One in Four Americans Would Use Nukes Against Terrorists

One in Four Americans Would Use Nukes Against Terrorists, Gallup Finds (Editor and Publisher)

More than one in four Americans would go so far as to utilize nuclear bombs if need be in the fight against terrorism, according to a national survey reported today by The Gallup Organization. Gallup asked Americans whether they would be willing or not willing “to have the U.S. government do each of the following” and then listed an array of options. For example,”assassinate known terrorists” drew the support of 65% of all adults. “Torture known terrorists if they know details about future terrorist attacks in the U.S.” won the backing of 39%.

Finally, the option of using “nuclear weapons to attack terrorist facilities” drew the support of 27% of adults, with 72% opposing, which would shatter the taboo on using these weapons militarily since the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Experts agree that the power of today’s weapons, their range of damage and the peril of drifting radioactive fallout far exceeds the bombs used against Japan. That support has declined 7% since 2001, however.

The link to the actual poll is here, but it just describes the content, with the actual survey results limited to subscribers. I was also unable to locate the poll on sites of CNN and USA Today, who commissioned the survey.

The wording, though, is critical. If it conveys that nuclear weapons against the facility was the only way to prevent the attack, I’d be quite surprised indeed if only 27% would be willing. On the other hand, it’s difficult to conceive of a rationale where the employment of nukes would be a useful counter-terrorism measure.

FILED UNDER: Public Opinion Polls, Terrorism, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    The premise of the poll is pretty stupid. What practical military application would nuclear weapons have against terrorist facilties. Our problem with terrorists is identifying the targets in the first place. The poll’s only use is to gauge how much force is the American public willing to use against this enemy. I’m sure there will be a great clamor for nuclear retaliation once a nuclear device is used by terrorists in the US. But who do you retaliate against? Are we going to nuke Damascus or Khartoum because they support terrorists?

  2. LJD says:

    Are we going to nuke Damascus or Khartoum because they support terrorists?

    Well, yes. If a nuclear device (or WMD) is employed with the aid of Iran, North Korea, or Syria, the nuclear gloves are off.

    There are a lot of asumptions here though, as with any “hypothetical” poll. Let’s not automatically assume that we can’t prove where it came from, or that it will be delivered in a suitcase. It was this kind of in-the-box thinking that got us 9/11.

  3. lt bell says:

    this makes the next Bush invasion look pretty much like a win
    does it not?

    The question is, how far will the religionist-facists that control our country go in their quest to rule the world.

    I think that- if Bush thinks he can get away with it -he would nuke his own mother to win something

  4. Paul says:

    This really is a foolish poll. Sure people say “Nuke them A-Rabs” now but we all know that if Bush dropped a nuke (you know, in real life) 98% of the people would be aghast.

    This is what I call a “fun poll.” Sure is “fun” to answer that we should make the whole middle east a glass factory but nobody really means it… well not too many.


  5. Paul says:

    and to a degree it shows how “over-polled” we are. People really don’t give a $hit what they tell pollsters.

  6. RGardner says:

    I’m amazed that 27% would support the use of nuclear weapons given the indoctrination that nuclear weapons are evil incarnate. The reporter shows his bias and ignorance with “Experts agree that the power of today’s weapons, their range of damage and the peril of drifting radioactive fallout far exceeds the bombs used against Japan.” The peril? And what experts? The US nuclear arsenal has bombs of various strengths (according to, some below the bombs used in Japan), and fallout depends on many factors.

    I do agree that the problem here is finding the terrorist target – conventional or nuclear. A possible time that nuclear weapons cound be considered is for a “Hard and Deeply Buried Target,” (HDBT) where conventional weapons would not work. An example of that would be Tora Bora in Afghanistan. An earth penetrator (nuclear) could be used to basically create a localized equivalent to an earthquake, sealing the place. But for a target in a city, I don’t see how conventional weapons would not be adequate.

    Info on the doctrine of using nuclear weapons is contained in Joint Pub 3-12.

  7. Kent says:

    I have to be careful about what I say, but…

    Experts agree that the power of today’s weapons, their range of damage and the peril of drifting radioactive fallout far exceeds the bombs used against Japan.

    is complete nonsense. In fact, it’s such complete nonsense that I have to believe the writer simply made it up.

    RGardner mentions the hardened and deeply buried target scenario. That’s the one case where a nuke might make sense, at least from a purely military standpoint. I worked on this scenario about ten years ago, and I wish I could say more about it.

  8. DC Loser says:

    Your garden variety terrorists aren’t likely to be holed up in a hardened deeply buried target. More likely they’re sitting in a densely populated urban apartment block.

  9. Maggie says:

    What per centage of the population lives in greater metropolitan areas of Washington, D.C., New York, or Boston?

    I say the question should be asked including the phrase “an attack within 20 miles of YOUR HOME”.

    Think that might change the answers we get?

  10. DC Loser says:

    I live in DC metro, and my answer is still no….two wrongs don’t make a right.

  11. LJD says:

    Interesting to see all of the comments from those nice and cozy in their American homes. Very few in this country have ever had to think about their own survival, so they have no idea what it takes.

    The bottom line is, this is not a decision to be taken lightly. I don’t see the hypothesis to be surrounded by a “lying President’s” arbitrary decision to go nuke somebody, just for the hell of it.

    However, if we are attacked with a WMD, and our very survival relies on a immediate and decisive defense, what other means do we have to prevent another subsequent WMD attack? Diplomacy? (Please tell me you’re not in charge of anything related to our security).

    There’s not always time for talks, the U.N., or mass-deploying troops. The cold, hard facts, that the ACLU and other politically correct do-gooders don’t get is: In a real war, it’s them or us.