The Bomb

Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War

[Amazon Link]

Fred Kaplan gives the history up-to-now of America's policy toward the use of nuclear weapons.

Governments have always been pretty good at killing people; some, like the bad old USSR, Nazi Germany, and Red China, have been exceptionally good at murdering their own people.

But for the past 75 years or so, thanks to E = mc2, our governments have had the technology to "improve" their death-dealing technologies by (probably) a couple orders of magnitude. And while dealing death to civilian populations was once seen to be an off-limit atrocity even in wartime, it became an accepted (albeit controversial) tool by both sides in WW2. And since then it has become a given fact of life.

But wait, it gets better. By which I mean worse: the whole shebang can be set off by one person. And maybe by accident.

So it's an interesting, but also a scary and possibly depressing topic. This book discusses the history of how nuclear weapons policy has developed over the years: targeting strategies, escalation and de-escalation scenarios, arms control efforts, proliferation, risk mitigation, and so on.

As it turns out, our atomic war-fighting "strategy" for a number of years was pretty much "fire everything you've got at the bad guys as quickly as possible." With the near certainty that the bad guys were going to do the same.

The book is marred somewhat by the author's obvious partisanship. Pretty much all the Republicans are dimwitted, oblivious, or probably dangerous madmen. Democrats are on the side of the angels, but even when they're in power their peacekeeping efforts are continually getting thwarted by the Dr. Strangeloves and Jack D. Rippers who have a real yen for nuking the Commies until they glow.

And of course, Donald J. Trump, with his combination of willful ignorance, stupidity, and impulsive lunacy is probably gonna get us all killed. Or at the very least, a whole bunch of Koreans.

That's a slight exaggeration of the author's caricatures, but only slight.

Kaplan has done an impressive amount of historical research, digging into the declassified archives of the 1950s and 1960s. Unfortunately, but somewhat understandably, nearly all his digging is into the American side of things; there's very little insight into what the Russians are doing concurrently. I suspect there has to be some reason why we made the decisions the way we did, but Kaplan's weak on that score.

It's a brand new book that I picked up at the library on impulse, I'll be interested to read some critical reviews.

Last Modified 2022-10-01 10:02 PM EST