“A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons,” said Hillary Clinton, as she accepted the Democratic Party presidential nomination. She meant, of course, her rival Donald Trump, and his penchant for Twitter wars and overall struggle with impulse control.
Clinton may be more right than she—or anyone else, for that matter—realized. According to Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman and now co-host of an MSNBC cable news show, Trump doesn’t understand why using nuclear weapons is off-limits.
“Several months ago, a foreign policy expert at the international level went to advise Donald Trump,” said Scarborough during an interview with former CIA Director Michael Hayden. “And three times he asked about the use of nuclear weapons—three times he asked. At one point, ‘If we have them, why can’t we use them?’”
The Trump campaign told The Hill that ”there is no truth” to the story. Since Scarborough was quoting an anonymous source, his claim cannot be verified.
Of course, the US did use nuclear weapons, twice—dropping them on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. At least 262,000 people were killed, most of them civilians. The bombing sparked a nuclear arms race between the Soviet Union and the US. A slew of other countries—Britain, France, India, China, Pakistan, and North Korea—soon developed their own nuclear arsenal to deter rival nations from attacking. Since then, the world has been suspended in a state of nuclear deterrence that rests on the notion that no country will nuke another due to the fact that the retaliation would devastate their own country (and possibly wipe out modern civilization).
In Trump’s defense—assuming Scarborough’s account is accurate—this precarious balance does indeed assume that the US can and will use its nukes if attacked. Still, the answer to why the US can’t use its nuclear weapons is that doing so risks triggering a global apocalypse—a pretty crucial fact for the would-be leader of the free world to grasp.
In an extended Twitter rant, John Noonan—a former launch officer for the Minuteman III nuclear missile who advised Jeb Bush—had this to say about Trump’s alleged remarks:
This post was updated to include Noonan’s remarks on Aug. 3, 2016, at 2:35pm.