Why we should fire nuclear weapons

In the film War Book, a character makes a case for firing nuclear weapons on the basis of honour. Yes, British bombs will kill 200m people, and make retaliation likely, even the obliteration of Britain; but firing them is the right thing to do.

His comparison is a day when he and a friend skived school, and went for a walk on Hampstead Heath. They were late starting puberty, and desperate to avoid the school swimming gala. Their fathers found out, and offered a choice: they would, if he chose, write a note excusing him from attending school that day. But that would not be true. He would be failing to take the consequences of his actions. He was suspended for a week, and nearly lost his place at Cambridge.

Of course we should fire the weapons! We should stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies. A piece of doggerel from my childhood comes to mind:

I don’t want to look at myself and know
that I’m bluster, bluff and empty show

And if we do not, our word would mean nothing, and would have meant nothing since our deployment of Yellow Sun in 1959.

It is a difficult moral case to make, made chiefly by appeals to emotion: mainly, disgust for the alternative. We would have been lying, pretentious hypocrites. We would have been making empty blustering threats to bluff others into doing what we say. We would have been dishonourable, and would always be dishonourable. The rational case is possible that from the categorical imperative lying is wrong, but then threats are wrong too, whether they are backed up by intention, or empty.

Unless you are prepared to kill those 200m people, you should not have the weapons. Unless you are prepared for the obliteration of Britain and perhaps the whole world as a direct consequence of use, when others retaliate, you should not have the weapons.

Not having the weapons might mean that others make the threat, and there are honourable responses to that, too, which we regularly prate: we “do not negotiate with terrorists” when a hostage is taken, even though the hostage will die. We could “never surrender to nuclear blackmail”. That is the pacifist response, to do what I consider right, or what I want to do, despite the threats of others.

Honour matters. Loss of honour is indeed disgusting- you know what I say is true, or do not, and cannot be persuaded, for all I can do is multiply the feeling words. But even attempting to persuade others to desist from wrongful action, by threats, is not honourable.

Also in War Book a man, who will get what he wants by any effective means, persuades a secretary to lift her skirt and show him her knickers. He lies, cajoles, flatters, makes fake promises, and she does it, then at his request turns to show her bottom. In doing this she has lost honour. She has gone along with it. He wronged her, but she wronged herself.

Nuclear bomb

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