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Charlotte Talks Politics: The President's Finger Is The Only One On 'The Button'

Department of Defense

Monday, August, 3, 2020

The world changed in a flash 75 years ago with the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan to end World War II. That seismic event also established a nuclear precedent for presidential authority.

After the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, President Harry Truman said the United States should "constitute ourselves trustees of this new force ... to turn it into the channels of service to mankind."

"It is an awful responsibility which has come to us," Truman said.

But in Truman's mind, there was no "us" for any future decision-making on using nuclear weapons. Truman gave himself sole authority over the nuclear arsenal -- a stance that has remained for all presidents in the years since.

Donald Trump’s access to “the button” has heightened tensions over the course of his presidency, starting with his August 2017 threat of “fire and fury” to North Korea.

Is that too much power for one finger? 


Tom Collina, Ploughshares Fund, director of policy; co-author of "The Button: The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power from Truman to Trump" (@TomCollina)


Collina and co-author William Perry, former defense secretary in the Clinton administration, will be speaking remotely to the World Affairs Council of Charlotte on Thursday, Aug. 6. More details here.

A veteran of Charlotte radio news, Chris joined the "Charlotte Talks" staff in January 2016, but has been listening to WFAE since discovering the station as a high schooler.