From Publishers Weekly
America™s cold war defensive strategy relied on possessing a striking force so powerful that, even after absorbing a devastating Soviet attack, it could deliver a nation-killing blow. This deterrence matured under the aegis of Gen. Curtis LeMay (1906–1990), the brilliant WWII bomber commander. Military historian Keeney (Gun Camera Pacific) reports that when LeMay took over the Strategic Air Command in 1948, he found several understaffed B-29 groups left over from WWII, a few dozen primitive atomic bombs, and no coherent strategy. With access to newly declassified documents, Keeney delivers a jolting year-by-year history of SAC™s transformation into a massive worldwide force primed to launch bombers within 15 minutes of the order. He also reveals alarming numbers of lost nuclear bombs, disastrous atmospheric tests, and nuclear war near-misses. Bitterly opposed to SAC™s diversion to conventional bombing in Vietnam, LeMay retired in 1965, and Keeney™s detailed, often squirm-inducing account ends in an anticlimax in 1968 with SAC dwindling to a minor adjunct to America™s swelling ballistic missile arsenal. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Feb.)
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In the 1950s, before land- and submarine-based missiles formed the backbone of American nuclear deterrence, the U.S. relied primarily upon the Strategic Air Command (SAC). When an alert was issued, it was assumed that the crews of our long-range bombers had only 15 minutes to scramble to the runways and takeoff to guarantee the credibility of a retaliatory strike against the Soviet Union. Keeney, a military historian and co-founder of cable television’s Military Channel, has utilized great amounts of recently declassified documents to tell a fascinating, often chilling story of the policies, technologies, and men responsible for maintaining our nuclear defense posture in that period. At the center of the narrative is General Curtis LeMay, a brilliant, cigar-chomping innovator who was haunted by the specter of Pearl Harbor and determined that we wouldn’t be caught unprepared again. Keeney avoids excessive technical jargon and recounts in straightforward fashion the successes and sometimes dangerous and devasting failures and miscalculations of men operating on the razor’s edge while coping with the terror of unprecedented consequences for misjudgments. --Jay Freeman