Q: It's somewhat paradoxical. On the one hand, you have this powerful new
weapon in American hands, in American control. And if anything, it makes
politics more difficult. It seems to have almost a contrary effect to what you
would expect, in negotiations with the Russians.
JLG: Well, I've used the term "the illusion of omnipotence." You have what
appears to be an omnipotent weapon. But the problem is, you don't know how to
use it. You don't know what to do with it. And if we think of it in this way,
since nobody had ever had an atomic bomb before, it's not terribly surprising
that people would not know what to do with one, once they have one. Sure, if
you're in a war, you drop it on people. But what do you do with it if you're
not in a war? How do you use it as an instrument of diplomacy? No one knew.
And this was something that had to be learned. And it took a long time to
Q: How do you explain that?
JLG: I would explain this partly as a function of Stalin's deliberate strategy
of not revealing the fear that he felt with respect to the bomb. But I would
also explain it in terms of a dilemma that would later afflict anybody who got
nuclear weapons and tried to use them as instruments of coercion or pressure in
the Cold War, which is simply that once you get beyond the fact that you have
one, and even if you get to the point of say that you might use one in certain
circumstances, there still is something that has to happen on the other side.
The other side has got to be impressed by that. The other side has got to
agree to be intimidated by that. And if the other side simply digs in its
heals and says, "We don't believe you," or "We don't think what you've said is
important," then it's very hard for the power that has the weapon to know what
to do next, in conditions of peacetime. And that was the dilemma that the
Truman Administration faced.
Q: In other words, you have to find some way to convince the other side
that you actually might use one of these bombs?
JLG: You do indeed. Yes. And that gets at the center of the dilemma of nuclear
strategy in peacetime, I think, all the way through the Cold War. How do you
achieve that credibility of the deterrent? How do you achieve the credibility
of the possibility that you might even, under certain circumstances initiate
the use of an atomic weapon?
Q: It's a particularly tricky task for a democracy.
JLG: It's a very tricky task for a democracy. And Truman's on the record as
worrying a great deal about the circumstances in which the United States could
use atomic weapons. Again, it's quite clear that he felt constrained by the
forces of public opinion. It's quite clear that he felt constrained by the
views of the Allies. And I think, yeah, figuring out how you do this in a
democracy, how you wave weapons around in a democracy and yet still persuade
yourself that you're behaving as a democracy, is a really tough one.
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