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Overrated? Underrated?

June 2024
1min read


I take exception to Phil Patton’s choice of the most overrated invention, atomic power. Sadly, he seems to have missed the point entirely. Atomic power was not invented for civilian purposes. To fault it because it failed at that is akin to faulting the tank because it makes a poor farm tractor.

Atomic power was invented to end a war. It not only succeeded beyond all expectation but, to the surprise of even its most ardent supporters, succeeded in ending completely what had been an ominous, centuries-long trend toward ever-deadlier, ever-wider conflicts. Without the threat posed by atomic power, one can only guess at what the Korean War would have grown into, but you can be sure that it would never have been limited to that Asian peninsula. Also, if anyone thinks that Europe would look the way it does today without the discovery of atomic power, please write, as I have a bridge in Brooklyn for sale.

If fifty-five years of freedom from such conflicts isn’t an example of projected power, then I just don’t know what is. Maybe we didn’t know exactly how to project such power with elegance and grace, but the fact that no one could be sure if those crazy Americans, who had already used the damned thing twice, might be driven to do so again seems to have served the same purpose quite well. And, of course, generals like Curtis LeMay (overrated, I suppose) were entirely ready to use it again. So I guess we projected it pretty well after all.

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