Historians and the Bomb

Ronald Hutton on the many arguments propounded in the debate over nuclear weapons.

To an historian, one of the most common arguments may be considered vulnerable to absolute refutation: that such weapons have 'kept the peace in Europe for thirty years'. This has featured regularly in defences of current government policy and yet has not, to my knowledge, been put to any proper discussion. Perhaps I may open one.
First, a period of unusual peace and stability is the normal first consequence of the construction of powerful rival alliances. The most obvious example of this is the absence of war in most of Europe between 1871 and 1914, but one could also cite the condition of Greece in the age of Pericles, of the central Mediterranean between the first and second Punic wars, and of the Middle East during the fifth century AD. It should, however, be added that in each of these cases the peace culminated in a conflict of exceptional horror.

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