Could you press The Button?

Inspired by the thread on torture in this forum and a debate I had with friends a few nights ago, which was itself inspired by an article on the BBC news website which asked several ex-MP’s who had nuclear-decision making responsibility during the Cold War if they could/would have ordered a nuclear strike in the event that it seemed necessary. Most said they would have but would have regretted it, one, Lord Healey, admitted that even if Soviet nuclear warheads were raining down on the UK he would not have ordered a retaliatory strike (if I read the article correctly). Which I thought was an extraordinary admission.

A related article spoke about how some submariners risked their careers because they knew they could not bring themselves to do it in the event.

I have an interest in the Cold War and of course a defining aspect of that was the arms race with a worrying amount of nuclear weapons pretty much armed and ready to go at a moments notice.

The debate was on what sort of person would be willing to participate in a strategic exchange of nuclear weapons, those specifically targeted on enemy cities.

My friends were surprised, given my inordinate fondness for The Button, that I said I would not be able to participate in such an exchange of nuclear weapons and would not place myself in such a situation where I could be ordered or expected to do so.

Do you believe you could do it and if not why not? As I said above I wonder what sort of person would be willing to do it, I’m not for a second suggesting that anyone who replies yes in the hypothetical or those who may have been or be called upon to do it for real are monsters or anything of the sort, I just struggle to understand how someone could be willing to actually do that.

On a related note I’ve read on more than one occasion of the possibly apocryphal story where the US ran a realistic test of their ICBM force in the late 70’s and that up to a third of the missileers refused to launch their missiles because they believed the alert was real (as was the intention) causing some concern on the authorities part. Did this actually happen or is it, as I suspect, a mere myth.

btw this post may be a bit incoherent and rambling, bear with me, its 04:30 Zulu and I’ve been up for 18 hours at this point…time for bed… :wink:

Well, you have to specify the scenario.

If “The Commies” had already launched the attack and we were striking back, heck yes.

If, on the other hand, I was being told to attack an enemy unprovoked, no, not without a *very *good reason. Especially if I did not see a reasonable way to survive the counter-attack.

Vox Imperatoris

Yeah, sure. Why not? Not like it’s a biological weapon, those are evil. Nukes are just really big bombs… With radiation. Anyway, I don’t really know anyone over wherever it is that’s gonna be nuked. I’d have a hard time nuking Ireland, Canada, Australia, England, Scotland, etc.

I’m not particularly freaked out by nukes. I don’t want one to explode near me, but then again I don’t want anything to explode near me.

On the other hand, I’ve never been anywhere near that kind of situation, so maybe it’d be different in real life instead of just pretending online.

I practice pushing buttons daily, just in case.

I don’t think I would. I have to view the scenario like this. The Ruskies have already launched their nukes, so America and our allies will all be wiped out. If we fire back, then basically the entire northern hemisphere is toast and only a few small, third-world areas remain un-nuked. If we don’t fire back, then there’s at least one superpower left to help stabilize the human race and organize the effort for long-term survival.

In such a situation, refusing to a send in our own nukes would be the better option.

I see two problems with this scenario. First, do the Russians, having launched the nuked in the first place, deserve to get off scot-free? Second, if the enemy knows that we would not return fire if devastatingly nuked, there is no disincentive to nuking us first.

If it was my job and the confirmed order came - fire away.

If I was on a “boomer”, I would have little opportunity to know what else was going on, so there would be no opportunity to 2nd guess the order and it’s justification.

In a heartbeat.

Not a chance. For many of the reasons ITR mentioned. It would just be so damned pointless

To the second, the Russians wouldn’t have any way of knowing that the person in charge feels that way.

To the first, I’d rather let them go scot-free and have the human race survive than get my personal vengeance and see humanity exterminated, or set back a number of centuries.

I’m pretty much with ITR on this, with the proviso that no sitting head of state or person who plans to have that job should ever admit to it. There is deterrence value, in my eyes, to setting the example that no-one who nukes can get away with it unscathed, but if we’re talking widescale nuclear warfare that’s wiping out superpowers, then pretty much every country left with capability is either going to be enormously posturing or backing down. And if there aren’t any countries left who can retaliate, then it’s going to be a while before that particular issue comes up again.

I don’t think I could do it, if the target were a city. A counter-force launch, targeted on enemy silos - sure, I could do that. (There’s always the chance that this particular silo hasn’t launched yet, after all - taking it out could save lives on my side.)

But killing a city for the sake of killing a city? I don’t think I could do that. I’d be killing too many people just like me, my friends, my family. I don’t ever want to cause that kind of suffering.

I could, in fact, order a nuclear strike. I am both vindictive & a wee bit mad.

And that’s why I believe in any & all programs of nuclear disarmament.

I heard this on R4 Buran, and i too was amazed by this candid admission.
Denis Healey’s justifaction was that if he was in the position that he had to fire, then the deterrent effect of a nuclear arsenal had totaly failed. At that point all he would be doing is killing millions more people, which he could not justify.

Its not often that a politician makes me stop and think. Healey did in that interview and i am proud to think he would have stopped the madness before it was all too late.


Only if Cheney told me to push it…


Sure, I’d push it and feel nothing but recoil (oh, wait, guess not, but you get the picture).