It appears to be an accepted philosophy that forbearance in first-strike nuclear capability by the superpowers is based upon the concept of massive retaliation. It is here argued that the concept is nonsense, and gives the game quite simply and completely to the one who pushes the button first.
For massive retaliation provides no victory, only greater devastation, and the question arises:
What good is it to anyone to push the retaliation button?
It is an elemental fact that the survival of target individuals and their shattered civilization depends more upon their aggressors than upon themselves, and massive retaliation can only remove the potential for help. Does this sound like lunacy? Think how quickly the US responded to Japanese starvation following its surrender in World War II.
We can conclude that a rational nation should not react to massive first strike with retaliation. The only possible result from such a strategy is to pull the temple of civilization down around everyone's ears. The only conceivable ''good'' is a blind seeking for revenge. Surely this argument is known to the leadership of the superpowers.
If it is, a strategy based upon retaliation can win nothing useful in an exchange, and it is a card of minimum value in negotiation.
Is retaliation automatic, triggered by first strike, and beyond the reach of logic or common sense? Or is it, instead, as we're led to believe, under the control of one man, the president?
Either alternative is illogical at best and catastrophic at worst. It is an article of faith to believe that doctrine and controls are in place, reflecting calm and reasoned judgment, providing guidance and, if need be, restraint when and if the time comes. But it is not known that this is so. Indeed, what is ''known'' suggests quite the contrary.
We are led by popular understanding to believe that US use of nuclear devices is under the complete and final control of the president, and the control systems cannot be defeated either by accident or plan. But leaving judgment in these matters to the time of crisis may leave history hostage to rage or error. In any event, it is an intolerable situation to leave the power to change the face of history to the crisis judgment of a single individual.
One does not argue for announced procedures. One does not win at poker with his cards turned up. One does argue that the questions are needful for public debate, and one is hopeful that such debate will be input to the system.
* A nuclear doctrine based upon massive retaliation reduces our power in negotiation because the concept is contrary to common sense.
* A doctrine of massive retaliation is counterproductive to the first-strike victims, and a wicked attack on world civilization.
* Leaving the use of nuclear devices in retaliation mode under the control of one man is an affront to common sense and an intolerable danger to world civilization.
It is curious that these arguments have not been much exposed in public debate. It is as if those in power have decided the question is beyond the reach of the unwashed. Even more curious, the unwashed appear to agree.