WASHINGTON — Washington. The United States should use tactical nuclear weapons against Iraqi forces occupying Kuwait in order to bring the Persian Gulf war to a speedy conclusion and thereby save the lives of American and allied fighters.
There are several advantages to employing tactical nuclear weapons against soldiers dug into the sands of Kuwait.
First, since tactical nuclear weapons can be exploded in the air, there is limited danger of fallout which occurs during a land blast that sucks up debris and imbues it with radiation.
Second, since tactical nuclear weapons are much smaller than a standard nuclear bomb, they can be directed to specific targets for specific purposes. Each tactical bomb carries the explosive equivalent of 1,000 tons of TNT as opposed to the 12,000 tons of TNT equivalent dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. They can be delivered by artillery fire or Lance surface-to-surface missiles, or dropped from airplanes. They could effectively push holes through Iraqi lines and would be an ideal weapon against the elite Republican Guard.
The chief arguments against introducing nuclear devices of any kind in the war are primarily moral and psychological.
It is suggested that by not ''going nuclear'' we preserve a certain morality that protects against the use of nuclear devices by our current or future enemies.
Does anyone seriously think that dictators like Saddam Hussein or Muammar el Kadafi, who have built their careers on the indiscriminate killing of innocents, would be morally or psychologically constrained from using nuclear (or chemical or biological) devices if they could? The Scud missile attacks on civilian targets in Israel and Saudi Arabia ought to wipe away any sentimental feelings on that score. Such men are not about to restrain themselves because we have restrained ourselves.
It is further suggested that nuclear weapons themselves are immoral because they can kill so many people. But what is the moral difference between a 2,000-pound bomb that kills a few hundred combatants and a tactical nuclear device that might kill 2,000 or more?
The moral question concerns not the nature of the weapon that is used, but the target against which it is directed. To use tactical nuclear weapons against Iraqi troops away from civilian population areas in order to achieve the withdrawal of other troops or their surrender seems morally justified to me, particularly if it saves the lives of those fighting to achieve a noble purpose.
Those who would eschew tactical nuclear weapons in favor of a ground war should consider what Lt. John F. Kennedy wrote home in the fall of 1943, just before the agony of Tarawa: ''When I read that we will fight the Japs for years if necessary and will sacrifice hundreds of thousands if we must, I always like to check from where he's talking: it's seldom out here.'' Winston Churchill noted in Parliament that those who preferred invasion to an atomic bombing of Japan seemed to have ''no intention of proceeding to the Japanese front themselves.''
As we warned Japan of even more intense bombing, so too should we first drop leaflets over Kuwait announcing our intentions to use tactical nuclear weapons. The leaflets would demand that the troops surrender and promise them humane treatment if they do. Otherwise, we should announce they will be devastated as a fighting force.
Writing in The New Republic magazine nearly 10 years ago, Michael Walzer, author of ''Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument With Historical Illustrations,'' said: ''The greatest kindness in war is to bring it to a speedy conclusion. It should be allowable, with that end in view, to employ all means save those that are absolutely objectionable.''
Tactical nuclear weapons are not objectionable when they are used only against combatants and their equipment. Tactical nuclear weapons merely speed up the achievement of the objective. They do not alter it.
Better to end the cruelty as rapidly as possible once war has begun. Better to enhance the possibility of a rapid conclusion by using tactical nuclear weapons now.
Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.