Sunday, October 28, 2012

At The Abyss by Thomas C. Reed

Thomas C. Reed's 2004 book At The Abyss is aptly subtitled An Insider's History of the Cold War as it follows his career from post-collegiate Air Force service, to nuclear work at (what is now) Lawrence Livermore Labs, to positions in the Pentagon and various presidential administrations, capped by his term as Secretary of the Air Force in the mid-70s.

I'd describe this book as "very interesting", especially for students of the Cold War like myself. While definitely not action-packed, it was definitely a page-turner and Reed's insider status provides insight into events we know of but don't know well.

Reed credits President Eisenhower for starting the US's confrontation with the USSR on the "cold" path, a strategy that eventually led to victory. Eisenhower recognized that a strong US economy would eventually bury the Soviet's central planning. Pursuing a "hot" confrontation could've resulted in WWIII.

Reed makes it abundantly clear that the Soviets were an amoral, devious, duplicitous, and nefarious bunch. There no doubt about this contempt for their system of government and some of its leaders. However, Reed also expresses abundant respect for the men and women on the front lines, from their armed forces to their research organizations. Since the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War Reed has met and befriended many of his former opponents.

Believe it or not, the Cuban Missile Crisis was worse than most of us believe in that personalities and quirks of fate took us a lot closer to the edge than most realize.

Reed ends on a cautionary note. Just because the Cold War is over doesn't mean that there are other nuclear bad-actors on the stage - Iraq (at least at the time of writing), Iran, and North Korea. He also hints that the Russians are likely continuing their weapons development. Regarding the first two countries, he's not a fan of buying their oil. "Petrodollars can fuel mischief on a scale unreachable by other third world despots." He points out that a 1 cent federal gasoline tax would generate $1 billion in annual federal revenue, money that could be put toward independence from Middle East oil or toward program designed to keep nukes away from Iran, Iraq, and North Korea.

I am also a fan of Reed's book with Danny B. Stillman called The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and Its Proliferation.

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