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David Holloway on: Military and Political Struggle Over the use of Nuclear Weapons
David Holloway Q: In the Korean War there were efforts made to figure out how the U.S. could benefit from nuclear weapons. And time and again, the politicians and the military leaders couldn't figure out or agree about how to do this. What does that mean in the long run?

DH: Well, I think the case of the Korean War, is particularly interesting of course. There were proposals...on the American side to use nuclear weapons in different ways. And what was it that restrained the United States, is an interesting question. One argument was, well, there wasn't any suitable way to use the weapons. Because if you used them in the battlefield, you risked, you know, killing your own troops, or you needed to attack concentrations of troops, and you know, the other side could disperse its forces, so there weren't suitable targets that you could identify in time actually to use the weapons.

But, of course, there were also proposals. I mean, [General Douglas] MacArthur would have supported the bombing of Chinese cities, I mean moving outside Korea. There, I think the fear was that this is an expansion of the war that, frankly, the United States didn't want.

But of course, there was also the sense, which was becoming clear by this time, that these are different from other weapons. There is something special about them. And to use them, is to cross a certain kind of threshold. These are not conventional weapons, and therefore, there is a kind of great moral responsibility about using them. Hiroshima and Nagasaki had, you know, inspired great debate and a good deal of soul searching about the rightness of using the weapons...

The British, were very alarmed about the possibility that atomic weapons would be used in Korea. [Prime Minister Clement] Attlee flew to Washington, you know, late in 1950 to try to persuade Truman, you know, don't use these weapons. And I think there was a fear that if the weapons were used, it would have political effects way beyond just the actual destructiveness of the weapon. And I think that comes back to their kind of symbolic importance. The way they were coming to be regarded, which was as something different. Even though the destruction caused by one atomic bomb might be less than the destruction caused by an air raid against a city... nevertheless, these were something different...Quite how that emerges, I don't know, but it seems to me it's extremely important that that does happen because you could imagine something different.

You could imagine a situation which people said, oh, we'll count tactical nuclear weapons, low yield nuclear weapons, just like any other weapon. And we'll only talk about weapons over a megaton as being weapons of mass destruction. The fact is we apply the term even to low yield nuclear weapons. We say that because they use this principle, this kind of physical principle as the mechanism for, you know, creating destructive power -- the explosive power -- they are all in one category....

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