How I Learned To Love the Bomb

In the early days of my libertarian evolution, I once engaged in a debate with a supporter of banning all private firearms. I made the usual arguments, and he conceded the truth and logic of what I said, but claimed that my arguments entirely missed the mark.

"That all might be true, but the fact remains, I hate guns," was his comment. Since he found guns distasteful, from an aesthetic point of view, it seemed to him to follow that no one should have guns. "I would prefer that the gun was never invented," was his argument.

I replied that it might very well be true that the world would be better without guns, but that guns, nonetheless, exist. Since they do, bad people will use them, and so others need them for defense. Looking back now, though, I see how foolish this reply is. The fact is, guns are a positive good. A world without guns is a world where victory in confrontation depends entirely on size; small victims have no immediate recourse against larger attackers. The fact that the gun exists means that rape victims may be able to defend themselves against rapists. This is a good thing.

In what follows, please don't misunderstand me. I oppose the nation-state, and I prefer to see the nation-state ended yesterday if not sooner. I oppose all coercion; I am a thorough-going anarchist. That said, the worst evil committed by nation-states, and reason enough by itself for wanted the nation-state abolished, is aggressive warfare. Although the ultimate good is the end of the nation-state, it would nevertheless be good to eliminate aggressive warfare, and also good to reduce such warfare as much as possible.

It is in this sense that the existence of nuclear weapons can be seen as a good thing. The nuclear weapon is the ultimate answer to an attack. One nation may be richer, stronger, and more numerous, but a poor, defenseless, small nation can nevertheless retort "Attack us and we will destroy your capital." The existence of such weapons deters attack. The United States, for instance, worked hard to guarantee that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction before attacking. Had Hussein not been able to establish that his nation had no such weapons, it is unlikely that the attack would have taken place.

With this background, we can see quite readily the evil nature of the American claim to the authority to decide who may or may not possess such weapons. The American idea, of course, boils down to "Any nation we may wish to bully in the future may not have these weapons." It is not worded this way, of course. Instead, reference is made to Iran, for instance, "holding hostage the American military, and the entire free world." Let us examine this claim.

Returning for a moment to the rape victim we discussed earlier, there is a sense in which the rape victim holds potential rapists u2018hostage.' That is, the armed rape victim prohibits would-be rapists from fulfilling their desires. Of course, these are illegitimate desires for attack. It is in this same sense that Iranian possession of nuclear weapons would hold American interests hostage. The argument that, therefore, Iran may not be allowed to possess such weapons ignores the fact that it is good to hold potential rapists and potential attackers hostage, in this sense. One cannot argue without contradiction that "Freedom is good, therefore, I must have the freedom to tell others what they may and may not do." Similarly, it is absurd to hold that "Aggression is bad, and it is aggressive and therefore bad to acquire the means to self-defense, because this impedes my right to attack you." Therefore, in this limited sense, nuclear weapons may serve a good, non-aggressive purpose.


One may, and should, oppose the aggressive use of powerful weapons. For that matter, we should oppose the aggressive use of less powerful weapons. It does not follow, however, that it would be preferable for such weapons never to have existed. Indeed, it is good that weapons exist. We should not criticize Bush for attacking countries that turned out not to have dangerous weapons — we should criticize him for the evil, dangerous philosophy that only certain groups may own such weapons. The path of peace is paved with fully-automatic machine guns, cluster bombs, and atomic weapons — all reserved for defensive use, of course. Is there a faster way to end the war on drugs imaginable than for a drug dealer to announce that he has planted powerful weapons in the DEA and will detonate them the next time governmental forces attempt to arrest a peaceful businessman?

March 24, 2006