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Rogue B-52 bomber pilot Maj. "King" Kong (Slim Pickens) rides a nuclear bomb in flight in Stanley Kubrick's 1964 film Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Columbia Pictures)


Grappling With Armageddon

The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War; by Fred Kaplan; Simon & Schuster; 384 pp., $18.00

In 1958, former RAF officer Peter George (under the pseudonym Peter Bryant) wrote Red Alert, a novel about a communication accident that almost triggers a nuclear war. In a series of short, increasingly tense, time-stamped chapters, the novel shifts between the crew of an American bomber streaking toward its Russian target and the increasingly frantic military and political leaders in both the United States and the USSR trying to stop them.
Red Alert is a flawed and very brief piece of literature (curious readers can complete it between lunch and teatime on a Sunday afternoon), but it attracted attention in many serious circles. No less a personage than Thomas Schelling, whose The Strategy of Conflict (1960) made him one of the pioneers in the burgeoning field of nuclear strategy, reviewed the novel for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists as an example of the dangers of accidental escalation in the nuclear age.
George’s novel and Schelling’s review touched upon something in the...

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