My Dynamite

Inventor of dynamite and founder of the Nobel Peace Prize, Alfred Nobel:

“My dynamite will sooner lead to peace than a thousand world conventions. As soon as men will find that in one instant, whole armies can be utterly destroyed, they surely will abide by golden peace.”

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, 1967:

When calculating the force required, we must be conservative in all our estimates of both a potential aggressor’s capabilities and his intentions. Security depends upon assuming a worst plausible case, and having the ability to cope with it. In that eventuality we must be able to absorb the total weight of nuclear attack on our country — on our retaliatory forces, on our command and control apparatus, on our industrial capacity, on our cities, and on our population — and still be capable of damaging the aggressor to the point that his society would be simply no longer viable in twentieth-century terms. That is what deterrence of nuclear aggression means. It means the certainty of suicide to the aggressor, not merely to his military forces, but to his society as a whole.

The principle of mutually assured destruction didn’t work in the dynamite age. Has it worked in the nuclear age? If so, will it continue to work? And if it doesn’t work … what?

Music: The Kinks :: Kentucky Moon

4 Replies to “My Dynamite”

  1. Well, you can argue that the Soviets never did attack us, and that they didn’t do so because of our commitment to mutually assured destruction. (And vice versa.) So, given the fact that we haven’t yet experienced a nuclear holocaust, I guess it’s worked — so far.

  2. Right. It’s stopped nuclear war so far, but it hasn’t stopped war. And can the situation hold in the new era of nuclear North Korea, nuclear Iran, etc.? Time will tell.

    Sidebar: I’m also thinking of the philosophy of many gun advocates that an armed populace keeps gun violence down, for the same MAD reasons. There seems to be evidence that states with open carry laws have less gun violence, though those states also seem to have less socio-economic disparity than states like California, so the differences could be attributable to other factors. But it’s clear that an armed populace doesn’t *eliminate* gun violence, though it may reduce it.

  3. The doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction does work, but only with an adversary that values life (defined as this mortal coil). I think most would agree that it worked with the Soviet Union.

    That said, MAD doesn’t work with an adversary that doesn’t value their own life, who believes that destruction of the enemy is worth self-destruction, or who believes (truly believes) that there is an afterlife that will reward them for their adversary’s death no matter the cost in “innocent” life.

    I think the above criteria sums up religious extremists of most any ilk – from the Christian Crusaders of the Middle Ages to the Jihadists of today.

    It’s difficult, if not impossible, to reason with dogma.

  4. Oh, talking gun control, are we?

    Again, MAD functions with an intelligent, reasoning adversary. There will always be crimes and violence committed by those who feel that they will “get away with it”, who are assured of the immortality of their youth, or who just don’t think about the consequences.

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