The main text of this essay was distributed in 1995 at the
Enola Gay exhibit, National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC

The Enola Gay and the Apocalypse Equation

The Enola Gay was the first plane to drop an atomic bomb on a city. Why the bomb was dropped is a matter of dispute. A popular view is that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were atom bombed to end the war against Japan as quickly as possible. Many critics of the atomic bombings argue, with substantial evidence, that the main motive for the bombings was to intimidate the Soviet Union: Regardless of why the bombs were dropped two facts are indisputable:

First, the bombings violated the moral principles of Christianity and all of the world's major humanitarian religions and philosophies. In this, they were similar to most acts of war.

Second, the bombings introduced atomic weapons to warfare. Atomic weapons are different from conventional weapons in that they are much more "efficient"; that is, they are much more powerful, and much easier to deliver. It took thousands of bombers and the lives of 150,000 Allied airmen to destroy Germany's cities. One plane and one bomb destroyed Hiroshima. None of the Enola Gay's crew was even injured. Today, a strategic nuclear missile can carry as many as ten warheads, each with an explosive power at least ten times the power of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, and deliver these warheads with pinpoint accuracy. Thermonuclear bombs also can be delivered clandestinely. There is no defense against these weapons.

The nuclear arms race developed because national "leaders" believed that a strategy existed that would permit nuclear weapons to be instruments for preserving "peace," without being dropped on an "enemy" in anger. This strategy. "nuclear deterrence," is the foundation of United States foreign-policy. Deterrence is based on the reasoning that if an "enemy" can be convinced that a nuclear attack will result in such devastating retaliation that the consequences of the attack will be a net loss, the attack will never occur. Also, one of the main principles of deterrence strategy is that a nation should have a large number of well protected nuclear missiles. Such an arsenal will be difficult to destroy in a "first strike" attack.

What is wrong with nuclear deterrence? It can be criticized on moral grounds. It is wrong to threaten to kill millions of people in an act of retaliation. Beyond that, in the long run it will not work. It will lead to thermonuclear war. The Apocalypse Equation (AE) shows why.

The AE shows how the probability of a nuclear missile launch is related to time. Deterrence strategy ignores time. It is based on static speculations about the psychological effects of nuclear weapons. But time is crucial to the development of probability. This is understood in the natural sciences and industry, such as physics, chemistry, biology, genetics, and the insurance industry. These fields often use equations that show probability is related to time. Such equations are called "stochastic" equations. The AE is a stochastic equation used to analyze a national policy -- nuclear deterrence. Apocalypse Equation with Graph

In the equation, "p" is the probability that any given missile of the thousands that now are deployed will be launched on any one day. "T" is the period of time being considered. "n" is the number of missiles on battle-ready status (Read the exponent of the equation T times n). "AP" (for Apocalyptic tragedy) is the probability over time T that a missile will be launched.

There are two curves on the graph underneath the equation. Each curve is produced by a certain number of missiles. The more missiles, the greater the angle, or "slope" of the curve. The top curve is produced by the most missiles. It crosses the 50% line earlier than the bottom curve. If a perpendicular is dropped from the point where the top curve crosses the 50% line, it produces T1. A perpendicular dropped from the point where the bottom curve crosses the 50% line produces T2. Since 0T1 is less than 0T2, the graph shows that increasing the number of missiles in strategic arsenals shortens the time before a missile launch becomes probable. More missiles make nuclear apocalypse more likely.

The AE shows that given antagonistic nuclear missile systems, the probability of thermonuclear accidents and thermonuclear war approaches certainty. Nuclear deterrence is a "Faustian bargain," that may generate "peace" for an indeterminate period, but only at the cost of eventual, catastrophic nuclear accidents and attacks.

Still another insight that the equation provides is how safe nuclear missile arsenals must be if we are to live with them for any significant period. This safety factor is found in "p." p is made up of many factors, including the mechanical reliability of the missiles, and the psychological stability of the crews controlling them. If it is assumed that p is as small as one chance in one-hundred-million, and there are 4,000 strategic nuclear missiles in the arsenals of the nuclear powers, then it can be calculated by means of the equation that in 50 years the probability of the launch of at least one missile is about 52 % . Even if the daily chance of an accidental launch is astronomically small, some missile probably will be launched within a relatively short time.

Since nuclear weapons are the ultimate expression of military force, the Apocalypse Equation shows that the ultimate consequence of attempting to found "civilization" on military force is catastrophic nuclear war.

Our reliance on military force has other destructive consequences. Military institutions and weapons are impoverishing us. Even in the richest nation on earth, we now are choosing to reduce health care, education, and other needed services in order to maintain and even increase giant military systems.

Since military systems always are justified on the grounds that they are necessary to defend freedom and promote justice, the key question before the human species is how these values can achieved and defended without military force. Nonviolent resistance is the answer proposed by Mohattdas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, -and other humanitarian leaders.

For more information about about nonviolent resistance and international peacemaking efforts:

Midwest Pacifist Center
5729 S. Dorchester Ave.
Chicago, IL 60637
Tel: 773 324-0654
Fax: 773 324-6426

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Edited for the web 2000 June. Last Modified: 2000 June
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