• History

    Atomic weapons thought experiment

    A thought experiment

    Suppose that on the eve of Germany invading Poland Hitler has a debilitating stroke or a heart attack and power is seized by a loose collection of his underlings.  They do not attack Poland (high risk, Hitler was the gambler among them) and consequently they do not go to war with France and the UK.

    Germany and the USSR continue rearming, so does France, the UK and to a lesser degree, the US.

    Japan continues it’s war in China but does not initiate conflict with any of the US and European powers (low upside, high downside risk if there is no war with Germany)

    German keeps control of it’s various territories, Austria, Sudeteland(sp), Checkoslavakia, etc .

    The world slips into a cold war type arrangement, similar to the US and Soviet Union in 1955, but more dispersed

    Proxy wars abound, in a much more complicated way, but no great power conflicts.

    The question – does anyone on any side develop nuclear weapons in this scenario?  The Manhattan project was insanely expensive and was competing only with other military projects, and had an immediate use.  If there was no immediate use, no sense of national urgency and was competing with both civilian and military uses for the funding –  would anyone on any side have bothered to develop atomic weapons at that cost, both financial and talent?

    This came up on the Lunar Society podcast with Richard Rhodes – he thought that the technology had too much promise to go undeveloped, which I thought too, but after more thinking about it I am no longer sure.  It was an obvious choice in a military/war environment, less obvious in a high tension peace environment.  The Star Wars program of the 1980s (a very imperfect comparison) would suggest that atomic weapons would not be developed.

    Update – I ran this by a group of very smart people, all of whom disagreed with me. I am still somewhat convinced of my position though.

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  • Books,  History

    American Republics by Alan Taylor – a series of thoughts

    I recently finished American Republics by Alan Taylor and liked it quite a bit – some random disjointed thoughts

    1. America is optimized for grand irony and strives for it at  all times
    2. The whole notion of states rights, and that people saw themselves as citizens of individual states is quite true but incomplete – during the early American days there was no “American” identity with which to identify – it would be like identifying as a member of NATO
    3. John Marshall was much more influential than one would think in the long term
    4. American did not have priorities as much as it had an agenda of “Let’s support whatever the settlers are already doing and act like it’s our idea”
    5. There was much, much more European involvement in North America than I would have thought, or knew about
    6. It was mostly a record of American public crime and barbarism, which is fine, the shoe fits, but it does leave out anything that could be labeled “good” or “neutral” – it barely discusses any sort of technology or anything that happened in the free states, or immigrants
    7. The whole notion of defensive imperialism makes more sense now – it’s similar to Russian imperialism over time in some ways
    8. The whole notion of States Rights is truer than I would have thought, but slavery was built way into the fabric of society to about the same degree that I thought too (very, very built in) – the two notions are an odd sort of separate, but related in practice
    9. Andrew Jackson (and Polk) were more thorough bastards than I would have thought possible
    10. Settlers led, and the government followed
    11. Anti-British sentiment loomed larger than I would have thought
    12. Being informed about the relative populations put a lot of things into focus
    13. The fear of slave revolts (which never really happened at all) was a driving force behind a lot of things 
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  • History,  Politics

    Four changes if I were king of America

    I’ve made them non-political, strictly symbolic. They are

    1. The national anthem shall be changed to America the Beautiful; an accessible song with a solid melody and natural meter; and the Star Spangled Banner will be consigned to history, where it will be of much interest to our eventual tone-deaf robot overlords
    2. Daylight Savings Time shall be abolished. Trying to fool the sun sets a bad example for children and weakens our moral fiber
    3. Calvin Coolidge shall be worked into Presidents Day somehow. We’re long overdue for rewarding people who do their job quietly, with no drama
    4. We shall come up with a simple way to properly fold the US Flag that does not require two people

    What would y’all do?

  • History,  Memes

    An interesting thought experiment

    PurpleSlog has an interesting thought experiment of What Five Places/Events Would You Visit With A Time Machine? They are

    1. Israel at the start of Christianity (the same as PurpleSlogs)
    2. The Kennedy Assassination – I’m partial to the Oswald acted alone theory, but it would be nice to know for sure.
    3. The Russian revolution
    4. The writing of the US Declaration of Independence and Constitution
    5. The White House with Lincoln during the Civil War