Nuclear weapons

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A weapon is something with which you try to affect the purposes and the concepts of an opponent; it is not something with which you blindly destroy his entire civilization, and probably your own as well. ~ George F. Kennan
The atomic bomb had dwarfed the international issues to complete insignificance. ... the only way to end war was to have but one government for mankind.
~ Herbert George Wells, The World Set Free (1913)

Nuclear weapons are explosive devices that derive their destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter.

ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZUnknown authorshipWar quotations in fictionSee also


Quotes are listed alphabetically by author.


  • What is the only provocation that could bring about the use of nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons. What is the priority target for nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons. What is the only established defense against nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons. How do we prevent the use of nuclear weapons? By threatening the use of nuclear weapons. And we can't get rid of nuclear weapons, because of nuclear weapons. The intransigence, it seems, is a function of the weapons themselves.
    • Martin Amis, Einstein's Monsters (1987), "Introduction: Thinkability".
  • The arms race is a race between nuclear weapons and ourselves.
    • Martin Amis, Einstein's Monsters (1987), "Introduction: Thinkability".
  • The idea that every nation ought to have an atomic bomb, like every woman of fashion ought to have a mink coat, is deplorable.
    • Clement Attlee, cited in S. Beer, Modern British Politics,(Faber and Faber, 1965) and Stuart Thompson,The Dictionary of Labour Quotations, (Biteback Publishing, 2013).
  • ...the Obama Administration must move more quickly to plan for a future in which nuclear weapons are likely to play a greater role in national defense. Hard as it may be to accept, Dr. Strangelove is back.
    • Michael Auslin [1]


  • We will be making a sufficient but necessary contribution if we simply jar the prevalent complacency on the doctrine of shoot-from-the-hip-and-empty-the-magazine.
    • Bernard Brodie, remarking on the prevalent 1950's strategy of massive retaliation, colloquially know as the 'Sunday Punch'. (Cited from a semi-classified RAND document, Must We shoot From the Hip?)
  • We may as well admit that the strictly tactical problem of destroying Manhattan is already absurdly easy, and time promises to make it no less easy. That is only to say that its protection, if it can be protected, is henceforward a strategic and political problem rather than a tactical one.


  • The American, English and French newspapers are spewing out elegant dissertations on the atomic bomb. We can sum it up in a single phrase: mechanized civilization has just achieved the last degree of savagery...
    • Albert Camus, Combat, 8th August 1945. Quoted in In a Dark Time Nicholas Humphrey, Robert Jay Lifton, 1984, (p.27).
  • Be careful above all things not to let go of the atomic weapon until you are sure, and more than sure, that other means of preserving peace are in your hands.
  • The atomic bomb is the Second Coming in Wrath.
    • Winston Churchill, on hearing about the Trinity test, as recollected in Harvey H. Bundy, "Remembered Words," The Atlantic (March 1957).



  • Some recent work by E. Fermi and L. Szilard, which has been communicated to me in manuscript, leads me to expect that the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy in the immediate future. Certain aspects of the situation seem to call for watchfulness and, if necessary, quick action on the part of the Administration...

    This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable—though much less certain—that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed. A single bomb of this type, carried by boat or exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory. However, such bombs might very well prove to be too heavy for transportation by air.

    • Albert Einstein, letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt (August 2, 1939, delivered October 11, 1939); reported in Einstein on Peace, ed. Otto Nathan and Heinz Norden (1960, reprinted 1981), pp. 294–95.
  • Today the atomic bomb has altered profoundly the nature of the world as we know it, and the human race consequently finds itself in a new habitat to which it must adapt its thinking.
    • Albert Einstein, "Only Then Shall We Find Courage", New York Times Magazine (23 June 1946).
  • Nuclear proliferation is on the rise. Equipment, material and training were once largely inaccessible. Today, however, there is a sophisticated worldwide network that can deliver systems for producing material usable in weapons. The demand clearly exists: countries remain interested in the illicit acquisition of weapons of mass destruction.
    If we sit idly by, this trend will continue.
    Countries that perceive themselves to be vulnerable can be expected to try to redress that vulnerability — and in some cases they will pursue clandestine weapons programs. The supply network will grow, making it easier to acquire nuclear weapon expertise and materials. Eventually, inevitably, terrorists will gain access to such materials and technology, if not actual weapons.
    If the world does not change course, we risk self-destruction.


  • I regard the employment of the atom bomb for the wholesale destruction of men,women and children as the most diabolical use of science.
    • Mohandas Gandhi, Harijan, 29 September 1946, quoted in The Making of the Indian Atomic Bomb:Science, Secrecy and the Postcolonial State by Itty Abraham, Zed Books, 1998. (p. 30).
  • ...It is only when science asks why, instead of simply describing how, that it becomes more than technology.

    When it asks why, it discovers Relativity. When it only shows how, it invents the atomic bomb, and then puts its hands over its eyes and says, "My God what have I done?"

    • Ursula Le Guin, "The Stalin in the Soul" in The Language of the Night, 1976.



  • The unacceptability of the Doomsday Machine raises awkward, unpleasant, and complicated questions that must be considered by both policy maker and technician. If it is not acceptable to risk the lives of the three billion inhabitants of the earth in order to protect ourselves from surprise attack, then how many people would we be willing to risk? I believe that both the United States and NATO would reluctantly be willing to envisage the possibility of one or two hundred million people (i.e., about five times more than World War II deaths) dying from the immediate effects, even if one does not include deferred long-term effects due to radiation, if an all-out thermonuclear war results from a failure of Type I Deterrence. With somewhat more controversy, similar numbers would apply to Type II Deterrence. (For example, some experts would concede the statement for an all-out Soviet nuclear attack on Europe, but not if the Soviets restricted themselves to the use of conventional weapons.) We are willing to live with the possibility partly because we think of it as a remote possibility. We do not expect either kind of deterrence to fail, and we do not expect the results to be that cataclysmic if deterrence does fail.
  • I consider your crime worse than murder... I believe your conduct in putting into the hands of the Russians the A-Bomb years before our best scientists predicted Russia would perfect the bomb has already caused, in my opinion, the Communist aggression in Korea, with the resultant casualties exceeding 50,000 and who knows but that millions more of innocent people may pay the price of your treason. Indeed, by your betrayal you undoubtedly have altered the course of history to the disadvantage of our country. No one can say that we do not live in a constant state of tension. We have evidence of your treachery all around us every day for the civilian defense activities throughout the nation are aimed at preparing us for an atom bomb attack.
    • Judge Kaufman's Statement Upon Sentencing the Rosenbergs. University of Missouri–Kansas City. Retrieved June 24, 2008.
  • [We must examine] the thesis that these devices, the so-called nuclear weapons, are really weapons at all—that they deserve that designation. A weapon is something with which you try to affect the purposes and the concepts of an opponent; it is not something with which you blindly destroy his entire civilization, and probably your own as well.
    • George F. Kennan, The Nuclear Delusion: Soviet-American Relations in the Atomic Age (1983), p. 243.
  • Eighteen years ago the advent of nuclear weapons changed the course of the world as well as the war. Since that time, all mankind has been struggling to escape from the darkening prospect of mass destruction on earth. In an age when both sides have come to possess enough nuclear power to destroy the human race several times over, the world of communism and the world of free choice have been caught up in a vicious circle of conflicting ideology and interest. Each increase of tension has produced an increase of arms; each increase of arms has produced an increase of tension.
Yesterday a shaft of light cut into the darkness. Negotiations were concluded in Moscow on a treaty to ban all nuclear tests in the atmosphere, in outer space, and under water. For the first time, an agreement has been reached on bringing the forces of nuclear destruction under international control-a goal first sought in 1946 when Bernard Baruch presented a comprehensive control plan to the United Nations.
  • Continued unrestricted testing by the nuclear powers, joined in time by other nations which may be less adept in limiting pollution, will increasingly contaminate the air that all of us must breathe. Even then, the number of children and grandchildren with cancer in their bones, with leukemia in their blood, or with poison in their lungs might seem statistically small to some, in comparison with natural health hazards. But this is not a natural health hazard -- and it is not a statistical issue. The loss of even one human life, or the malformation of even one baby -- who may be born long after we are gone -- should be of concern to us all. Our children and grandchildren are not merely statistics toward which we can be indifferent.
  • During the next several years, in addition to the four current nuclear powers, a small but significant number of nations will have the intellectual, physical, and financial resources to produce both nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them. In time, it is estimated, many other nations will have either this capacity or other ways of obtaining nuclear warheads, even as missiles can be commercially purchased today. I ask you to stop and think for a moment what it would mean to have nuclear weapons in so many hands, in the hands of countries large and small, stable and unstable, responsible and irresponsible, scattered throughout the world. There would be no rest for anyone then, no stability, no real security, and no chance of effective disarmament. There would only be the increased chance of accidental war, and an increased necessity for the great powers to involve themselves in what otherwise would be local conflicts. If only one thermonuclear bomb were to be dropped on any American, Russian, or any other city, whether it was launched by accident or design, by a madman or by an enemy, by a large nation or by a small, from any corner of the world, that one bomb could release more destructive power on the inhabitants of that one helpless city than all the bombs dropped in the Second World War.
  • I happened to read recently a remark by the American nuclear physicist W. Davidson, who noted that the explosion of one hydrogen bomb releases a greater amount of energy than all the explosions set off by all countries in all wars known in the entire history of mankind. And he, apparently, is right.
    • Nikita Khrushchev, Address to the United Nations, New York City (September 18, 1959), as reported by The New York Times (September 19, 1959), p. 8. The physicist quoted was eventually found to be William Davidon, associate physicist at Argonne National Laboratory, Lemont, Illinois.
  • We have genuflected before the God of Science only to find that it has given us the atomic bomb, producing fears and anxieties that science can never mitigate.
  • The great danger facing us today is not so much the atomic bomb that was created by physical science. Not so much that atomic bomb that you can put in an aeroplane and drop on the heads of hundreds and thousands of people as dangerous as that is. But the real danger confronting civilization today is that atomic bomb which lies in the hearts and souls of men, capable of exploding into the vilest of hate and into the most damaging selfishness—that's the atomic bomb that we've got to fear today. Problem is with the men. Within the heart and the souls of men. That is the real basis of our problem.


  • Can one imagine that The Bomb could ever be used "in a good cause"? Do not such means instantly, of themselves, corrupt any cause? The bomb is the natural product of the kind of society we have created. It is as easy, normal, and unforced an expression of the American way of Life as electric ice-boxes, banana splits, and hydro-matic drive automobiles.
  • Any military commander who is honest with himself, or with those he's speaking to, will admit that he has made mistakes in the application of military power. He's killed people unnecessarily—his own troops or other troops—through mistakes, through errors of judgment. A hundred, or thousands, or tens of thousands, maybe even a hundred thousand. But… he hasn't destroyed nations. And the conventional wisdom is don't make the same mistake twice, learn from your mistakes. And we all do. Maybe we make the same mistake three times, but hopefully not four or five. But there will be no learning period with nuclear weapons. You make one mistake and you're going to destroy nations.
  • ...if we ourselves happen to survive, are any of us prepared to press the button or allow our elected representatives to command that this be done, in the certainty that it will kill millions of other people?
  • It doesn’t even matter if we ever fire these missiles or not. They are having their effect upon us because there is a generation growing up now who cannot see past the final exclamation mark of a mushroom cloud. They are a generation who can see no moral values that do not end in a crackling crater somewhere. I’m not saying that nuclear bombs are at the root of all of it, but I think it is very, very naïve to assume that you can expose the entire population of the world to the threat of being turned to cinders without them starting to act, perhaps, a little oddly.
    I believe in some sort of strange fashion that the presence of the atom bomb might almost be forcing a level of human development that wouldn’t have occurred without the presence of the atom bomb. Maybe this degree of terror will force changes in human attitudes that could not have occurred without the presence of these awful, destructive things. Perhaps we are faced with a race between the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse in one line and the 7th Calvary in the other. We have not got an awful lot of mid ground between Utopia and Apocalypse, and if somehow our children ever see the day in which it is announced that we do not have these weapons any more, and that we can no longer destroy ourselves and that we’ve got to do something else to do with our time than they will have the right to throw up their arms, let down their streamers and let forth a resounding cheer.


  • Klaatu: It was my intention to discuss this officially—with all the nations of the Earth—but I was not allowed the Opportunity. I have come to realize since that your mutual fears and suspicions are merely the normal reactions of a primitive society.
We know from scientific observation that you have discovered a rudimentary kind of atomic energy. We also know that you are experimenting with rockets.
Barnhardt: Yes -- that is true.
Klaatu: In the hands of a mature civilization, these would not be considered weapons of aggression. But in the hands of your people....
We've observed your aggressive tendencies, and we don't trust you with such power.


  • The flame from the angel's sword in the Garden of Eden has been catalyzed into the atom bomb; God's thunderbolt became blunted, so Man's dunderbolt [sic] has become the Steel Star of Destruction.
  • When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you've had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.
    • Robert Oppenheimer, testifying in his defense in his 1954 security hearings (page 81 of the official transcript). Quoted in Charles Thorpe, Oppenheimer: The Tragic Intellect. University of Chicago Press,2008 (pp. 223-4).


  • The only people who should be allowed to govern countries with nuclear weapons are mothers, those who are still breast-feeding their babies.
  • In plain words; now that Britain has told the world she has the H-Bomb, she should announce as early as possible that she has done with it, that she proposes to reject, in all circumstances, nuclear warfare. This is not pacifism. There is no suggestion here of abandoning the immediate defence of this island.... No, what should be abandoned is the idea of deterrence-by-threat-of-retaliation. There is no real security in it, no decency in it, no faith, hope, nor charity in it.
    • J. B. Priestley, "Britain and the Nuclear Bombs", The New Statesman, 2 November 1957.


  • Nuclear weapon: an agency reserved for use by the most civilized nations for the settlement of disputes that might become troublesome if left unadjusted. Unfortunately, too many formerly uncivilized nations are becoming civilized.
  • Amazing, the respect that nuclear weapons bring.



  • The fact is that nuclear weapons have prevented not only nuclear war but conventional war in Europe for forty years.
    • Margaret Thatcher, Speech at Lord mayor's Banquet 1986. Quoted in One of Us:A Biography of Margaret Thatcher by Hugo Young, Macmillan, 1989 (p. 480).
  • Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of TNT....
    With this bomb we have now added a new and revolutionary increase in destruction to supplement the growing power of our armed forces....
    It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East....
    Having found the bomb we have used it. We have used it against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor, against those who have starved and beaten and executed American prisoners of war, against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international laws of warfare. We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans.
    We shall continue to use it until we completely destroy Japan’s power to make war. Only a Japanese surrender will stop us.
    • President Harry S Truman, radio address to the American people, following the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan (August 6 1945).


  • The only absolute defence against nuclear weapons is to do away with them.
    • Francis Wheen, "Dr. Stranglove, I Presume", The Guardian, 12th April 2000.
  • When A. J. P. Taylor, having described with lurid relish the effect of a nuclear explosion, asked "Is there anyone here who would want to do this to another human being?" there was a complete hush until he yelled, to thunderous applause, "Then why are we making the damned things?"
    • David Widgery, on Taylor's speech at a February 1958 CND meeting. In "Don't You Hear the H-Bomb's Thunder?" in David Widgery, The Left in Britain", 1976, (p.101).

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