Thinking Outside the Bomb-Box

The interview with Admiral Richard Mies was highly illuminating. The Admiral exposed us to government-think on nuclear politics. The thesis is based on the premise that the world is populated with persons who behave rationally, have similar motivations and respond to crises according to agreed upon rules. If one accepts the premise, then the thesis is quite reasonable.

A series of global events in our lifetime demonstrates the fallacy of the premise. To name a few: The Nazi genocide, Darfur, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, 9-11, Beirut, USS Cole, etc, etc, etc. Today, it is no longer reasonable to expect that we can reason with the irrational.

Consideration of the multiple approaches to resolving the many global threats to civilization seems beyond our capacity, so we continue to fall back on the military solution. In the past, this has worked in the short run.

But today's world requires rethinking the entire sequence of events. When our nation was deciding on whether the Japanese government was so irrational that nothing short of nuclear attack would persuade them to stop the killing and end the war, the political/military thinking trumped pleas to attempt humanitarian approaches. President Truman's addresses to us were very persuasive. The world was not made safer for democracy by either WW I or WW II. Similarly using the bomb on large cities did save us, momentarily, but unfortunately brought about the feasibility of the predicted Apocalypse, the unthinkable.

We need our leaders to begin thinking out of the bomb-box . It takes but a single thinking leader to come forward, and recognize that the only solution to nuclear self destruction is the conversion of ALL nuclear weapons into nuclear reactors or some other non-destructive application of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. We could go a long way to helping with the climate, the environment, scarce petroleum resources, and the myriad of other planet issues while disposing of the threat posed by the overhanging sword.

The rational world thinks along with Admiral Mies, while in some back room in Pakistan or Afghanistan or Providence there is a group of irrationals plotting to get hold of a bomb to trigger our self destruction.
Jerome Eckerman
Potomac, MD

Advanced LIGO Will Be Swimming in Gravity Wave Signals

In the "Members in the Media" section of the June APS News, my quote from a New York Times article was put in the wrong context. My concern is that a reader could be given a misleading and negative impression with potentially serious consequences for the credibility of the Advanced LIGO project that we expect to begin constructing in 2008.

The quote appearing in the May 2, 2006, NY Times article was "25 percent, if nature's kind." The article made clear that I was commenting on LIGO's chances of seeing gravitational waves during the current data run. This run, which began in November 2005, utilizes LIGO in its present configuration.

Advanced LIGO will have 10 times greater sensitivity than in the current data run and will therefore be able to see about 1,000 times as many sources of gravity waves as the current LIGO. So if the current LIGO configuration has a 25% chance of seeing gravity waves, we will be swimming in gravity wave signals once Advanced LIGO reaches its full sensitivity.

By the way, my affiliation is the California Institute of Technology, not Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory as the "Members in the Media" item stated.
Jay Marx
Pasadena, CA

Ed. Note: Jay Marx is the Executive Director of the LIGO project.

Headline Misrepresents the Data

The June 2006 issue of APS News contains the headline "JLab Experiment Discovers Some Strangeness In the Proportion of Strange Quarks." That statement is not consistent with the result of the HAPPEx collaboration described in the article. Both the magnetic moment and charge distibutions of the proton are consistent with zero. Zero strangeness is not "some" strangeness.
Robert E. Chrien
Upton NY

Ed. Note: The word "strangeness" was being used in its everyday sense: it's strange that so little strangeness was found. And we could not resist the temptation to quote Francis Bacon: "There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion." (Do you think he knew about the mixing of s and b quarks?) Sorry for the confusion.

Admiral's Chart Not Definitive

The chart that Admiral Mies (Back Page, June 2006 APS News) introduces to support his contention that a nuclear threat can reduce war deaths is ambiguous. The "...percentage of human deaths as a result of warfare" may vary over recent times in part from better statistics, but it may also belie a trend more chaotic than linear. What does the future actually portend from these fluctuations in modern wartime deaths–an overall reduction of per capita fatalities, or a tendency toward nonlinear instability?
Loren Booda
Arlington, VA

US Nuclear Deterrence Strategy is a Disingenuous and Dangerous Fallacy

In its June Back Page, APS News featured an interview with Admiral Richard Mies arguing that the US nuclear threat can enhance stability. Mies's arguments contain faulty logic and contradictory statements aiming to endorse the very dangerous nuclear path that the US is pursing, which will lead to catastrophic consequences if not altered.

Mies starts by stating "the primary value of nuclear weapons is not their use; it's in the threat or potential of their use." The primary value of any weapon is not to kill; it is to allow its owner to force its will on others. Hitler would have liked nothing more than to be able to conquer Europe by merely threatening to use Germany's firepower, as he did with Czechoslovakia. Only because other countries were not deterred from resisting had the German army to engage in actual use of their weapons.

Mies advocates nuclear weapons with "lower yield, higher accuracy, ... improved earth penetrating ability" because with these weapons, US forces have a "credible deterrent and thereby never have to use them." Sure, we would like to achieve our goals without having to use them, but the clear implication is, we will use them if deterrence fails. And the decision is not yours nor mine nor even Congress's, it is the President's, with a small
group of hand-picked like-minded advisors.

According to Mies and stated US policy, US nuclear weapons are intended to deter such things as terrorist attacks, an adversary's use of underground facilities to store WMD, and even an adversary's intention to use WMD. Mies's statement that nuclear weapons "will always be weapons of last resort" merely means that they will be used when every other resort to deter such behaviors has failed.

As of today, the deterrence value of US nuclear weapons for such behaviors is minimal. Nuclear weapons have never been used in response to such behaviors, and the memories of nuclear weapons' actual use (Hiroshima and Nagasaki) are fast fading into the past. This is why the Bush administration is preparing the conditions that will "justify" the use of a low-yield nuclear device against an Iranian underground facility under the stated new US nuclear weapons policies.

Deterrence is not a monopoly of the US. Once the nuclear threshold is crossed again, many more nations will rush to acquire nuclear weapons as a deterrent to a US attack. Even the mere statement of such policies together with the development of more "credible" nuclear weapons provides a strong incentive for non-nuclear nations to become nuclear. With no longer a nuclear taboo and many more nuclear countries, the chances of a global nuclear conflict will be exponentially enhanced.

Mies is right in stating that nuclear weapons probably helped prevent a conventional conflict between nuclear powers, thus saving lives. However the same argument is not valid when nuclear weapons are used to target non-nuclear countries, as the US is doing now.

The way to reduce the global nuclear danger is not utopian global disarmament nor enhanced counter-proliferation efforts, nor even non-first-use pledges. It is an ironclad unconditional pledge by the nuclear nations to renounce the option of nuclear weapons use against non-nuclear nations. Nuclear nations are already deterred from using nuclear weapons against each other by fear of retaliation, and such a pledge would provide a real deterrent for non-nuclear nations to become nuclear, as well as a real incentive for nuclear nations with small arsenals to disarm.

Would such a pledge be detrimental to US national interests? Arguably yes to the extent that it would reduce our ability to coerce other nations, or in more euphemistic language to "deter" other nations from behaviors we don't like. But it is a small price to pay compared to global nuclear war, which the chain reaction resulting from a new US use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear country is likely to bring about, in a period of weeks, years or decades.

As physicists we understand the potentially devastating effects of nuclear weapons better than others. Because of that, and because physicists brought nuclear weapons into existence and have been instrumental in the buildup of nuclear arsenals, we have a special responsibility. Individually, even if we don't work in nuclear-weapon-related subjects we are all tied to the issue, either because we teach students that may work in the area or because we publish papers with knowledge that may contribute directly or indirectly to the subject. If our profession didn't exist, humanity would have no practical way to erase itself from existence. Thus, as we revel in the great joy of being physicists we should also devote some of our efforts to help prevent the unthinkable consequences that could result from the weapons our profession created. We owe it to society, and society expects no less from us.
Jorge Hirsch
San Diego, CA

We Must Separate Science from Dogma

After reading several of the letters responding to Lawrence Krauss’ repudiation of Intelligent Design as a scientific theory, I feel the need to rise to his defense. Krauss did not write a diatribe against religion. Instead, he warned against those with a particular religious belief, Intelligent Design, trying to gain a foothold in the science classroom. This is not the first attempt at replacing scientific theory with dogma, as evidenced by Lysenkoism in the old Soviet Union. It is the obligation of scientists to protect science from dogmatic pressures of any kind and to disseminate to the public our best understanding of natural, not supernatural, phenomena.
William Lehr
Bothell, WA


APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff

August/September 2006 (Volume 15, Number 8)

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Articles in this Issue
APS Awards 27 Minority Scholarships for 2006-2007
Student Member Survey Fosters Two-Way Communication
Outreach Project Seeks APS Member Volunteers
"A New World View" Hits the Road
Blewett Scholarship Helps Mother of Two Return to Full-Time Research
High School Teachers Conduct Gravity-Defying Experiments
All Aboard the "Vomit Comet"
US Team Garners 4 Gold, 1 Silver at Physics Olympiad in Singapore
Letters from the Middle East
Professional Skills Development for Women Physicists
Viewpoint: Wen Ho Lee's Settlement
Inside the Beltway
The Back Page
Members in the Media
This Month in Physics History
International News
Ask the Ethicist