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The Doomsday Machine

Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner

By Daniel Ellsberg
15-minute read
Audio available
The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner by Daniel Ellsberg

The Doomsday Machine (2017) follows famed whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg on his journey from learning about nuclear bombs in school to rewriting the national security policy for the United States of America. It explores the use of nuclear systems throughout history and how close we came to ending the human race.

  • Modern history buffs with a particular interest in wars
  • International relations students
  • People interested in US nuclear strategy

Daniel Ellsberg is an activist, whistleblower and former US military advisor. In 1971 he released the classified Pentagon Papers to the public, which detailed US efforts during the Vietnam War. He also wrote Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.

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The Doomsday Machine

Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner

By Daniel Ellsberg
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner by Daniel Ellsberg
Synopsis

The Doomsday Machine (2017) follows famed whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg on his journey from learning about nuclear bombs in school to rewriting the national security policy for the United States of America. It explores the use of nuclear systems throughout history and how close we came to ending the human race.

Key idea 1 of 9

The first city bombings and mass murder of civilians took place in the 1930s.

How did the Cold War’s threat of nuclear war get to the point that it spelled the possible end of the entire human race? The answer lies with the warmongers of the 1930s.

Before strategic bombing - a specific attack on city centers with the aim of killing the most civilians possible as a means of dismantling the enemy’s economy and society – civilians were, for the most part, kept out of harm’s way during the European wars. This was outlined by the dogma of just war, which stipulated that innocent civilians should not be purposefully targeted in warfare.

The key aspect that led to the rise of strategic bombing was the rapid advancement of aircraft technology.

By the early 1930s, aircraft could transport heavier cargo and travel further distances than ever before. These planes were able to fly over land obstacles and launch attacks on civilians, who, despite being non-combatants, were vital components of war.

One example of strategic bombing is immortalized in Picasso’s 1937 painting Guernica. It depicts the Italian and German air bombings of the Spanish city Guernica, which was an anti-fascist stronghold during the Spanish Civil War. It’s estimated that around 1,000 civilians died during the raid.

Fast-forward to 1939 and the start of WWII. Although the US was not yet part of the war, President Roosevelt implored Germany, France and Great Britain not to attack city centers and kill innocent civilians. All three parties initially agreed to Roosevelt’s request; however, the pact was broken shortly thereafter.

Germany was the first to infringe upon the agreement, with the bombing of British cities in 1940. The event became known as the Blitz and marked the death of over 40,000 civilians.

In 1942, Britain launched their own raids of strategic bombing against civilians. Over the next three years, Great Britain’s air raids killed around 300,000 German civilians.

The most devastating non-nuclear strategic bombing by number of deaths was in fact carried out by the United States. One night, in March 1945, aerial bombings on Tokyo resulted in the deaths of approximately 100,000 Japanese civilians.

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