The Doomsday Machine | Daniel Ellsberg

Summary of: The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner
By: Daniel Ellsberg


In ‘The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner,’ Daniel Ellsberg provides a chilling account of the development, strategy, and potential consequences of nuclear war. Through his experience as a nuclear planner and insider knowledge of the system, Ellsberg unveils the frightening truths behind strategic bombing, flawed command structures, and the terrifying risks of a doomsday scenario. The book highlights the ongoing threat to humanity, urging the need to dismantle doomsday machines to mitigate potential nuclear genocide. Dive into the world of volatile nuclear strategy, as Ellsberg demystifies complex historical and technological aspects and offers crucial insights for a safer future.

Evolution of Strategic Bombing

The rise of strategic bombing, a tactic that targets civilians, was enabled by the rapid advances in aircraft technology during the 1930s. Prior to this, the dogma of just war stipulated that innocent civilians should not be targeted. However, this changed during World War II, with Germany, Britain, and the United States all using strategic bombing to attack civilians. The death toll resulting from these bombings was staggering, with hundreds of thousands of innocent people losing their lives. The devastating impact of strategic bombing on civilians was exemplified through the Spanish city Guernica and the Tokyo bombings. This evolution marked a significant and tragic turning point in modern warfare.

The Birth of Nuclear Deterrence

Daniel Ellsberg’s experience of watching the Nazi bombing of London at an early age had a profound impact on him, leading him to become a proponent of the theory of nuclear deterrence. Ellsberg’s research on the instability of nuclear bombs, based on articles in journals and sci-fi magazines, led him to the same conclusion as a group of scientists working on the Manhattan Project. Despite the potential dangers, work on the project continued due to the fear of Nazi Germany developing the weapon first. Ellsberg later became a proponent of preventing other powers from obtaining nuclear bombs, paving the way for the theory of nuclear deterrence.

The Flaws in Deterrence

Daniel Ellsberg, a nuclear strategy analyst, and his colleagues learned about the deterrence strategy that could save the world during their tenure at the RAND Corporation. The strategy’s logic was to prepare for a nuclear war to prevent a nuclear war with the USSR. However, Ellsberg discovered that this strategy wasn’t as reliable as they initially thought. In 1957, the USSR launched the first satellite that confirmed their ability to penetrate US defenses with intercontinental ballistic missiles, leading Ellsberg to question the deterrence strategy’s effectiveness. Though it was supposed to create a situation where neither party would launch their weapons, Ellsberg would soon discover its flaws.

Navigating the Nuclear System

Ellsberg’s findings revealed critical flaws in the US nuclear control and command structures. The system prioritized quick attack response over false alarm handling and presidential approval. The two-man system to prevent unauthorized launches proved ineffective, as both officers could access launch codes. Furthermore, there was no counteracting “STOP” command to the “GO” signal once a plane was airborne. These findings highlight the possibility of a doomsday scenario and emphasize the need for better nuclear system structuring.

Ellsberg’s Discoveries

Daniel Ellsberg, worried about the vulnerabilities of the US nuclear command structure, delved into the delegation of nuclear authorization. He found that many officers and generals, even beyond the President, had the power to call a nuclear strike. Ellsberg alerted the government of his findings and was commissioned to create a new national security policy to replace the flawed system. His suggestions included a no cities plan, protecting reserve forces, and a “STOP” command. In May 1961, the Kennedy administration approved Ellsberg’s proposals, significantly impacting US nuclear war strategies.

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