During this war in Ukraine, much had been written about how Russia and President Vladimir Putin have “broken the nuclear taboo” or “could break the nuclear taboo” by threatening or actually using “small” tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
The threats have indeed been made, and they could potentially be more than bluffs.
But let’s get real. Threatening nuclear weapons, and coming very close to using them, is something that the United States has done a number of times over the years since 1945. It is simply not true to say that there has been no threat to use nuclear weapons since August 9, when the US dropped the second and last nuclear bomb to be used in war on the Japanese city of Nagasaki.
Just a year after the war, in fact, President Harry Truman, who had already ordered the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, threatened to bomb Soviet Red Army troops massed on the northern border of Iran if they didn’t disperse within 48 hours and cease threatening to enforce an agreement reached among that Allied nations battling Hitler to divide Iran’s oilfields up among Britain, the US and the Soviet Union— an agreement the western allies were reneging on.
The US also considered, and let the USSR and the North Vietnamese government know that it was considering, a request by France for America to use a nuclear bomb to break the siege of surrounded French expeditionary forces at Dien Bien Phu.
The US threatened nuclear war over some Soviet missiles being placed in Cuba i 1962, but backed down in a secret deal where its own nuclear-armed Jupiter missiles, already in place near the USSR’s southern border with Turkey, were removed, no longer posing the threat of a first strike on Soviet targets, and Russia took back it’s missiles in Cuba.
But that didn’t end US threats of nuclear war. When a force of US Marines were trapped at Khe San in South Vietnam by North Vietnamese troops in 1968, Gen. William Westmoreland, commander of US forces in Vietnam, took steps to bring nuclear weapons to the war theater for use in rescuing the Marines. In that case, the New York Times reported later that nuclear weapons were actually transported to South Vietnam for use if the Marines were in danger of being captured and defeated, but was over-ruled once President Lyndon Johnson was notified.
Later, President Richard Nixon in his first year in office in 1969 “seriously considered” using nuclear weapons against North Vietnam to try and end that war, according to records obtained by the Associated Press, but was convinced boy his secretaries of Defense and State that the American public wouldn’t accept such an action and dropped the idea.
The so-called nuclear option is not so much a taboo as it is evidence that in the end, no nuclear nation dares to use its weapons for fear of the response being more nukes used by the other side, and the inevitability of a rapid escalation of any nuclear weapon use to all-out nuclear war and a global holocaust.
Putin, in this regard, is no more violative of the supposed “taboo” than have been a long series of US presidents beginning with Harry Truman at the dawn of the nuclear age. Indeed it is only the US that has ever actually used nuclear bombs in war. While Putin’s bluster about a nuclear option is scary, it is no scarier than, and actually is a good deal less scary than the 1962 Missile Crisis, a period during the Cold War when Americans were racing to buy bomb shelters and were installing them on their property in droves, something that nobody seems to be doing these days.
I’ll grant that US war strategists, and President Biden, War Secretary Lloyd Austin, and our war-monger and arms industry profiteer Secretary of State Anthony Blinken are playing a risky game talking about using the Ukraine War to “weaken” Russia and destroy its military and economy, but I still believe even these cowboys know pushing Russia so hard it feels it has to use its nuclear arsenal would be a disaster for the US and the whole world.
I’ll start worrying when I see Amazon, a company that never misses a product niche, start offering bomb shelters on its web site. As of now, the closest thing one can find there is a paperback book by John Becker offered for $7.95 titled DIY Bomb Shelter: How to build an underground bomb shelter in your home. Judging by the price, It doesn’t look like it’s selling well. (Self published, it’s ranked #108,338 in book sales on the site, and #2002 among Home Improvement and Design books.)