On Thermonuclear War Paperback – Jul 17 2007
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"On Thermonuclear War was controversial when it was first published-and still is, today. No light reading, at well over 600 pages it packs in details from across disciplines and was widely read on both sides of the Iron Curtain: today its many insights on military strategies, issues, and the logic of amassing thermonuclear armaments still apply. It was the first book to examine the underlying logic of making and keeping nuclear weapons, originally created from a series of lectures, and provides both military and college-level collections with strong insights on military might and strategy."
—The Midwest Book Review
"Kahn's classic On Thermonuclear War had been reissued by Transaction Publishing ... This could not come at a better time. Human nature has not made much moral progress since the end of the Third Reich but its very worst instinct for total destruction has, so far, been held at bay by the certainty of self-destruction. We need someone to remind us again of how to think about the unthinkable."
—Mark Safranski, zenpundit.com
"New thoughts, particularly those which contradict current assumptions, are always painful for the human mind to contemplate. On Thermonuclear War is filled with such thoughts."
—Hubert H. Humphrey
About the Author
Herman Kahn (1922-1983) was a renowned political scientist, economist, historian geo-strategist, and considered by many to be the founder of futurology as a serious field of study. Associated for many years with the RAND Corporation, he was the founding director of the first independent “think tank,” the Hudson Institute. Among his many books are Thinking About the Unthinkable, The Year 2000, The Next 200 Years, The Coming Boom, The Resourceful Earth, and On Thermonuclear War.
Evan Jones is Herman Kahn's nephew. He is an historical analyst and game designer specializing in strategic simulations. He worked at the Hudson Institute in the mid-70s, primarily doing research used in The Next 200 Years.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
But the truth is he does a job someone has to do when countries possess nuclear weapons.
In this book Kahn discusses the unthinkable: how would a nuclear war be fought and what would be the consequences. He does this in the only way it can be done-in a dispassionate way. He asks such questions as to whether civilization can survive a nuclear war and if so how long it would take for it to recover.
His conclusion based on the facts and technology of the time he wrote the book (1962) was that nuclear war was winnable. Detractors of the book saw it as advocating nuclear war which is far from the truth. How easy it is to shoot the messenger.
From many accounts of Kahn the man he was far from bloodless and he was in fact optimistic about the future.
As one reads this book one enters into the mind of a great thinker. He was a highly logical man who dared to take on a problem others saw as taboo. Some may not like the way he deals with the subject but as long as we possess nuclear weapons the problems and all of their ramifications must be considered.
A frightening yet interesting read.
Jim Connell "Hallstatt Prince"
Secondly, in many ways "On Thermo...." represents the first truly modern approach to the discipline known as Systems Analysis.
And finally Kahn had the courage to realize that all previous \scenarios involving thermonuclear war truly were lightweight and an honest assessment was necessary. He delivered. In spades. Hence chapter titles such as "Will the Living Envy the Dead?". He approached this without irony, with a rock-solid grasp of the facts and possibilities and developed his scenarios on existing knowledge of thermonuclear war and its effects and definite real grounding in prevailing defense policy.
Chilling? To be sure. And even in the years since its publication it has not lost an iota of possibility regarding the consequences of such insane acts as he describes. His analysis makes John Schlesinger's "Mutual Assured Destruction" (MAD) seem like child's play. In Kahn's time and world the generals were clearly out not win, not deter.
Roughly thirty or so years ago, Atlantic Monthly ran an article that evaluated nuclear war scenarios (fiction and realistic) as pornography, lacking any other analogue. An excellent article that may be tracked down via Atlantic's site. In it most fiction such a "Level 7", Red Alert" (basis for Dr. Strangelove) and "On The Beach" were treated as softcore nuclear porno.
In contrast "Fail Safe" and "On Thermonuclear War" reigned as truce hardcore examples of the genre.
In all, Kahn's book is excellent and timely, the Atlantic article is worth tracking down. And Peter Watkins's film, "War Game" is also worth serious viewing as well as receiving a hardcore rating by the author of the Atlantic article.
Chilling and yet compelling and above-all necessary to remind us of the continuance of our on-going death fetish and folly.
By the way, Kahn is scrupulously neutral. Simply the honest facts regarding where our policies could lead.
Groundbreaking and necessary now as well as then.
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