s
s
Sections
Search
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
X

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Login

X

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

LoginSubscribe

The doomsday machine

Daniel Ellsberg will speak at 4 p.m. June 10 at the Petaluma Veteran’s Building. For tickets and information, visit Literacyworks.org/events or copperfieldsbooks.com.

Daniel Ellsberg, in his role as a consultant to the Kennedy administration, helped craft a provocative speech that veered from President John Kennedy’s ambiguity on the standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Berlin crisis in 1961.

By exposing Soviet nuclear inferiority, and threatening a first strike on the Soviet Union, the speech — ultimately delivered by a deputy Pentagon secretary — spurred a humiliated Nikita Khrushchev to retaliate by installing nuclear weapons in Cuba. Ellsberg, a RAND Corp. consultant, had thus effectively paved the way to the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

Everyone knows what happened next. The Cuban missile crisis risked the virtual annihilation of humanity if it ended with a general nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union.

But this story is mere prologue to what Ellsberg has to say in his book about our nuclear policies at the time, “The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner.”

Ellsberg will be in Petaluma on June 10 to discuss the book and his concerns about the ongoing risk of a nuclear war.

In his book, he details interviews with commanders in the field, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and civilian oversight personnel in the Department of Defense. He exposes an abundance of hair-raising strategic and tactical plans that deliberately evaded the norms of the senior leadership’s “need to know.”

While some of this has been known to nuclear historians for some time, what adds to the compelling nature of Ellsberg’s findings is his visceral reaction when he learns, for example, of the “right” of Pacific field commanders to authorize a nuclear attack against an enemy threat in the absence of authority from the chain of command to do so.

Additionally — and Ellsberg believes this is the case with all nuclear states — in the event of a decapitating nuclear strike against a country’s political center (e.g. Moscow or D.C.), there emerged a counter maneuver to delegate launch authority throughout peripheral regions of the country. In other words, there are a great many more “fingers on the nuclear button” than the general public has been told.

Just as harrowing in its implications is Ellsberg’s concern that the days of Gen. Curtis Le May’s influence on segments of the military are not entirely over; that the former Strategic Air Command commander, who had a thorough distrust of the check-and-balance role of the executive branch in nuclear decision-making, has modern-day adherents.

Le May’s imprint on plans for a general nuclear war against the entire Sino-Soviet bloc successfully evaded the bureaucratic requirement for informing the “civilians” in the White House and Department of Defense. The reason? The president, secretary of defense and national security advisers were viewed as lacking expertise in the conduct of war — and worse: Their civilian oversight roles were seen as obstructionist.

This is very serious stuff that has long begged the question: Why on earth would the world’s nuclear states — mandated as they are for citizen protection — assume the high-stakes risk of not only inviting national suicide but leaving behind a virtually uninhabitable world?

Ellsberg will address that question among many others in a conversation with actor and author Peter Coyote at 4 p.m. June 10 at the Petaluma’s Veterans Memorial Building. For tickets and information, visit Literacyworks.org/events or copperfieldsbooks.com.

Donna Brasset-Shearer, a Petaluma resident, is a cultural-anthropologist with a background in international relations.

You can send a letter to the editor at letters@pressdemocrat.com

Show Comment