a trillion dollars annually on “defense,” with a substantial portion of that amount going to weapons design, fabrication, and acquisition. As there are nearly two hundred other nation-states on this sorry ball of rock, I’m confident that the global total is well beyond that.

     Governments buy weapons of war. Governments compel their subjects to pay for those weapons. Governments declare and wage war, often using their unwilling subjects as soldiers to do so. Are you beginning to detect a “red thread” here?

     While the next statement falls short of provability, I feel confident of its accuracy:

As Long As There Are Governments,
There Will Be Wars.

     “The purpose of war is to support your government’s decisions by force,” wrote Robert A. Heinlein, and indeed it is so. Throughout history, except for one tragically brief century in a single continent, unwilling persons – conscripts, civilians, noncombatants, innocent bystanders, what have you – have died in war. It will be so in the wars of the future as well, for weapons – and governments – are becoming more destructive and less discriminating as time passes.

     Tucker Carlson finds the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki morally unacceptable. Yet that is what governments do! The scale of the thing, many thousands killed by a single gigantic explosion, is morally irrelevant. Those bombings were no more and no less moral than the bombings of August 6, 1914:

     A government with evil intentions had sent two million men marching on a mission of conquest. Its liege lord and top military planners were angry at the stubbornness of a minor power, neutral by treaty, that refused those armies free passage through its lands. The conquest-minded state decided on a strategy of intimidation. An aircraft long kept in reserve was sent aloft on a mission of terror, the first since Hume, Smith, and Locke put their stamp on the moral renaissance of the world.

     The aircraft was a Zeppelin, designated the “L-Z” by the commanders of the armies of the German Empire under Kaiser Wilhelm II. Its weapons were gravity bombs, thirteen in number. Its target was the Belgian city of Liege, where the Kaiser’s troops had met unexpected resistance to their Schlieffen Plan thrust against France. Its harvest was nine civilian lives: the first civilians deliberately killed by authorized military action in the Twentieth Century.

     The date was August 6, 1914.

     That, to your Curmudgeon’s way of thinking, was the most awful day. The day a major Western power, nominally committed to individual rights, the rule of law, and the norms of civilized warfare, threw all of that aside in hope of imposing its will on the government of another land. The day the line between combatants and civilians was erased.

     You who hate war but think Carlson was being excessively moralistic, how much do you really hate it? Enough to give up the insanity of government itself? Or is that too steep a hill for you? Are you going to try to ban nuclear weapons? Perhaps a second Kellogg-Briand Pact?

     Take your time.


     One of the true geniuses of the Twentieth Century, the late Herman Kahn, spoke and wrote feelingly on this subject. He started an address to a non-military audience with a quick poll:

  • How many people in this room believe that the number of nuclear weapons can be reduced? Almost everybody believed that they could be.
  • How many think they can be reduced to zero? Almost no one thought so; they recognized that nuclear weapons would continue to exist.
  • How many people think the U.S. should unilaterally reduce its nuclear arsenal? Most felt this was not the best option.
  • How many of you believe that arms reduction should take place through negotiated treaties like SALT or START, or a mutual freeze? Most supported those as the best alternatives.
  • How many believe that the remaining weapons might actually be used? Most feared that as a very real possibility.

     Kahn replied thus:

     “Now that we are agreed that nuclear weapons might be used, we have to think about how to use them: against what targets? Toward which objectives? We have to think about how to use them to maximize the chances of survival and minimize the damage. And we have to think about how to use them to end the war as soon as possible.”

     Kahn stressed that doing that thinking is the only prudent, responsible, and moral course. He was quite correct.

     Nuclear explosives will continue to exist. That djinn cannot be rebottled. And while we tolerate governments, we will endure wars. For nearly eighty years, the nuclear arsenals of the United States and other powers have gone unused. It can be argued that the knowledge of their existence and their destructive power has kept the degree of peace we’ve enjoyed since World War II; I’ve done so myself. But there have been wars over those eight decades – many of them – and not one of them has confined the suffering it caused to willing combatants alone.


     There’s no point in demanding that governments agree not to assault civilians and civilian properties. There’s no point in demanding that they refrain from conscription. There’s no point in demanding that they limit their weapons to some agreed-upon threshold of destructive power. They won’t do it. There’s no way to force them to do it.

     This is the world in which we live. It’s hagridden by States, and States are inherently predatory, violent, and heedless of moral considerations. You cannot compel them to limit their predations or their destructions. You cannot have peace while you tolerate them, and a tragic number of people – some of them very smart – sincerely believe that “we must have government.”

     If there’s more to say on this most agonizing of all worldly subjects, I’ll leave it to someone else to say it. I’ve said my piece elsewhere, and further bloviation is not for me.


Skip to comment form

    • OneGuy on April 26, 2024 at 10:34 AM

    Dropping the two nukes on Japan was a favor to them and to our own military.  The simple fact is that Japan would have vigorously defended against an invasion with a likely death toll of about 20 million Japanese deaths and over a million American military deaths.  The two bombs killed fewer Japanese than the conventional bombing of Tokyo did and it prevented millions and millions of deaths.  My Uncle spent four years fighting in the pacific and when the bombs were dropped he was on board a ship taking him and his fellow soldiers to Japan to invade their homeland.  He would have undoubtedly been killed as an early invasion force.  Those who know the facts believe that those two nukes save a lot of lives and prevented a lot of destruction.

    • Bones on April 26, 2024 at 11:05 AM

    I’m a pretty big fan of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  My Father was in the 7th Infantry Division, which was to be committed to the invasion of Honshu at the Kanto Plain.  I suspect that the atomic bombings prevented this.

    It’s fashionable now, to attribute the surrender of Japan to the effects of the Soviets entering the war.  I’m not sure that this is true, and even if it is, the US executed the bombing plan without that knowledge.


  1. I heard that Rogan interview. I disagree with Tucker. I think it was Truman who said the A Bomb was just another bomb, and he was right. The thought of destroying the planet with them gives one pause, however.

    I once worked with a former U Boat commander who had been stationed in Tokyo during the war.
    He married a Japanese woman there.
    They both agreed that the dropping of the A Bombs was favorable to what would have happened had they not been dropped.

    I’ve never felt comfortable with the firebombing of Dresden or Tokyo as that seems like terrorist activity.
    Like Sherman’s march through Atlanta.

    But it ended the war sooner.

    As to no governments? You are going to get one, like it or not. Choose well. Our Founders did.
    I just don’t want the One World version.

    • Drumwaster on April 26, 2024 at 12:02 PM

    Not sure if a youtube link would be permitted, but simply searching for “Bill Whittle vs Jon Stewart” would lead to a long-ish video (16+ min) about the specifics of the effort to invent, create, test, deploy and use those atomic weapons, the steps taken before the bombing (warning leaflets, etc.), the refutation of modern lies to re-cast the morality of the bombs’ usage, and a lot more, all eloquently phrased, and using actual facts and official policy statements made by those running Japan instead of modern leftist shibboleths. (tl;dr: the bombs were the LEAST hurtful of the options remaining)



    • cranky old coot on April 26, 2024 at 12:42 PM

    The day the line between combatants and civilians was erased.

    How fine is the line between civilians and combatants in hamas controlled gaza?  How about the child Vietcong grenade throwers in the Vietnam war?  Whether the bombs should have been dropped on Japan or if a demonstration would have sufficed have been debated for almost 8 decades.  And will continue to be debated.  Tucker wasn’t there, none of us were.  Judging past actions by moralistic generations comfortably secure in their studios who have no clue as to what a world war is, is easy.  And wrong.   It would be fantastic if there was no more war, but as long as there are tyrants and governments which make war on their neighbors, there will be those who stand up against them.  Tucker Carlson is just a hack who “goes there” in order to get attention.

    • John K on April 26, 2024 at 12:50 PM

    I found Bill Whittle’s arguments in favor of the bombings to be informative, logical and persuasive.



  2. Don’t start none, won’t be none.

    Not particularly eloquent, but gets the point across.  Just like a nuke does.

    I am for using it again to nuke mecca.

    • Georgiaboy61 on April 26, 2024 at 10:15 PM

    The decision to drop the atom bombs on Japan must be evaluated according not to the norms of civilized conduct which normally apply to human beings, but according to the norms of total war. War is by definition the suspension of civilized norms of conduct, including moral-ethical norms. Expecting moral behavior during wartime is a fool’s errand. While it may sometimes occur, barbarism and cruelty are the norm.

    If the obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were atrocities, then what was the Rape of Nanking? Or the Bataan Death March? Or the bombing of Shanghai and other Chinese cities during the 1930s, or the use of POWs and civilians for gruesome experiments in biological and chemical warfare?

    Revisionist historians often speak of the horrors of the fire-bombing of Dresden or the same against Tokyo and other Japanese cities, but how many of these myopic modern observers recall that it was the Axis Powers themselves who inaugurated the “terror bombing” of civilian targets during the 1920s and 1930s?

    Mussolini’s Italy used aerial chemical warfare against primitive Ethiopian tribesmen during the invasion of that nation by Italy. German bombers leveled Guernica in Spain during the Spanish Civil War as part of the Condor Legion, an act so horrible that it inspired the famous modernist painting by Picasso. And Japan used heavy bombers to attack Chinese civilians in Shanghai and other cities.

    Having sown the wind, can these regimes and nations then claim to be victims when the tables were turned and they reaped the whirlwind? Clearly not by any consistent moral reckoning.

    As horrible as the atomic bombs were, the fire-bombing of Tokyo was more-costly in terms of lives lost. Moreover, Allied planners of Operation Downfall, the planned invasion of Japan – Operations Olympic and Coronet were the two stages of the overall plan – expected at least half a million Allied dead as a result, and significantly more Japanese, military and civilian alike.

    The fanatics inside the Japanese government were planning to resist not only to the last soldier, but to the last civilian: Children and old people were being trained in the use of suicide weapons and tactics in order to kill the enemy and/or destroy his equipment even as they perished in the attempt.

    Clearly, as horrible as the toll was, the use of the atomic bombs was still the least-costly of the two options.

    Revisionists have also claimed that Japan was prepared to surrender without the use of atomic weapons and/or an invasion, but this claim is false and unfounded. Even though the Japanese people regarded Emperor Hirohito as a living deity and god, even he was almost unable to overcome the most-militant fanatics inside Japan’s government, who mounted a number of abortive assassination attempts before sanity prevailed and the surrender was effectuated.

  3. All that war is, is organized violence. In the absence of government, individuals still use violence against their neighbors to achieve their objectives. This is true anywhere that people live without governments. Individuals who want to victimize their neighbors will eventually organize with other individuals to accomplish that goal. Getting rid of governments will not eliminate violence, but will merely make violence a retail endeavor rather than a wholesale one.

    I fail to see a difference between the soldier who employs a weapon and the civilian who manufactures that weapon. Both support the war effort, and in doing so become legitimate targets.

    It is much easier to defeat an armored division by blowing up the factory that makes the tanks than it is to defeat that armored division in the field. If you also manage to eliminate the people with the skills needed to design and build those tanks, your effort is even more effective.

    A nuclear weapon doesn’t have magical powers that make it different than any other weapon, except that it is more powerful.

    These facts must be recognized when talking about war and the use of the most effective weapons needed to win a war.

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