About the Rethinking Nuclear Weapons Project

At the heart of the project to rethink nuclear weapons is a passion for reality. We keep a copy of this on the office wall:

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Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, . . . til we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, This is, and no mistake; . . . Be it life or death, we crave only reality. If we are really dying, let us hear the rattle in our throats and feel cold in the extremities; if we are alive, let us go about our business."
Henry David Thoreau
And we take a pragmatic view of nuclear weapons. If nuclear weapons are useful, if they provide a security that only they can provide (and which is not gotten at too great a risk) then we have to keep them. It's as simple as that. But if they are not very useful weapons that are also enormously dangerous, that is a different matter.

Ward Wilson, who directs the project, worked on nuclear weapons issues, reading and reconsidering, for almost thirty years--largely on his own, without institutional support, outside established institutions and schools of thought. As a result, the project is built from the ground up. We have an ingrained skepticism of the conventional wisdom of both those who believe we should keep nuclear weapons and those who oppose them.


Another guide thought comes from Freeman Dyson:
I am convinced that to avoid nuclear war it is not sufficient to be afraid of it. It is necessary to be afraid, but it is equally necessary to understand. And the first step in understanding is to recognize that the problem of nuclear war is basically not technical but human and historical. If we are to avoid destruction, we must first of all understand the human and historical context out of which destruction arises.
Freeman Dyson
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Much of the historical focus of Ward's work and of the project itself flows from this insight of Dyson's. Nuclear weapons are not a problem for physicists alone to solve or analyze. They are not solely the bailiwick of logicians and game theorists. Human beings use nuclear weapons, and the leaders who have decided to use or not use them and who will face that decision again in the future, will be whole human beings with a panoply of emotions and motivations. Nuclear weapons may be different (although we would argue they are not as different from other weapons as some people claim), but the human beings that would use them in war or that use them in politics are not so different from the human beings that walked the earth thousands of years ago. So it makes sense to study the history of war, the history of political coercion, and the history of human beings in general. It especially makes sense to be skeptical of conclusions reached during the Cold War: no one does his best thinking when he's afraid.