Should we have nuked the Russians?

An ugly question to be sure, but I got in a conversation about this a couple nights ago, and it really made me think. At the end of WWII, the Iron Curtain was falling over Eastern Europe. During that period, only the USA had the atom bomb, and it’s conceivable it could have been used (if only as a threat and/or deterrent) to drive the Soviets back beyond their borders.

The US had a belly full of war in 1945, but not acting on the communist threat when we had the clear upper-hand could have arguably led to the costly excesses of the Cold War, including proxy wars fought in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, etc. Actual use of atomic bombs to contain the ambitions of Soviet Russia and the spread of communist dictatorial government may have cost millions of lives; but millions of lives were lost anyway under the rule of Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, just to name a few of the worst offenders. Possibly democracies would have flourished in all of what became the Eastern Bloc of Europe in the wake of WWII. And who knows what would have happened in East Asia?

Hindsight is always 20-20 as they say. Then again, far worse may have befallen the world if the US and its allies chose to take on Stalin once the Nazis were defeated. But the facts remain: In the wake of WWII, even with a decimated military, the Soviets were able to make an empire out of half of Europe, which existed under oppressive communist rule for half a century; subsequent to these initial gains, communism took root in China, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, with the help of the Soviets. At the end of WWII, the American military-industrial machine was in full swing, with enough resources to support several more years of intense warfare. Our casualties were light compared to the tens of millions of European combatants slain. Most importantly, we were in sole possession of nuclear weapons, which allowed us to level entire cities with a single plane. For a brief time, we could have probably conquered over half the world, perhaps without firing a shot, by leveraging the threat of nuclear annihilation. During such a campaign, the homeland would have likely been safe from attack or invasion, as it was even in the midst of WWII. Should we have used this clear advantage to neutralize the burgeoning Soviet menace when we had the chance? Or was winning the Cold War through long attrition and proxy wars, as was done, the best option under the circumstances.

To me, a fascinating point of debate, and I welcome all your thoughts.

… and made the US worse than Hitler… but yea, I suppose it may have worked. For a while. When is the last time you heard of a Russian giving up a grudge, much less someone nuking Moscow and St. Petersburg? Also, they were firmly entrenched in Germany, and outnumbered us by a good deal.

Neverminding the fact that the entire world would have instantly turned on our throats, and likely the people would have risen up in rebellion, since this would constitute not only an unwarranted attack on a sovereign state, but an attack on a STAUNCH ALLY. Europe would have booted our asses out of it.

Also neverminding the fact that following up using the nukes, we would have had to invade the Soviet Union and dismantle its governments. Have you ever realized how big the Soviet Union was? If we just nuked it like a “slap on the wrist,” it would wait 20 years, develop its own weapons, then rape us, and take the most sadistic glee you could dream of about doing it. I mean, this would be a billion times worse than Al Qaeda.

So now we’re not only going to invade the entire Soviet Union, but China (our other ally, who we had just spent 20 years helping defend) as well? And assume that in the absence of the Soviet Union, rosey, cheerful democracies would have grown?

I doubt it. Eastern Europe isn’t exactly known for being a historical hotbed of democracy. It would have had to be forced upon them - more likely than anything else, they would have absolutely resented us for bombing Russia.

You have to dig deep into Russian and Slavic history and cultures to understand this question. They would have absolutely slaughtered us, and the rest of Europe would have helped. I wouldn’t be surprised if our government would have collapsed.

We MAY have prevented some of the wars in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, yes, but we would have had to plunge all of Europe and Asia into a bloody nuclear war to do it.

Afaik, we had pretty much shot our load by using the bombs we had on Japan. It takes time to manufacture new ones, and I THINK that by the time we got around to producing enough to make a real difference the Russians had the bomb as well.

Now, even if they DID have the bomb, they certainly had no real way to deliver it to the US, so WE would be safe. But if we had of started that dance most of Europe (both eastern and western) would be radio active glass today I think. Not a good thing.

Conventionally, the US/Britian and a reconstituted France/Germany probably could have driven the Russians out of Eastern Europe conventionally anyway. The Russians probably had a more powerful army but they had the same problem the Germans had…they were at the end of a very long and vulnerable logistics train, and the allies would have gained air superiority fairly quickly. It would have been a long and costly affair but we COULD have done it if we had the will too.

Should we have? Beats me. On the one side freeing the Eastern Bloc countries would have been of immense benifit to both them and us in the long run. Look how benificial Eastern Germany and Poland are now. On the other side, we would have had to pretty much wreck them further than they were, as well as kill a hell of a lot of folks to do it. The other thing is, the Russians would have felt even MORE paranoid about having enemies on their borders, and when they DID get nukes it could have made things even more dicy…unless the allies went all out and attempted to actually conquer Russia (something I think would have been beyond them).


I’m not sure if the “staunch ally” thing holds up to scrutiny. It was always at best a marriage of conveniece. Churchill made little secret of the fact that he considered the Yalta conference to be a deal with the devil, and his fears were largely borne out. Rooselvelt was more credulous, however, Truman must have known that his trust was clearly misplaced in a ruthless murderer like Jo Stalin.

In my proposed scenerio, I was only proposing neutralizing the Soviets; perhaps other communist dictatorships would not have flourished without strong Soviet support.

Nor was much of Western Europe, being not long ago a patchwork of warring monarchies. Yet things changed.

Perhaps. I wonder, though, if another world war could have been avoided if Russia had been defanged while already nearly overextended fighting the Nazis. Who would have come to their aid at that time? The other Slavic nations were literally in ruins. And the Asian tie did not yet exist.

The first Soviet bomb was detonated in 1949. The US had dozens by then.

So, you’re asking whether the U.S. should have tried to take over the world after WWII? And then how exactly would we have been different than Hitler? The obvious answer here is that it would have been immoral.

I am frightened that you used this argument.

Ok, I’ll take that at face value, though if you have a cite it would be educational for me at least. I was under the impression that initially bomb production was pretty slow and painstaking, and that after we dropped the two on Japan we didn’t have any more coming on stream for a while.

However, again, why would we have NEEDED to or even wanted to nuke Russia when we could have achieved your goals (pushing back of Russia) without them? We certainly wouldn’t have used them tactically in Eastern Europe, so we would have used them strategically only against Russian logistic supply points, rail heads and probably their cities (if we simply wanted to murder citizens). But we could have bombed all those things conventionally with our air forces, and totally destroyed any attempt to by the Russians to resupply its forces in Eastern Europe. No gas, no beans, no spare parts=no Russian occupation. We had a much easier logistics problem than the Russians did, especially with France back in it.


Because you do not like someone does not mean you are not an ally of them.

You don’t “neutralize” someone by dropping a few nuclear bombs into their laps. That is called “royally pissing someone off.”

What are you talking about? Western Europe has been having revolutions for democracy for over 200 years now.

You are seriously considering invading Russia in June 1945?

The Soviets would have done what they always did; retreat and burn everything. By November the Americans would have ended up sitting in the middle of Russia up to their asses in snow, with a few thousand miles between them and their own supplies, while the Soviets send waves of conscripts over them. Sound familiar?

At best, it is a standoff. At worst, millions more people die and WWII continues for another few years, creating, for all intents and purposes, eternal hatred between the East and the West. America’s industrial machine would eventually die down, the people would get weary of war, and Truman would be politically dead.

When they DID develop the bomb, they wouldn’t have hesitated to use it.

The only reason that we got away with nuking Japan is because we occupied it immediately afterwards. A similar occupation and “defanging” of the Soviet Union would have been beyond our capabilities at the time, not to mention funding the rebuilding of all of Eastern Europe and Russia. America doesn’t have infinite resources.

You’re looking at a short-term solution to prevent Soviet takeovers of some of the second world countries, and instead buying Europe (and Asia) likely decades of open warfare.

Americans have some perception of their invulnerability. Oh, people can’t bomb us. Oh, they couldn’t invade us. That does not mean that our actions are without effect and counter-effect.

No, as I said above, I am just proposing that we might have kept the Soviets from occupying all of Eastern Europe after the war, and perhaps stopping at the border. A policy of containment from then on could perhaps have been enforced with our nuclear capability. Once the Russians had their own bomb, perhaps, just as in our real history, the MAD policy would have deterred either side from further direct combat.

Well, lets keep it in perspective: How many of their own people, combined, did Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot kill? I’ve heard estimates in excess of twenty million. These were largely non-combattants. If the choice were to kill a million soldiers in combat vs. twenty million civillians on the wrong side of history, I’d fight the war. Of course, our leaders couldn’t have known back then what the future would hold. If they had an inkling, though, would they have waited? I wonder.

I don’t know where you heard this. See the web site below:

In July 1946(, we were already dropping more bombs on the Bikini Atoll. We had many weapons to spare just for tests. This same year Churchill gave his chilling “Iron Curtain” speech, for which many lambasted him as a warmonger. How does history judge him now? By the end of 1952, we had thermonuclear weapons, twenty times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb. By then, the Soviet weapons program was quite advanced, and they detonated their own hydrogen bomb only a year later. The MAD policy was well established by then, and the Cold War fully engaged.

Forget about France. Assuming that the french government would have backed an attack against the Soviet Union, given the strenght and political weight of the communist party, its popularity following the war (and also the popularity of the soviet union, by the way), the politically unstable climate, plus stockpiles of weapons disseminated everywhere and finally organized networks of communist resistance (and even actual military units constitued from these communist resistance groups) , I strongly suspect it would have resulted in a civil war. And this could have been true for Italy, too. Plus Greece, of course, but this country actually had its civil war, anyway. Probably the same in several east european countries, especially since they had been liberated by the soviets.

Except that since you refered to the use of nuclear weapons, we could assume that the result wouldn’t have been “killing a million soldiers” but rather “killing some millions civilians”.

According to the Master of Enlightment, 83.4 million.

However I still don´t understand how can nuclear devices solve political matters… :rolleyes:

True. If a conventional assault backed up by the threat of nuclear escalation couldn’t do the trick, and nukes were used, then massive civilian loss of life could be reasonably expected.

But if the 83-million-and-change figure Ale cites is accurate…my goodness, I didn’t know the numbers were really that high. Could a nuclear war in 1947 have killed as many?

I remember someone here on SD saying that there were several generals in the Allied camp who wanted the US to declare war on the USSR after germany went down and Russia was on the brink of collapse. Does anyone know who these generals are, or why the Allies had such a bad relationship with the USSR which seems to go back to before the war even ended and the USSR annexed all of eastern europe?

Most famous one I can think of was Patton. He wanted to go after the Russians big time and was pretty public about it.

I don’t know what you mean about a ‘bad relationship’ with the Russians back and forth before the end of the war. Could you amplify that a bit? There were tensions of course, as well as contrary goals…but for the most part it was a decent relationship until the end of the war. It gradually cooled though as the Russians asserted themselves in Eastern Europe to form a buffer. From their perspective this was a reasonable thing for them to do for a lot of different reasons, but the west didn’t see it that way.

I was thinking more along the lines of France as a secure logistics point and staging area, actually, not necessarily as a main component in the fighting. Logistics is everything in war, especially in the kind of war I envision would have happened if Russia and the US/UK had of gone to war in '46. I’m not sure how large the communist political machines you are mentioning in those various countries was, nor why exactly going to war with the USSR, depending on how it happened would have necessarily thrown them into revolt. After all, the cold war didn’t throw them into revolt. And I seriously doubt that any of them would have been in the kind of shape it would take to actually produce any but the smallest combat forces to assist the US/UK. Germany also I envision more as a logistic and staging area, not a main combatant.

Thanks for the link…I didn’t know that. Who knows where I half remembered that from…post war bomb production wasn’t exactly my specialty. :slight_smile: Probably saw some fragement on the History Channel and just mis-remembered it. Ok, so we’d have the bombs. I’m still unsure why we would need to use them in a war against Russia. Again, if we were committed to war in Russia with the goal of driving them out of Eastern Europe (from your OP) then we could have accomplished that conventionally IMO…we didn’t NEED to use the bomb. We could even strike into Russia strategically/tactically using only conventional means, as we had air craft with sufficient range to bomb them wherever they were (unlike the Germans with no 4 engine heavy bombers). I don’t see how Russia could possibly have held on to Eastern Europe if we wanted to drive them out…and all that without using a nuke.

Invasion though…thats another kettle of fish. And again, I don’t see how nukes would necessarily help, unless you are willing to basically throw the major cities of Russia (and all their civilian populations) into the fire to achieve ‘victory’. If your intention was to defeat the Russians and basically lay waste to Russia pretty much for a long time, sure. But if it was to defeat russia and actually have something afterwards, then nukes wouldn’t be a good way to go. You would probably end up destroying most of Russia’s major cities before they even considered surrender.


The veracity of your argument, or lack thereof, is not what frightens me. It’s the fact that you would even consider using nuclear strikes with an “ends justifies the means” rationalization. Kill a million to save 20 million? Which of course, you are arguing with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, and making the unwarranted assumption that another Stalin couldn’t have come to power anyway, in which case we would have killed one million without saving anyone. And if we are going to assume we are the most benevolent country on Earth, then why not take over the whole planet? The logic is flawed from its very inception.

Perhaps you’re right. But similar logic went into the decision to use atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki: A protracted war on Japanese soil would have cost tens-of-thousands more American lives, and perhaps millions of Japanese lives. Hence, the horror of using the bombs was the lesser of two evils. Maybe this is a crock of shit (I’ve suspected as much myself), but if not, it is an arguable position, in times of war. If someone is vaporized by an atom bomb or a phosphor bomb, they’re just as dead.

True, hindsight is 20-20. But as Wes. Clark pointed out, and I cited in Churchill’s speech, some people had some foresight. Remember, Stalin had already slaughtered millions of people within the USSR, during the purges which began around 1936. The West was aware of Stalin’s brutality, and of his imperialist ambitions. Given that hudreds of thousands of Americans gave their lives to fight an evil empire in Germany, it’s ironic that, Just East of Berlin, another was allowed to annex all former Nazi holdings. Would this not vastly increase Stalin’s power and influence if left unchallenged? Yet it was unchallenged. Is the world a better place now as a result? Could things maybe have been better, despite the short-term costs? I think an argument could be made either way.

But can we get beyond “well, that’s just appalling”? I mean, war of any kind is appalling, but IMO, the rise of communism was the single-most deadly period in human history, and that included WWII. Worse, the vast majority of the victims were civilians, destroyed by their own leaders or ruled at times with brutal oppression. If the stance is simply pacivism, where no use of force could be justified, then fine, you’ve said your peace, and can now leave the debate. If you’re simply anti-nuke under any circumstances, cool, state that and move on.

However, simply repeating that it would make us evil in turn seems to me, to paraphrase Monty Python, not an argument so much as the mere gainsaying of one’s position. Are there perhaps concrete strategic reasons why challenging Russia would have been a bad idea? Are there hypotheticals about how such a plan would have made things much worse, and hence the Cold War, as it panned out, was a better alternative. Was the Cultural Revolution, for instance, preferable to other eventualties? Were Korea and Vietnam worth it in the end? Were pettier thugs like Ceausescau better than other alternatives?

Perhaps! But merely repeating that war is appalling because of loss of life seems less than convincing to me, as it’s clear many had lost their lives to communism already, and it could be reasonably predicted that many more would if it continued to grow unchecked. The only rational argument then, to me, is that one or other course was the best, since I cannot see how terrible bloodshed could have been avoided under any circumstance. Why is this such flawed logic?

Churchill had a study drawn up positing a surprise attack on the Soviets by the Western Allies to drive them out of Eastern Europe called Operation Unthinkable, with an assumed start of the war on July 1, 1945. While in fairness this would have left the war against Japan still in the finishing stages, the British General Staff didn’t consider it militarily feasible:

Now that is an interesting link. Thanks!

So…were nukes never considered? Was Churchill even aware they could be deployed at that stage? Would nukes have changed the minds of the BGS? Perhaps not, as they seem to suggest the Russian forces were too diffuse to make important strides through concentrated attack.