Use of Nuclear Weapons – What have we learned?

One of the most important functions of the study of history is to guide us in the present to avoid the mistakes of the past. The 1949 Advisory Group which Oppenheimer chaired, and which made recommendations to Truman on whether to pursue development of the hydrogen bomb, concluded that the h-bomb met no useful military purpose, and should not be pursued. Truman disagreed, and the arms race was born. Here is what the current Presidential candidates are saying about the use of nuclear weapons: Hillary Clinton (D), on 1/5/2008, at Manchester, NH, in the Democratic Candidates Debate, on the use of nuclear weapons: "You know, deterrence worked during the Cold War in large measure because the United States made it clear to the Soviet Union that there would be massive retaliation. We have to make it clear to those states that would give safe haven to stateless terrorists, that would launch a nuclear attack against America that they would also face a very heavy retaliation."* John McCain (R), on 8/5/2007, at the GOP Iowa Straw Poll Debate, on the use of nuclear weapons: "It's naive to say that we will never use nuclear weapons."* Barack Obama (D), on 8/2/2007, from the Associate Press, on the use of nuclear weapons, while responding to a question by the Associated Press about whether there was any circumstance where he would be prepared or willing to use nuclear weapons to defeat terrorism and al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden: “I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance involving civilians. Let me scratch that. There's been no discussion of nuclear weapons. That's not on the table.”* If you are interested in a historical viewpoint, take a look at these documents on my Web site at under For Professors and Researchers/Document Archive/Oppenheimer: Oppenheimer’s Farewell Speech to Los Alamos, November 2, 1945; Atomic Weapons and American Policy, July 1953; and the No First Use Appeal of February 14, 1950. What are your thoughts? What lessons should we have learned from Oppenheimer and history? *Source: Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (

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