How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III Hardcover – Mar 1 2011
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“The virtues of How the End Begins are numerous and impressive . . . this is a deep meditation on the role, meaning, and possible consequences of nuclear weapons in our time.”
—Michael Anton, The Weekly Standard
"Is there a scenario in which nuclear retaliation would be moral? Rosenbaum’s answer is a definitive no. Any reader of this upsetting book will be convinced that he’s right."
--Nathaniel Rich, The Daily Beast
About the Author
Ron Rosenbaum is the bestselling author of Explaining Hitler and The Shakespeare Wars and has written or edited six other books. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Harper’s, The Atlantic, and The New Yorker. He writes a column for Slate and lives in New York City.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I respect the author's opinion, but I think it is poorly defended and subject to considerable question.
In addition, the book digresses way too far into subjects of religion and philosophy.
Finally, and I hate to say this part the most, the book is kind of boring. The prose is (again) heavy-handed as well as long-winded. I found myself skipping ahead, which is something I never do.
I did manage to finish the book, but I was left with a sense of buyer's remorse.
If you describe yourself as a "zeroer", you will find much to your liking. Otherwise, you will probably find little to change your mind.
This is a somewhat circular argument, in that deterrence depends upon convincing one's potential enemies that retaliation is certain. Submarine-launched missiles can provide a second strike capability, as subs could launch devastating attacks even if the nation that owns them no longer exists.
And yet ... if your country has already been destroyed, then what is there to gain from launching your nuclear weapons-- other than to kill tens or hundreds of millions who otherwise might live?
And yet, and yet: if one is not willing to implement a nuclear policy that ensures retaliation after an attack, are one's enemies not likely to discern this? And when they do, won't they be more likely to attack? And if so, wouldn't implementing such a policy increase the probability of nuclear war?
All of this assumes there are people in the world who would choose to commit mass murder. The author clearly believes there are, as his reference is Hitler and the holocaust. Further, he recognizes that Israel could be totally destroyed by just one or two nuclear bombs, and that it is surrounded by many who speak openly of extermination.
But then he runs up against the morality of retaliation after deterrence has failed, and his moral principles just will not let him go there. As he sees it, once all is lost then retaliation can never be justified. And if retaliation cannot be justified, then a policy based on it must be immoral and should be abandoned.
In the end, the author really doesn't offer a solution, other than perhaps a vague, utopian plea that perhaps nuclear weapons can be banished from the world. What I found irritating about this book was the author's frequent and sometimes sarcastic dismissal of those who disagree with him.
I personally find the logic of nuclear deterrence compelling. Since the risk of a nuclear doomsday can never be completely eliminated, remaining choices can only reduce it. In a world in which nuclear weapons cannot be made to just go away, a policy of sure retaliation seems the best (although surely not perfect) defense against their use.
Although I mostly disagree with the author, he has written a lively and thought-provoking book. I recommend it to all who are interested in such questions. It certainly is not boring!
On more than one occasion I wanted to forget what I've learned from this book, but that wouldn't make any of it less true. The subject matter is pretty heavy, and I came away with the same feeling of unease I felt after the laughs wore off in Dr. Strangelove. Nonetheless, I would recommend this to a friend.
The major question that seems to concern the author is once someone launches nuclear weapons. What is the morality of nuclear retaliation? Say side A does an atomic strike on side B, is it moral for side B to retaliate? Of course, the real problem here is if side A thinks that side B will not retaliate; they may be very tempted to strike.
I think the writer, is dishonest with his facts. For example, he must know that it is questionable whether Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov's decision had much to do with preventing nuclear war as plenty is available on the net about it.
I am sure he is misrepresenting the facts on purpose about the US nuclear triad policy. It is expensive, but the point of it is not for first strike. The idea is by having a variety of methods of retaliations it makes it harder for the other side to make a successful first-strike on the US so giving the US a more credible threat of a second strike. If, for example, say the USSR did develop the blue-green laser that could detect submarines, which people had been working on? This could make the US nuclear submarines useless as a second strike, if so, the US would still have planes and land-based missiles as a second strike. I am sure the author knows of this project too. It might work and if so it would make his submarine solution useless.
Then when talking about such people like Herman Kahn, he just seems to brush aside their arguments like they do not matter. If he does not like someone's arguments, he makes them out to be stupid.
At the end, the writer of this book has not presented a credible alternative to MAD.