<< Archival Tom Lehrer [source
]: “I always like to end on a positive note. So here is a rousing, uplifting song which is guaranteed to cheer you up.”
: This is the songwriter Tom Lehrer / playing a concert in Oslo in 1967.
(Tom Lehrer singing)
When you attend a funeral
It is sad to think that sooner or
Later those you love will do the same for you
: Lehrer, who is still alive at 92, is kind of the original Weird Al Yankovic. He wrote songs about political issues that were very funny and very, very dark. This one is about nuclear war. It’s called, “We’ll All Go Together When We Go.”
For if the bomb that drops on you
Gets your friends and neighbors too (laughter)
There’ll be nobody left behind to grieve
And we will all go together when we go
What a comforting fact that is to know
An inspiring achievement
Yes we all will go together when we go! [fade under]
When you study a subject as dark as the bomb, you get a sick sense of humor, If you don’t learn to laugh at really dark things, or else you’d spend all your time crying.
Tom Lehrer got that. Not all of his songs were about the bomb. But a lot of them were. And this one, I think it’s the best because it really gets to gets to the heart of the issue:
We will all burn together when we burn.
There’ll be no need to stand and wait your turn [fade under]
It makes no sense to talk about winning a nuclear war. Not when nuclear weapons can do so much damage. We’ll all go together
, when we go. And if we don’t want
to go? Then we need to do that together, too.
We will all go together when we go! [tempo picks up, key shift]
: I’m Jeffrey Lewis. And you’re listening to The Deal. This is the final episode: The Power to Hurt.
When the air becomes Uranius
We will all go simultaneous
Yes we all will go together
When we all go together!
We all will go together when we go.
[fade out applause]
Act I - The Study
As I’m recording this, the nuclear deal with Iran is on life support. The US
pulled out in TWENTY18
and pushed for more sanctions. The other countries who signed the deal — Britain, France, Germany … Russia and China? They are still sticking with it. Iran is too, although it has taken a series of steps back from the deal to protest the new sanctions.
It’s starting to feel a little like old times, which is to say: Things are not looking good.
Jeffrey: you went for a hike?
Sagan: Nah I went for a run. Today was the hottest day we’ve had / snows melting.
Yesterday we were up on the mountain with snow shoes but today
uuh [fade under]
A while back, I called up Scott Sagan. He’s is a professor at Stanford. He’s also a friend and a mentor of mine. I wanted to talk to him about the trip we take every year to the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
Every August, around the anniversary of the atomic bombing, the local governor invites experts like Scott and me to meet in a big hotel ballroom and discuss how to eliminate nuclear weapons.
One morning, before the meeting, I ran into Scott, running.
Jeffrey: I remember when I ran into you and you were doing your run, that morning, do you think about the big stuff when you’re running? Or are you like just like listening to music, zoned out.
Scott:: I’m listening to music, although what I find sometimes when I run— I have ideas…
He says when he goes for a run, not only does it clear his head, he can feel his “synapses opening up”
Scott: … I’ll stop and write “new title” and then I’ll keep runnig cuz then I’ll forget about it.
Scott: I mean, half the time, it’s a crappy idea (Scott and Jeffrey both laugh) the other half the time it’s like Ok, yeah! That’s the way it should be put…
I am quizzing Scott about where his ideas come from. Because, after we had visited Hiroshima a couple of times, Scott had a really important insight about the lessons of what happened there.
Jeffrey: I think people have like the wrong idea about Hiroshima. ya know?
Scott: I think they have the wrong idea about / hiroshima / , but I think they also have the wrong view about. nuclear weapons more broadly
The trip can be very sobering. I usually visit the Hiroshima Peace Museum, where one exhibit in particular really hits me. Tattered uniforms — the ones worn at school by children hurt in the bombing. For Scott, the one that really hits him? It’s a tricycle.
Scott: There’s a burnt out / slightly melted / tricycle / in a glass / case at the museum. And the fact that this toy survived when the rider clearly did not, um, I find particularly moving.
Maybe you’ve seen the photos taken after the US
dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. The city is in ruins. It is also, in black-and white. Of course, it’s not at all like that today. When Scott says people have the wrong idea about Hiroshima? He means two things.
Scott: Hiroshima is / a modern Japanese city.
Scott: And I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that it has a very good baseball team.
One thing that whenever possible that Jeffrey and I do is go to a Hiroshima Carp baseball game together on one of the evenings.
After debating grand strategy and nuclear weapons disarmament, and verification measures and the test ban treaty all day it’s nice to go and debate whether you should take out the starting pitcher and have a relief pitcher put in instead.
[baseball sounds, cheerful and lively!]
Thats’ one way people have the wrong idea about Hiroshima. Today it’s a vibrant city with a great baseball team.
[button on baseball sounds [source]]
But people also think an atomic bombing could never happen again. That our views about the bomb have evolved.
In 1945, a huge majority of Americans —more than 80 percent — supported President’s Truman’s decision to drop the bomb on Japan. Today, when Americans are asked about it, most people think Truman made the wrong
Scott: A number of really distinguished scholars / have argued that that decline in support
/ means that the american public has changed from 1945 to today
/ the american public strongly believes that it is wrong / to kill innocent civilians in conflict .
Hiroshima was horrible. It was a mistake. We are ashamed of it and would never do that again… Right? That’s the lesson a lot of people would like to take away. But Scott? He suspected that was the second thing we get wrong idea about Hiroshima.
The trips to Hiroshima / It got me really interested in trying to figure out is the American public any different today than in 1945.
Scott thought about this question for a while. And then called up a former student.
Ben: Yeah so there’s a theory / and that is that people see nuclear weapons as fundamentally different than Conventional Weapons
This is Ben Valentino, today he’s a professor at Dartmouth. Like Scott, Ben was aware of the idea that there might be strong barriers against using nuclear weapons again? —
a barrier that one might call a taboo.
Ben: the reason that nuclear weapons have not been used in the last 75 years is because a primarily of this taboo that has been built up around them. It’s a taboo in the same sense that there is a taboo against cannibalism or incest
It’s not just that cannibalism has serious drawbacks. It’s that for most people, it doesn’t even feel like an option.
Ben: these aren’t actions according to this view that you consider, weigh the costs and benefits and then decide no I’m not going to eat my friend instead of hamburger you say simply friends are not for eating
it doesn’t even enter my mind and the theory is that’s the same thing for nuclear weapons
The Nuclear Taboo.
When Ben was in college in the early 90s, this idea picked up steam. The cold war was over, the Berlin wall had fallen—
Ben: Gorbachev visited Stanford when I was there and I got to stand in a long line of people and shake his hand
The threat of nuclear war seemed to disappear. People moved on. Students were encouraged to study other topics.
Ben: I had an early conversation with my thesis advisor in which I talked about an idea for a thesis involving nuclear weapons and / he asked me whether that was really the wisest thing to focus on at that moment
Instead of the bomb, Ben spent most of his career studying genocide, in places like Bosnia and Rwanda. Those acts of mass violence and extreme cruelty made him really question whether people today were in fact more enlightened.
Ben: After having spent the decade looking at the darkest sides of humanity and watching / these events unfold and the public either participating to some extent or certainly doing nothing to stop them, I definitely didn’t think it was likely that there were these kind of bright lines against massive violence like this.
Scott and Ben are academics. So they decided to test this idea. To really try and find out whether it was people’s attitudes toward the bomb that had changed? Or was it something else? Do we just feel differently today about Japan? They came up with an experiment, in the form of a public opinion survey.
Scott: So we designed this not to look at US
views about Hiroshima,
views about doing it again against an enemy that we had hostile feelings towards.
: There was one obvious candidate.
Scott: And that’s why we chose Iran.
: Scott and Ben tried to recreate how Americans felt in 1945 — that sense of fear, anger and revenge. So they created a fictional scenario. It’s basically World War Two, but they replaced Japan with Iran. Kinda like historical fan-fiction. Reading it… it’s actually not *that* hard to imagine. Listen to one of the scenarios they included in their survey: Here’s Scott again:
Scott: the United States had put sanctions back onto Iran after a discovery of a secret nuclear weapons facility. In response Iran attacked a us ship in the persian gulf, killing 2400 people the same number who had died at pearl harbor, the United States declared war. The president had called for unconditional surrender…
: But in the scenario, Iran refuses to surrender, just as Japan refused in World War 2, and the president has to make a choice:
… you can have a conventional military campaign marching to Tehran and we’ll win the war but our estimate is that 20,000 american soldiers will be killed
: That was option A. There was also an option B.
Scott: OR, you could drop an atomic bomb on the second largest city…
: Instead of invading, losing all those American lives— you could drop one nuclear weapon. BUT
, you would kill 2 million Iranian civilians.
: So, Scott and Ben sent off the survey questions to a polling firm. A huge, representative group of Americans answered them. And then the results came back.
Ben: What we found was was more shocking than I had been prepared for
: 59%. That’s how many Americans opted for the nuclear strike, that’s how many opted to kill 2 million Iranian civilians. Men, women, children.
: Somehow, that wasn’t even the worst part.
Ben: In all of our surveys when we asked people would you prefer using nuclear weapons in this scenario or conventional weapons, we next asked— tell us why.
Scott: So let me just read some of the statements our respondents made:
Scott: One wrote “wipe them out, all leaders and followers.” Another wrote “bomb the hell out of them, they’re all barbaric animals anyway. Dirty muslim lives are less valuable than American lives,” “don’t stop until they’re dead.”
Scott: And finally one person wrote “they attacked us first, and therefore show no mercy.”
: Nuclear Taboo? Notsomuch.
This study had tapped into something really dark. And way more widespread than Scott or Ben expected.
Ben: I do remember that moment with my jaw kind of dropped because I expected significant but not that high
.I thought we might get 30% sort of Hardcore right-wing Hawks saying I don’t care what happens in Iran but you know the numbers that we got obviously include a significant number of Democrats and we can’t just conclude that these are the the fringes of the American public
: Later, on another one of our trips to Hiroshima, Scott presented the findings. We were back in that same hotel ballroom. Up on the screen is a bar graph, showing how many Americans are willing to nuke Iran.
J: And do you remember— I actually vividly remember — the first time you showed that slide at the Prince Hotel. In one of our meetings. Do you remember doing that?
S: Yeah because I was concerned that that would be offensive to the Japanese.
As it is to some americans. / I know that many in Japan believe that there’s a taboo but what they really mean is that they think there should
be a taboo.
: It’s comforting to think it couldn’t happen again. Comforting, but wrong.
Scott: I believe this should make us really worried because it suggests that leaders who can take aggressive acts are less likely to be punished for those things. And that the public will be a goad in crises rather than being a constraint. That is not a happy lesson to be learned.
: “They attacked us first.” “They’re barbaric animals.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to imagine that people are this cruel. And then I’ll catch a bit of cable news.
Sandra: the president tweeted out that they will pay a big price. He said this is not a warning, it’s a threat, in a new year… in a new year’s message. Mr. Secretary, what is president trump’s willingness to further engage there?
: This is a Fox News interview with Trump’s Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.
Esper … he is absolutely correct that If anybody challenges us, they will be met with a severe response, a strong response by U.S. Forces.
Sandra: what does that response look like?
Esper: I’m not going to telegraph we are going to do, but people know we have vast capability to do any number of things. We will act in response to actions by Iran or its proxies and we will at to preempt any attacks on our forces, our personnel… and now our aim is to deter further Iranian bad behavior that has been going on now for over 40 years. It’s time that Iran started acting like a normal country.
Vitter: It’s a long lst of bad behavior and i’m glad you brough that up.
It’s like a sandbox in grade school. Sometimes bullies don’t understand sanctions, tough talk, deployments, air strikes against proxies. Bullies understand a punch in the nose. Is there a time the bullies and ayatollahs need a punch in the nose … [source]
: If you attack us, we’ll attack you. This isn’t some fringe idea— it is the whole idea of how nuclear weapons are supposed t
o work. It’s simple: I ask my son “Why did you hit your brother?” And he says “Because he hit me first.”
Most academics call this Nuclear Deterrence.
A friend of mine once called it “the power to hurt.”
: At the beginning of this series, I filled up a bucket with beebees, to try to explain how much power to hurt we have in the world today.
: I said that it is bizarre that we live with enough firepower to kill every person on earth and most people don’t even think about it. After the atomic bomings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Albert Einstein said something similar — that the atomic bomb had changed everything, except our way of thinking. What he meant was this: The idea of responding to violence with violence? That no longer makes any sense when we’re talking about thousands and thousands of nuclear weapons.
: No one wins a nuclear war! Nuclear weapons are a shared
danger to everyone. What was so special about the Iran nuclear deal, in my opinion, was that we took a shared danger, and created a shared solution.
: A future with fewer bombs, not more. / It was an opening to a relationship that didn’t depend on the power to hurt.
: Without the deal, Iran may build nuclear weapons. And America and Israel will keep building up their nuclear arsenals, too.
We think we’re enemies, but we’re really making a choice, together.
Because we’re betting that no one will never do anything stupid with their nuclear weapons.
That we’re so much smarter than the people who lived before.
And that the nuclear taboo will work perfectly. Forever.
: Its not that I wake up every day thinking that today is the day we’re going to die in a nuclear war. It’s that I know, if we keep choosing more nuclear weapons, forever, someday, our luck will run out.
The Deal was produced by me, Jeffrey Lewis along with Erin Davis, Mitchell Johnson and Juliette Luini with additional help from Ellie Barney and Jessica Varnum.Editorial support from Julia Barton. Our original score by Hannis Brown. Special thanks to the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and Middlebury College. Rate and review the show wherever you are listening now.
Additional thanks to the amazing Tom Lehrer for permission to use his song We’ll All Go Together When We Go.