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AbstractThis essay, a philosophical exploration of the role of nuclear weapons, sees them as the third great development of twentieth century movements of mass destruction and extermination. The first two of those—the World Wars and the totalitarian systems that destroyed millions—were closed out in the calendrical twentieth century. Nuclear weapons, embodying a continuing threat of broad extermination, live on. Not until their fate has been resolved will the horrors of of the twentieth century really be brought to a close. Even as the threat of nuclear weapons has faded from the public eye, the United States continues to use them as the very foundation of its national strategy. The Soviet threat has long disappeared, but the threat of total annihilation and even human extermination still hangs over civilization. The author concludes with a thought experiment about what the past actions of the United States would look like if nuclear weapons were abandoned, or, instead, if they were embraced by the world. The author, Jonathan Schell, is a long–time proponent of disarmament and has written extensively on the philosophical and strategic implications of nuclear weapons.