“The Doomsday Machine” by Daniel Ellsberg

Well the bad news: I just finished probably the most disturbing book I have ever read: Daniel Ellsberg’s “The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear Planner”.

It’s main findings: (My own from his: we are lucky still to be here given all the near misses he describes and the madness of the very clever and the current nuclear weapon system)
1.The USA had, well before Trump, and still has a First Use policy for nuclear weapons: US policy is not simply the threat of retaliation.
2. The Russians have their Perimeter defense system that automatically launches a full scale nuclear attack on the USA, if Moscow is destroyed by a nuclear weapon; and one reason for this is the insane policy that the US military keeps talking about of decapitation: trying to kill the Russian leadership to make a nuclear attack by them harder, but instead makes it more automatic.
3. The use of nuclear weapons in the US is delegated way down the military command (the President’s nuclear football etc. is bs theater) and there is very little in the way of physical systems to prevent their use by a lone mad man, and in effect the US has a human rather than fully automated Perimeter defense system of its own that any nuclear attack on Washington would likely trigger massive retaliation almost automatically.
4. Even a nuclear war between Pakistan and India would start a nuclear winter for several years killing 2+ billion people, and a full scale US-Russia nuclear war would trigger a much longer one that would last perhaps a decade of Ice Age conditions and most of the human race would starve to death
5. No one is much bothered by all this. Too scary to solve?
6. Ellsberg suggests that ending the Doomsday Machine is technically very easy: the US adopts a No First Use policy, and in agreement with the Russians gets rid of its land based missiles and relies on sub based missiles and both sides get rid of a lot of nukes to end the risk of nuclear winter. And yep the Russians destroy their insane Perimeter system.

Two new phrases: Omnicide: destruction of the human race.

And SAD: Self Assured Destruction.

And a nice quote:
“Madness is rare in individuals – but in groups, parties, nations, and ages it is the rule.” – Friedrich Nietzsche


Also see:



About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
This entry was posted in Conflict Book Reviews, Conflict History, Conflict Processes, US Political Conflict, Ways to handle conflict and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s