Reveals Public Support for Nuclear Strikes
By Dana E. Abizaid
June 07, 2016
In the wake of
President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima last week,
renewed debates over the use of atomic weapons
against Japan in August 1945 have highlighted a
disturbing trend: a rise in public support for US
attacks on civilians across the globe. Never having
withstood a prolonged bombing campaign on their
soil, many people in the United States are quick to
support and justify the use of bombs -- including
nuclear ones -- on others.
Scott Sagan and Benjamin Valentino conducted
research on the US public's attitude regarding
nuclear bombing and recently publishing a summary of
their findings in a Wall Street Journal story titled
the US Drop the Bomb Again?" From a survey of a
"representative sample of 620 Americans"
administered by YouGov last July, Sagan and
Valentino revealed results that were "unsettling
about the instincts of the US public." Specifically,
the pair reported that, "When provoked, [US
citizens] don't seem to consider the use of nuclear
weapons a taboo, and our commitment to the immunity
of civilians from deliberate attack in wartime, even
with vast casualties, is shallow."
the sample of 620 citizens can hardly be expected to
reflect the sentiments of 320 million Americans.
Nevertheless, the pair’s findings should not
surprise anybody who has paid attention to US
foreign policy since 1945. In his 2002 book,
Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, Gore Vidal points
out that, according to the Federation of American
Scientists, there have been 200 aggressive US
military engagements since the end of WWII. This was
tallied before the debacle in Iraq and the
"liberation" of Libya; the drone wars in Pakistan,
Somalia; President Obama's plan to "degrade
and ultimately destroy ISIL"; not to mention the
unconstitutional drone strikes on US citizens
and Valentino survey sets forth a fictional scenario
mirroring Pearl Harbor: an Iranian attack on a US
aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf that killed
2,403 US sailors. Faced with this scenario, would
the US public support the dropping of a nuclear
weapon on an Iranian city killing 100,000 civilians?
Valentino found that the results were "startling."
In this case, 59 percent of respondents backed
"using a nuclear bomb on an Iranian city."
backdrop for their WSJ piece was Obama's visit to
Hiroshima. While most US media focused on whether or
not Obama would apologize for the dropping of bombs
on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, few
considered the dangerous precedent the US set that
summer. Instead, a chorus of justification echoed in
the nation's press. This persistent practice of
self-deception is epitomized by columnist
Ramesh Ponnuru, who recently wrote, "We do not
deliberately target civilians for killing whenever
we think the consequences would be beneficial."
Irresponsible statements like this ignore the
bombing of civilians in
Afghanistan and represent the sad triumph of
Orwellian indoctrination over education.
the public's perennial support for bombing, Sagan
and Valentino tried to offer respondents a
diplomatic solution to the fictional Iranian crisis.
Simulating the Truman administration's dilemma
between demanding unconditional surrender or
allowing Hirohito Shōwa to maintain his imperial
throne in Japan, the researchers "ran a second
version of the survey that offered respondents the
option of ending the war by allowing Iran's supreme
leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to stay on as a
spiritual figurehead with no political authority."
Still, 40 percent of respondents favored dropping
the bomb and killing 100,000 civilians.
Many historians challenge
the contention that the atomic bombs were necessary
to end the Pacific War and save lives. Not
surprisingly, most Japanese believe they were
unjustified. Perhaps US citizens would agree with
the Japanese if they had also experienced the terror
of air power. Speaking with people who have survived
bombing raids is vastly different than reading
headlines about collateral damage. The popular 1980s
speed metal band
Anthrax put it this way: "You pushed a button /
That is all you did / It is much harder to kill a
man, if you've seen pictures of his kids."
public relations goodwill the Obama trip was
designed to inspire, the facts speak for themselves.
The president has worked to limit nuclear
not in the US. His administration has recklessly
provoked Russia in Ukraine and pushed the US
closer to nuclear war than any time since the
tense days of the
Reagan administration's revamping of nuclear
reliance on drone strikes distances the US public
further from the reality of air power. Since the
enemies we engage do not possess an air force, and
our drone pilots operate thousands of miles from the
battlefield, it is likely that attitudes toward
civilian bombing and nuclear destruction will not
few US citizens who have experienced what British
prisoner of war Victor Gregg did in Dresden in 1945.
BBC interview he stated:
prepared me for seeing women and children alight
flying through the air. Nothing prepared me for
that … after Dresden I was a nutcase. It took me
40 years to get over it.
didn't talk about it for decades. "You can't talk
about it because nobody who hasn't experienced it,
their mind can't, they can't grasp it," he said.
Valentino's study concludes that, "the US public is
unlikely to hold back a president who might consider
using nuclear weapons in the crucible of war." These
are the civilian and political minds that can't
grasp the terror that Gregg describes.
question is, if they could, would they still support
the use of nuclear weapons?
Abizaid is a history teacher at the Istanbul
International Community School and director of
studies for the Open Society Foundations New