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How Did the US and USSR Never Go to War?

[ 128 ] November 5, 2015 |

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Sometimes, it’s really surprising that the U.S. and Soviet Union did not actually go to war. This story about Soviet paranoia in the face of Reagan’s increasing aggressiveness is quite alarming really.

A nuclear weapons command exercise by NATO in November 1983 prompted fear in the leadership of the Soviet Union that the maneuvers were a cover for a nuclear surprise attack by the United States, triggering a series of unparalleled Soviet military re­sponses, according to a top-secret U.S. intelligence review that has just been declassified.

“In 1983, we may have inadvertently placed our relations with the Soviet Union on a hair trigger,” the review concluded.

That autumn has long been regarded as one of the most tense moments of the Cold War, coming after the Soviet Union shot down a South Korean civilian airliner in September and as the West was preparing to deploy Pershing II intermediate-range and ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe in November. But there has been a long-running debate about whether the period known as the “war scare” was a moment of genuine danger or a period of bluster for propaganda purposes.

The review concluded that for Soviet leaders, the war scare was real, and that U.S. intelligence post­mortems did not take it seriously enough.

Soviet leaders were particularly alarmed about the NATO exercise, known as Able Archer, carried out in early November 1983 involving forces­ that stretched from Turkey to Britain. Conducted annually to practice the procedures involved in the run-up to a nuclear conflict, the exercise had some new wrinkles that year, including planes that taxied out of hangars carrying realistic-looking dummy warheads, the review said.

It goes on to discuss the paranoia of the aging Yuri Andropov and the real fear the Soviet leadership had of Reagan’s craziness. I don’t know, maybe calling other nations names like “an evil empire” or “the Axis of Evil” does not actually help keep your nation safe, who could know. As much as I despise Reagan, at least he had the wherewithal to see that the Soviets were actually scared and sense an opening to thaw relations as the 80s went on, something that deeply disturbed the hardliners among his advisers.

In hindsight, it really seems amazing that at some point these two nuclear nations didn’t start annihilating each other, whether in 1962 or 1983 or some other point. There were so many opportunities for everything in the Cold War to go horribly wrong.

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  • McAllen

    It’s the kind of thing that makes me think the multiple universes theory is true, and for every universe where the US and USSR didn’t obliterate the human race there are a hundred where they did.

    • Philip

      +1. I’ve joked about this before, but I really do think if you reran the Cold War a hundred times, at least 60 of them would end in nuclear war.

    • Karen24

      The fact that we didn’t go to war with the Soviets is the biggest reason I still believe in God. The only reasonable explanation, especially given the very large number of instances where war would have been the easiest solution, is Divine intervention.

      • Maybe it was fear of Gort.

        • Karen24

          I’ll credit anything. It certainly wasn’t wisdom and careful planning.

      • wengler

        Either that or Satan didn’t want the headache of millions of new hell-dwellers all at once.

        • NonyNony

          Loki’s not interested in destroying humanity – where’s the fun in that?

          Making us all terrified for fear that we won’t wake up in the morning? That’s the kind of thing a trickster god needs to brighten up a dreary eternity…

    • Halloween Jack

      One of Stephen King’s most underappreciated stories is UR, possibly because it was conceived as a sort of promotional stunt for the Kindle; it involves a guy who orders a Kindle and accidentally receives one that can get books and the NYT from parallel universes. Some of the alternative titles are just fun–an otherwise-respected novelist writing porn novels in another timeline–but there’s one chilling bit that’s the last edition of the NYT in a continuity where the Cuban Missile Crisis went hot.

  • Keaaukane

    There should be a mention of Stanislav Petrov, a guy who may have saved the world.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanislav_Petrov

    I only skimmed the article, but did not see his name.

    • Malaclypse

      There needs to be a special category of Nobel Peace prize for that dude, along with holidays in both respective countries.

      • Karen24

        It’s more than just two countries now. I can think of at least fourteen, and that’s without including any of 1983 NATO or the Warsaw Pact.

      • SamInMpls

        While I wouldn’t say his flight qualifies Mathias Rust for any sort of peace prize, it does at least put him up for consideration for Discordian Sainthood.

        • Lurker

          Yep. And not in a good way. The Soviet intelligence considered the flight to be a covert reconnaissance operation, demonstrating and studying how a low-level flight of a cruise missile might succeed in a decapitation strike.

          Rust’s flight plan was almost the same as such a cruise missile, fired from the Norwegian Sea, would have had. If anything, Rust’s flight escalated tensions.

          So Eris was probably happy at seeing the work of her protégé.

    • Crusty

      He was mentioned on this past weekend’s episode of Madam Secretary, if anybody watches that show, which is a little better than I thought it would be.

    • McAllen

      There’s also Vasili Arkhipov, who prevented the submarine he was on from launching a nuke.

      And on the US side, the nuclear base in Okinawa was apparently accidently ordered to launch nukes during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

      • Philip

        And War Games was less fictional than we all thought, because I remember reading somewhere that during a drill, NORAD accidentally ran the simulation with their nuclear response systems still hooked up.

    • Karen24

      I really want an international holiday for Petrov. I make a point of having his picture on my Facebook page on the anniversary of the day he saved the world.

      • Rob in CT

        Right? Or a big ass monument: “Dedicated to a man who kept his head as others around him were losing theirs.” Or both.

        • Karen24

          All of the above.

    • Barry Freed

      Thanks, I came here to post about him and also Vasili Arkhipov mentioned below but mostly about Petrov since this was at that time.

      I know there is an unofficial Stanislav Petrov day but it really needs to be an international holiday. There should be statues in his honor in DC and Moscow.

      Also, I’m sure someone here has made this point but describing the Soviets as being “paranoid” sounds really off to me. I lived through that period and so-called Soviet paranoia seemed eminently rational to me at the time.

      • Rob in CT

        Even paranoids have enemies.

      • Hob

        The period spy show The Americans touched on this a bit, and I was surprised at how many viewers said things like “Surely the Soviets didn’t really think Reagan was going to start a war”… or, worse, “Isn’t it great that we psyched them out and scared them so badly – all that unnecessary military spending eventually helped bring down the USSR, so it all worked out great!”

        • Sev

          Real lack of appreciation for differences in national worldview/ temperament- the Soviets of course had experienced invasion and conquest, as the Russians had several times in their history, contributing to a far greater wariness. It always seemed to me that the US, with all their Kahn style theorizing and war gaming, had no appreciation of this. The USSR was always essentially an opportunistic status quo power, not an adventurous imperial power like the US.

      • toberdog

        Just because they were paranoid didn’t mean we weren’t out to get them.

        EDIT: And vice versa.

  • Brett

    That’s why I say MAD was not a good idea – we just got lucky. The Able Archer situation was just one of several close calls that could have led to a limited or all-out US-Soviet nuclear exchange.

    It’s why I’ve come over to the side of gradual nuclear disarmament by all powers with nuclear weapons. There’s some risk there – nuclear weapons are probably the reason we haven’t had a conventional Great Power conflict in decades – but I’d rather have that, or at least have a world where countries only have a small number of tactical nuclear weapons or “break-out” capability in case of conflict.

  • Hogan

    In hindsight, it really seems amazing that at some point these two nuclear nations still start annihilating each other, whether in 1962 or 1983 or some other point.

    That doesn’t sound right to me.

    • Crusty

      I think “still” is supposed to be didn’t.

  • I’ve known about Able Archer for years.

    I can remember it being discussed back when I was in SAC.

    Because their system was so “top down” and centrally controlled, the Soviets were always afraid we would try to “decapitate” them by taking out their leadership with a surprise attack.

    Just as we were once afraid of Soviet missiles in Cuba, they were very worried by US missiles in Europe due to the very short warning time.

    • Warren Terra

      I’ve known about Able Archer for years.

      I may have learned about Able Archer from this very blog – Farley had two posts titled Able Archer about 30 months ago (one, and two).

      • It’s never really been publicized until recently.

      • Srsly Dad Y

        I saw it in the East Village before it sold out.

        • Just_Dropping_By

          “Able Archer” would be a good band name….

    • Lurker

      In my opinion, Able Archer shows quite well that you should never undertake exercises that look like preparations for a surprise attack. Such exercises have a tendency of looking like preparations for a surprise attack, causing the other side to take countermeasures.

      Currently, Russia is really bad at this. During the last year, they have run a series of unannounced readiness drills: Large surprise exercises in the scale of several tens of thousands of participants. A particularly unnerving case was the readiness drill last November. The Russian ran a drill of their strategic missile forces together with the activation of their whole civil defense organization, not to speak about numerous exercises along their Western border where they have activated their airborne troops for large-scale training missions near neighboring countries without prior announcement. Such exercises are not fully without dangers.

  • shawn k

    I was in college when Reagan was president and was 100 % convinced that he’d start a world-ending nuclear war. I still don’t quite know how it didn’t happen.

    • Warren Terra

      I was a kid in Seattle when WarGames came out, and it’s deeply creepy to be told by one of the biggest movies of the year that by living in Seattle you’ve guaranteed yourself a quick death when World War Three happens.

      • Don’t kid yourself. We were all guaranteed a quick death.

        I saw the charts for what a full-scale nuclear conflict would do to the US. Nothing East of the Mississippi lives and very little West of it.

        • Warren Terra

          Well, yes, but even so there’s something special about the big summer movie telling you that to ensure a quick death you should live, basically, in my house.

        • ArchTeryx

          The BBC movie Threads will always be burned into my memories. Imagine seeing that movie as a teenager.

          [It was a very clinical and very blunt look at what a full scale nuclear exchange would do to the U.K., and absolutely unflinching when it comes to showing the post-nuclear depredations. The ones that died in the initial blasts are the lucky ones. For the survivors there is simply unending pain, suffering, and horror.]

        • Crabernacle

          Alas, Babylon!

    • djw

      There’s a real generation gap experience here. I can’t really convey to my students how weird it was to be eight years old and quite certain I’d perish in the hellish armageddon of a nuclear war with the next two decades.

      • River Birch

        First of all, the only weird thing about it is that you saw the risk much more clearly than the adults around you.

        Second, since your students should be every bit as terrified of perishing in the hellish armageddon of catastrophic climate change as you were of dying in a nuclear apocalypse, I find it kind of odd they can’t relate.

        • Philip

          It’s vastly less immediate. Climate change is a process. Nuclear apocalypse is basically a point in time. The fact that climate change doesn’t have an easily identifiable spot to point to where you can say “this was where everything went to hell” makes it hard to have the same kind of visceral reaction, even if you find it terrifying intellectually.

        • Lee Rudolph

          I wonder if the world’s current supply of nuclear weapons, appropriately deployed, could somehow be used to avert the hellish armageddon of catastrophic climate change (and the Sixth Extinction)? Sort of geo-social-engineering, as it were.

          Probably not. But it would be something for Trolley Problem fans to chew on.

      • joe from Lowell

        I remember being little and seeing some televangelist give a sermon about Revelation and the upcoming nuclear war.

        I was mature enough to understand everything he said, but not mature enough to know he was full of crap. I kept the bad news from my parents for a couple days until they asked me what was wrong.

    • steverinoCT

      I was assigned to the USS Kamehameha (SSBN 642) Gold crew; I don’t remember our exact patrol dates (naturally) but our crew was home for Christmas throught the mid-Eighties so it’s likely I was underway on nuclear deterrent patrol at the time of the incident. Spooky to look back and realize that.

  • Crusty

    SPOILER ALERT for the Americans on FX

    If you care about this sort of thing, avert your eyes.

    Anyway, this post made me think of one of my favorite episodes from one of the best shows on TV, the Americans, about two deep embedded soviet spies living in the D.C. burbs. There was an episode that shows their point of view and the Soviet point of view on the day of the assassination attempt on Reagan. When it happened, and Haig got on tv and said I’m in charge, to the Soviets, it looked like there had been a military coup here in the U.S. and therefore, nuclear attacks on the Soviet Union were imminent. These two spies in D.C. were ready to start carrying on guerrilla warfare in the streets, shooting cabinet members, until they got confirmation from an FBI counter-intelligence source that the gunman was a lone nutjob. It was fascinating stuff, particularly the Soviet belief/expectation that a military coup might occur here.

    • brewmn

      My wife and I love that show.

    • I immediately thought of that episode too. Though at least Philip was properly skeptical, telling Elizabeth, “these people don’t have coups.”

      Counting on Able Archer to be a major plot point in Season 4.

      • freewilliams

        Sadly, this one one of my first thoughts upon reading the article last week.

    • Crabernacle

      The lead up to Able Archer was a main plot point in the surprisingly enjoyable East German focused spy show “Deutschland 83” that aired a few months ago. It’s definitely worth a watch.

    • SamInMpls

      Without going into any spoilers, this takes place in the fourth episode of the first season. I thought the first three episodes were pretty good but that episode was the first indication I saw that it was going to be more than an above average basic cable drama.

    • steverinoCT

      I understand Haig’s thinking. He was assuming control of the local situation, because someone has to. That’s how we were trained in damage control situations: the first senior guy to arrive on the scene announces, “This is Petty Officer Jones, and I am in charge.” It got blown up into a “He doesn’t understand the succession rules” issue, but that was not his intent. IMO.

  • Murc

    As much as I despise Reagan, at least he had the wherewithal to see that the Soviets were actually scared and sense an opening to thaw relations as the 80s went on, something that deeply disturbed the hardliners among his advisers.

    I’m tired of giving Reagan any credit for this, as well as giving Nixon credit for opening China.

    If a Democrat had tried to do what either of them did, they both would have been at the front of the pack of howler monkeys shrieking about “treasonous pinkos.” You don’t get credit for helping to put out fires you set yourself.

    • Given how many advisers Reagan had around him who thought Gorbachev was the devil incarnate, I think he deserves a least a little credit for taking the sane policy instead of the insane policy.

      • Crusty

        Agreed. If W had had the strength, intellect, or whatever it was that was missing to approach his own advisers with some skepticism, he should get credit too. As he didn’t (see Poppy’s recent comments), he gets none.

        • CP

          Oh, you could give credit to George Bush for being smart enough to realize in the mid-to-late 2000s that invading Iran when already bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan was a bad idea. If the rumors are true, Dick Cheney wasn’t bright enough to understand why a third regional war would be a really bad idea.

          But, as with Nixon and Reagan, that’s really damning with faint praise.

      • Murc

        All of those advisers were allowed access to the halls of power by Reagan and people like him allowing them in, in fact encouraging them. Those advisers weren’t forced on Reagan, he picked them because he liked the cuts of their jibs.

        I mean, I get what you’re saying Erik, but… if you encourage crazy people, raise them up, stoke their craziness like a well-tended furnace so it burns ever-brighter and hotter and fiercer, surround yourself with them, call them your friends and allies… well, at that point you don’t deserve credit for not being entirely crazy yourself and ignoring them when they tell you that on July 4th of this year, America should blow up the moon.

        Reagan wouldn’t have needed to ignore those advisers if he hadn’t spent years riding the worldview they represented all the way to White House, damaging the country in ways that have yet to be repaired in the process.

        I cut Reagan some slack in other areas. I don’t think he was an idiot. I think he had an actual vision for the country beyond rank vandalism. I’ll give him some credit for that.

        On this specific issue, I’m not inclined to be charitable at all.

        • Halloween Jack

          This, very much.

      • CrunchyFrog

        Or maybe you can give credit to Nancy’s astrologer. It’s hard to know who was really making the decisions, especially in Reagan’s second term.

        Back in the early 1980s, when Michael Kinsey was young and building his liberal credentials that he later LannyDavised, he wrote a lot of convincing articles documenting how Reagan would change agreed policy positions after visited by leaders of the Heritage Foundation. One got the impression that the cabinet (almost all of whom ended up getting indicted, as it turned out), were picked as policy implementers but the policy was made outside the White House.

        We know that after the re-election Reagan himself – who’d always been heavy on delegation and light on details – started losing touch due to early Alzheimer’s and things started getting out of control culminating in Iran-Contra. Eventually Howard Baker was brought in to clean things up as part of a deal with Congressional Democrats to avoid another impeachment hearing drama after Watergate. In that climate who knows what really was behind Reagan’s softening position with Gorbachev? Was it, as it’s been told, a personal friendship, or was Reagan prodded from elsewhere in that direction?

        • Karen24

          Crap, you beat me to it. Evidence for the claim that Nancy Reagan’s astrologer saved the world.

        • Hob

          Somewhere in Way Out There in the Blue there’s a great part about how lots of people in the administration eventually figured out that Reagan tended to be influenced by whoever happened to be the last person he talked to that day, so people started trying to arrange their schedules so as to be that guy.

    • I’ve seen quotes from Newt Gingrich back then calling him an “appeaser”.

      Gosh that one never gets old.

      • joe from Lowell

        My favorite is George Will writing that the day the accords were signed would be remembered at the day America lost the Cold War.

        • postmodulator

          Shit, I remember that column! That’s right in the beginning of the period where I had some political awareness.

          • joe from Lowell

            I didn’t hear about it until a good 20 years after the fact.

            Heck, I had to bump “The Prius is a business disaster and hybrid technology a dead end!” down to second on my list of George Will’s greatest screw-ups.

    • UserGoogol

      You don’t get credit for helping to put out fires you set yourself.

      Why not? When a fire goes out, we should be happy about it. The point of moral judgments is not to judge people’s soul, but to better understand the world and encourage it to be better. So if Reagan was better than we otherwise would have expected, even if he wasn’t very good overall, that’s deserving of praise.

      • Karen24

        He at least had the decency to stop before the horrible conclusion of his terrible policies. Today, changing his mind against Armageddon would get him insulted for being a flip-flopper. Real Manly Men Heroes celebrate annialation.

  • brewmn

    And in the “Is Ben Carson crazier than the standard issue rightwinger?” debate:

    http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/11/ben-carsons-theory-on-who-built-the-pyramids.html

    • ploeg

      Ben Carson, of course, is a noted practitioner of pyramid schemes.

      • Woodrowfan

        he confused them with the Food Pyramid.

    • Marek

      He, or someone on his staff, played Civ.

    • Warren Terra

      But have you considered the possibility that this blog was created as a grain storage device, rather than by space aliens for inscrutable purposes as so many believe?

  • humanoid.panda

    In the last year or so, I had the luck/misfortune to work with recently released KGB archival materials from Ukraine. The gist of what I learned is simple: the analytical frame through which the average KGB officer viewed the world was extremely similar to that of the craziest of the crazy John Birchers (like I’ve seen documents in which Jewish total domination of the global media is mentioned as simply a fact of life the USSR has to live with). If one reads memoirs published by KGB officers since 1991, the same wordlview is very much evident. Now, the KGB was not the only source of information for the Soviet leadership, and there is some evidence that not all of this stuff was taken seriously. However, given how influential the KGB was in framing the political rank’s knowledge of the world, reading that stuff was terrifying. Also, we are incredibly lucky that Putin is a rationalist cosmpolitan by the standards of some of his colleagues..

    • Karen24

      One of my friends just retired from 35 years in the foreign service, mostly in Germany and Austria. (She was in Bonn when the Wall fell. Amazing life, that woman.) Anyway, she got to review a lot of the old Stasi files and supports your claim completely. According to her, the average Johann in the DDR thought everything the government said was utter crap, but the Apparat in Potsdam were loons, and with opinions that would have been congenial to the government of Germany in 1936. Luckily for us, the KGB was even more mistrustful of anything German than they were of anything American, even when said Germans were allies. It’s one time in history when paranoia and arrogance worked to the world’s benefit.

      • LeeEsq

        Stalin was planning Holocaust II before he died. The Doctor’s Plot show trials was part of an elaborate plan to transfer the remaining Jews of the Soviet Union to Siberia to die in labor camps. The only reason why we avoided Holocaust II was that Stalin died.

        • humanoid.panda

          Sorry, but that’s not quite accurate. The Doctor’s plot was indeed a terrible antisemitic pogrom, but historians found not a shred of evidence for the Jews to Siberia plan.

          • Just_Dropping_By

            I haven’t researched the issue, but from what’s on Wikipedia it sounds more nuanced than that: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctors%27_plot#Alleged_planned_deportation_of_Jews

            • J. Otto Pohl

              Nothing has shown up in the archives suggesting a plan to deport Jews to Siberia like happened to the Volga Germans and Kalmyks. But, even if there were calling it a second Holocaust is a bit misleading. First, most of the national deportees were sent to special settlements not ITLs (Corrective Labour Camps). The ethnic Germans are an exception in that about a third of the total population, most of the able bodied adults, were mobilized for forced labour and about two thirds of those inducted were sent to NKVD camps as part of the labour army. But, the numbers sent to NKVD camps among other deported nationalities were much smaller. Nonetheless, the death rates among both national deportees and in the camps during their worst averaged around 25%. This is very high but, it is a long way from total physical extermination. So it is very doubtful that all or even a majority of Soviet Jews would have perished if deported. The Chechens lost about a third of their population due to deportation to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and they had the highest death rates. I would call the Soviet deportations genocide. However, it is clear that unlike the Holocaust that there was not an intent to immediately and totally physically kill all of the deportees. Rather the Soviet government deliberately deported them to places and conditions that they knew would kill off a significant minority.

    • John F

      Which also explains why so many Bircher types here are so enamored of Putin and think he’s been running rings around the west, he thinks the way they do and does the things that they think a strong leader should do.

    • LeeEsq

      Paranoia and hatred about the Jews was a big link between Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union. Its one of the reasons I can’t stand people who romanticize it.

      • Lurking Canadian

        What does “it” stand for? I don’t see much romanticization of either of them, so it’s not obvious.

        • LeeEsq

          It stands for the Soviet Union. There used to be a lot of people that heavily romanticized the Soviet Union as being a liberator of the world and offering an alternative to capitalism. They ignored a lot of really obviously bad stuff about it like rampant Jew hatred. I’m old enough to remember the Free Soviet Jewry marches. These were mainly if not nearly completely Jewish affairs. I can’t remember anybody from other humanitarian concerns of the 1980s joining in.

          • Karen24

            The only advantage to being a liberal in the 80’s was that it happened after the Breshnev era of crushing Prague Spring and Solidarity. We knew the Soviets were terrible.

            • LeeEsq

              The Soviets crushed rebellions in Hungry during the 1960s and the Doctor’s Plot show trial was the Soviet version of a Blood Libel show trial. People still managed to get all romantic about the Soviet Union.

              I was just a kid at the time but I’m still pissed that none of the other big international solidarity movements never expressed much interest in the movement to Free Soviet Jewry.

              • humanoid.panda

                Sorry, but you are again misremembering things. Post 1956, there was very little romantic infatuation with Soviet Union on anybody’s part (smoe people were anti-anti-Communists but that’s something else entirely). Some left wingers became infatuated with China under Mao, which was worse..

                • Linnaeus

                  Yeah, I certainly don’t remember much in the way of the USSR being romanticized during the Cold War, certainly not in the United States. Perhaps a very, very few Americans did that, but their influence was virtually nil. It was much more common to see the USSR portrayed as an implacable foe just waiting to kill and or enslave us all.

          • Well it’s a good thing no one romanticizes the USSR these days so you have nothing to worry about.

            • EliHawk

              I really can’t quite tell if you’re being sarcastic here.

          • J. Otto Pohl

            This isn’t true. The Jewish emigration movement had the support of a large number of people in the US including most non-Jewish Congressmen as well as international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International. Within the USSR it had alliances and support from a wide variety of dissident strands including the Chronicle of Current Events, Andrei Sakharov, and various other national movements such as the Crimean Tatars and some Ukrainian activists. The cooperation between people like Ilya Gabai (Jewish), Grigorenko (Ukrainian), and Dzhemilev (Crimean Tatar) was not at all unusual particularly given the prominence of the Jewish movement in both the USSR and abroad.

        • J. Otto Pohl

          The “it” in “pro eto” was sex. ;-)

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yelena_Khanga

      • toberdog

        Somewhere there is a theory that the Tsarist secret police has been running the show, under various names, ever since it was created. The existence and continued power of Putin seems like good evidence for this.

    • J. Otto Pohl

      While the JBS believed in all kinds of conspiracy theories regarding the CFR and Trilateralists. They did not believe that there was any “Jewish total domination of the global media.” In fact in the 1950s the head of the JBS, Robert Welch went out of his way to denounce anti-semitism. Even Wikipedia notes that the JBS conspiracy theories while crazy avoided anti-semitism. So where did you get the falsehood that the JBS believed in “Jewish total domination of the global media?” Because there was nothing published by the organization suggesting such a thing.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_W._Welch,_Jr.

      • The Dark Avenger

        Leave it to Otto to try to prove that Welch wasn’t that crazy:

        Certainly, he owed his fans an explanation: does he or does he not believe along with Big-Bircher Bob Welch, the Candyman of Belmont, Massachusetts, that Dwight Eisenhower and forty million Americans are Communists? If he does not, all he need do is recant and demonstrate his friendliness to the nation by naming the names of all his Birch Society associates. Otherwise, we must hold him in contempt.

        http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a4586/comment-1261/

        • Hogan

          More that he wasn’t crazy in one particular way.

        • J. Otto Pohl

          Welch was crazy. It is just that he and his followers did not hate Jews. The claim that they thought there was “Jewish total domination of the global media” is simply not true and is very sloppy research.

          • humanoid.panda

            Um, if you read my comment, you will see I was talking about a KGB document mentioning Jewish control of the media, not about the Birchers. The Birchers I was using as an analogy. Reading things in context is also an important research skill.

            • J. Otto Pohl

              Your analogy was that the John Birch Society also beleived in “Jewish total control of the Global media.” This is simply not true. But, since you believe that Hirsch is right in claiming there was never any racial component to Soviet policy towards ethnic Koreans and Chechens under Stalin I shouldn’t expect anymore from you.

              • humanoid.panda

                You either don’t understand how analogies work, or unable to read words in context, or both. Both conditions are significant problems for a historian.

    • CP

      Reading the kind of intelligence that major world governments receive is generally terrifying if you know the slightest thing about the subject at hand.

      I read a few declassified National Security Council briefs from the 1980s for a class years and years ago, about the politics of the Muslim Middle East. Barely paraphrasing: “there are two kinds of Muslims, Sunnis and Shi’a, and the Shi’a are crazy radical Western-hating bomb-throwers, but the Sunni are moderate and reasonable and people we can do business with.” That’s the level of sophisticated analysis the upper levels of the U.S. government was apparently getting.

  • Srsly Dad Y

    Just yesterday I was in a big room with an Army general who floated the theory (which he picked up on a recent tour of an Air Force nuke command center) that the fact that no two countries armed with nuclear weapons have ever gone to war against each other shows what a vital part of our arsenal nuclear weapons are. I shit thee not. Luckily, he is not the warfighting or budgetmaking kind of general.

    I sat there thinking, among other things, even if that were true, how many nukes would we need to maintain deterrence? Three dozen tops, maybe?

    • yet_another_lawyer

      No two countries with a McDonald’s Dell Manufacturing 10,000 nuclear weapons will ever go to war with each other!

      … wouldn’t this also imply, by the way, that it’s a really good thing the Soviets had nukes too? Otherwise the Cold War might have indeed spilled into WW3. We should also ship some nukes to ISIS in the name of peace, I guess.

      • Srsly Dad Y

        I think you are onto something there. Sign the Nuclear Proliferation Agreement Now!

      • Lurking Canadian

        Nukes don’t kill people. People with nukes kill people.

        RTKBNA! It’s in the Constitution, man!

        • Mellano

          A nuclear community of nations is a polite community of nations. The way everybody was so nice to one another in Deadwood.

      • joe from Lowell

        I respond to people like that with, “So you must be a big fan of the Rosenbergs.”

    • Warren Terra

      Just yesterday I was in a big room with an Army general who floated the theory (which he picked up on a recent tour of an Air Force nuke command center) that the fact that no two countries armed with nuclear weapons have ever gone to war against each other shows what a vital part of our arsenal nuclear weapons are.

      Your army general acquaintance ought to read up on the Kargil War of 1999, one year after both India and Pakistan demonstrated their possession of nuclear weapons.

      • Srsly Dad Y

        I don’t get the impression he’s a big reader.

      • yet_another_lawyer

        Obviously, the effect must have a lag time. No two countries will ever go to war if they have each had a nuclear arsenal for two years.

      • postmodulator

        That very Wikipedia article suggests that fear of nuclear escalation led to Pakistan blinking. (It also — I’d never seen this before — has that claim by Musharraf that Pakistan didn’t actually have a nuclear weapon, not anything they could used against a target, at the time.)

  • wengler

    I’d bet the majority of Kennedy’s national security group would’ve favored the invasion of Cuba, so the simple answer is luck.

    The problem with nuclear war is the only way to ‘win’ is to massively attack every single enemy nuclear installation all at once. Each side gets to wonder what their role in history would be for doing that or the possibilities of 10-20 percent retaliation killing a mere third of their own people. The cost-benefit analysis doesn’t add up, but perhaps the right world leader just hasn’t been in the right place to give us nuclear armageddon.

    • I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed….

    • John F

      but perhaps the right world leader just hasn’t been in the right place to give us nuclear armageddon.

      Could you imagine Hitler not using nukes? Oddly enough maybe, he didn’t use chemical weapons against countries that could retaliate in kind, basically because he was personally terrified of them (having been gassed in WWI).

      I’ve read that Khrushchev worried that Stalin was too cavalier in how he regarded nukes, Stalin saw them as merely bigger and better bombs, not game changers so to speak, Khrushchev personally observed some bomb tests and was a bit more impressed by them than his boss

    • Lurking Canadian

      Even then, once ICBMs are invented, you have to manage to massively attack every single nuclear installation all at once without detection. If they see your missiles coming, they still have a chance to do unto you what you have just done unto them, and you just hit a bunch of empty silos.

      In the era of nuclear-armed bombers, you could at least hope your airforce is good enough to shoot the enemy down.

      • Philip

        And thanks to the countries’ respective space programs and the fact that to this day, the state of the art in missile design is basically “spit a massive column of fire out of the back end of a very long stick,” going undetected has always been a bit of a tall order.

        • Malaclypse

          There’s also the issue of the submarines, which is what makes Letters of Last Resort such an interesting thing.

  • rjayp

    I believe Reagan just chickened out. :)

  • LeeEsq

    Does the calling “other nations bad names doesn’t work” only apply to the United States or other developed world nations or does it apply to countries like Iran and other developing nations to?

    • NonyNony

      Do you think Iran is actually any safer because they labelled the US “The Great Satan”? If so, I’d like to know how.

      It really seems like “namecalling” as a strategy to promote safety is the kind of thing that is at best ineffective and at worst harmful. But if you have examples of it being beneficial to the security of a nation I’d be happy to hear them.

      (OTOH – it’s really good for certain groups to gin up fear and retain power. Which is how both the US and the USSR used the tactic during the Cold War. And is how Iran is making use of the tactic. And in fact seems to be the only effective use of the tactic I can think of. Why, it’s almost as if this kind of angry rhetoric isn’t about national safety at all come to think of it…)

      • LeeEsq

        I think you misunderstood my point. I don’t think that Iran is safer because many of their politicians and leaders engage in over the top anti-American and anti-Israeli rhetoric. However, a lot of people who get very angry at one nation doing name-calling seem to be at least tolerant of it when a nation perceived as on the right side or as an underdog does it.

        • Hogan

          “Very angry,” yes, that’s exactly how I would describe Rob’s post. I would also agree that there’s no difference between criticizing one’s own government and criticizing other governments.

        • Rob in CT

          You deliberately missed (or ignored) the point Erik was making in order to try a “gotcha” on Iran.

          But NonyNony’s response is perfect: Erik was noting that such rhetoric doesn’t keep you safe, nothing more. And demonstrably, crazed Iranian rhetoric re: Israel & the USA helped made them less safe, by enabling hardliners.

          Sure, there’s some toleration for the “underdog” because we know that railing against the Great Satan is like a terrier yapping at a Great Dane (and while Israel is itself not a Great Dane, it’s got one backing it up). That doesn’t actually mean people think it’s totally fine. They just don’t think it’s a good basis for hardline policy choices (“bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran”) – as we recognize it for what it is: hardliners using rhetoric to rile their political supporters at home and keep the fires burning for future use for the same purpose.

          Nobody actually argues that Iranian rhetoric about destroying Israel is actually a good thing.

  • burritoboy

    Except that the US and USSR did go to war. The Polar Bear Expedition of 1918-1919. Now why didn’t they get into a far more serious hot war later on? Great question, but a different one.

    • Lurker

      To be exact, in 1919 it was the Russian Federative Socialist Republic. Soviet Union was founded only two years later.

      • J. Otto Pohl

        Actually three years, the USSR was formed in December 1922.

  • Joe Bob the III

    I was in the sixth grade when Reagan took office. It’s really interesting to look at my artwork from about grade 6 to my freshman year in high school. Lots of mushroom clouds.

  • j_kay

    It’s all Von Neumann’s fault for saving us by inventing MAD, the realization that nuclear war’s has to be a lose for all. Ike adopted it, and we’ve educated everybody from the Soviets to North Korea, recently. ‘

    I’ve long worshiped him for bis computer work. His Von Neumann machine serioualy improved the computer from Turing’s original work.

    Aww, poor nukemongers!! Neocons tend to be like that; Kagan wrote JFK should’ve nuked the Soviets in the Cuban Missile Crisis, and that’s they want war against Russia for Ukraine.

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