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Belmont Club

The Memory of Fire

October 26th, 2013 - 1:54 pm

The Jerusalem Post says that Sheldon Adelson is looking for something lost. “During a panel at Yeshiva University on Tuesday evening, Sheldon Adelson, noted businessman and owner of the newspaper Israel Hayom, suggested that the US should use nuclear weapons on Iran to impose its demands from a position of strength.”

Adelson then imagined what might happen if an American official were to call up an Iranian official, say “watch this,” and subsequently drop a nuclear bomb in the middle of the Iranian desert.

“Then you say, ‘See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business. You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue with your nuclear development. You want to be peaceful? Just reverse it all, and we will guarantee you that you can have a nuclear power plant for electricity purposes, energy purposes’,” Adelson said.

“So a tremendous demonstration of American strength?” Boteach clarified. “So that they would get the message?”

“It’s the only thing they understand,” Adelson said.

“And do you see the current negotiations as a sign of weakness?” Boteach asked.

“Absolutely,” Adelson said.

Adelson’s proposal will be regarded by many as dangerous and insane. For all political intents and purposes the idea of a nuclear first strike against an enemy, however dangerous and however belligerent has been a political nonstarter since the end of World War 2.

Even during of the Cold War, with America facing literal annihilation at the hands of a massive Soviet arsenal — which in the early 1960s they might reasonably have pre-empted by a first strike — attacking first was politically unthinkable. The de facto American strategy for the entire Cold War period was mutual assured destruction: absorbing a Soviet first strike then killing them also.

There were two primary options. One option, “retaliation after ride-out,” required the second-strike nation to wait until after they were attacked to launch their missiles. Some portion of the nuclear arsenal would inevitably be destroyed in such an attack. This led to both superpowers investing heavily in survivable basing modes for their nuclear forces, including hardened underground missile silos for ICBMs, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The other choice was “launch on warning” – launching nuclear missiles before the other side’s missiles could destroy them.

But the original foundation of deterrence, the psychological underpinning of terror upon which the entire edifice rested was the Original First Strike: Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So great was its power of this warning that it stopped World War 2. It is a sad commentary on human nature to realize that the salutary effect Adelson proposes to wreak on Iran was first wreaked upon world consciousness by Paul Tibbets. To paraphrase Adelson “it’s the only thing we understood.”

And we grasped that lugubrious warning even though we did not openly admit it to ourselves.  Postwar leaders wisely choose to make lemonade out of the lemons by preserving the memory of the bomb as an alternative to demonstrating its horrors anew.

The psychological power of that original first strike was carried very carefully by successive generations of American leaders, in the manner of primitive men carrying embers from one campfire to light the next. The world was periodically reminded of existence of those awful glowing coals by choreographed commemorations of the Hiroshima, as well as by dramatizations of what unleashing such fire might mean in the present day.

The memory of atomic horror along with the certainty it would be unleashed under attack created what we called deterrence. The primary insight of nuclear peacekeeping was that as long as the fear of the bomb remained vivid and the willingness of the leaders to use it accepted, another First Strike of the sort of demonstration that Adelson suggested was unnecessary.

Because all we needed to do was remember the first First Strike and take heed. We could live with the threat of a second strike because the original first strike had made re-demonstrating its effect too horrible to be contemplated.  Hiroshima achieved the effect Adelson intended in a blasphemously sacramental way for all mankind. It is terrible to realize though  likely true that seventy years of world peace of peace was founded on the charred corpses of nearly 200,000 Japanese.

Till now.

Time has dimmed our memory of the terrors of the nuclear age. And presidents — especially the current one — have let the belief in America’s determination to use force to grow so weak that for all intents and purposes the embers have gone out.

Nor can they be rekindled. President Obama gave up the non-nuclear route to stopping the Iranian bomb when he retreated from Syria. And if won’t do that, how can he threaten the bomb? The fact is, he can’t threaten anything at all. Whatever the rights and wrongs of intervening in Syria might have been, the one undoubted result of the administration’s policy failure was that the Iranians have ceased to believe that Obama will do anything substantial to stop their march to nuclear status.

Obama has pressed the Democractically controlled Senate “to hold off on a package of tough new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program”. Obama is right in this. There is no point pursuing sanctions when the Iranians know full well that Obama will never pursue them to the sticking point.

The Ayatollahs in Teheran are now as certain as anyone can be that the President of the United States will never use strength against it no matter how openly it may arm. Obama has frittered away his own credibility and with it allowed the coals from Hiroshima to go out.

The credibility that Adelson craves has been lost forever and cannot be recovered again.  No Western government will authorize a first strike in order to re-establish what Harry Truman did in 1945. The phrase “we mean it” belongs either in the past or in the indefinite future. It no longer exists in the Present.

Therefore as a practical matter Iran has got the bomb. America can no longer ‘scare’ powers into abandoning nuclear programs.  That anyone should even conceive of the necessity of a First Strike indicates the failure of deterrence.  A working deterrence by definition has no need of such demonstrations as Adelson, unwisely in my view, now advocates.

But its gone and the political reality of no first strikes means that the only way it credibility can be re-established is when that taboo against nuclear war collapses under the threat of an actual attack. All that is left to the West and to Israel is to accept the remaining choices: retaliation after ride-out, or some version of launch under attack.

The embers have gone out. Time Magazine reports that Japan wants to ‘break free of its pacifist past’. We are not bound for a world without nuclear weapons. If anything the next stop is a world of universal armament. After the Iranians get nukes it will be the Saudis and on and on. Next year’s commemoration of the bombing of Hiroshima should be especially poignant. Those who were killed by the Bomb will have finally died the Second Death; the first was in 1945; the second recently when they were finally, to all intents and purposes, forgotten.

It’s been a good 70 years, but we’ve finally swapped the Age of Truman for the Era of Obama.

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Top Rated Comments   
"... in the manner of primitive men carrying embers from one campfire to light the next."

We become more primitive in many ways. Our education was debased and then our law and cultural institutions followed. History becomes a closed book written in a dark language. Under the whip of anti-intellectual intellectualism ignorance is exalted and given ever more complex trappings. Today I passed an advertising poster in the subway for a program offering an MBA in "Sustainability" with a bright eyed young Asian girl and a photo of city rooftops with a rock garden. The believers in magical Marxism will rule and then fight with other Totalitarians, such as Islamists, for the remains.

We are devolving, returning to age of Totalitarian religion. That is what life was like in the Old World before the Reformation and the discovery of the New World, devoid of change or science with Medieval Christianity locked in a death struggle with Islam. William Manchester called it twenty years ago, "A World Lit Only By Fire."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
People in mortal danger behave differently from those drinking white wine and snacking on smoked salmon on rye toast at a cocktail party. The most important political decisions are made under the goad of emotional impulses: fear, hatred, panic.

People today now forget how happy the allied populations were when the bomb was dropped in Hiroshima. It seems vile to think of it, but remember the emotional context. People the world over had been through six years of war. The Blitz, the Bloodlands, the Holocaust, the Gotterdammerung. You can bet your boodle they were happy when the war ended, the 200K dead civilians be damned. Just watch the VE footage. There were no long faces. People were pleased as punch that the war had ended.

The whole argument of the 3 Conjectures is that we who live in peace are as a practical matter different animals from those living in the shadow of war. I merely state what I think to be a fact that no peacetime western government will authorize a first strike. The logical arguments for a first strike don't matter. The game theoretic doesn't matter. It doesn't matter because the emotional context of fear and terror is absent in time of peace.

But everything will change after a nuclear attack on New York, London or Paris. The very same pacifists who today would never agree to a retaliatory strike would, as they regarded their mutilaed faces, burned homes and imminent agonizing deaths from radiation or hunger, demand -- yes demand -- the death of every living enemy once they themselves had been personally struck.

People are different when they are hurt.

The only people who might not clamor for revenge are people like the Trappist Monks or the Sisters of Charity, all the right wing people we are taught to despise. But I think they of all people would forbear. As for the rest -- Hollywood, DC, New York -- they would be pitilessly clamoring for revenge with the fervor of reconstructed surgery recently disfigured, of the wealthy instantly reduced to post-apocalyptic poverty without even the benefit of Sarah Palin hunting skills to see them through the coming days.

In a way Adelson is playing into leftist hands by advocating a first strike for they are perfetly content for a Jew to articulate such ideas so they don't have to do it themelves. Nothing would please them more than for Israel to do the dirty work, which of course they would never stoop to do, so that they can regard if possible, the ruins of Iran witout having to experience a single moral blemish. If the Jews were brtual, well that's what Jews are, isn't that so? Never quite the genlemen, however much education, still in the ghetto and all that.

I hope for a stroke of luck to save us from disaster. But I do not expect our salvation to come from the Obama administration, except as is always possible, by accident. To make that luck we can only keep pushing, keep explaining and something somewhere will work.
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1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I am not sure that Israel is restricted to those two options. They have no strategic depth and functionally no early warning. A Soviet launch would have been detected by us shortly after launch. An Iranian launch against Israel at best would be detected a few minutes before impact. The Israeli missile deterrent is on TEL's in hardened tunnels in the hills. There would not be time to get them out of the tunnels, erect the missiles, go through the necessary pre-flight and targeting procedures, and launch before Israel was destroyed.

Israel would have strategic warning, and I would bet a few dollars that the alarms are going off now, real loud. Their only option that *might* preserve the State of Israel and its people is a first strike against Iran. I have done more than a little research on the Israeli nuclear deterrent in the last few years from the hints that have slipped out [they are *really* good at strategic security]; and they have more than the capability to do so. Iran could be destroyed with fewer than five warheads, properly targeted.

That takes them into the question of what follows. One can take as fact that the rest of the *Ummah* would be immediately at war with Israel after such a strike, albeit conventional warfare. Israel could not stand against that absent US support, which will not be forthcoming. That implies the Israeli equivalent of "in for a penny, in for a pound". The same strategic decision to take out Iran carries a strong logic to destroy the rest of the *Ummah*. Once again, with proper planning and targeting; that could be done with [by my estimate] 5 short range
missiles, 39 medium range missiles all with one warhead each. [ total 44], 12 cruise missiles, and 12 gravity bombs. Which is a fraction of the reasonably estimated Israeli arsenal.

The primary threat to Israel after that will be the other nuclear powers. The reactions of the US, UK, Russia, China, France, and India will be the key factor. While I do not think that India will care all that much [since Pakistan will no longer be a factor] nor the UK; the inclination of the rest through a combination of anti-Semitism of the governments [US, Russia, France], or strategic interest [Russia, China], or both may mean that Israel will have to be able to credibly threaten to inflict an unacceptable level of damage on those powers if attacked by them. That may be possible. And be ready to handle hostile acts from the rest of the world short of open war.

Not an optimistic scenario for Israel. But the only other option, thanks to the decision by the rest of the world to allow Iranian nuclear weapons, is complete annihilation. Keep in mind, that this is a country that has had to develop what is called the "Samson Option" for most of its existence.

Subotai Bahadur

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (83)
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We need not guess about possible rational uses of the Bomb. President Truman left no doubt about his rationale:

''Having found the bomb, we have used it.'' These are words spoken by President Truman in a radio address to the American people on the evening of Aug. 9, the day a second bomb fell on Nagasaki. ''We have used it against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor, against those who have starved and beaten American prisoners of war, against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international laws of warfare.''

President Truman, and others who justified the bomb, would rarely speak this way again - a direct articulation of revenge as a main motivation for the overwhelming destruction of the Japanese cities."

"It is oft repeated that Churchill "ordered" the firebombing of Dresden as a "vicious payback" for the German bombing of Coventry....."

So it was sheer revenge - an eye for an eye - that massive destruction was committed against many Japanese and German cities. Harsh Punishment: Not a desire for surrender, not a desire to avoid a costly invasion.


This is why World War 2 remains the last Good War. We fought it to win it, and sheer, unadulterated punishment provided more than enough moral justification for turning Hiroshima, Dresden, Nagasaki, Hamburg and Tokyo into ashen cinders.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Indeed. I would like to ask one more question on the back of that. What is an appropriate punishment for 1400 years of aggression?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
No one ever won a gunfight or a war by shooting blanks.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Kirk Parker: "I only used Little Boy as an example of what could be produced, untested, from mere equations back at the dawn of the nuclear age."

Indeed! Enriched uranium bombs are relatively simple and thus do not require to be tested. Although they do require an initiator which is non-trivial. Some years ago, I found myself having dinner with a man who had worked on the Manhattan Project in an earlier life. He was visibly uncomfortable even at the mention of "initiator", believing it was still confidential.

Enriched uranium bombs would thus be ideal for terrorist attacks, delivered by shipping container or truck where size does not matter. Problem for terrorists is that enriching uranium is a massive undertaking which takes lots of resources and is hard to hide.

Plutonium-based weapons are to some extent a mirror image. Plutonium is much easier to extract from a suitable source, since it can be done chemically; thus can be done more unobtrusively. But the weapon is much more complex to design & build, and would not be reliable unless tested.

Bottom line -- Does the US still have a working nuclear deterrent? None of us know. The longer the time that elapses since the last test, the more likely that some player is to bet the answer is no.

The Nuclear Test Ban may thus end up making the world less safe rather than more safe. But the intentions were good!

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1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
People always want to take the apparently easy way out of difficult decisions. The Fram Filter Guy in the TV ad, says it best:

Pay me now, or pay me later.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If you want a non-lethal "Sign" use a Conventional Trident

"The US$503 million program would have converted existing Trident II missiles (presumably two missiles per submarine) into conventional weapons, by fitting them with modified Mk4 reentry vehicles equipped with GPS for navigation update and a reentry guidance and control (trajectory correction) segment to perform 10 m class impact accuracy. No explosive is said to be used since the reentry vehicle's mass and hypersonic impact velocity provide sufficient mechanical energy and "effect". The second conventional warhead version is a fragmentation version that would disperse thousands of tungsten rods which could obliterate an area of 3000 square feet. (approximately 280 square meters).[13] It offered the promise of accurate conventional strikes with little warning and flight time.

The primary drawback of using conventionally tipped ballistic missiles is that they are virtually impossible for radar warning systems to distinguish from nuclear-tipped missiles. This leaves open the likelihood that other nuclear-armed countries might mistake it for a nuclear launch which could provoke a counterattack. For that reason among others, this project raised a substantial debate before US Congress for the FY07 Defense budget, but also internationally.[14] Then Russian President Vladimir Putin, among others, warned that the project would increase the danger of accidental nuclear war. "The launch of such a missile could ... provoke a full-scale counterattack using strategic nuclear forces," Putin said in May 2006.[15]"

As the warheads re-enter at hypersonic speed, they will glow.

What better way to signal the reappearance of the 12th Imam?

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Excuse the OT but:

Check out reports of HR 4646, a 1% tax on financial deposits/withdrawals, eg direct-deposit Social Sec, debit cards, etc. Reportedly being sneaked through the process.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I am pretty sure it "died" in committee in 2010 at least Thomas seems to indicate that.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Kirk Parker: "Remember, a gun-type uranium bomb was consider so obviously workable that it wasn't even tested before deployment."

True, but irrelevant. No modern missile carries a simple gun-type uranium bomb; they carry hydrogen bombs -- much smaller, lighter, and orders of magnitude more powerful. Also very much more complex; hence the need for testing as components age.

If the US refuses even to test nuclear weapons -- as it has for over 2 decades -- it certainly will have no credibility in threatening to use them.

Same issue applies to Israel, to a lesser extent. Can Israel be sure that its nuclear weapons will work first time under combat conditions, knowing that failure to ignite will inevitably mean the destruction of Israel?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Not irrelevant IMO. I only used Little Boy as an example of what could be produced, untested, from mere equations back at the dawn of the nuclear age. Extending this is left as an exercise for the reader...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
A gun type fission weapon as used in Little Boy is almost fail safe but extremely wasteful of U-235. It was for that reason that the Little Boy was used on Hiroshima without a prior test. Pu-239 can not be used in a Little Boy sized gun type fission weapon because the bomb pit assembly time required for Pu-239 is too short. The people behind the Trinity Project did construct Pu-239 gun type bombs called "Thin Mans". These were very long and slender gun type bombs that could assemble Pu-239 fast enough to achieve significant fission. However these bomb were so long and slender that they were impractical to carry inside a B-29 and remain stable after being dropped. For that reason, the Trinity Project opted for implosion style "fat man" bombs based on Pu-239. As an aside, the Fat Man bombs were also called "Pumpkins". Many non-nuclear Pumpkins were made that had the same dimensions as the Nagasaki Fat Man and were actually dropped on Japan as conventional bombs.

The problem the Iranians have with their nuclear program is they'll have only one shot to inflect significant damage against us (the Big Satan) and Israel (the Little Satan). To be effective, the Iranians need to knock out both satans with a single punch and then somehow survive the nuclear holocaust that follows as a consequence (Allah or the 12th Iman will safe them through divine intervention). Such a strategy is not rational in terms of national survival and could only be justified as an act of religious devotion. Unfortunately much of what Iran does is not rational and seems motivated by either religious devotion or insane hatred.

I do not see the Iranians simply tweeking our nose by detonating a Hiroshima type fission bomb in New York harbour and killing a few hundred thousand people. A knock out punch requires a really big thermonuclear weapon like the Czar Bomba with a yield of around 100 megatons. Czar Bombas going off in the New York and Long Beach harbours at the same time would be "game over" for the United States. Most of New England and Southern California would be within the fallout plumes with the death of millions of people. The destruction in terms of national wealth would be beyond imagination. America's status as a world power would be over. LIkewise, a single Czar Bomba near Tel Aviv or Haifa would have a similar effect upon the Little Satan. In all three cases, the weapons could be delivered inside the hulls of container ships with the weapons shielded from radiation detection by having a water jacket around it as in the case of a ballast tank. The only defense against this sort of attack is to prevent the Iranians from acquiring thermonuclear fusion technology. The Iranians probably already have the raw technology from the Pakistanis who successfully tested thermonuclear weapons or ex-Soviet nuclear experts. The big barrier is getting the transuranic material for the fission trigger and then having enough confidence to use the weapons untested or test the weapons and then promptly use them. IMHO, allowing the Iranians to develop this capability is national suicide. However Obama will do precisely that because he lives in his socialist cloud cuckooland which is not littered with unpleasantness like Islamic fascists who would slaughter billions to advance their version of the Easter Bunny.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I thought they were mostly boosted-fission weapons with adjustable amounts of deuterium/tritium. That's if we haven't secretly progressed to some newer technology.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
OldSaltUSN: "Particularly so, when the US could develop a production ready neutron bomb (from 1970s spec's) within about 4 months, and start dropping a dozen of those around Iran's key nuclear sites ..."

That pre-supposes "will" -- the commodity which is in very short supply in the Soetero Administration and completely absent in granola-crunching Europe.

If there were "will", the target would not be hard-to-damage underground bunkers, it would be the head of the snake -- amd maybe also key central facilities such as power plants & water treatment plants.

If there were "will", the obvious warning action would be to suspend the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (with or without Russian concurrence) and do some practice atmospheric tests on simulated targets. The You-Tube videos would get a lot of hits in Iran & elsewhere.

Used to be that the argument against resuming testing was the distress it would cause to European "allies". Now that Barry has already totally pissed off those fair-weather "friends", there does not seem to be any reason not to proceed.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The psychological power of that original first strike was carried very carefully by successive generations of American leaders, in the manner of primitive men carrying embers from one campfire to light the next.

Even if the means and materials to construct nukes were magically obliterated on Earth, the First Strike concept will never die. It is ancient. Hulagu knew it, and his grandfather Genghis Khan. Despite all the intellectual handwringing about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, hand craftsmanship applied collectively has outdone the death toll of both of those disasters many times over (thinking most recently of Rwanda, employing machetes organized by radio). Even passive means under Great Leaders (Ukraine 1932-33, China Great Leap Forward, starvation organized by community organizers) vastly outdo those piffling fireballs.

So it's not mass deaths that trouble the Intellectuals, it's those damn Yankees who invent dramatic weapons. It's hard not to conjecture that said Intellectuals might rather enjoy seeing those dramatic weapons employed where invented.

After enough use of the 'They Had It Coming' doctrine, the remaining humanity would abandon the Era of Obama, and default once more to the Age of Hulagu.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment

Big Dogs Don't Bark, they bite.

no mo uro,
"More and moe people are finally figuring this out."
Yes but Curly and Shemp are still clueless. Personally I think that we are now being governed by Joe Besser. He was the really scary Stooge.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
--could be Marx, tho. Remember the fifth Marx bro, Gummo. Now figure President Glitch, and you have Glitchi Gummo, which is juuuuust about what Hiawatha called Lake Superior. Hmmm, or ho hmmm
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Snipers snipe.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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