The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner

Bloomsbury USA. Dec. 2017. 432p. notes. index. ISBN 9781608196708. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781608196746. POL SCI
OrangeReviewStarBefore he researched the background of the Vietnam conflict, ex-marine Ellsberg (Secrets) analyzed nuclear warfare decision-making for the RAND Corporation and the Pentagon. He would go on to leak the Pentagon Papers. This book's title, with the phrase popularized in the iconic 1964 Stanley Kubrick movie Dr. Strangelove (many in the know considered it a documentary), refers to how nuclear weapons might be employed almost automatically, as events can spiral out of control. The author terms it as "self-assured destruction" and urges more time be built into the process to allow for more communication among state actors and for evaluation of a confusing situation. Ellsberg utilizes declassified documents along with his own notes, interviews, and memories to examine the loose delegation of nuclear launch authority and dangerous international incidents (e.g., the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis). The book is a critique of American weapons policies, as well as a call for rationally rethinking U.S. policy on using nuclear weapons.
VERDICT Ellsberg's book is essential for facilitating a national discussion about a vital topic.
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