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Above: On July 16, 1945, the Trinity plutonium bomb detonated with the energy equivalent of 22 kilotons (22,000 metric tons) of TNT. This is the explosion at 16 milliseconds after detonation.

Fat Man & Little Boy

On the 75th anniversary of nuclear weapons, Dr. Michael Shermer presents a moral case for their use in ending WWII and the deterrence of Great Power wars since, and a call to eventually eliminate them. This essay was excerpted, in part, from Michael Shermer‘s book, The Moral Arc, in the chapter on war.

Read the essay below, or listen to it being read by the author, Michael Shermer:

On August 6 the Little Boy gun-type uranium-235 bomb exploded with an energy equivalent of 16-18 kilotons of TNT, flattening 69 percent of Hiroshima’s buildings and killing an estimated 80,000 people and injuring another 70,000. (

On August 6, 1945 the Little Boy gun-type uranium-235 bomb exploded with an energy equivalent of 16–18 kilotons of TNT, flattening 69 percent of Hiroshima’s buildings and killing an estimated 80,000 people and injuring another 70,000.

Three quarters of a century ago this summer, nuclear weapons altered our civilization forever. On July 16 the Trinity plutonium bomb detonated with the energy equivalent of 22 kilotons (22,000 metric tons) of TNT, sending a mushroom cloud 39,000 feet into the atmosphere. The explosion left a crater 76 meters wide filled with radioactive glass called trinitite (melted quartz grained sand). It could be heard as far away as El Paso, Texas. On August 6 the Little Boy gun-type uranium-235 bomb exploded with an energy equivalent of 16–18 kilotons of TNT, flattening 69 percent of Hiroshima’s buildings and killing an estimated 80,000 people and injuring another 70,000. On August 9 the Fat Man plutonium implosion-type bomb with the energy equivalence of 19-23 kilotons of TNT leveled around 44 percent of Nagasaki, killing an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 people and severely wounding another 60,000.1

The aftermath of Little Boy (

The aftermath of Little Boy

On August 9 the Fat Man plutonium implosion-type bomb with the energy equivalence of 19-23 kilotons of TNT leveled around 44 percent of Nagasaki, killing an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 people and severely wounding another 60,000. (

On August 9, 1945 the Fat Man plutonium implosion-type bomb with the energy equivalence of 19–23 kilotons of TNT leveled around 44 percent of Nagasaki, killing an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 people and severely wounding another 60,000.

Before and Aftermath of Nagasaki (

Before and aftermath of Nagasaki

Memorandum from Major General Leslie Groves to Army Chief of Staff George Marshall (

Click image to view larger PDF. Had the Japanese military hardliners had their way to continue the war into the fall, Groves had three more bombs readied for September and another three for October. Here he instructs his Chief of Staff that the next bomb will be ready to drop on after August 24. Emperor Hirohito capitulated on August 15, thereby saving millions of lives of his citizens.

As documented in the memo below dated August 10, 1945, if the Japanese had not surrendered the head of the Manhattan Project, Major General Leslie R. Groves, had another Fat Man-type plutonium implosion bomb ready to go after August 24 that would have likely killed another 50,000 to 100,000 people.2 And had the Japanese military hardliners had their way to continue the war into the fall, Groves had three more bombs readied for September and another three for October. President Harry Truman was not exaggerating when he threatened Japan with “a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this Earth.” Truman did agonize about dropping more nukes on Japan, troubled as he was by the thought of more innocents and noncombatants being killed. He wrestled that decision away from the military. (Note Groves’ handwritten addendum to his memo that “It is not to be released on Japan without express authority from the President.” U.S. presidents have had sole authority to use nuclear weapons ever since.) However, further bombings proved unnecessary. On August 15 Emperor Hirohito, against the wishes of some of Japan’s military leaders, announced on the radio that Japan would capitulate. On September 2 they signed the surrender documents in Tokyo Bay, ending the Second World War.3

On this 75th anniversary of the summer of the bomb I want to make the case that their use was necessary to end the war, that their continued existence has acted as a deterrence against another Great Power war — but that we must eliminate them entirely for the long-term existence of our civilization and possibly our species.

Since 1945 a cadre of critics have proffered the claim that atomic bombs were unnecessary to bring about the end of World War II (or, at least, the Fat Man Nagasaki bomb was superfluous), and thus this act was immoral, illegal, or even a crime against humanity. Robert Oppenheimer and other physicists like Leo Szilard who worked on the Manhattan Project expressed reservations. “The physicists have known sin,” Oppenheimer opined. He went to Truman and confessed “Mr. President. I feel I have blood on my hands,” to which the President recalled “I told him the blood was on my hands — to let me worry about that.” Truman promptly dismissed Oppenheimer and told Secretary of State Dean Acheson, “I don’t want to see that son-of-a-bitch in this office ever again.”4

In 1946 the Federal Council of Churches issued a statement declaring, “As American Christians, we are deeply penitent for the irresponsible use already made of the atomic bomb. We are agreed that, whatever be one’s judgment of the war in principle, the surprise bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are morally indefensible.”5 In 1967 the linguist and contrarian politico Noam Chomsky called the two bombings “the most unspeakable crimes in history.”6

More recently, in his history of genocide titled Worse Than War, the historian Daniel Goldhagen opens his analysis by calling the U.S. President Harry Truman “a mass murderer” because in ordering the use of atomic weapons he “chose to snuff out the lives of approximately 300,000 men, women and children.” Goldhagen opines that “it is hard to understand how any rightthinking person could fail to call slaughtering unthreatening Japanese mass murder.”7 Goldhagen defines “genocide” broadly enough to equate it with “mass murder” (without ever defining what, exactly, that means). In morally equating Harry Truman with Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot, Goldhagen allows himself to be constrained by the categorical thinking that prevents one from discerning the different kinds, levels, and motives for large scale military violence. By this reasoning, nearly every act that kills a large number of people could be considered genocidal because there are only two categories — mass murder and non-mass murder.

By contrast, continuous thinking allows us to distinguish the differences between types of mass killings (some scholars define genocide as one-sided killing by armed people of unarmed people), their context (during a state war, civil war, ethnic cleansing), motivations (termination of hostilities or extermination of a people), and quantities (hundreds to millions) along a sliding scale. In 1946 the Polish jurist Raphael Lemkin created the term genocide and defined it as “a conspiracy to exterminate national, religious or racial groups.”8 That same year the U.N. General Assembly defined genocide as “a denial of the right of existence of entire human groups.”9 More recently, in 1994 the highly respected philosopher Steven Katz defined genocide as “the actualization of the intent, however successfully carried out, to murder in its totality any national, ethnic, racial, religious, political, social, gender or economic group.”10

By these definitions, the dropping of Fat Man and Little Boy were not acts of genocide. The difference between Truman and the others is in the context and motivation of the act. In their genocidal actions against targeted people, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot had as their objective the total elimination of a group. The killing would only stop when every last pursued person was exterminated (or if the perpetrators were stopped or defeated). Truman’s goal in dropping the bombs was to end the war with Japan (which it did), not to eliminate the Japanese people (which it didn’t). That the U.S. provided considerable financial, personnel, and material support to help rebuild Japan into a world economic power puts the lie to the eliminationist accusation.11

The author’s father, Richard Shermer, in 1945, serving aboard the USS Wren

The author’s father, Richard Shermer, in 1945, serving aboard the USS Wren.

More broadly morally, if we ground morality in the survival and flourishing of sentient beings,12 by that measure, then not only did Fat Man and Little Boy end the war and stop the killing, they saved lives — very probably millions of lives, both Japanese and American. My father Richard Shermer was possibly one such survivor. During the Second World War he served aboard the USS Wren (DD-568), a Fletcher-class destroyer assigned to protect aircraft carriers and other large capital ships from Japanese submarines and from Kamikaze planes on what was called antiaircraft radar picket watch. His ship was so attacked several times but sustained no major damage. The Wren was part of the larger fleet that was working its way toward Japan, escorting the carriers whose planes were bombarding the Japanese homeland in preparation for the planned invasion. My father told me that everyone onboard dreaded that day because they had heard of the horrific carnage resulting from the invasion of just two tiny islands held by the Japanese — Iwo Jima and Okinawa. If that was any indication of what was to come with a full-scale invasion, the contemplation of it was almost too much to bear.13

The USS Wren (,_circa_in_the_mid-1950s_(NH_107257).jpg)

The USS Wren, a Navy destroyer deployed to protect aircraft carriers from suicidal Kamikaze pilots while their planes bombarded the Japanese homeland in preparation for the invasion that never came, thanks to Fat Man and Little Boy.

USS Lexington
USS Wren fantail
USS Wren front
USS Wren

Click an image above to enlarge it. Four photos taken by Richard Shermer on board the USS Wren, pictured fore and aft, accompanying the aircraft carrier USS Lexington, and arriving in Tokyo Bay in late August, 1945 in preparation for the surrender ceremony on September 2, marking the end of the Second World War.

During the invasion of Iwo Jima there were approximately 26,000 American casualties that included 6,821 dead in the 36-day battle. How fiercely did the Japanese defend that little volcanic rock 700 miles from Japan? Of the 22,060 Japanese soldiers assigned to fight to the bitter end, only 216 survived.14 The subsequent battle for Okinawa, only 340 miles from the Japanese mainland, was fought even more ferociously, resulting in a staggering body count of 240,931 dead, including 77,166 Japanese soldiers, 14,009 American soldiers, plus an additional 149,193 Japanese civilians living on the island who either died fighting or committed suicide rather than let themselves be captured.15 With an estimated 2.3 million Japanese soldiers and 28 million Japanese civilian militia prepared to defend their island nation to the death,16 it was clear to all what an invasion of the Japanese mainland would entail.

It is from these cold hard facts that Truman’s advisors estimated that between 250,000 and one million American lives would be lost in an invasion of Japan.17 General Douglas MacArthur estimated that there could be a 22:1 ratio of Japanese to American deaths, which translates to a minimum death toll of 5.5 million Japanese.18 By comparison, cold though it may sound, the body count from both atomic bombs — about 200,000–300,000 total (Hiroshima: 90,000–166,000 deaths, Nagasaki: 60,000–80,000 deaths19) — was a bargain.

In any case, if Truman hadn’t ordered the bombs dropped, General Curtis LeMay and his fleet of B-29 bombers would have continued pummeling Tokyo and other Japanese cities into rubble. When asked to predict when the war would end based on his bombing program, LeMay said September 1, because that was when there would be nothing left of Japan to bomb. The death toll from conventional bombing would have been just as high as that produced by the two atomic bombs, if not higher. Previous mass bombing raids had produced Hiroshima-level death rates, and it is likely that more than just two cities would have been destroyed before the Japanese surrendered. Compare, for example, Little Boy’s energy equivalent of 16,000–19,000 tons of TNT to the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey estimate that this was the equivalent of 220 B-29s carrying 1,200 tons of incendiary bombs, 400 tons of high-explosive bombs, and 500 tons of anti-personnel fragmentation bombs, with an equivalent number of casualties.20 In fact, on the night of March 9–10, 1945, 279 B-29s dropped 1,665 tons of bombs on Tokyo, leveling 15.8 square miles of the city, killing 88,000 people, injuring another 41,000, and leaving another million homeless.21

On the night of March 9-10, 1945, 279 B-29s dropped 1,665 tons of bombs on Tokyo, leveling 15.8 square miles of the city, killing 88,000 people, injuring another 41,000, and leaving another million homeless. This is the result. (

On the night of March 9–10, 1945, 279 B-29s dropped 1,665 tons of bombs on Tokyo, leveling 15.8 square miles of the city, killing 88,000 people, injuring another 41,000, and leaving another million homeless. This is the result.

These facts also help refute the claim that the alternative scenario of dropping an atomic bomb on an uninhabited island or bay to demonstrate its destructive force would have worked to convince the Japanese to surrender. Given that they refused to capitulate even after numerous cities were obliterated by conventional bombs and Hiroshima was erased from the map by an atomic bomb it seems unlikely this more benign strategy would have worked.22

On balance, then, dropping the atomic bombs was the least destructive of the options on the table. Although we wouldn’t want to call it a moral act, it was in the context of the time the least immoral act by the criteria of lives saved. That said, we should also recognize that the several hundred thousand killed is still a colossal loss of life. The fact that the invisible killer of radiation continued its effects long after the bombings should dissuade us from ever using such weapons again. Along that sliding scale of evil, in the context of one of the worst wars in human history that included the singularly destructive Holocaust of six million murdered, it was not, pace Chomsky, the most unspeakable crime in history — not even close — but it was an event in the annals of humanity never to be forgotten and, hopefully, never to be repeated.

When I was an undergraduate at Pepperdine University in 1974, the father of the hydrogen bomb — Edward Teller — spoke at our campus in conjunction with the awarding of an honorary doctorate. His message was that deterrence works. At the time I remember thinking — like so many politicos were saying — “yeah, but a single slip-up is all it takes.” Popular films such as Fail Safe and Dr. Strangelove reinforced the point. But the blunder never came (and the close calls were kept secret for decades). In the game theoretic strategy of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), deterrence works because neither side has anything to gain by initiating a first strike against the other. The retaliatory capability of both is such that a first strike would most likely lead to the utter annihilation of both countries (along with much of the rest of the world). “It’s not mad!” proclaimed Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara. “Mutual Assured Destruction is the foundation of deterrence. Nuclear weapons have no military utility whatsoever, excepting only to deter one’s opponent from their use. Which means you should never, never, never initiate their use against a nuclear-equipped opponent. If you do, it’s suicide.”23

The logic of deterrence was first articulated in 1946 by the American military strategist Bernard Brodie in his appropriately titled book The Absolute Weapon, in which he noted the break in history that atomic weapons brought with their development: “Thus far the chief purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars. From now on, its chief purpose must be to avert them. It can have almost no other purpose.”24 As Dr. Strangelove explained in Stanley Kubrick’s classic Cold War film: “Deterrence is the art of producing in the mind of the enemy the fear to attack.” Said enemy, of course, must know that you have at the ready such destructive devices, and that is why “The whole point of a doomsday machine is lost if you keep it a secret!25

Dr. Strangelove was a black comedy that parodied MAD by showing what can happen when things go terribly wrong, in this case when General Jack D. Ripper becomes unhinged at the thought of “Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion, and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids” and orders a nuclear first strike against the Soviet Union. Given this unfortunate incident and knowing that the Russkis know about it and will therefore retaliate, General “Buck” Turgidson pleads with the president to go all out and launch a full first strike. “Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed, but I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops, uh, depending on the breaks.”26

This isn’t far off real projected casualties (Kubrick was a student of Cold War strategy), as in 1957 Strategic Air Command (SAC) estimated that between 360 and 525 million casualties would be inflicted in the first week of a nuclear exchange with the Soviet block.27 In 1968 Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara gave these figures for MAD to work: “In the case of the Soviet Union, I would judge that a capability on our part to destroy, say, one-fifth to one-fourth of their population and one-half of her industrial capacity would serve as an effective deterrent.” With a population of the time of about 128 million, this translates to 25–32 million dead.28 A 1979 report from the Office of Technology Assessment for the U.S. Congress, entitled The Effects of Nuclear War, estimated that 155 to 165 million Americans would die in an all-out Soviet first strike (unless people made use of existing shelters near their homes, reducing fatalities to 110–120 million). The population of the U.S. at the time was 225 million, so the estimated percent that would be killed ranged from 49 percent to 73 percent. Staggering.

Deterrence has worked so far — no nuclear weapon has been detonated in a conflict of any kind in 75 years — but it would be foolish to think of deterrence as a permanent solution.29 As long ago as 1795, in an essay titled Perpetual Peace, Immanuel Kant worked out what such deterrence ultimately leads to: “A war, therefore, which might cause the destruction of both parties at once … would permit the conclusion of a perpetual peace only upon the vast burial-ground of the human species.” (Kant’s book title came from an innkeeper’s30 sign featuring a cemetery — not the type of perpetual peace most of us strive for.) Deterrence acts as only a temporary solution to the Hobbesian temptation to strike first (also called the security dilemma in which a nation arming in defense triggers other nations to also arm in defense), allowing both Leviathans to go about their business in relative peace, settling for small proxy wars, which themselves have been in decline for decades.31

In the long run we need to work toward a world free of nuclear weapons. The risks of accidents or a deranged Dr. Strangelove-type character triggering a nuclear exchange is too high for a MAD deterrence strategy to be a permanent solution to the security dilemma it was invented to solve. Authors such as Richard Rhodes in his nuclear tetralogy (The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Dark Sun, Arsenals of Folly, and The Twilight of the Bombs32), and Eric Schlosser in Command and Control,33 leave readers with vertigo knowing how many close calls there have been. To name but a few: the jettisoning of a Mark IV atomic bomb in British Columbia in 1950; the crash of a B-52 carrying two Mark 39 nuclear bombs in North Carolina; the Cuban Missile Crisis; the Able Archer 83 Exercise in Western Europe that the Soviets misread as the buildup to a nuclear strike against them; the Titan II Missile explosion in Damascus, Arkansas that narrowly avoided eradicating the entire city off the map; and Stanislav Petrov’s decision not to trigger a retaliatory strike against the U.S. based on reports from the Soviet early warning satellite system of incoming ballistic missiles. It is not for nothing that Petrov is known as “the man who saved the world.”34

Thus, in the long run we must get to Nuclear Zero, but in the short run there are so many hurdles that few think we are anywhere near such a lofty goal. In two episodes of my Science Salon podcast Fred Kaplan, the national security journalist and author of several books on nuclear weapons, and William J. Perry, Secretary of Defense under President Clinton and a staunch advocate for eliminating nuclear weapons, both told me that they did not think this could happen any time soon, even while their books outline how it could be done.35 In The Moral Arc I summarized the consensus by experts on the most important steps to take to reduce the risk of nuclear weapons and to work toward a world free of them, including: (1) enact a “no first use” policy, (2) take all weapons off of “launch on warning”; (3) increase the warning and decision times for launching a retaliatory strike; (4) remove from the President the sole authority to launch nuclear weapons; (5) uphold non-proliferation agreements; (6) widen the taboo from using nuclear weapons to owning them; (7) increase economic interdependence; (8) expand democratic governance; (9) reduce spending on nuclear weapons; and (10) continue the disarmament of existing nuclear weapons. To that end, it is encouraging to see the decline in the total number of nuclear warheads to around 16,000 from the peak of around 70,000 in 1986, as visualized in the figure below.36

The decline in the total number of nuclear warheads to around 16,000 from the peak of around 70,000 in 1986.

Click image to enlarge. The decline in the total number of nuclear warheads to around 16,000 from the peak of around 70,000 in 1986.

I should note that some security scholars, along with many political theorists and leaders, think that the path to peace is more deterrence through more and better nuclear weapons. President Trump, for example, insists on renovating our aged nuclear weapons systems to the tune of $1.2 trillion between 2017 and 2046, an upgrade program37 he inherited from President Obama. And despite winning the Nobel Peace Prize for working toward nuclear nonproliferation, Obama nevertheless backed off from initiating a “no first use” policy under pressure from our NATO allies, who were worried that Russian saber rattling and border expansion might be encouraged if an escalation from conventional to nuclear weapons was no longer on the defense table.38

Similarly, the late political scientist Kenneth Waltz thought that allowing Iran to go nuclear would bring stability to the Middle East because “in no other region of the world does a lone, unchecked nuclear state exist. It is Israel’s nuclear arsenal, not Iran’s desire for one, that has contributed most to the current crisis. Power, after all, begs to be balanced.”39 Except for when it doesn’t, as in the post-1991 period after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the unipolar dominance of the United States. No other medium-size power rose to fill the vacuum, no rising power started wars of conquest to consolidate more power, and the only other candidate, China, has remained war-free for almost four decades. Given Iran’s outlier status in the international system and their avowed promise to “wipe off the map” Israel, anyone who would join a Fair-Play-for-Nuclear-Iran-Committee has lost their moral compass.

This all just shows how difficult it is going to be to get to a world without nukes. Nevertheless, we have to try. One more statistic is sobering in this regard, as noted by the anti-nuclear scientist and activist David Barash: The U.S. has a triad of nuclear weapons: land (missiles), air (bombers) and sea (submarines). A single Trident sub carries 20 nuclear-tipped missiles, each one of which has eight independently targetable warheads of about 465 kilotons, or about 30 times the destructive power of Little Boy. So, one sub packs the equivalent of 4,800 Hiroshimas (20 x 8 x 30), and we have 18 Trident submarines, or the equivalent of 86,400 Hiroshimas!40 In the words of President Obama during a briefing about our nuclear capability: “Let’s stipulate that this is all insane.”41

The use of nuclear weapons for both ending wars and deterring them is a 20th century phenomenon that can be phased out for the new century. As the political scientist Christopher Fettweis notes in his book Dangerous Times?, despite the popularity of such intuitive notions as the “balance of power” — based on a small number of non-generalizable cases from the past that are in any case no longer applicable to the present — so-called “clashes of civilization” like the world wars of the 20th century are extremely unlikely to happen in the highly interdependent world of the 21st century. In fact, Fettweis shows, never in history has such a high percentage of the world’s population lived in peace. Conflicts of all forms have been steadily dropping since the early 1990s, and even terrorism can bring states together in international cooperation to combat a common enemy.42

The abolition of nuclear weapons is a complex and difficult puzzle that has been studied extensively by scholars and scientists for over half a century. The many problems and permutations of getting from here to there are legion, and there is no single sure-fire pathway to zero. Nevertheless, it is a soluble problem, and humans are nothing if not innovative problem solvers.43 I do not believe that the deterrence trap is one from which we can never extricate ourselves, and the remaining threats should direct us to work toward Nuclear Zero sooner rather than later. In the meantime, minimum is the best we can hope for given the complexities of international relations, but given enough time, as Shakespeare poetically observed…

Time’s glory is to calm contending kings,
To unmask falsehood and bring truth to light,
To stamp the seal of time in aged things,
To wake the morn and sentinel the night, …
To slay the tiger that doth live by slaughter, …
To cheer the ploughman with increased crops,
And waste huge stones with little water-drops.”44

About the Author

Dr. Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, the host of the Science Salon Podcast, and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University where he teaches Skepticism 101. For 18 years he was a monthly columnist for Scientific American. He is the author of New York Times bestsellers Why People Believe Weird Things and The Believing Brain, Why Darwin Matters, The Science of Good and Evil, The Moral Arc, and Heavens on Earth. His new book is Giving the Devil His Due: Reflections of a Scientific Humanist.

  1. Rhodes, Richard. 1986. The Making of the Atomic 1 Bomb. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  2. The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II, A Collection of Primary Sources. National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 162. George Washington University. See also: “The Third Shot.”
  3. DeNooyer, Rushmore. 2015. The Bomb. PBS documentary.
  4. Bird, Kai and Martin J. Sherwin. 2007. American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer. New York: Knopf, 332.
  5. Quoted in: Marty, Martin E. 1996. Modern American Religion, Vol 3: Under God, Indivisible, 1941–1960. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 117.
  6. Chomsky Noam. 1967. “The Responsibility of Intellectuals.” The New York Review of Books, 8(3).
  7. Goldhagen, Daniel Jonah. 2009. Worse Than War: Genocide, Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assault on Humanity. New York: PublicAffairs, 1, 6.
  8. Lemkin, Raphael. 1946. “Genocide.” American Scholar, 15(2), 227–230.
  9. United Nations General Assembly Resolution 96(1): “The Crime of Genocide.”
  10. Katz, Steven T. 1994. The Holocaust in Historical Perspective, Vol. 1. New York: Oxford University Press.
  11. Kugler, Tadeusz, Kyung Kook Kang, Jacek Kugler, Marina Arbetman-Rabinowitz, and John Thomas. 2013. “Demographic and Economic Consequences of Conflict.” International Studies Quarterly, March, 57(1), 1–12.
  12. Shermer, Michael. 2015. The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity to Truth, Justice, and Freedom. New York: Henry Holt, 11.
  13. In 2002 I attended the reunion of the Wren crew in my father’s stead and confirmed his memories.
  14. Toland, John. 1970. The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936–1945. New York: Random House, 731.
  15. “The Cornerstone of Peace — Number of Names Inscribed.” Kyushu-Okinawa Summit 2000: Okinawa G8 Summit Host Preparation Council, 2000. See also: Pike, John. 2010. “Battle of Okinawa.”; Manchester, William. 1987. “The Bloodiest Battle of All.” The New York Times, June 14.
  16. Giangreco, Dennis M. 2009. Hell to Pay: Operation Downfall and the Invasion of Japan 1945–1947. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 121–124.
  17. Giangreco, Dennis M. 1998. “Transcript of ‘Operation Downfall [U.S. Invasion of Japan]: US Plans and Japanese Counter-Measures. Beyond Bushido: Recent Work in Japanese Military History. See also: Maddox, Robert James. 1995. “The Biggest Decision: Why We Had to Drop the Atomic Bomb.” American Heritage, 46(3).
  18. Skates, John Ray. 2000. The Invasion of Japan: Alternative to the Bomb. University of South Carolina Press, 79.
  19. Putnam, Frank W. 1998. “The Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission in Retrospect.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, May 12, 95(10), 5426–5431.
  20. K’Olier, Franklin (Ed.) 1946. United States Strategic Bombing Survey, Sum 20 mary Report (Pacific War). Washington DC: United States Government Printing Office.
  21. Rhodes, 1984, op cit., 599.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Quoted in: Cold War: MAD 1960–1972. 1998. BBC Two Documentary. Transcript: Film:
  24. Brodie, Bernard. 1946. The Absolute Weapon: Atomic Power and World Order. New York: Harcourt Brace, 79.
  25. Kubrick, Stanley. 1964. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Columbia Pictures.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Brown, Anthony Cave (Ed.). 1978. Dropshot: The American Plan for World War III Against Russia in 1957. New York: Dial Press; Richelson, Jeffrey. 1986. “Population Targeting and US Strategic Doctrine.” In Desmond Ball and Jeffrey Richelson (Eds.). Strategic Nuclear Targeting. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 234–249.
  28. McNamara, Robert S. 1969. “Report Before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the Fiscal year 1969-73 Defense Program, and 1969 Defense Budget, January 22, 1969.” Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 11.
  29. For a scholarly analysis of and an alternative view to deterrence see: Kugler, Jacek. 1984. “Terror Without Deterrence: Reassessing the Role of Nuclear Weapons.” Journal of Conflict Resolution, 28(3), September, 470–506.
  30. Kant, Immanuel. 1795. “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch.” In Perpetual Peace and Other Essays. Indianapolis: Hackett, I, 6.
  31. Pinker, Steven. 2011. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. New York: Penguin.
  32. Rhodes, Richard. 2010. Twilight of the Bombs: Recent Challenges, New Dangers, and the Prospects of a World Without Nuclear Weapons. New York: Knopf.
  33. Schlosser, Eric. 2013. Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety. New York: Penguin.
  34. See the documentary film of that title. Trailer:
  35. Science Salon podcast episode # 107 with Fred Kaplan and Science Salon podcast episode # 127 with William J. Perry were based on their new books: Kaplan, Fred. 2020. The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War. New York: Simon & Schuster; Perry, William J. and Tom Z. Collina. 2020. The Button: The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power from Truman to Trump. BenBella Books.
  36. For a striking visual demonstration of every one of the 2,053 nuclear weapon explosions between 1945 and 1998 by the Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto, starting with the Trinity test in New Mexico, where in the world they happened and whom they were sponsored by, see:
  37. 2018. U.S. Nuclear Modernization Programs report. Arms Control Association. August.
  38. The Nobel Prize committee’s statement on President Obama’s award: Sonne, Paul, Gordon Lubold, and Carol E. Lee. 2016. “‘No First Use’ Nuclear Policy Proposal Assailed by U.S. Cabinet Officials, Allies.” Wall Street Journal, August 12.
  39. Waltz, Kenneth N. 2012. “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb: Nuclear Balancing Would Mean Stability.” Foreign Affairs, July/August.
  40. Barash, David. 2018. “Deterrence and its Discontents.” Skeptic, Vol. 23, No. 2,
  41. Quoted in Kaplan, op cit., 244.
  42. Fettweis, Christopher. 2010. Dangerous Times? The International Politics of Great Power Peace. Georgetown University Press.
  43. Lipton, Judith and David Barash. 2019. Strength Through Peace: How Demilitarization Led to Peace and Happiness in Costa Rica, and What the Rest of the World Can Learn From a Tiny, Tropical Nation. Oxford University Press.
  44. Shakespeare, William. 1594. The Rape of Lucrece. Available at:
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Detecting Baloney

Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic) by Deanna and Skylar (High Tech High Media Arts, San Diego, CA)

The Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic)

For a class project, a pair of 11th grade physics students created the infographic shown below, inspired by Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit: a 16-page booklet designed to hone your critical thinking skills.

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Wisdom of Harriet Hall

Top 10 Things to Know About Alternative Medicine

Harriet Hall M.D. discusses: alternative versus conventional medicine, flu fear mongering, chiropractic, vaccines and autism, placebo effect, diet, homeopathy, acupuncture, “natural remedies,” and detoxification.

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Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Understanding the difference could save your life! In this superb 10-part video lecture series, Harriet Hall M.D., contrasts science-based medicine with so-called “complementary and alternative” methods.

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Top 10 Myths of Terrorism

Is Terrorism an Existential Threat?

This free booklet reveals 10 myths that explain why terrorism is not a threat to our way of life or our survival.

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The Top 10 Weirdest Things

The Top Ten Strangest Beliefs

Michael Shermer has compiled a list of the top 10 strangest beliefs that he has encountered in his quarter century as a professional skeptic.

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Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and can you tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

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The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Mind altering experiences are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

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Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

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Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

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The Yeti or Abominable Snowman

5 Cryptid Cards

Download and print 5 Cryptid Cards created by Junior Skeptic Editor Daniel Loxton. Creatures include: The Yeti, Griffin, Sasquatch/Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, and the Cadborosaurus.

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