A DIALOG ON NUCLEAR WARFARE: CHARLES SHAW, HERMAN KAHN AND ME
Charles Shaw: A brand of wine, widely known as “two buck chucks” for its affordability (although in Ohio, one can’t seem to find it for no less than $3.33). An acquaintance of both participants in this dialog.
Herman Kahn—Arguably the most celebrated and controversial nuclear strategist of his time. Often said what was on everyone’s mind, was Director of the Hudson “think tank” and wrote “On Thermonuclear War.” Also a rather large man.
Me– Pacifist. Has the last name Kahn, but is probably unrelated to Herman Kahn and related to Justin Kahn only in his own imagination. Definitely smaller than Herman Kahn though.
Charles Shaw: Let’s party. For tomorrow we die.
Herman Kahn: That fact that nuclear war is a terrible prospect does not mean that we can justify avoiding thinking about the possibility. In order for a threat of retaliation to be credible, we must be willing to make provisions for survivors in the event of thermonuclear war.
Me: Tolstoy believed that drinking and war were both ubiquitous human experiences, that could be universally abstained from if people were at all happy.
Charles Shaw: You both need to relax.
Herman Kahn: I joke about a nuclear war. But that’s because I want people to recognize that this is a serious reality which deserves to be treated as an eventuality, not as some impossibility. I believe that if we are fully prepared to face a nuclear war, we can avoid it. At least until Mr. Kahn learns how to dance.
Me: I’m sorry my mind was elsewhere. I don’t want to die. What’s going on?
Charles Shaw: I serve Dionysus. Think wine, think freedom. I could teach Mr. Kahn to dance.
Herman Kahn: I serve the city, the organization and protection of people. I already know how to dance. Oh, right. The other Kahn.
Me: I’m sorry what’s the difference?
Charles Shaw: The divine grape hurts no one.
Herman Kahn: Anyone who refuses to think about the nature of modern warfare is hurting. I refuse to allow the emotions or other components of the individual overtake the concerns of the future. Our children deserve better.
Me: You two deserve each other.
Charles Shaw (to Herman Kahn): Will you be mine?
Herman Kahn: I have been so concerned with applying systems analysis to artificial scenarios, that I forgot how wonderful it is to be human, to feel the warmth of a cup of coffee. O.K. I stole that coffee bit from the Wim Wender’s film.
Me: I love you both. I hate myself for it.
Charles Shaw: Love is a strong word. But not strong enough.
Herman Kahn: Hate is a strong word. But not strong enough.
Me: What I was thinking would be ideal would be to have Herman set up a war game, so I could get a sense. I mean try everything at least once. Charles, I was thinking one drink, maybe two, just to take the edge off of things.
Charles Shaw: You don’t understand me, because you overestimate thought.
Herman Kahn: You don’t understand me, because you overestimate sobriety.
Me: So what am supposed to do?
Charles Shaw & Herman Kahn: We will leave you here to think about that.