The US Should Never Start a Nuclear War

Seventy-four years ago this August, the U.S. dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was one of the most horrific acts of warfare in history.

This month, we remember the 200,000 or more civilian men, women, and children who died, and the many thousands more who suffered radiation poisoning, infections, severe burns, deadly cancers, and birth defects. We remember so we can prevent that atrocity from happening again.

Alongside climate change, nuclear weapons pose one of the gravest risks to human survival. That’s why I was delighted to see a historic moment at the recent Democratic debate: presidential candidates actually talking about establishing a No First Use policy on nuclear weapons.

Simply put, No First Use refers to an explicit policy of refusing to initiate a nuclear conflict. It means we won’t use nuclear weapons unless attacked first.

When asked, most Americans think the United States already has that policy. The vast majority of us, with the exception of people like National Security Adviser John Bolton, don’t want our country to start a nuclear war.

But we don’t have that policy — yet.

That opens the door to a possible preemptive nuclear strike — either by us, or against us. Right now, at any moment, any sitting U.S. president can unilaterally decide to launch a nuclear attack. In about as long as it takes to send a tweet, we’d have a nuclear war.

Other nuclear-armed countries know that. And if they think we might strike first, or mistakenly believe we launched already, that could incentivize them to hit us first. That’s exactly what No First Use is designed to prevent.

We need it more than ever. Today, the Doomsday Clock is at just two minutes to midnight — the closest we’ve been to nuclear conflict since 1953, at the height of the Cold War. And unlike in 1953, we know ducking under a school desk isn’t going to save us.

My organization, Physicians for Social Responsibility, was founded to raise the alarm about the health impacts of nuclear weapons and the risks of nuclear war. We’ve researched everything from nuclear winter to what a nuclear war could mean for human health.

So, let us be the first to tell you: The U.S. is playing an elaborate, high-stakes, screwed-up game of chicken with other nuclear-armed countries.

Since the Cold War, the prevailing thinking is that we need nuclear weapons to discourage other countries from using their nuclear weapons. That’s supposedly why we keep amassing them, even though just one has the power to destroy whole civilizations — just so people know we’re really serious.

But that thinking is reckless and dangerous. Arming up encourages other countries to do the same, which increases the risk of someone launching a first strike.

The risk of nuclear conflict is at an all-time high thanks to the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran deal, our failed attempts to broker a deal with North Korea, and our tensions with Russia because, as usual, we’re reheating the Cold War.

Worst of all, the United States has withdrawn from the vital 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which helped eliminate over 2,600 intermediate-range missiles. That tangible progress in stabilization and disarmament is now at risk.

The United States should never start a nuclear war, because no one can ever win one. We should’ve established a No First Use policy long ago, but it’s not too late to start one now.

Seventy-four years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it’s one of several much-needed steps to prevent nuclear conflict — and ultimately end the nuclear threat for good.

More articles by:

Olivia Alperstein is the Media Relations Manager for Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR).

April 07, 2020
Marc Haggerty
Class and COVID-19: Those Who Can and Those Who Can’t
Manuel García, Jr.
A Reply to Jeffrey St. Clair’s “Strange Things Happening Every Day”
George Wuerthner
How Fuel Breaks Fuel Fires
Marshall Sahlins
Election 2020
April 06, 2020
Richard D. Wolff
COVID-19 and the Failures of Capitalism
W. T. Whitney
Donald Trump, Capitalism, and Letting Them Die
Cesar Chelala
Cuba’s Promising Approach to Cancer
David A. Schultz
Camus and Kübler-Ross in a Time of COVID-19 and Trump
Nomi Prins 
Wall Street Wins, Again: Bailouts in the Time of Coronavirus
Dean Baker
Getting to Medicare-for-All, Eventually
Dave Lindorff
Neither Pandemic Nor Economic Collapse is Going to Be a Short-Lived Crisis
Sonali Kolhatkar
Capitalism in America Has Dropped the Mask: Its Face is Cruel and Selfish
Ralph Nader
Trump’s 7 Pro-Contagion Reversals Increase the Coronavirus Toll
David Swanson
A Department of Actual Defense in a Time of Coronavirus
Ellen Brown
Was the Fed Just Nationalized?
Jeff Birkenstein
Postcards From Trump
Nick Licata
Authoritarian Leaders Rejected the Danger of a COVID-19 Pandemic Because It Challenged Their Image
Kathy Kelly
“He’s Got Eight Numbers, Just Like Everybody Else”
Graham Peebles
Change Love and the Need for Unity
Kim C. Domenico
Can We Transform Fear to Strength In A Time of Pandemic?
Mike Garrity
Alliance for the Wild Rockies Files Lawsuit to Stop Logging and Burning Project in Rocky Mountain Front Inventoried Roadless Area
Stephen Cooper
“The Soul Syndicate members dem, dem are all icons”: an Interview with Tony Chin
Weekend Edition
April 03, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Omar Shaban
Gaza’s New Conflict: COVID-19
Rob Urie
Work, Crisis and Pandemic
John Whitlow
Slumlord Capitalism v. Global Pandemic
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Strange Things Happening Every Day
Jonathan Cook
The Bigger Picture is Hiding Behind a Virus
Paul Street
Silver Linings Amidst the Capitalist Coronavirus Crisis
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Control of Nature
Louis Proyect
COVID-19 and the “Just-in-Time” Supply Chain: Why Hospitals Ran Out of Ventilators and Grocery Stores Ran Out of Toilet Paper
Kathleen Wallace
The Highly Contagious Idea
Kenneth Good
The Apartheid Wars: Non-Accountability and Freedom for Perpetrators.
Andrew Levine
Democracy in America: Sorry, But You Can’t Get There from Here.
Ramzy Baroud
Tunisia Leads the Way: New Report Exposes Israel’s False Democracy
David Rosen
Coronavirus and the State-of-Emergency Pandemic
Matthew Stevenson
Will Trump Cancel the Election? Will the Democrats Dump Joe?
Ron Jacobs
Seattle—Anti-Capitalist Hotbed
Michael T. Klare
Avenger Planet: Is the COVID-19 Pandemic Mother Nature’s Response to Human Transgression?
Jack Rasmus
COVID-19 and the Forgotten Working Class
Werner Lange
The Madness of More Nukes and Less Rights in Pandemic Times
J.P. Linstroth
Why a Race is Not a Virus and a Virus is Not a Race
John Feffer
We Need a Coronavirus Truce
Thomas S. Harrington
“New Corona Cases”: the Ultimate Floating Signifier
Victor Grossman
Corona and What Then?
Katie Fite
Permanent Pandemic on Public Lands: Welfare Sheep Ranchers and Their Enablers Hold the West’s Bighorns Hostage