Nuclear attack is worth fearing


To the Editor:

I was raised in the 50s under the nuclear umbrella. It never did rain nuclear bombs, and that seemed to verify the prevailing strategic defense plan, Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). It was a fallacy then and it’s a fallacy still today now that we are facing another nuclear threat (see “Biden calls ‘the prospect of Armageddon’ the highest since the Cuban Missile Crisis”, NYT, Oct.6, 2022). In the first place, the threat of MAD was not what prevented a surprise nuclear attack in the 50s and 60s (and beyond). Nothing was required to “prevent” a surprise nuclear attack. It was simply assumed that there would be one unless we did something to stop it. Of course there always was a risk of nuclear war by accident (as in Fail Safe), but nuclear war was never imminent. It was also assumed that MAD “prevented” the attacks that never occurred. More likely it was the good sense of the leaders of the US and USSR that kept us out of war. The Cuban Missile Crisis is mistakenly cited as confirmation of MAD—standing up to nuclear threats with nuclear threats. What was actually demonstrated was the sound judgment of Kennedy and Khrushchev: Kennedy, for recognizing the moral instability (injustice, unfairness) of maintaining missiles in Turkey pointed at the USSR while trying to maintain a missile free zone in the Caribbean; and Khrushchev for backing down and accepting Kennedy’s reasonable offer to trade missiles in Turkey for missiles in Cuba. Things got tense, but being reasonable won the day. The ultimate form of the fallacy is that MAD was and is a strategic plan of action for what to do after an attack. MAD is the threat of a counter-attack, supposedly a deterrent to an attack, not a plan for what to do afterwards. Once an attack has occurred, the threat has failed, and it’s simply up to us to decide what to do next. We are not required to retaliate in kind. 

That’s the ultimate, Doomsday form of the fallacy (see Dr. Strangelove).What could be worse than compounding the horror of a nuclear attack by retaliation in kind.

Now Ukraine and all of Europe is threatened with nuclear missiles by the new Tsar of Russia and I fear that our leader is from the old school and believes that it is only the threat of retaliation that can prevent nuclear attack, and if it should occur, that we are required to respond in kind without thinking.

Michael Hall
Vineyard Haven