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The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy Paperback – August 3, 2010
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“Authoritative and chilling. . . . A readable, many-tentacled account of the decades-long military standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union. . . . The Dead Hand is deadly serious, but this story can verge on pitch-black comedy—Dr. Strangelove as updated by the Coen Brothers.”
—The New York Times
“Revealing, alarming and compelling throughout. . . . This richly reported account vividly chronicles the insanity of the arms race. . . . Taut, crisply written. . . . The Dead Hand puts human faces on the bureaucracy of mutual assured destruction, even as it underscores the institutional inertia that drove this monster forward. . . . A fine book indeed.”
—T. J. Stiles, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Gripping. . . . Hoffman reinforces his scary thesis with breathtakingly detailed research.”
—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Unsettling. . . . The Dead Hand argues convincingly that America’s victory in the Cold War wasn’t nearly as triumphant as the most self-congratulatory among us have tended to believe.”
—The Washington Post
“A stunning feat of research and narrative. Terrifying.”
—John le Carré
“The Dead Hand is a brilliant work of history, a richly detailed, gripping tale that take us inside the Cold War arms race as no other book has. Drawing upon extensive interviews and secret documents, David Hoffman reveals never-before-reported aspects of the Soviet biological and nuclear programs. It’s a story so riveting and scary that you feel like you are reading a fictional thriller.”
—Rajiv Chandrasekaran, author of Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone
“In The Dead Hand, David Hoffman has uncovered some of the Cold War’s most persistent and consequential secrets—plans and systems designed to wage war with weapons of mass destruction, and even to place the prospective end of civilization on a kind of automatic pilot. The book’s revelations are shocking; its narrative is intelligent and gripping. This is a tour de force of investigative history.”
—Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars and The Bin Ladens
“An extraordinary and compelling story, beautifully researched, elegantly told, and full of revelations about the superpower arms race in the dying days of the Cold War. The Dead Hand is riveting.”
—Rick Atkinson, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of An Army At Dawn
“No one is better qualified than David Hoffman to tell the definitive story of the ruinous Cold War arms race. He has interviewed the principal protagonists, unearthed previously undiscovered archives, and tramped across the military-industrial wasteland of the former Soviet Union. He brings his characters to life in a thrilling narrative that contains many lessons for modern-day policymakers struggling to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. An extraordinary achievement.”
—Michael Dobbs, author of One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War
About the Author
David E. Hoffman is Contributing Editor at the Washington Post and author of The Oligarchs: Wealth and Power in the New Russia. He lives in Maryland.
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This is not a academic treatment of the subject, not a comprehensive account from the end of World War II through 1991. Instead, we are given an account of how the Reagan administration put pressure on the Soviets and the ways in which the Soviets reacted. It is this reaction that really is the chilling part of this fascinating book and gives rise to the so-called "Dead-Hand" that is the title. The best part of this account is that this book not only discusses the pretty well known aspects of the Reagan years, but the Soviet side of the conflict. In the light of years having passed, this is interesting and history not as well known
Having read many accounts of the Cold War because of personal fascinations, this book in some ways has information that I was familiar with, but Hoffman really uses new sources and synthesizes other accounts that still make this compelling reading on many levels.
This is a very worthwhile book if you have an interest in the subject, and frankly, most thinking person should want some idea just how difficult and scary the 1980's were in many respects. I also think that many of the Reagan doubters that really diminish the man will be surprised (as I was frequently) just how resolute and firm Reagan was during this time despite the negative attention he received (and not all of that negative information was organic either - read the book) . This is a very fair account of those times.
David Hoffman does an outstanding job of explaining how the Soviet Union's hierarchy RESENTED the fact that they were so weak, and so vulnerable, and so inflexible.
They did not want to be resisted. It was as though they had a right to world-wide domination and they knew they were too weak to resist any kind of criticism. Amazing.
They knew their top-down command and control system, which they demanded, failed to provide basic essentials for the people of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev KNEW it. Author Hoffman discusses it at great length. But they absolutely refused to relent and instead tightened up their controls, increased the corruption ... and every time they ratcheted down, it made things worse and worse and worse. And the controls were so costly, that they eventually bankrupted the country. But they demanded more and more controls.
[Slightly off topic ... those controls were exported to Cuba and to Venezuela ... and had the same effect. Today in Venezuela, they are rationing water!]
The details of the shootdown of KAL 007 demonstrated that their interceptor force was incredibly clumsy; they were unable to coordinate, they were unable to verify what they were targeting and for such a large country, their airplanes had a very short range. If you look at an airliner or a photo of an airliner, the airplane's registration number is painted at the back end of the fuselage and low. The reason for the seemingly peculiar location is that if the airliner somehow shows up on radar as an "unknown" [a bogie], then an interceptor is supposed to fly to the unknown plane so the pilot can visually identify the type of airplane and then fly close enough to read the registration number and not alarm the passengers.
The Soviet plane got nowhere near the KAL 007 airplane. The Soviet pilot was unable to make an actual identification.
When American planes intercept unknown airliners, the interceptors go up in pairs. One pilot hangs back a mile "just in case" and the other pilot closes to within ten feet or 20 feet. [These are very skillful pilots.] They have to be able to do this at night and in bad weather. Usually, the plane is an off-course airliner. So, they just back away and return to base. If the airplane is "hostile" or if it is some other country's reconnaissance plane, they could escort it or take pictures [the usual procedure] or shoot it down.
The Soviet pilot just shot KAL 007 down. Never made a positive identification.
The book goes into huge detail on the KAL 007 shoot down ... and how it fed into Soviet paranoia and how that tied in with the development of their Dead Hand "philosophy" and "psychology".
And how the Soviets "assumed" that their paranoia was mirrored by the Americans ... which is was not.
[By the way, the U.S. Air Force used a number of different types of aircraft for interception, including the F-102 of which we had about one thousand operated by both the Air Force and the Air National Guard. There were thousands of pilots trained for the mission, as part of the SAGE system. You can look it up. One of the interceptor pilots ... very skilled ... was a Lieutenant George W. Bush. Interesting. Look up the weapons upload of the F-102 for a reason why Bush never discussed his service. Pilots carrying those particular weapons have never discussed their mission. Check out the detail about the F-102; lots of books about it on Amazon.]