a short review of Daniel Ellsberg’s The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner (2017)

a short review of Daniel Ellsberg

The Doomsday Machine:

Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner (2017)

by John M Repp

Daniel Ellsberg is the whistle blower who exposed the lies of both Democratic and Republican Presidents about the American war of aggression in Southeast Asia that we call the Vietnam War. Few knew Ellsberg was a nuclear war planner in the Kennedy Administration and that he also wanted to blow the whistle on the nuclear war plans of the United States. He copied all the secret plans he had access to (and he had access to nuclear war plans that members of Congress did not even suspect existed) but those documents were lost. Because essentially the main concepts of nuclear war policy have not changed since the 1960’s, Ellsberg recreates what the lost documents showed.

The United States has a first strike policy. If a diplomatic crisis gets out of hand, and a shooting war between the United States and the Soviet Union, now Russia, begins, the United States military will launch its Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) to attack the war making capabilities of its avowed enemy, that includes its missiles and urban areas. In the 1960’s the plans were, whether or not China was involved in the crisis, our first-strike would also attempt to destroy China’s war making capability. When Ellsberg and John F. Kennedy asked the military how many people would be killed in such an attack, they replied without hesitation 600 million (100 Holocausts).

Now, after the understanding of nuclear winter that scientists developed in the early 1980’s, the actual number of people who would die would be most of the people living in the Northern Hemisphere. Essentially it would be suicide or as Ellsberg writes omnicide, since most animals and plants would perish as well. Nuclear winter would be the result of firestorms and smoke which would be shot up into the stratosphere, blocking out 80% of the sunlight reaching the earth for several years. Hunger would kill billions. The title The Doomsday Machine is not an exaggeration.

When Ellsberg and one of his fellow nuclear war planners walked out of the movie theater after watching “Dr Strangelove” (1964) they both said to each other: “we just saw a documentary film”. The plot in “Dr Strangelove” has an insane commander of a bomber group decide that the Communists are so evil they must be destroyed and on his own, orders his nuclear bomber fleet to attack the Soviet Union. Ellsberg tells us that the authority to order the use of nuclear weapons is delegated far beyond the President for the valid reason that if the enemy nukes Washington D.C. (or Mar a Largo) and kills the President, without the delegation of authority, the U.S. military would be decapitated. So, the nuclear war plans take that fact into consideration and delegate the authority further down the chain of command. At each level, the same logic applies. Ellsberg says that nuclear weapons simply do not belong in the hands of Homo sapiens.

In print issue of The Nation, May 14, 2018, Ellsberg says that Obama wanted to end the first-strike policy by getting rid of the ICBMs and declaring a no first-strike policy. But his ideas were vetoed by the military-industrial-congressional complex. To get a new START treaty through the Senate, Obama had to reverse course and commit to a $1.2 trillion (now $1.7 trillion) “modernization” of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Ellsberg ended his interview in The Nation by saying he hoped that China might take the lead in getting rid of nuclear weapons. He also hopes that the peace movement finds new tactics and strategy to change public awareness of the threat that remains after 70 years. Too many people think that because nuclear war has not happened, we should not be concerned. But all the near misses need to be better known. Ellsberg’s narration of the Cuban missile crisis could by itself wake us up. The corporate media is at the least negligent and at the most criminal in its protection of the status quo with regard to nuclear weapons, as well as climate change and economic instability. See WPSR’s website to get yourself better educated of these issues https://www.wpsr.org/ In the age of Trump and in the increasing instability of our world, we need to double down on efforts to start a global movement to end the madness of the doomsday machine.


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