I’m not the first person to point this out, but it seems like nuclear weapons are the strongest representation of at least a few important philosophical concepts. They show both humanity’s incredible penchant for destructive power, and our profound desire for innovation.
These ideas are interconnected, especially in terms of atomic and thermonuclear bombs. Innovation can feed the urge to devastate your enemy because the better your advancements are, the greater ability you have to inflict harm. By the same token, when you have a stronger desire to decimate, it can ignite a white hot fire of motivation to improve your technology. We saw this with World War Two and the Cold War, particularly the former. During the latter, weapons advancements improved significantly. But according to my amateur knowledge, they mostly built on technology that already existed. In terms of World War Two, as Joe Rogan likes to say, there was less than 50 years between when the airplane was invented, and when it was used to drop the atomic bomb! That’s insane! To me, it’s evidence of our desire to innovate to a fault, and of how homicidal urges can lead to greater advances.
The time gap between when scientists first split the atom, and when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was even shorter. There is debate on whether Ernest Rutherford first split the atom in 1917, or Enrico Fermi did in 1934. Regardless of who did it first, that means that this time period was only about 20 or 30 years. So 30 years at the most passed between humans splitting the atom, and dropping atomic bombs! This is even more impressive than the gap between inventing airplanes, and using the knowledge of splitting the atom to kill people.
It seems like the urges to conquer and innovate are so powerful that they are evolutionary. Our flawed psychological characteristics appear to make us wary of giving up any influence or territory once it is gained. A lot of that is probably due to overzealous egos, which can be fixed. But it kind of makes sense for people to behave this way in terms of evolution. Anyone who knows anything about the subject seems to agree that xenophobia, or demonizing people outside of your group, is innate. With that in mind, it seems like conquering and killing could serve valuable purposes. That’s because the more land and influence you possess, the greater the chances are of the genes of your tribe spreading. If more people are around who agree with you, it’s easier to promulgate your ideas and values.
The desire to innovate could be evolutionary because we don’t generally stop if we keep making improvements. I’m not a historian, but it appears to be true that we only stop advancing if we hit a development road block. Some projects have been abandoned permanently due to this. Others stalled until the required tools were invented. But I think that if we have adequate resources and knowledge, we keep innovating forever; unless our population gets decimated by natural disasters. Since at least most of the Western world is not necessarily under any urgent threat, can you imagine companies deciding to cease improvement? There are threats like terrorism and climate change, but since they are unlikely to kill you and your entire family tomorrow, they are not the focus of most people. If these problems were even more imminent than they are, the situation would probably be different. Since it isn’t right now, we’re likely going to be needlessly innovating for a while. Weapons, cars, phones, computers, and tons of other things that a lot of people use, are better than they ever need to be. However, they can always improve. Technology can always get faster, easier to use, and applicable to more tasks. Weapons can always get more efficient at killing more bad guys with greater precision, and less effort.
Obviously, there have been further advancements since nuclear bombs, like drones, which are a different philosophical issue in some ways. They’re more of an improvement in precision than damage, but are not to be dismissed. I’m putting them in a separate category because they’re more similar to planes than bombs.
Nuclear weapons are the type that I and countless others find far more terrifying than anything else. I don’t think that magic exists, but bombs and missiles with that much power are the closest thing to my imagination of dark magic. I watched a documentary called Command and Control recently, which is based on a book with the same name. It’s about the fragility of nuclear weapons and power. It’s also about how many times people have gotten phenomenally close to accidentally wiping out entire states, or even small countries. I had no idea that this happened so often! There are so many times that people made simple mistakes, which came terrifyingly close to slaughtering thousands and thousands of people!
In Command and Control, there’s footage of an old atomic bomb test. Just seeing videos like that makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Something so tiny falls, vanishes from the frame, and after a brief wait, an enormous fireball erupts. You start to get underwhelmed, but then the fire grows exponentially, more quickly than you can imagine. I don’t have any religious beliefs, but it looks like Hell rising up through the earth, bringing forth an eternal fire to destroy the world. Then, the mushroom cloud expands from the growing fire, shooting up higher, hundreds of feet into the air. The grey smoke rushes outward with a percussive force, assaulting the surroundings with shooting smoke, flames, and ash. I’m sometimes moved to tears when I see the profound carnage that human beings are capable of inflicting on others. If I was a nuclear physicist, or President Truman during World War Two, maybe I wouldn’t see it this way. But to someone with little understanding of the science of nuclear bombs, who isn’t living during global war, this power seems like black magic. I can imagine evil sorcerers casting spells on people, conjuring atomic explosions from the dark realm to torture their enemies.
On the other hand, none of this means that I think the bombs being dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima were completely unjustified. I get annoyed by the polarizing views that people tend to have on this subject. Like I said, I’m no historian, but it seems like whether the use of the bombs was justified is open to interpretation. I’ve read papers by historians who think that Japan would never have surrendered, even though they were losing the war. Others claim that the Japanese were going to stop fighting, and that the bombs being dropped were unnecessary, malicious acts. But if I understand the situation correctly, the Japanese were unsure about whether they should surrender or not. It makes sense to be so uncertain about that, right?
Even if Japan never would have surrendered, does that justify killing so many innocent people, in horrifying, agonizing ways? It feels like overkill to me, to say the least. Some people who approve of the bomb offer calculations showing the greater numbers of casualties that would have been seen otherwise. That’s because firebombings would probably have occurred, which are arguably even messier than atomic bombs. That might be true. But there’s no way that anyone can know how many people would have been killed without the use of nuclear weapons. Hypotheticals are not facts.
If the Japanese were going to surrender, maybe dropping the bomb was not justified. If this is the case, then perhaps a large reason that nuclear weapons were used was sheer curiosity. They had been tested before, but not in an urban environment, with so many people around. I don’t know how valid this motivation was, but it’s possible. However, I think that there’s a low probability that the bombs were used by the Allies out of an evil desire to slaughter countless people. There are only about a handful of historical figures I know of who appear to have thought that way. I wouldn’t put President Truman, and other leaders of the Allies, into this category. I would only accuse Axis leaders like Hitler and Stalin of having this motivation. We also don’t know what it’s like to be a leader in times of war. I can only imagine the incredible pressure on people who had to make these decisions. It’s even harder to speculate about their thoughts when innocents get lumped in with enemies.
These questions would probably not have been pondered as much if nuclear weapons were never invented. They are the main factor in discussions of how justifiable it is to use them. Whether you think they are a good idea or not, they are undeniably catastrophic. This technology improved so much during the Cold War that apparently, the entire world can be destroyed several times over! It’s amazing and horrifying that we have so much power. I think that it’s always good to contemplate what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those were the only times when we subjected people to this devastation. We are always worried about escalating tensions across the world. But I think that nuclear weapons show the consequences of us not resolving our differences. They prove that if things get bad enough, people get slaughtered by dark magic. When there’s enough outrage, innocent people get obliterated and poisoned by demons from the fiery depths of Hell.