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Thinking about the unthinkable Hardcover – 1962


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 254 pages
  • Publisher: Horizon Press; First Edition edition (1962)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0006AXSF8
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,055,107 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Lloyd A. Conway on July 31, 2000
Format: Paperback
Herman Kahn was a futurist who worked for the RAND Corporation. During the 1960s, he wrote the original "Thinking About the Unthinkable." It was the outgrowth of his research and of the "Gedenken" (Ger. 'think') expeirments that he carried out. These experiments were role-playing and 'what-if' scenerios, during which the participants, members of the military/diplomatic community, would theorize on what the rules for nuclear war might be, as well as on what, besides the obvious, keeps one from breaking out. For example, if a mad Russian general had bombed New York, could the United States, even knowing that it was an accident, have witheld retaliation? What would be appropriate? Bombing Moscow? In this example, it was agreed that Moscow means as much to Russia as New York and Washington, D.C., and that retaliation would be necessary to save face (and you never know if it's an accident, anyway, so keep the cost of 'accidents' high). Instead of Moscow, hitting Leningrad was seen as equivalent retaliation, and attacking Moscow as escalation. Deterrence was divided into three levels as a result of another experiment: Type I deterrence was a nation's ability to attack opponents by virtue of first-strike ability (the not-incredible ability to inflict heavy damage). Type II deterrence was the preceived ability to have enough capacity, after surviving a first strike, to counterstrike with crippling effect. Type III deterrence is the ability to deter conventional war by credible threat of nuclear escalation, as in Truman's threat to bomb China during the Korean War. The book is a mine of wealth about the thought processes involved in conducting Great Power relations in the Nuclear Age.Read more ›
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Severin Olson on April 7, 2002
Format: Hardcover
There was a time, back in the 80's, when much of the population lived in fear of a nuclear war. Peace activists made it clear that any nuclear war would mean certain doom for everyone. As long as we were armed, war was eventually certain, so disarmament was our only hope. War plans were akin to suicide. Into this debate jumped Herman Kahn, who insisted we think rationally about the prospects of a nuclear war. His book emphasized that such a war could come in any form and that its consequences were uncertain, and not necessarily fatal to most.
The first half of Kahn's book looks at scenarios for nuclear war and how we should respond to them. It also lists a number of arguments that Kahn rejects as foolish and untenable. The second half discusses nuclear issues such as civil defense, arms control, and European defense. Kahn is something of a right-winger to be sure, but not always. He supported a policy of no first use and believed more deterrence did not always make us safer.
Perhaps the best thing about his book is his contention that a nuclear war need not be seen as the end of the world, or even the end of the U.S. Horrible as it would be, the survivors could rebuild and life could go on for most. One is reminded of the arguments made before the Second World War. Strategic bombing, it was said, would destroy whole cities and kill all their inhabitants. The first raid would destroy nations and end the war immediately. The only hope lay in appeasement of the dictators. Maybe the people of the thirties would have done better to do as Kahn instructs, and think about the unthinkable.
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4 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 13, 1998
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read this book several years ago as an assignment in school. It is an interesting foray into nuclear policy and the mechanics of nuclear war. A student of the Cold War may find this book useful.
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