Saturday, October 10, 2009

Cold War and nuclear bombs

Here is a fascinating Fresh Air interview with David Hoffman. He is the author of The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War and its Dangerous Legacy. Interestingly, he paints Reagan as a guy who wanted to make nuclear weapons obsolete - part of the rationale for his Star Wars program. Now this is an intriguing twist to Reagan and I'm still not sure if I buy it completely. It may also represent an evolution of Reagan from his early days to the his second term as President. However, it is clear that Reagan was indeed rattled by the made-for-TV movie The Day After - that imagined the impact of a nuclear attack on Lawrence, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri. If you don't have time to listen to the whole interview, check out this part of the interview that starts around 28-29 minutes in. From a different perspective, this is an amazing demonstration of the enormous impact television can make (I can also testify to it personally as I decided to pursue astronomy after watching the first episode of Cosmos, when it first aired in Pakistan in 1984). Talking of Sagan, Hoffman's view adds an interesting irony to the anti-nuclear protests in the 1980s. At one point Reagan invited Sagan to a dinner at the White House, but Sagan declined the invitation - partly because of Reagan's Star Wars program. But may be they would have agreed on something. In any case, Reagan did end up borrowing Sagan's aliens. Check out this segment of Reagan's 1987 speech to the UN:



More likely, both Sagan and Reagan were influenced by the story from a 1963 episode of The Outer Limits titled, The Architects of Fear. Watch the full episode here.

3 comments:

Matthew said...

As much as I dislike the Reagan years, I could actually believe that Reagan did genuinely want to abolish nuclear weapons. Unfortunately the implementation of the SDI program was unilateral and very destabilizing. The Soviet response was entirely rational in that regard (and so, by the way, is the Russian response currently).

But Reagan was working against history and inertia to some extent -- the MX Peacekeeper was brought online during Reagan's watch, but the program started under Nixon and advanced rapidly under Carter and the early Reagan years. So I don't totally blame him for MX.

And it's also possible he and others in his administration were sufficiently spooked by the Soviet response to NATO exercises in late 1983 that they decided it wasn't worth it anymore. (See this for more on that latter point.)

But hearing the Christian right wing talking about the "End Times" in the 1980s was a little scary...

Salman Hameed said...

"The Soviet response was entirely rational in that regard (and so, by the way, is the Russian response currently)."

Commie! :)

Actually, good point about the MX. But did he really have to bring it online? But, yes, his thinking may have evolved quite a bit in his 8 years in office - especially in 1983.

Matthew said...

No, he didn't have to roll out the MX, but unfortunately the Soviets had already responded to US missile development in the 1970s (including the upcoming rollout of the Trident fleet in 1981) with a huge buildup in the late 1970s.


(By the way, Vladimir Putin is about as "Communist" as Dick Cheney....)