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A vision of the past… October 29, 2018

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

I meant to post this up ages ago, a review in Slate of Daniel Ellsberg’s memoir from late last year. And very scary it is too. Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers in the early 1970s but prior to that he was a planner in the US nuclear deterrent. As Kaplan notes:

His new book, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, is his long-gestating memoir of those times and the years since, and it is one of the best books ever written on the subject—certainly the most honest and revealing account by an insider who plunged deep into the nuclear rabbit hole’s mad logic and came out the other side.

What were the plans?

But his first foray into the nuts and bolts of nuclear warfare—a study of command-and-control procedures that gave him access to top secret documents and chats with top commanders—set off a gradual unraveling of his worldview. It turned out that the nuclear war plan—and there was just one plan, with no room for flexibility—called for the rapid firing of America’s entire arsenal of nuclear weapons in response to any armed conflict, even a small conventional skirmish, with the Soviet Union. And once the orders came down, the bombs would rain down not just on the USSR but also on Communist China, even if the Chinese weren’t involved in the war. (The intelligence at the time viewed the two countries as all but unified.)

That latter is amazing, isn’t it, given what we know. Kaplan points to how de facto control was with ‘a small group of four-star generals and admirals’ so that were the President ‘incapacitated’ they could launch a strike. Good idea. In practice though authority was ‘delegated downward’ just in case that layer was wiped out. And so it came perilously close to individual autonomy in the midst of combat situations.

And here’s something uniquely dispiriting…

Ellsberg would like to see the abolition of nuclear weapons, but he’s logical, and practical, enough to realize that this isn’t in the offing, given state of global politics, national politics (in many nations), and possibly something screwy about the human species.

Great. Just great. As is Ellsberg’s calculation that US leaders have threatened the use of nuclear weapons (remember they don’t have a no-first strike policy) 25 times at least since 1945. And a point is made that the sheer number of nuclear weapons distorts our comprehension of their destructive power.

Ellsberg quotes McGeorge Bundy, Kennedy’s national security adviser, as writing years later that the explosion of 10 nuclear bombs would be a “disaster beyond human history.”

Their ubiquity – the thousands of warheads already around (4,500 in US hands alone) means that they seem both known and unknown. That has to change. Two weapons have been used in anger. They caused immense damage. Five. Ten. Fifteen? What would that be like. And where?

But looks like a great book.


1. EWI - October 29, 2018

American theatre commanders have the authority to use these weapons (this is how the world came close to nuclear war courtesy of MacArthur, before he was relieved of command).


2. CL - October 29, 2018

“Those were the years that we all believed at RAND and in the Air Force that there was a missile gap in favor of the Russians and that a Russian surprise attack was a real possibility. And the idea was to assure retaliation for that so as to deter it so that no war would occur…
we thought we were trying to save the world”

“The RAND Corporation of Santa Monica, California, was set up immediately after World War II by the U.S. Army Air Corps (soon to become the U.S. Air Force). The Air Force generals who had the idea were trying to perpetuate the wartime relationship that had developed between the scientific and intellectual communities and the American military, as exemplified by the Manhattan Project to develop and build the atomic bomb….
RAND became a key institutional building block of the Cold War American empire. As the premier think tank for the U.S.’s role as hegemon of the Western world, RAND was instrumental in giving that empire the militaristic cast it retains to this day and in hugely enlarging official demands for atomic bombs, nuclear submarines, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and long-range bombers. Without RAND, our military-industrial complex, as well as our democracy, would look quite different.”

‘Dr. Strangelove’s Workplace’


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