In the recent Marvel movie Eternals (I don’t recommend watching it) a brainy character helps the United States develop nuclear weapons which are used in WWII against Japan. The character later is at the bomb site and cries when he sees what his technology enabled. The idea within the short clip is that humans are not worthy of saving, and our development and use of nuclear weapons is evidence of how awful humans are.
But it raises an interesting question. Are nuclear weapons really our worst mistake? Some may argue that nuclear weapons our greatest tool for peace. Perhaps both can be true at the same time.
Robert Oppenheimer said that he had become death when the first nuclear weapons were used, but since that time no more nuclear weapons have been used in war. We have had tons of fears related to nuclear weapons and fallout, but we haven’t had any dirty bombs set off in major port cities, haven’t had any nuclear weapons used by a rogue state, and haven’t had any terrorists threaten to unleash a stolen nuclear weapon. Perhaps our timeframe is still too short, but nuclear weapons seem to have had a more positive effect on the world than we might think.
In his book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari writes, “the Nobel Peace Prize to end all peace prizes should have been given to Robert Oppenheimer and his fellow architects of the atomic bomb. Nuclear weapons have turned war between superpowers into collective suicide, and made it impossible to seek world domination by force of arms.” In other words, nuclear deterrence has saved a lot of lives. Mutually assured destruction prevents massive wars.
I think we should still be concerned about nuclear weapons. I don’t exactly find it comforting knowing how many thousands of nuclear weapons are possessed by the United States and Russia. I think there is still a danger that a nuclear war could break out and end all human life – even if that possibility is exceptionally small. I do think Harari is correct, however. I think the nuclear deterrents have played a huge role in creating a safer world. I think they have reduced the chances that a major country invades another major country. I don’t think they are the only reason we haven’t had a great power war, but I think they play an important role. Even a victory won from using nuclear weapons would likely be repugnant to the victors, and I think that pressure, along with mutually assured destruction, has made the price of war too high for major conflicts on the scale of the past World Wars to take place. Oppenheimer’s bomb may have killed hundreds of thousands and may have been one of the lowest points of human history, but without it, perhaps millions more have been killed in war and perhaps many more would still be killed in war today.