Last modified on 16 February 2015, at 12:31

Nuclear war

For the love of God, for the love of your children and of the civilization to which you belong, cease this madness. You are mortal men. You are capable of error. You have no right to hold in your hands — there is no one wise enough and strong enough to hold in his hands — destructive power sufficient to put an end to civilized life on a great portion of our planet. ~ George F. Kennan

Nuclear war, or atomic war, is war in which nuclear weapons are used.


Alphabetized by author or sourced
  • I'd rather be Red than dead.
    • Author unknown. Slogan of Britain's Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament supporters; reported in Time (September 15, 1961), p. 30.
  • What is the only provocation that could bring about the use of nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons. What is the priority target for nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons. What is the only established defense against nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons. How do we prevent the use of nuclear weapons? By threatening the use of nuclear weapons. And we can't get rid of nuclear weapons, because of nuclear weapons. The intransigence, it seems, is a function of the weapons themselves.
    • Martin Amis, Einstein's Monsters (1987), "Introduction: Thinkability"
  • The arms race is a race between nuclear weapons and ourselves.
    • Martin Amis, Einstein's Monsters (1987), Introduction: "Thinkability".
  • We have men of science, too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. The world has achieved brilliance without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. If we continue to develop our technology without wisdom or prudence, our servant may prove to be our executioner.
    • Armistice Day speech (11 November 1948), published in Omar Bradley's Collected Writings, Volume 1 (1967).
  • If you are not ready, and did not know what to do, it could hurt you in different ways. It could knock you down, hard, or throw you against a tree or a wall. It is such a big explosion, it can smash in buildings and knock signboards over, and break windows all over town, but if you duck and cover, like Bert [the Turtle], you will be much safer.
    • Duck and Cover (1951), on protecting oneself from an atomic explosion.
  • I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.
  • Had I known that the Germans would not succeed in producing an atomic bomb, I would not have lifted a finger.
    • Discussing the letter he sent Roosevelt raising the possibility of atomic weapons. from "Atom: Einstein, the Man Who Started It All," Newsweek Magazine (10 March 1947).
  • What a curious picture it is to find man, homo sapiens, of divine origin, we are told, seriously considering going underground to escape the consequences of his own folly. With a little wisdom and foresight, surely it is not yet necessary to forsake life in the fresh air and in the warmth of the sunlight. What a paradox if our own cleverness in science should force us to live underground with the moles.
    • J. William Fulbright, address to the Foreign Policy Association, New York City (October 20, 1945), in Fulbright of Arkansas: The Public Positions of a Private Thinker (1963).
  • Some one may pose the question: will China win her rights over the United States of America, by possessing and dropping the bomb? No, neither China nor the Soviet Union will ever use the bomb unless they are attacked by those who have aggression and war in their very blood. If the Soviet Union did not possess the bomb, the imperialists would speak in other terms with us. We will never attack with the bomb, we are opposed to war, we are ready to destroy the bomb but we keep it for defensive purposes. "It is fear that guards the vineyard," is a saying of our people. The imperialists should be afraid of us and terribly afraid at that.
  • For the love of God, for the love of your children and of the civilization to which you belong, cease this madness. You are mortal men. You are capable of error. You have no right to hold in your hands — there is no one wise enough and strong enough to hold in his hands — destructive power sufficient to put an end to civilized life on a great portion of our planet.
  • The living will envy the dead.
    • Attributed to Nikita Khrushchev, speaking of nuclear war. Ed Zuckerman, "Hiding from the Bomb—Again", Harper's (August 1979), p. 36, attributes "the survivors would envy the dead" to Khrushchev. This issue of Harper's was stamped in the Library of Congress on July 12, 1979. Senator Frank Church, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, also attributed this same quotation to Khrushchev in hearings held July 11, 1979, and again on July 16, 1979. See The Salt II Treaty, hearings before the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, 96th Congress, 1st session, part 1, p. 333, and part 2, p. 27 (1979). An Associated Press news release, dated August 4, 1979, summarized these meetings: "In a month of hearings on the SALT II treaty, many senators have … quoted and requoted the late Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who once said that after a nuclear exchange, 'the living would envy the dead.'" The quotation has been widely used in the press since then, including The Washington Post (March 20, 1981), p. A23. Reported as unverified in the speeches or writings of Khrushchev in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989).
  • But this very triumph of scientific annihilation—this very success of invention—has destroyed the possibility of war's being a medium for the practical settlement of international differences. The enormous destruction to both sides of closely matched opponents makes it impossible for even the winner to translate it into anything but his own disaster…. Global war has become a Frankenstein to destroy both sides. No longer is it a weapon of adventure—the shortcut to international power. If you lose, you are annihilated. If you win, you stand only to lose. No longer does it possess even the chance of the winner of a duel. It contains now only the germs of double suicide.
    • Douglas MacArthur, speech to a joint session of the Congress of the Republic of the Philippines (July 5, 1961); in Representative Speeches of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur (1964), p. 98. Senate Doc. 88–95.
  • In plain words; now that Britain has told the world she has the H-Bomb, she should announce as early as possible that she has done with it, that she proposes to reject, in all circumstances, nuclear warfare. This is not pacifism. There is no suggestion here of abandoning the immediate defence of this island . . . No, what should be abandoned is the idea of deterrence-by-threat-of-retaliation. There is no real security in it, no decency in it, no faith, hope, nor charity in it.
  • A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. The only value in our two nations possessing nuclear weapons is to make sure they will never be used. But then would it not be better to do away with them entirely.
  • There is a further advantage [to hydrogen bombs]: the supply of uranium in the planet is very limited, and it might be feared that it would be used up before the human race was exterminated, but now that the practically unlimited supply of hydrogen can be utilized, there is considerable reason to hope that homo sapiens may put an end to himself, to the great advantage of such less ferocious animals as may survive. But it is time to return to less cheerful topics.
    • Bertrand Russell, Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits (1948), part I, "The World of Science", chapter 3, "The World of Physics".
  • Suppose atomic bombs had reduced the population of the world to one brother and one sister, should they let the human race die out? I do not know the answer, but I do not think it can be in the affirmative merely on the ground that incest is wicked.
  • The best authorities are unanimous in saying that a war with H-bombs might possibly put an end to the human race. It is feared that if many H-bombs are used there will be universal death, sudden only for a minority, but for the majority a slow torture of disease and disintegration.
  • If we have to start over again with another Adam and Eve, then I want them to be Americans and not Russians, and I want them on this continent and not in Europe.
    • Richard B. Russell, remarks in the Senate during debate on the antiballistic missile (October 2, 1968), Congressional Record, vol. 114, p. 29175.
  • The news today about 'Atomic bombs' is so horrifying one is stunned. The utter folly of these lunatic physicists to consent to do such work for war-purposes: calmly plotting the destruction of the world! Such explosives in men's hands, while their moral and intellectual status is declining, is about as useful as giving out firearms to all inmates of a gaol and then saying that you hope 'this will ensure peace'. But one good thing may arise out of it, I suppose, if the write-ups are not overheated: Japan ought to cave in. Well we're in God's hands. But He does not look kindly on Babel-builders.
    • J. R. R. Tolkien, From a letter to his son Christopher Tolkien (9 August, 1945).
  • Once launched, the bomb was absolutely unapproachable and uncontrollable until its forces were nearly exhausted, and from the crater that burst open above it, puffs of heavy incandescent vapour and fragments of visciously punitive rock and mud, saturated with Carolinium, and each a centre of scorching and blistering energy were flung high and far.

    Such was the crowning triumph of military science, the ultimate explosive, that was to give the "decisive touch" to war....

  • In the map of nearly every country of the world three or four more red circles, a score of miles in diameter, mark the position of the dying atomic bombs, and the death areas that men have been forced to abandon around them. Within these areas perished museums, cathedrals, palaces, libraries, galleries of masterpieces, and a vast accumulation of human achievement, whose charred remains lie buried, a legacy of curious material that only future generations may hope to examine....

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