For the last year and a bit I have been slowly working my way through The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. I will pick it up for a few weeks, read a chapter or two, and then put it down for a month or more accurately two or three months before resuming where I left off.
The book is interesting and enjoyable but dense and as a result I have found it difficult to read. The fact that I have not had any kind of education in biology since briefly looking at it one term in Year 10 has not helped either. Regardless, while I have retained few facts from the book it has helped me in the way that I think not just about animal and human behavior but in the way that I think and look at world. I wish that I had specefic examples to share, but alas there are none so you are just going to have to take my word for it.
What I did find curious was something from the chapter that dealt with The Prisoner’s Dilemma (link to Wikipedia article) and iterative games of it, while discussing the strategy of Tit-for-Tat while using military examples from the First World War of the strategy in operation was this:
“…It does not seem ever to have been satisfactorily answered why the first two operational atomic bombs were used – against the strongly voiced wishes of the leading physicists responsible for developing them – to destroy two cities instead of being deployed in the equivalent of spectacularly shooting out candles.”
Perhaps it is a rhetorical question, but as someone who enjoys answering questions and believes every question has an answer let us now attempt to provide an answer (undoubtedly it will not prove to be satisfactory to a man of Dawkin’s intellectual calibre) but one can hope it makes sense.
Unlike the preceding examples which were iterative games, at the time the United States deployed the bomb they were the only nation and military with access to the technology and weapon meaning the use of the atomic bomb was a single game.
The outcomes of the game were:
- United States defects and drops bombs on cities, Japan co-operates and surrenders.
- United States co-operates and drops bombs on country side, Japan defects and War continues until Japan has technology.
- United States co-operates and drops bomb on country side, Japan co-operates and surrenders.
- United States defects and drops bomb on cities, Japan defects and War continues until Japan has technology.
Outcomes 2 and 4 work on the assumption that once the atomic bomb was used the Japanese would want one of their own and would fast track their existing nuclear weapons program.
So while Outcome 1 and 3 provide the same outcome Japan’s surrender, Outcome 1 offers the greater reward. That is, it allows the United States to test the effectiveness of such weapons against a city and human target, create a greater psychological deterrent to continue the war and increase public pressure for the Japanese to surrender, provide an example to the rest of the world of the United State’s capabilities and to show that the United States was capable and prepared to destroy large numbers of people and infrastructure. This ability to demonstrate capability and preparedness were valuable not just in the context of the Second World War but also in the context of a post war world where the United States would be a dominant world power.
Hopefully this has provided a good starting point to answer that with more time, effort and reading would be satisfactory to a man such as Richard Dawkins. An answer that would be outside the scope of this blog at as well.
This is not a serious publication and should not be treated as one.