The Deadliest Peacemaker

Ryan Heshmati

March 25, 2022

On February 23, 1967, NBC aired Star Trek’s “A Taste of Armageddon.” The episode toyed with the idea of a computer-simulated war between interplanetary enemies to protect infrastructure. Instead of rockets or missiles attacking, computers simulated such attacks, and citizens who were killed according to the computers were forced to report for execution. Throughout the episode, the writers wanted to show that war needs to rock every foundation of society. Otherwise there is no incentive to stop or prevent it. In other words, if people do not witness the death and destruction of war in its raw form, they will not understand why it must stop.

War, once a combat-heavy activity, has evolved to stakes so severe that escalations could destroy the human race. When J. Robert Oppenheimer, the “father of the atomic bomb,” saw his work in action, he reportedly thought to himself, “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” When, in August, 1945, the United States used atomic bombs against Japan, in response to Pearl Harbor, humanity really saw “the destroyer of worlds” in action. According to some estimates, the use of just two atomic bombs against Japan killed up to 226,000 people. This glimpse into the potential destruction a nuclear war would involve was a necessary and meaningful awakening to all global superpowers.

The Cold War era, for instance, when both the western world and the USSR were stocking up on warheads, first witnessed the stability-instability paradox. The theory states that the threat of mutually assured destruction actually decreases the likelihood of major military altercations. Proponents reason that the threat of nuclear war will limit fighting between enemies. This has led to proxy wars, notably in Syria. Put simply, the more destructive two nation’s weapons become, the less likely it is they will use them.

Nuclear weapons, while being dangerous in the wrong hands, represent the largest peacemakers in modern history. Some might argue that nuclear weapons unlock guaranteed sovereignty for totalitarian states, but as long as everyone is forced to keep their cards for protection, none should have to be used.

Today, Russian forces continue their assault on Ukraine. The threat of a nuclear altercation, escalated by Vladimir Putin’s threat of “…consequences greater than any you have faced in history,” to any who intervene in his invasion has at least so far prevented a larger conflict with the United States. While nuclear power can prevent devastating and destructive wars between nuclear states, it cannot stop, and may actually bolster, invasions of non-nuclear states.