I've started and deleted a couple posts about nuclear weapons already. There's a lot to say about their management, storage, testing, proliferation, design, detection and the deterrence of their use. The reason I've had so much difficulty is that I want to talk about something else: their deliberate use.
I'm reminded of a scene in HPMoR (a fantastic book):
"You don't like science," Harry said slowly. "Why not?"
"Those fool Muggles will kill us all someday!" Professor Quirrell's voice had grown louder. "They will end it! End all of it!"
Harry was feeling a bit lost here. "What are we talking about here, nuclear weapons?"
"Yes, nuclear weapons!" Professor Quirrell was almost shouting now. "Even He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named never used those, perhaps because he didn't want to rule over a heap of ash!"
Later, in addressing a crowd, he admonishes them for falling so easily to a ruler who only wanted to crush them in the cruel grip of subjugation forever. He asks, how much more vulnerable they would be to an enemy that sought nothing but to see the world made into a funeral pyre? They would have no restraint in their more pure destruction. How could humanity survive that kind of weakness?
I have no answer to those concerns. Truthfully, they aren't questions that would even occur to me. I figure, we'd all be on the same side facing a threat like that, and we'd use Humanity's Superpower: Cooperation™ to find a way. But it's possible I'm wrong. We aren't on the same page. A war seeking, not subjugation, but a funeral pyre for humanity, is an option some will never relinquish.
I don't mean to paint every American or Russian ruler with this broad brush. But certainly some of them would be painted accurately. The current US president is in this category, it seems. It's possible he's not even be able to imagine such a thing, and wants it these weapons made more devastating anyway.
American military objectives are achieved with a minimum of civilian casualties, as logistics permit. But nukes can't be targeted nearly as well as drone strikes, they are almost unimaginably expensive and challenging to replace, and their scale is larger than the largest military base. To a professional man of war, they are of little use – so why would a president love them?
Even as "just" a threat, even to coerce others, to develop those tools puts you on the level of a Bond villain. Threatening to kill a city full of innocents to achieve anything is pretty rough.
I've read enough about American nuclear deterrence policy to understand how the cold war unfolded, and how necessary the arms race was. But the disarmament has been coming, slowly, and choosing to reverse it...
It is truly beyond my capacity for empathy. It's not even a manifestation of evil, it's too simply destructive for that. It's just, simply, wrong.