Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Re: Nostalgia

Professor Coat's ruminations on nostalgia are brought into high relief by this new book, The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy, reviewed today in the New York Times. The book is a compendium of the more frightening aspects of Soviet nuclear and defense policy. The "Dead Hand" of the title refers to a mechanism designed to enable low-level officers to launch their arsenal if the elite were wiped out in a massive American attack. "Those officers were the twitching fingers of a dead hand," writes Dwight Garner in his review. The book is apparently chock full of unnerving scenes: desperate unemployed chemical warfare experts walking the streets, creepy innovations in germ warfare, and blundering K.G.B. assumptions about the world beyond their borders. I wonder if the international system was any more stable than it is now. The sum total of conflict was probably kept in restraint by the Soviet-American confrontation, but nothing done or contemplated by North Korea or Iran, or any terrorist organization, is half as frightening as what for the Soviets was a matter of everyday policy.

1 comment:

  1. I'm interested in the book's opinion that the KGB had a hard time understanding the world at large. I've recently read a history of the CIA where the author insists that the KGB outwitted the CIA on every occaision and that the CIA missed almost every big development in the world and really only gleaned information its agents read in the New York Times. I wonder who is right, or whether it's possible that both the CIA and the KGB were totally ineffective agencies. This book emphasized the fact that the KGB constantly discovered and killed CIA informants working in Russia and the Eastern Bloc countries.