The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner

In 1961, as consultant to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Daniel Ellsberg (Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers) saw U.S. plans for nuclear war that were projected to kill about 600 million people. "From that day on, I have had one overriding life purpose; to prevent the execution of any such plan." His career gave him years of classified access to information on U.S. nuclear war planning and crises, and he copied every top secret document that went through his office. Enough of them have now been declassified to back up The Doomsday Machine.

Although public fear of nuclear war has ebbed in recent decades, Ellsberg believes nothing has changed fundamentally. He considers U.S. nuclear planning to have been completely immoral to the point of insanity. Deterrence of a Russian first strike was always a fiction; the plans are for a U.S. first strike. And as far as he is concerned, plans to kill hundreds of thousands of civilians in a first strike "is a terrorist threat. Any nation making such threats is a terrorist nation. That means the United States and all its allies."

From a close insider's perspective, he describes how the U.S. came to create and adjust this potentially world-destroying arsenal, how presidents have used it to threaten foreign leaders, and the responses of other nuclear powers. We have narrowly avoided many previous crises, but he fears that the current U.S. administration could charge straight into a worst-case scenario. This book deserves to be widely read, discussed and acted upon. --Sara Catterall

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