Response To Archbishop Wester’s Pastoral Letter

Los Alamos

This is a response to Archbishop Wester’s recent pastoral letter on nuclear weapons.  I do not work at Los Alamos National Laboratory, but I did work there for 30 years, two of which were in the nuclear weapons program.  I do not speak for LANL. 

At the end of WW II the US military stood down.  The boys went home and we had 5 combat divisions worldwide.  The Russian army did not stand down and they had 125 divisions in Eastern Europe alone.  If we had gotten into a conventional war with the Russians, they would have kicked our butts.  Nuclear weapons, and the fact that the US does not have a no first strike policy, turned out to be the equalizer that provided deterrence.   

Russia and China still maintain large standing armies.  Both of them still have mandatory conscription, which we eliminated in 1972.  They need these large armies in order to repress their own people.  Large standing armies are anathema to democracies, and we have a smaller professional army.  Large armies are expensive, and the fact that democracies don’t need them is an inherent advantage over authoritarian systems. 

When Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, he did not want an arms race.  However, he decided that if we were going to have one, he intended to win it.  He put Pershing missiles in Germany, increased the size of the Navy, and initiated the “Star Wars” program.  The Soviet Union had to both retain their large army to repress their own population as well as respond to an arms race.  They couldn’t keep up, and their government eventually collapsed.  We won the cold war without a shot being fired.  I think we should presently consider a similar strategy with both the Russians and the Chinese.   

In 1983 Harold Agnew (director of LASL in the 1970s) gave a talk at a symposium commemorating the 40th anniversary of the founding of Los Alamos.  Agnew was one of four Los Alamos scientists who were sent to Tinian to arm the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  He flew on the Hiroshima mission.  He made the observation that whenever he was criticized for doing this, it invariably came from someone who wasn’t alive when it happened.  During WW II, the Germans were feared and the Japanese were hated.  One of the reasons the Japanese were hated is that, among other things, the United States was showing Japanese and German propaganda films to the public so they could see how these people behaved.  The Japanese films showed them using US POWs for bayonet practice.  It showed them beheading people.  I have been to Japan several times and they are probably the most polite people in the world.  But during WW II they were absolutely brutal to everyone who wasn’t Japanese.  As bad as Nazi Germany was, 93% of our POWS came back from Germany.  25% came back from Japan.  Let me remind the Archbishop that New Mexico suffered disproportionately at the hands of the Japanese since New Mexico had National Guard units that were trapped in the Bataan peninsula. 

But that isn’t even the worst of it.  Perhaps we should talk about the 2 million artillery shells containing arsenated mustard gas that the Japanese buried in Manchuria when they evacuated.  Or the exploits of Unit 731.   These guys make Josef Mengele look like a piker.  These people were never even held accountable for their war crimes.  And you are portraying the Japanese as the “victims” of WW II?