Students Discover Our New Nuclear Policy

Posted on Thu 04/22/2010 by


By Tom McLaughlin

“The administration has announced a new policy on America’s use of nuclear weapons,” I told the class. “We won’t be the first to use them in a conflict with another nation, he said. And, we won’t retaliate with nuclear weapons if we’re attacked by a country which is using other WMD, or ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction,’ such as chemical or biological weapons against us.”

I waited for that to sink in.

After a pause, a boy raised his hand and asked, “What would be the point of that?”

“Yeah,” said another boy. “Why have them if we’re not going to use them?”

“The administration says America won’t retaliate with nuclear weapons against a country that has signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty – countries that have pledged not to make nuclear weapons. I think they’re trying to encourage more countries to sign it and that’s a big reason for this new policy,” I suggested.

“Who agrees with this new policy?” I asked.

A couple of girls didn’t stick their hands up, but turned their palms around to me while their elbows stayed on the desk. They smiled meekly.

“Who disagrees?”

Most of the students raised their hands. We had been studying WMD and the arms race following World War II. Students had seen Hiroshima, a made-for-TV docudrama focusing on President Truman’s decision to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japanese Emperor Hirohito’s decision to surrender. They learned what a nuclear weapon can do – how it kills with a blast, with heat, and with radiation. They learned about kilotons and megatons. They learned what countries have nuclear weapons and when each obtained them between 1945 and today. They knew that North Korea has tested one and that Iran is trying to develop one. They knew that Iran is threatening to “wipe Israel off the map.”

A couple of days later I said to the class: “Sarah Palin criticized this new nuclear policy saying, ‘It’s kinda like getting out there on a playground, a bunch of kids, getting ready to fight, and one of the kids saying, “Go ahead, punch me in the face and I’m not going to retaliate. Go ahead and do what you want to with me.”’”

“Good for her,” said a boy. “Is she going to run for president?”

“Maybe,” I said. “I’m sure she’s thinking about it. Who agrees with Sarah Palin on this?” I asked.

A scattering of hands.

“Who disagrees?”

Another scattering. Most did not to have an opinion one way or the other.

The next day, I told the class that the administration had responded to Sarah Palin’s criticism, saying that “Sarah Palin’s not much of an expert on nuclear issues.’” I paused and let them chew on that.

“And they are?” suggested a girl skeptically.

“Well, they do have experts advising them,” I said, “and they would have access to much more information than you or me or Sarah Palin would.” I told them that the administration also said they were more comfortable taking advice from the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff than from Sarah Palin.

“But they haven’t been in office very long and they weren’t experts before that,” she said.

“Okay,” I answered.

The next day, I told them, “Today, the president is in Prague, Czech Republic signing a treaty declaring that the United States would further reduce the number of nuclear weapons we have. He made a speech there last year saying he wants a world without nuclear weapons.”

“Can we do that?” asked a boy. “Can we get rid of our nuclear weapons? What would we do with them?”

“We can disassemble them down to the enriched uranium or plutonium that is turned into energy according to the equation E=mc2, but we cannot unmake that material. We can only store it somewhere and guard it. Also, directions for constructing a nuclear weapon can be downloaded from the internet, so a world without nuclear weapons doesn’t seem like a real possibility.”

“How many weapons would it take to destroy the whole world?” asked another boy.

“Nobody knows for sure,” I said, “and I hope we never find out. Some speculate that it would be around 3,000 or so.”

“And how many are we going to get down to?”

“Around 1,600 in our arsenal, I think, assuming the Senate ratifies this treaty.”

“Hmm,” he said.

Contributing Editor . Tom is a history teacher and a regular weekly columnist for newspapers in Maine and New Hampshire. He writes about political and social issues, history, family, education and Radical Islam.

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