On Thermonuclear War

This is the world we used to live in.  Herman Kahn, one of the architects of postwar US nuclear policy, from his 1960 book On Thermonuclear War:

However, our calculations indicate that even without special stockpiles, dispersal, or protection, the restoration of our prewar GNP should take place in a relatively short time — if we can hold the damage to the equivalent of something like 53 metropolitan areas destroyed.




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5 thoughts on “On Thermonuclear War

  1. harrison says:

    “Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops!” — Gen. Turgidson, Dr. Strangelove

  2. Richard Séguin says:

    No, this is the world that we still live in — we have just buried our consciousness of it. I was of the duck and cover generation, and I still have vivid history of that time period. In elementary school we were shown official government films of various fission and fusion explosions and their effects such as a house miles away being blown away like toothpicks. We were told that if we were under attack, we should duck under our desks to protect ourselves. After seeing the films, even the densest students in class could see how futile that would be. There were special programs on TV regarding nuclear weapons, and constant saber rattling in the news. There was talk of building bomb shelters in back yards, although it was always obvious to me that it would have to be dug far deeper in the ground than a family would be capable of, and that the shelter would ultimately be the occupant’s tomb due to the lethal radiation above ground. I remember watching Dr. Strangelove in the theater. I recall walking to school with friends while we nervously made jokes about nuclear bombs. There was real fear in the air. The Cuban missile crisis brought all of this to a head. We even had the Vietnam war layered on top of this. Nightmarish as it was all by itself, it once again highlighted tensions between nuclear powers.The fear that people experienced was in fact justified. There are probably still people somewhere in our government and others who continue making calculations and contingency plans in the vein of Herman Kahn, if for no other reason the very real possibility of accidental nuclear war. But now we don’t talk much about this anymore in public, and governments are reluctant to fuel the fire.

    I sometimes wonder how this experience altered the psychology and course of my generation. Was the Summer of Love, sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll partly an artifact of all this? How else could history have been altered by the psychology of fear?
    Nah, say the Evangelical textbooks: the hippies were just dirty satan worshipers.


  3. Richard Séguin says:

    Oops. Next morning edit: apparently I wrote “history” intending “memories”.

  4. Thads says:

    In the words of the immortal Fafblog:

    “Things sure have changed since the innocent days of mutually assured destruction!”

  5. JSE says:

    Fafblog! I miss Fafblog.

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