The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner

First, Daniel Ellsberg showed the American people the Pentagon Papers, revealing a top-secret study into the Vietnam War. That’s not what The Doomsday Machine is about, however. This is about a terrifying and possibly world-ending tool of war. The nuclear bomb.

Daniel Ellsberg decided to drop another bomb, for lack of a better phrase, on the American public once again. This time he discusses what he observed during his time as a military analyst for the United States government. And what he observed was…terrifying.

Now, I can’t really judge how accurate the information that Ellsberg puts forward is. I can’t say that I have the knowledge, as a layperson,  to comment on his knowledge of nuclear policy. So, I’m going to trust Ellsberg’s information here.

What I can say is that this book is really dense. It takes a while to get used to all of the acronyms and jargon that is sprinkled throughout the book. It’s a really dense read, and it took me a long time to get through. It was an interesting read, but frustrating at times.

It felt like the book sort of meandered for a few chapters, not fully keeping in line with Ellsberg’s thesis. For a while, Ellsberg discusses other United States atrocities during WWII, namely firebombing in Japan prior to the nuclear explosions on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Eventually, Ellsberg connects the firebombings to the American nuclear policy, but I don’t think that quite so much space needed to be devoted to that.

The Doomsday Machine felt like two books. One was about American policy during the second world war, and part was about nuclear policy after the war and into the modern day. I almost think that Ellsberg could have written two more organized books rather than one that felt kind of like two books thrown together.

Despite the organization issues and the sheer density of the language, I think that The Doomsday Machine is a really important book. Now, I am speaking as somebody that agrees with Ellsberg’s argument that nuclear weapons need to be abolished worldwide. I don’t see any result from their continued existence that doesn’t end in the destruction of life on earth. I’m not a nuclear expert, nor am I a war expert. Still, I think that Ellsberg puts forward a solid argument for why he thinks that nuclear weapons are something that should never be used.

Now, am I saying that my opinions or Ellsberg’s opinions are the only valid ones here? No, absolutely not. Nuclear power is something that is so complex and difficult to discuss, and I’m not sure if nuclear weapon abolition is even possible. Still, The Doomsday Machine provides an insider’s view on the issue and encourages the reader to rethink what they think they know about war and nuclear weapons.

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