The Letter of Last Resort
The decision about nuclear apocalypse lying in a safe at the bottom of the sea.
So, Last Resort—threat, yes? Use, no? But if the foe knows there will be no use, the threat is useless. You encourage genocidal attack. An impossible paradox, but one we lived with throughout four decades of the Cold War. One, alas, that we are still living through, even if we only recognize it moment to moment, when something like the Last Resort Letter comes to light.
So, Slatereaders. I put the question to you: What would be in your Letter of Last Resort? Retaliation or reprieve?
Correction, Jan. 16, 2009: This piece originally stated that the BBC reporters revealed the existence of the Last Resort Letter. In fact, the letter had been reported on before. (Return to the corrected sentence.)
Ron Rosenbaum is the author of The Shakespeare Wars and Explaining Hitler. His latest book is How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III.
Photograph of Royal Navy nuclear submarine by BAE Systems/Getty Images.