How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III
How the End Begins:
The Road to a Nuclear World War III
by Ron Rosenbaum
Simon & Schuster
$28.00 List Price
If the history of ideas told a sensible story, the enduring lesson of the cold war would be that fighting and winning a nuclear war is at best a futile proposition but more likely an insane one. Alas, history is never sensible. As Ron Rosenbaum reminds us in his new book, How the End Begins, ideas thought to be well past their expiration date have a strange way of reviving themselves. "The threat of nuclear war is back," he warns, "and we have to face it again." Rosenbaum memorably wrote about the subject for Harper's more than thirty years ago; contrary to all rational expectations, not much has changed.
What persists is the central problem of "command and control"—that is, whether the possibility of accidental or unauthorized launch can ever be erased from nuclear arsenals, and whether soldiers can be expected to follow launch orders from their leaders. Nuclear war, Rosenbaum warns, is the road to "world holocaust"; during the cold war, several brushes with such an apocalypse were avoided only because of quick-thinking individuals like Soviet colonel Stanislav Petrov, who, in 1983, guessed that a Russian satellite had mistaken a cloud's reflection for incoming missiles.
We still rely on feats of dumb luck and goodwill. Drawing on the research of nuclear-weapons expert Bruce Blair, Rosenbaum shows how "a single canny missileer could, for whatever mad reason, launch fifty missiles on his own given the right circumstances." More worrisome, America's arsenal remains on hair-trigger alert. In practical terms, this gives the president fifteen minutes to respond to a foreign