The NYPL Podcast
Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner: The NYPL Podcast Ep. 204
The New York Public Library Podcast features your favorite writers, artists, and thinkers in smart talks and provocative conversations. Listen to some of our most engaging programs, discover new ideas, and celebrate the best of today’s culture.
In 1971 when Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers—which can be traced in the NYPL 's New York Times archives— and revealed the true story of American involvement in Vietnam, the analyst for the RAND Corporation was holding on to a much larger and more terrifying set of American secrets than he was letting on.
They were secrets he had hoped to reveal not long after the Pentagon Papersbut instead, Ellsberg had to wait almost fifty years to bring them to light. What those secrets were and why they remained hidden for so long are the story of his new book: The DoomsdayMachine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner.
Before working on the Vietnam War for the Defense Department, Ellsberg had worked his first stretch at RAND between 1958 and 1964 focusing on the American nuclear program. It took him into arguably more clandestine corners of the planet and confidential levels of the American military-political-industrial complex than his time on Vietnam ever would.
Ellsberg discovered real-life scenarios that would later be satirized in the Stanley Kubrick movie Dr. Strangelove. The number of fingers on the trigger, so to speak, was far higher than most people knew, and the reasons that might justify pulling that trigger were more extensive than he could have imagined. Bottom line, Ellsberg argues, the U.S.—and, by extension, the planet—stood closer to the precipice than most people, at times even the president, were aware.
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