Like a mirage, whenever it seems within reach nuclear disarmament recedes further into the distance. But, at least nuclear hawks no longer feel comfortable speaking on the record about nuclear “warfighting.” In fact, to keep the money flowing into the industry, they base one illusion – that nuclear weapons make us safer – on another: acting as if not only won’t they be used offensively, but defensively. In other words, the only function of “our nuclear deterrent” (as they invariably refer to the U.S. nuclear-weapons program) is to stand around and look threatening.
But it was only a few decades ago that commentators spoke more frankly of using them. Even though it was on the heels of the Nuclear Freeze movement, in the autumn 1987 issue of the Midwest Quarterly, Washington attorney James P. Scanlan addressed a national security concern slash ethical dilemma in an article titled Facing the Paradox of Deterrence (which I stumbled across while browsing JStor).
We must intend to retaliate in order to deter the Soviet Union from attacking us with nuclear weapons; but after the Soviet Union has unleashed a massive nuclear attack, there will no longer be any purpose in retaliating, at least no purpose sufficient to justify the substantial retaliation we must threaten in order to deter.