Q: World War III hasn't happened yet. In your opinion, should we be
thankful for these hydrogen bombs? Does deterrence work?
DH: I think hydrogen bombs played some role in preventing nuclear war, but they
also played some role in making war more likely, certainly in the 1950s and
1960s. I think after the Cuban Missile Crisis, there was an even stronger
awareness of how close we could come to a World War and how destructive that
At that point, I think you could say that the danger of nuclear war was very
clearly implanted in the minds of political leaders and indeed of populations
at large. So that it did serve as a kind of a restraining device. But that's
not to say that we would have had a war without the weapons. And I don't think
under all circumstances that you can say that these weapons -- there is
certainly not a guarantee of peace by any means...
It's now actually to my mind, impossible to understand why so many weapons
were built on either side. It somehow seems so utterly crazy when we are now
having to deal with the consequences of building so many weapons, of cleaning
them, dismantling them, dealing with the plutonium pits, trying to stop these
weapons falling into the hands of terrorists groups. Who knows, you know, what
kind of a group. And I think that we have a terrible legacy from that period.
I mean, I think it is true that political leaders felt a greater sense of
responsibility. And I think we should be glad that they did so. But you can't
guarantee that that will always be the case. And you can't guarantee that some
use of nuclear weapons won't happen.
Q: So is this whole story a cautionary tale? Is it a long nightmare? Is it a
path to a better future? What do you see in this history of the hydrogen
DH: I think this history is not a cautionary tale, because it's much more than
that...This is something that we have to live with. We are living with the
consequences of the decisions made in the late '40s, and the early '50s. We
are living with the consequence of what these scientists thought up. The Cold
War may be over. There may be agreement on controlling nuclear weapons, but
there are tens of thousands of these weapons around. We have to deal with
those things. We have to deal with the knowledge that people can make these
weapons. Other people can acquire them.
At one level, of course, it's a nightmare. At another level, it's an enormous
challenge, it's something we have to cope with. And what I think about the
history of the hydrogen bomb is that if you look at the mid-50s, you see the
political leaders beginning to understand the threat that nuclear war poses.
You see scientists, say on the Soviet side, they are becoming more aware of the
responsibilities that they have incurred by what they have done. You can look
at this as a story of -- not only a horrible story of prison labor, and police
repression. And it's not only a story, a kind of exciting story, of a race to
hit on ideas, to develop weapons. There is also at some level, an element of
hope in there, because what you see, is even in the context of a terrible
political confrontation, you begin to see people on either side moving, kind of
groping their way towards finding some common solution to this problem.
So I think of this as not just a nightmare, though there are nightmarish
aspects to the history, but it's also a story of hope, a story of an ability
of, even in the face of kind of entrenched conflict, to look for a way out of
the conflict, to look for some solutions to the problems that face us.
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