Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and no first use

By Elaine Scarry, Zia Mian | August 5, 2019

Genbaku Dome, Hiroshima Peace Memorial ParkGenbaku Dome, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

On August 6 and August 9, we again take time to contemplate the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The arrangements that permitted a US president to drop an atomic bomb on tens of thousands of civilians continue to be in place today. The United States has a “presidential first use” policy which means that President Trump, acting alone, can issue the order for a nuclear strike, even if our own country is not under nuclear attack. This concern has been raised in the Democratic Party presidential primaries for the 2020 election, with some candidates arguing for a shift to a US policy of no first use of nuclear weapons. There is already legislation pending in Congress to this effect.

A conference held at Harvard in 2017, “Presidential First Use of Nuclear Weapons: Is it Legal? Is it Constitutional? Is it Just?” brought together a US congressman, a US Senator, a former missile launch officer, several constitutional law professors, a former secretary of defense, a physicist, and several philosophers to address this question as it applies to the United States, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea.

Youtube videos of all their lectures can be found here.

An edited transcript of some of the talks at the conference is available here.


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william Burrison
william Burrison
4 years ago

how can we ever truly know the threats, the dangers, we’re facing? Or pose to ourselves. — A “no first use” Congressional law, or policy, is certainly apt, ethical, in principle. But this planet does not spin or turn or orbit, under the sun, and however many countless galaxies, above and beyond, on ideal principles, or pristine, kindly, docile attitudes. # Even Carl Gustav Jung, coordinating with any anthropologist, or political scientist, would have had to admit, in human affairs, and conscious, preconscious, thinking, there is no such thing as perfect synchrenicity. Good luck, though to those of us determined… Read more »

This project is part of a collaboration between the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and the Stanley Foundation.


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