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The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War

Nuclear Nightmares– By Justin Vogt, NYT, Jan. 28, 2020, THE BOMB By Fred Kaplan, It’s an old joke, but a good one. “Doctor, my son thinks he’s a chicken,” a father tells a psychiatrist, who suggests treatment for the boy. “We’d like to do that,” the father says, “but we need the eggs.”

For decades, American presidents have found themselves in a similar predicament, as revealed with bracing clarity by “The Bomb,” Fred Kaplan’s rich and surprisingly entertaining history of how nuclear weapons have shaped the United States military and the country’s foreign policy. It is the story of how high-level officials, generals and presidents have contended with what Kaplan calls “the rabbit hole” of nuclear strategy, whose logic transforms efforts to avoid a nuclear war into plans to fight one, even though doing so would kill millions of people without producing a meaningful victory for anyone. As President Barack Obama once put it before weighing in during a meeting on nuclear weapons: “Let’s stipulate that this is all insane.”

Owing to the spread of those weapons and to the inevitability of competition between powerful countries, generations of policymakers have leapt into the abyss again and again. Nuclear strategy is an exercise in absurdity that pushes against every moral boundary but that has likely contributed to the relative safety and stability of the contemporary era, during which nuclear weapons have proliferated but major war has all but vanished. Apparently, we need the eggs.

“The Bomb” is a sequel of sorts to “The Wizards of Armageddon,” Kaplan’s 1983 book about the Cold War-era thinkers who established a template for how generations of American officials would approach nuclear weapons. The new book revisits the foundational debates and explains how they have played out in more recent years, making use of newly declassified material and a wealth of interviews with insiders. In less skillful hands, this could be a slog. But Kaplan has a gift for elucidating abstract concepts, cutting through national security jargon and showing how leaders confront (or avoid) dilemmas. ……….. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/28/books/review/the-bomb-fred-kaplan.html

January 30, 2020 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, resources - print, weapons and war

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