Drudge Retort: The Other Side of the News
Friday, January 12, 2018

For more than 50 years, the specter of "the button" has haunted conversations about American nuclear weapons. While the power to launch nuclear war has -- contrary to our imaginations -- never actually been contained within a button, historian Alex Wellerstein says the idea of it reflects the way the American public sees this presidential power. "There's no one button. There never has been. There never should be. It's a terrible idea," he says. "It's a metaphor for how we think about technology, simplicity and our lack of control." To Wellerstein, the idea that nuclear-level destruction could be accomplished by an act as simple as the pressing a button reflects the impersonal terror of nuclear weaponry that has shaped world politics since it was first introduced in August 1945. Every president since then has had the power to order the use of a nuclear weapon, although only Truman has used it. That unique ability has helped to shape the modern presidency.

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Today's vision of a Commander-in-Chief personally spearheading the call to use a nuclear weapon is something that evolved over time, says Wellerstein. Initially, that decision was led by the military and the people directly under him. Few had given much serious thought to why control of nuclear weaponry should be different from control of more conventional weapons.

Over time, Truman himself as well as his biographers gave the impression, directly and indirectly, that he explicitly ordered the dropping of the bomb. The reality is that although Truman verbally approved the military order to drop nuclear bombs on Japan, says Wellerstein, the military order was drafted by General Leslie Groves, the officer who directed the Manhattan Project, and signed by Secretary of War Henry Stimson.

After the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagaski, however, Truman changed tack. "He suddenly seems to realize that this is something that he doesn't want to delegate to the military," Wellerstein says.

At that time, a third bomb drop had already been scheduled. A memo from Groves to General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff of the Army, stated that "the next bomb of the implosion type had been scheduled to be ready for delivery on the target on the first good weather after 24 August 1945." Scrawled along the bottom of that memo, however, is a note: "It is not to be released over Japan without express authority from the President."

Truman thought the idea of killing "another 100,000 people was too horrible," wrote Henry Wallace, secretary of commerce, in his diary. By taking personal responsibility for the launch order, he started a tradition of the president being the last word on the use of nukes, but it wasn't a formal arrangement.

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Buttons, footballs, Russia, Lil Kim and a Doomsday clock.
2 minutes, 30 seconds to midnight?

#1 | Posted by Whizzo at 2018-01-12 03:01 PM | Reply

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