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Salient: An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University of Wellington. Vol. 24, No. 5. 1961

Why Disarm?

page 7

Why Disarm?

The Wellington Movement for Nuclear Disarmament held a "youth march" from Featherston and Wellington over Easter weekend, and asked everyone to "march a mile or two with us—help keep New Zealand free from A and H-bombs." A pamphlet entitled "Why We Are Marching" has been produced, giving information about the expedition, the movement and the subject of "the bomb."

The Pamphlet

This truly vital subject of nuclear weapons permits of no over-simplification as the pamphlet points out, "for the first time in our history weapons have been devised which could destroy all mankind." Yet unfortunately the pamphlet itself contains several faults of this nature.

The horrendous effects of a 15-megoton weapon on a city are accurately described. But the Claim that "the U.S.A. has an Estimated Stockpile of 100,000 of these Weapons. The Soviet Union 50,000" has no Basis Whatever in Fact.

Dr. Linus Pauling, who spoke in this country recently on the Movement's behalf and who was associated with the Communist-inspired Stockholm Peace Appeal, gave these figures some 12 months ago as his own personal estimate of the numbers of nuclear weapons of all types, "clean" and "dirty," tactical and strategic, of the two Powers. The figure of 300 needed "to destroy completely either nation" refers to the very largest types, while the spectrum of nuclear weapons is continuous.

The smallest nuclear devices explode with the force of a few dozen tons of T.N.T., the largest weapons are limited in power only by their weight and bulk. Some weapons, such as the fission-fusion and neutron bombs (the latter using no fissile material) produce almost no fall-out, while the fission-fusion-fission and cobalt bombs combine enormous power with very large " fall-out," or residual radiation. The neutron bomb generates a short and powerful burst of lethal radiation with little heat and light, and the latest fission devices produce for less fall-out for their power than those used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet the Movement and its pamphlet ignore completely the existence of all except the most powerful and destructive types, and their arguments depend upon this omission.

Nuclear Tactics

The policy of the several regional movements is given as follows:

"That New Zealand should not take part in nuclear weapon tests.

"That New Zealand should continue to demand the immediate cessation of nuclear testing, and the outlawing of further testing by any country.

"That New Zealand, independently of what is done by other countries, should state in the United Nations that it will not acquire or use nuclear weapons and has no desire to be defended by those of any other nation.

"As members of the British Commonwealth, to support the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, in calling on the British Government to renounce the testing, manufacture and use of nuclear arms, and to do so independently as a lead to negotiations and not as a condition of them."

This policy is presumably based on both practical and ethical grounds. Let us now examine the former.

The British Prime Minister, Mr Macmillan was quoted "There can never be a nuclear war which will not practically destroy civilisation." This implies that any use of nuclear weapons will inevitably start a chain reaction in which each side in turn retaliates with more and bigger weapons until nothing is left—a process termed "escalation." Therefore, it is argued, not even the smallest tactical weapons should be used. This would be true if the nuclear Powers believed in the inevitability of "escalation" as Mr Macmillan allegedly once did, but if this were so they would use immediately their most fearsome weapons rather than wait for the cataclysmic process to work itself out. "Blessed is he who has his quarrel just, but thrice armed is he who gets his blow in first." There would be no need for the tactical nuclear weapons. And yet every nuclear Power has been striving to develop and mass-produce these very devices, tactical nuclear weapons, as a matter of the first importance! Soviet tactical missiles with nuclear warheads were revealed as long ago as May 1, 1957, and for some time every U.S. Army division has had a "nuclear capability."

What, then, would be the reaction on the "other side" to the use of tactical nuclear weapons?

All the Nuclear Powers see Clearly the Futility of Retaliation in Kind for its Own Sake—demonstrated by Hitler When he Switched his Luftwaffe from Attacks on R.A.F. Airfields to the Reprisal Bombing of London and so Lost the Battle of Britain—and the Logic of Using the Weapons Only when the Enemy'S Forces Present a Suitable Target, as when Concentrating for an Attack.

The threat of nuclear retaliation in kind is however always present, and since 1949 has served to keep "limited" wars limited.

Could then the nuclear Powers agree each to concede the first nuclear blow in a future conflict, using only their "conventional" arms? To do so would give an enormous advantage to the side which cheats. The temptation for each side to "get his blow in first" could be overpowering. Better by far to await only a suitable target, which a skilful enemy would take pains never to present. And which country could watch its essential shipping flayed by "conventional" submarines and not use the most effective countermeasures — nuclear depth charges?

Ethics of Nuclear Warfare

The ethical objection to nuclear weapons assumes either that nuclear weapons are evil in themselves or that, although not evil in themselves, their effects are such that they have no possible legitimate use.

Firstly, no Material Thing is Evil in Itself. One cannot impute morality to an earthquake or a volcano, or for that matter a thumbscrew. Moral goodness depends on individual motive, and being subjective, is objectively indeterminable, while moral rightness is determined by objective principles, but both refer only to acts and not to material things.

Secondly, for the Effects of Nuclear Weapons to Render their use Immoral there Must be a Qualitative Difference Between these Effects and those of "Conventional" Weapons While there is None. Although the morality of the mass bombing raids on some targets in the last war is questionable, it is a fact that more people died and were maimed in several of these raids, e.g. those on Leipzig, Cologne and Tokyo, than in the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and morality is certainly not determined by the number of aircraft used, be it one or a thousand.

What about the children born deformed as a result of irradiation, and those living perhaps far away, who are injured? Their misfortune is tragic, but does not vitally affect the issue. The case of these "neutrals"—victims remote in time falls into the province of the "principle of the double effect." This principle of morality provides that where an action gives rise to both good and evil effects, without the good effects arising from the evil effects, the action is morally justified if the good results outweigh the evil. Rarely has a military operation not entailed injury to innocent civilians, but in this respect nuclear weapons are no different from their "conventional" predecessors.

The Dilemma

The ghastly possibilities of "all-out" nuclear war, which a nation would contemplate only if its vital interests were at stake, would be avoided if all nations were to disarm completely. But as long as "International tension" exists, cheating is likely. International tension is the cause, and not the effect, of armaments. Britain and America could wipe each other out, and there is no "tension." Between 1945 and 1950 America Disarmed, and International Tension Increased. Tension is Inevitable when One Social System Vows to Destroy Another, and when Men Who Seek Political Power Believe with Mao Tsetung that "Political Power Grows out of the Barrel of a Gun" and Consider that War Between the Capitalist and Socialist Camps is Inevitable.

Nor would it be difficult to cheat. A 20-kiloton fission weapon occupies a space of two cubic feet, and as long as there are airliners the means of delivery will not be lacking. Well-founded trust between nations is an essential precondition of nuclear disarmament, lest the family of nations find itself completely at the mercy of its most ruthless member.

But Omnilateral Nuclear Disarmament is not what the Movement Seeks: it Wants us to Call on Britain Alone to Renounce Nuclear Weapons Unconditionally. Unless Britain then shelters under the American "nuclear umbrella" she lays herself open to domination by Powers who covet her industrial resources and strategic position, and which could be expected to show as little compunction in dealing with resistance, whether active or passive, as was shown in Hungary in 1956 or in the Ukraine 20 years before.


Once it is accepted that the use of nuclear weapons may be both justified and expedient, the same will be seen of the nuclear tests essential to their development. Underground tests add no radiation to the atmosphere, and any future tests would aim at developing smaller and "cleaner" devices. Only France has conducted tests in the last two years, as far as is known.

The world now finds itself in a ghastly predicament. There is no simple solution. Only intellectual honesty and unfailing devotion to principle can assist a solution. Let the protest marchers ponder the problem themselves and beware of ready-made conclusions and catchphraseti if the march is to he of constructive value and something more than an unreasoned gesture of blind protest.