chapter  8
25 Pages

Iraq: strategy’s burnt offering

Just over a year before the Cuban missile crisis, the physicist and civilian leader of the Manhattan Project, J. Robert Oppenheimer, gave a speech at the University of Puerto Rico. Perhaps, a little removed from American soil, he felt freer to express his thoughts – profound, untimely and all the more remarkable thoughts, coming from a man who had spent many years close to the US military establishment, and who was so imbued with the positivist and instrumental traditions of post-Newtonian science. He had helped to create the most fearsome weapons known to humanity, had tried to prevent the development of the even more fearsome thermonuclear weapons, and it was their role in American nuclear strategy and political culture that now weighed on his mind.3 He complained that ‘there has been no ethical discourse of any excellence or nobility of weight, dealing with how one should handle, how one should regard . . . atomic weapons’:

What are we to make of a civilization which has always thought of ethical questions as quite essential in human life, and which has always had a deep, articulate, fervent conviction, probably never a majority conviction but always there, that the returning of good

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killing everybody, or almost everybody, except in terms of calculation and prudence?4