The effects of nuclear weapons. Credible nuclear deterrence, debunking "disarm or be annihilated". Realistic effects and credible nuclear weapon capabilities for deterring or stopping aggressive invasions and attacks which could escalate into major conventional or nuclear wars.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Herman Kahn in fact and fiction: what he really thought about LBJ's Vietnam War policies

Above: Herman Kahn's solution to the problem of radioactive strontium contamination in foods after a nuclear war, on page 67 of On Thermonuclear War: you simply survey the foods and restrict to children and expectant mothers the least contaminated food (Food A). Kahn was aware of the iodine-131 and caesium-137 easy countermeasures. Iodine-131 which concentrates in milk has a half life of just 8 days, and you can keep cattle on winter food to avoid pasture contamination, or freeze milk, or turn contaminated milk into long-life powdered milk (that outlives iodine-131), or other long-life dairy products. Caesium-137 has a long physical life but like potassium it doesn't last very long inside people (half is eliminated after 70-140 days). Only strontium, which goes into bone, lasts a long time in the body and produces large doses over decades like radium. However, Kahn's 1959 testimony noted that there is a threshold dose for radium effects, due to the low dose rate over a long period, which allows biological repair of DNA breaks (by DNA repair enzymes like protein P53):

Herman Kahn (RAND Corp.): ... I suggest that we should be willing to accept something like 50 to 100 sunshine units in our children ...

Representative Holifield: We have been using the term “strontium unit” rather than “sunshine.” Some of us are allergic to this term “sunshine”. We prefer the term “strontium”. ...

Senator Anderson: I think that term sunshine came because the first time they said if the fallout came down very, very slowly, that was good for you. And then later they said if it came down very fast, that was good for you. We decided to take the sunshine, in view of everything.

Herman Kahn (RAND Corp.): I prefer not getting into that debate. I deal in a number of controversial subjects, but I try to keep the number down. … But I might point out, no one has ever seen a bone cancer directly attributable to radioactive material in the bone at less than the equivalent of 20 to 30 microcuries. … Ten microcuries of Sr-90 per kg of calcium [an adult has typically 1 kg of bone calcium, so this implies 10,000 strontium units in the bone] would mean a dose of about 20 roentgens a year in the bones.”

- June 1959 U.S. Congressional Hearings on the Biological and Environmental Effects of Nuclear War, page 900.

On pages 899-900 of the June 1959 U.S. Congressional Hearings on the Biological and Environmental Effects of Nuclear War, Herman Kahn testified about the scare-mongering exaggeration that that 10 mCi of Sr-90 per square mile produces 1 pCi of Sr-90 per gram of bone calcium (“1 sunshine unit”), so with the legal limit 100 pCi of Sr-90 per gram of bone calcium, 10 megatons of fission products spread uniformly over the million square miles of U.S. farms would prohibit agriculture for decades. However, as Kahn pointed out, this is a 100-fold exaggeration of area that ignores fractionation, weathering of strontium below the root-uptake depth, and the non-uniformity of fallout deposition (the concentrations in “overkill” hotspots near explosions reduces the 100 strontium unit area to 10% of that estimated for uniform contamination). Kahn then points out on page 900 that there is a simple resolution to this strontium contamination problem. Food with less than 100 pCi of Sr-90 per gram of calcium would be restricted to “children and pregnant mothers”, but food with higher contamination would be given to adults (whose strontium uptake is 8 times smaller than young children’s, because adult bones are fully formed).

Caesium-137 is retained in typical American soils, so there is little uptake by plants and animals. In addition, unlike strontium and iodine, which concentrate in the bones and thyroid, caesium is quickly eliminated from the body at a rate of 50% every 70-140 days. The U.S. Consumers Union in 1961 found that the mean American intake of natural potassium-40 in diet was 4,000 pCi/day, compared to just 50 pCi/day from fallout caesium-137, 10 from strontium-90, and 0.1 from plutonium-239. (Source: Professor Cyril M. Comar, Fallout from Nuclear Tests, 1963, page 24.)

For a good technical debunking of low-level radiation media hype scare-mongering please see:

At low dose rates, you can take vast doses of radiation spread over a period of decades; it's only when you receive the dose too quickly for DNA repair enzymes to fix correctly that you get in trouble. So it's the radiation "dose rate", not the "dose", that actually determines the hazard or benefit. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory megamouse project run by Dr Russell in the 1960s (where 7 million of mice were exposed to various dose rates to get statistically reliable cancer and genetic effects data) clearly showed that the linear no-threshold dogma from Edward Lewis and others at the 1957 fallout hearings was wrong. Female mice had a dose rate threshold of 0.54 cGy/hour for an increase in the mutation rate. That's massive, 54,000 times natural background. The 1950s data was based on maize plants and Muller's fruitflies, which don't have long timespans and so don't have elaborate DNA repair enzyme systems to repair DNA breaks.

“Today we have a population of 2,383 [radium dial painter] cases for whom we have reliable body content measurements. . . . All 64 bone sarcoma [cancer] cases occurred in the 264 cases with more than 10 Gy [1,000 rads], while no sarcomas appeared in the 2,119 radium cases with less than 10 Gy.”

- Dr Robert Rowland, Director of the Center for Human Radiobiology, Bone Sarcoma in Humans Induced by Radium: A Threshold Response?, Proceedings of the 27th Annual Meeting, European Society for Radiation Biology, Radioprotection colloquies, Vol. 32CI (1997), pp. 331-8.

Dr John F. Loutit of the Medical Research Council, Harwell, England, in 1962 wrote a book called Irradiation of Mice and Men (University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London), discrediting Lewis’s linear-no threshold theory on pages 61, 78-79:

“... Mole [R. H. Mole, Brit. J. Radiol., v32, p497, 1959] gave different groups of mice an integrated total of 1,000 r of X-rays over a period of 4 weeks. But the dose-rate - and therefore the radiation-free time between fractions - was varied from 81 r/hour intermittently to 1.3 r/hour continuously. The incidence of leukemia varied from 40 per cent (within 15 months of the start of irradiation) in the first group to 5 per cent in the last compared with 2 per cent incidence in irradiated controls. ... All these points are very much against the basic hypothesis of Lewis of a linear relation of dose to leukemic effect irrespective of time. Unhappily it is not possible to claim for Lewis's work as others have done, 'It is now possible to calculate - within narrow limits - how many deaths from leukemia will result in any population from an increase in fall-out or other source of radiation' [Leading article in Science, vol. 125, p. 963, 1957]. This is just wishful journalese. The burning questions to me are not what are the numbers of leukemia to be expected from atom bombs or radiotherapy, but what is to be expected from natural background .... Furthermore, to obtain estimates of these, I believe it is wrong to go to atom bombs, where the radiations are qualitatively different and, more important, the dose-rate outstandingly different.”

Above: the old "linear, no threshold (LNT)" radiation effects law popularized from non-DNA repair organisms (fruit flies!) by geneticist Edward Lewis in 1957 needs to be replaced by one that does not just describe excess risks from total doses, irrespective of time. The new law takes account of the rate of repair of damage by DNA repair enzymes as a function of dose rates, upon not just excess cancer risks, but also natural cancer and genetic rates. If radiation dose rate R is applied constantly over decades, then the absolute (total, including natural incidence) cancer and genetic defects risk, X, will be simply the sum of two terms:

X = Ae-BR + CR,

where the first term Ae-BR represents the natural cancer or genetic risk (which falls exponentially as the radiation dose rate rises, due to enhanced metabolism being devoted to DNA repair enzymes) and the second term CR represents the old "linear no-threshold" law for radiation damage that escapes repair (which in the Cold War was the only term assumed to exist, based on an ignorance of the DNA repair). Therefore, the new law is just (1) the addition of a term for DNA repair effects and (2) a reformulation for absolute (total) cancer risk, rather than just the presumed "excess" risk above the natural incidence! (The constant A is easily determined from the natural incidence for the cancer and genetic risk, the constant B is determined by the new data on radium dial painters and the Taiwan incident, while the constant C can be estimated for various dose rates from the old "linear, no-threshold" theory.)

See the article by Doogab Yi, “The coming of reversibility: The discovery of DNA repair between the atomic age and the information age”, Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences, v37 (2007), Supplement, pp. 35–72:

“This paper examines the contested ‘biological’ meaning of the genetic effects of radiation amid nuclear fear during the 1950s and 1960s. In particular, I explore how the question of irreversibility, a question that eventually led to the discovery of DNA repair, took shape in the context of postwar concerns of atomic energy. Yale biophysicists who opposed nuclear weapons testing later ironically played a central role in the discovery of DNA excision repair, or ‘error-correcting codes’ that suggested the reversibility of the genetic effects of radiation. At Yale and elsewhere, continuing anticipation of medical applications from radiation therapy contributed to the discovery of DNA repair. The story of the discovery of DNA repair illustrates how the gene was studied in the atomic age and illuminates its legacy for the postwar life sciences. I argue that it was through the investigation of the irreversibility of the biological effects of radiation that biologists departed from an inert view of genetic stability and began to appreciate the dynamic stability of the gene. Moreover, the reformulation of DNA repair around notions of information and error-correction helped radiobiologists to expand the relevance of DNA repair research beyond radiobiology, even after the public concerns on nuclear fallout faded in the mid-1960s.”

In another post, we examine in detail the May-June 1957 Hearings Before the Special Subcommittee on Radiation of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, U.S. Congress, The Nature of Radioactive Fallout and Its Effects on Man, where the false dose-threshold (not dose rate-threshold) theory was publically killed off (in a political-journalism scrum sense, not a scientific evidence sense) by a consortium of loud-mouthed and physically ignorant fruitfly and maize geneticists (headed by Nobel Laureates Muller and Lewis), with only an incompetent and quiet defense for the scientific data from cancer radiotherapy experts with experience that high dose rates cause more damage than low dose rates. The argument they made was that genetic effects of radiation on fruitflies and maize showed no signs of dose rate effects or dose threshold effects. They they extrapolated from flies and maize to predict the same for human beings, and they also claimed that this genetic result should apply to all normal cell division (somatic) radiation effects not just genetic effects! Glasstone summarized this linear-no threshold theory on page 496 of the 1957 edition of The Effects of Nuclear Weapons:

"There is apparently no amount of radiation, however small, that does not cause some increase in the normal mutation frequency. The dose rate of the radiation exposure or its duration have little influence; it is the total accumulated dose to the gonads that is the important quantity."

Flies and seasonal plants don't need DNA repair enzymes, which is why they show no dose rate dependence: they simply don't live long enough to get a serious cancer risk caused by DNA copying errors during cell fissions. This is not so in humans, and even mice. Glasstone and Dolan write in the 1977 edition of The Effects of Nuclear Weapons, pages 611-612 (paragraphs 12.209-12.211):

"From the earlier studies of radiation-induced mutations, made with fruitflies, ... The mutation frequency appeared to be independent of the rate at which the radiation dose was received. ... More recent experiments with mice, however, have shown that these conclusions must be revised, at least for mammals.

"... in male mice ... For exposure rates from 90 down to 0.8 roentgen per minute ... the mutation frequency per roentgen decreases as the exposure rate is decreased.

"... in female mice ... The radiation-induced mutation frequency per roentgen decreases continuously with the exposure rate from 90 roentgens per minute downward. At an exposure rate of 0.009 roentgen per minute [0.54 roentgen/hour], the total mutation frequency in female mice is indistinguishable from the spontaneous frequency. There thus seems to be an exposure-rate threshold below which radiation-induced mutations are absent or negligible, no matter how large the total (accumulated) exposure to the female gonads, at least up to 400 roentgens."

The Oak Ridge Megamouse Radiation Exposure Project

Reference: W. L, ”Reminiscences of a Mouse Specific-Locus Test Addict”, Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis, Supplement, v14 (1989), issue 16, pp. 16–22.

The source of Glasstone and Dolan’s dose-rate genetic effects threshold data (replacing the fruitfly insect and maize plant data of Muller, Lewis and other 1950s geneticists who falsely extrapolated directly from insects and plants to humans) is the Oak Ridge National Laboratory “megamouse project” by Liane and William Russell. This project exposed seven million mice to a variety of radiation situations to obtain statistically significant mammal data showing the effects of dose rate upon the DNA mutation risk (which in somatic cells can cause cancer). Seven different locus mutations were used, which showed a time-dependence on genetic risk from different dose rates, which could only be explained by DNA repair processes. This contradicted insect and plant response, which showed no dose rate effect on the dose-effects response. With the results of this enormous mammal radiation exposure project, observed human effects of high dose rates and high doses could be accurately extrapolated to humans, without using the false linear, no-threshold model that applies to insects and plants that lack the advanced DNA repair enzymes like P53 in mammals:

“As Hollaender remembers it: ‘Muller and Wright were the only two geneticists who backed the mouse genetics study. The rest of the geneticists thought we were wasting our time and money!’”

- Karen A. Rader, “Alexander Hollaender’s Postwar Vision for Biology: Oak Ridge and Beyond”, Journal of the History of Biology, v39 (2006), pp. 685–706.

For an interesting discussion of the way that the radiation controversy led to a change in thinking about DNA, from being a fixed chemical structure (as believed in 1957, after the structure DNA was discovered in its misleadingly non-cellular solid crystal form, which was required for X-ray diffraction analysis) to today’s far more dynamic picture of DNA in the cell nucleus as a delicate strand that is repeatedly being broken (several times a minute) by normal water molecular Brownian motion bombardment at body temperature, and being repaired by DNA repair enzymes like protein P53, see the article by Doogab Yi, “The coming of reversibility: The discovery of DNA repair between the atomic age and the information age”, Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences, v37 (2007), Supplement, pp. 35–72.

‘... it is important to note that, given the effects of a few seconds of irradiation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, a threshold near 200 mSv may be expected for leukemia and some solid tumors. [Sources: UNSCEAR, Sources and Effects of Ionizing Radiation, New York, 1994; W. F. Heidenreich, et al., Radiat. Environ. Biophys., vol. 36 (1999), p. 205; and B. L. Cohen, Radiat. Res., vol. 149 (1998), p. 525.] For a protracted lifetime natural exposure, a threshold may be set at a level of several thousand millisieverts for malignancies, of 10 grays for radium-226 in bones, and probably about 1.5-2.0 Gy for lung cancer after x-ray and gamma irradiation. [Sources: G. Jaikrishan, et al., Radiation Research, vol. 152 (1999), p. S149 (for natural exposure); R. D. Evans, Health Physics, vol. 27 (1974), p. 497 (for radium-226); H. H. Rossi and M. Zaider, Radiat. Environ. Biophys., vol. 36 (1997), p. 85 (for radiogenic lung cancer).] The hormetic effects, such as a decreased cancer incidence at low doses and increased longevity, may be used as a guide for estimating practical thresholds and for setting standards. ...

‘Though about a hundred of the million daily spontaneous DNA damages per cell remain unrepaired or misrepaired, apoptosis, differentiation, necrosis, cell cycle regulation, intercellular interactions, and the immune system remove about 99% of the altered cells. [Source: R. D. Stewart, Radiation Research, vol. 152 (1999), p. 101.] ...

‘[Due to the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986] as of 1998 (according to UNSCEAR), a total of 1,791 thyroid cancers in children had been registered. About 93% of the youngsters have a prospect of full recovery. [Source: C. R. Moir and R. L. Telander, Seminars in Pediatric Surgery, vol. 3 (1994), p. 182.] ... The highest average thyroid doses in children (177 mGy) were accumulated in the Gomel region of Belarus. The highest incidence of thyroid cancer (17.9 cases per 100,000 children) occurred there in 1995, which means that the rate had increased by a factor of about 25 since 1987.

‘This rate increase was probably a result of improved screening [not radiation!]. Even then, the incidence rate for occult thyroid cancers was still a thousand times lower than it was for occult thyroid cancers in nonexposed populations (in the US, for example, the rate is 13,000 per 100,000 persons, and in Finland it is 35,600 per 100,000 persons). Thus, given the prospect of improved diagnostics, there is an enormous potential for detecting yet more [fictitious] "excess" thyroid cancers. In a study in the US that was performed during the period of active screening in 1974-79, it was determined that the incidence rate of malignant and other thyroid nodules was greater by 21-fold than it had been in the pre-1974 period. [Source: Z. Jaworowski, 21st Century Science and Technology, vol. 11 (1998), issue 1, p. 14.]’

- Zbigniew Jaworowski, 'Radiation Risk and Ethics: Health Hazards, Prevention Costs, and Radiophobia', Physics Today, April 2000, pp. 89-90.

Protein P53, discovered only in 1979, is encoded by gene TP53, which occurs on human chromosome 17. P53 also occurs in other mammals including mice, rats and dogs. P53 is one of the proteins which continually repairs breaks in DNA, which easily breaks at body temperature: the DNA in each cell of the human body suffers at least two single strand breaks every second, and one double strand (i.e. complete double helix) DNA break occurs at least once every 2 hours (5% of radiation-induced DNA breaks are double strand breaks, while 0.007% of spontaneous DNA breaks at body temperature are double strand breaks)! Cancer occurs when several breaks in DNA happen to occur by chance at nearly the same time, giving several loose strand ends at once, which repair proteins like P53 then repair incorrectly, causing a mutation which can be proliferated somatically. This cannot occur when only one break occurs, because P53 will reattach them correctly.

Above: a new edition of Herman Kahn's 1965 nuclear weapons classic, On Escalation, was published last year with a foreword by Kahn's strategist friend Thomas C. Schelling. There is a great deal of pedantic and bureaucratic "fluff" in Kahn's books (including his vertical 44-rung escalation ladder, which should now be replaced by an "escalation tree", because escalation can of course branch off in various directions - such as to the economic collapse of the USSR - rather than being a situation where "all roads lead to Rome", or to thermonuclear war), including the invention and definition of new jargon and other semantics, so his briefer June 1959 Congressional testimony is more concise and enlightening.

The most interesting feature of the 2010 edition is the inclusion of Kahn's January 1968 "Foreword to the paperback edition", giving Kahn's strong views on the failure of escalation in the Vietnam war. Kahn blamed the failure of the Vietnam campaign on a misunderstanding of the book by politicians. The book is not about winning a war but preventing escalation to city-busting collateral damage actions, and is largely based on a study of escalation by Britain and Germany during WWII (see Table 2 on page 29 of On Escalation)- not about the escalation necessary to favorably end a war, such as the use of nuclear weapons against Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. The Hudson Institute research reports behind Kahn's On Escalation were commissioned by the Martin Company to de-escalate the arms race.

This is quite a different proposition from ending a hot war! As Kahn points out, if you're in a war and want to win, you don't de-escalate, you don't tell the enemy your limitations and guarantee to the enemy what weapons you won't be using (nuclear), and you don't take things slowly. In other words, to win a hot war you do the exact opposite of the strategy you must use to de-escalate an arms race from turning to city-busting mass destruction. If you slow things down during a hot war, you give the enemy time to re-group, recover, and go on fighting.

So what happened with Vietnam was that Kahn's well-publicised 1965 On Escalation ideas for preventing escalation to nuclear war were misapplied from the Cold War arms race to the hot fighting during the Vietnam war. As mentioned in a previous post, Kahn had the same problem of popular misunderstanding with his earlier 1960 book On Thermonuclear War, written while he was still at the RAND Corporation (before he started the Hudson Institute). Pseudo-critics like Scientific American's lawyer James R. Newman seized on On Thermonuclear War's page 20, Table 3, "Tragic but distinguishable postwar states", and then claimed falsely that Kahn was advocating a preventative war or trying to downplay the consequences. As his text under the table shows, this misrepresentation of Kahn's objective is the opposite of the reality. Kahn's Table 3 was not trying to "play down" nuclear war, but to show the wide range of possibilities for different scenarios of all-out war, and how the GNP economic recovery time varies by a factor of 100 as a function of the amount of city damage involved, which emphasises the need to avoid escalating a nuclear war beyond military (counterforce) attacks into the city-busting (countervalue) domain.

Above: Herman Kahn's 1965 book On Escalation from pages 25 to 33 examined: "An Example of Restraint and Negotiation in Total War (World War II)". Kahn's point was that even when dealing with Adolf Hitler's Nazis, the predicted all-out immediate destruction of London did not occur when Britain declared war on Germany (Germany did not declare war first) in September 1939. Unless an enemy decides to launch a surprise pre-emptive strike like Japan's "Operation Al" against Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, there is escalation. Kahn's On Thermonuclear War at page 412 blames Pearl Harbor's unpreparedness on the American complacency that Pearl Harbor was 30-40 feet deep compared to 75-150 feet depth of water traditionally required for the operation of torpedoes: "Admiral Onishi immediately grasped that the heart of the problem lay in achieving surprise and in developing techniques for exploiting the surprise by launching torpedoes in shallow water ... Instead of admiring the clear way in which nature had protected the carriers, he succeeded in his program, actually developing torpedoes that could be used in the shallow waters of Pearl harbor." Even with a pre-emptive surprise attack, the aim of such an attack is to try to destroy military targets rather than civilian cities. So it is a counterforce attack, not a countervalue attack. Because harmful nuclear effects, including blast, heat flash and fallout radiation, fall off very quickly with distance (the exception is EMP), such a military pre-emptive surprise attack is not in itself a cause of mass destruction of the civilian infrastructure. Al Queda-style terrorist attacks are an example of mass destruction in a surprise attack with no escalation. But this example doesn't disprove Kahn's escalation analysis in other situations, such as when dealing with the Nazi dictator Hitler.

In analysing the escalation between Britain and Germany to countervalue city bombing in World War II, Kahn on page 31 emphasises the problem of the accuracy of bombing military targets, and the influence of the decision by each side to attack at night to reduce the effectiveness of the other side's anti-aircraft guns and fighter defenses. The night-time bombing was relatively very inaccurate, unable to target city factories without collateral damage. Once collateral damage was done by one side, the other side would retaliate with general anti-civilian area bombing, thus escalating the use of bombers from military to civilian targets.

On page 32, Kahn quotes evidence that in 1935, Hitler had proposed limits to aerial bombing and advocated a policy of tactical use of bombers for military purposes, and on page 34 he argues: "if the British had known what the Blitz would be like, they would not in 1939 have been restrained by fear of a 'knockout blow'." What he omits is the influence on the public (and British politicians) of the media hype and lying propaganda about the 26 April 1937 bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, where terrific destruction was done on a town with no proper civil defence.

Additionally, in a contribution to Seymour Melman's 1962 otherwise anti-civil defense compendium, No Place to Hide, Kahn explained that one of the greatest exaggerations of bombing effects before World War II was psychological casualties: "That even skilled psychiatrists can be mistaken is shown by their predictions prior to World War II that if London were bombed, the psychological casualties would outnumber the physical by three to one. (Reference: Richard M. Titmuss, Problems of Social Policy, H. M. Stationery Office, London, 1950, page 20.)" The problems of British exaggerations of bombing effects before WWII have been gone into at length in previous posts on this blog. First, they assumed that exaggerations were "erring on the side of caution", when in fact the exaggerations were just plain lies with massive negative effects - millions killed due to the failure to deter the Nazis in time to prevent WWII through being coerced (by fear of exaggerated bombing effects, ignoring civil defense countermeasure effectiveness). Second, they assumed all the same things that nuclear age exaggerators assumed.

Before WWII took casualty rates for people standing in the open watching the bombs fall in July 1917, just as decades later the exaggerating nuclear war casualty "predictions" (both of unclassified reports by civil defense authorities, and propaganda by civil defense critics) assume casualty rates applying for people standing in the open watching the nuclear bombs fall on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It's like using the casualty rates for the first use of machine guns in war, when people didn't know to drop to the ground but remained "sitting duck targets", standing in the open. As with conventional weapons, any duck and cover protects against burns, flying glass, and blast winds displacement. Another tactic of the ban-the-bomb movement is to focus on individual cases, horrific photographs of people with 100% area burns, who were burned in the firestorm hours after the explosions (the photos being lyingly presented as thermal flash casualties, despite the proved facts about the thermal flash line-of-sight directionality at all ranges in Hiroshima). You could more honestly print photos of gasoline-burned bodies from peacetime car accidents, in a ban-the-car campaign. However, the public are accustomed to accept lies on nuclear weapons effects. It's all a payback for the initial secrecy of nuclear weapons.

Responding to glib anti-civil defense claims that "brave men never hide in holes", Kahn's 1962 contribution retorts: "as many combat veterans of World War II and the Korean conflict can attest, under a wide range of circumstances, brave men do and should hide in holes." Kahn in that 1962 contribution reprints the following satirical compilation of spurious anti-lifeboat (anti-civil defense) theses in an 30 October 1961 letter to the Harvard Crimson, calling it "Perhaps the best, if somewhat satirical, summary of the arguments against civil defense measures," and adding: "To make the satire more complete: the added weight of lifeboats will no doubt increase the risk that the ship might sink of its own accord."

Above: Kahn's 1960 On Thermonuclear War table for different USSR-US nuclear war scenarios, emphasising how variations in targetting and civil defense produce different levels of destruction, with varying economic recovery times to pre-war GNP. The recovery time relationship to city destruction is based on resolving the country into two units: urban and rural. The idea is that the surviving rural population can restore economic growth after the attack at an exponential rate, as occurred when the USSR recovered in 6 years after 33% of their economy was devastated in WWII (as Kahn states on page 132). As Herman Kahn emphasised himself in his June 1959 testimony to the U.S. Congressional Hearings on the Biological and Environmental Effects of Nuclear War, this assumption assumes a particular set of conditions itself. For instance, a long protracted war that goes on for decades like the Hundred Years' War would not be conducive for rapid economic recovery until the war had ended.

Above: one oft-repeated false attack on Kahn was the "missile gap" controversy. On page 197 of his 1960 On Thermonuclear War, Kahn argues that with 125 ICBMs, Khrushchev could have launched a first-strike against SACs 25 "soft" air bases in 1957 with an odds-on chance of crippling American defenses scot-free. As we now know, Russia had only 4 prototype ICBMs available then, which were probably too inaccurate even for soft targets like aircraft. However, Russia was in a better state that America, whose Vanguard missile program was literally blowing up on the launchpad in embarrassing failures. The American B-52 long-range bombers were in fact kept lined up on SAC air bases like sitting ducks, blast-vulnerable targets to a surprise missile attack, and it would only take 25-40 minutes for ICBMs launched from fixed Russian silos to reach their targets in America. However, it was Albert Wohlstetter at the RAND Corp who played up the missile gap to argue for a second-strike capable Triad of American airborne alert ready bombers, missiles in hardened silos, and SLBMs in submarines hidden at sea, to stabilize deterrence against needing to "launch on warning". In particular, many forget that President John F. Kennedy hyped the unclassified exaggerated missile gap to win election over Nixon, who was disadvantaged in Eisenhower's Administration knew the secret intelligence that the missile gap was exaggerated. After Kennedy was informed in January 1961 that the missile gap was exaggerated, he authorized the ill-fated 17-19 April 1961 Bag of Pigs invasion of Cuba which failed to remove Fidel Castro, then - diverting attention from the failure in Cuba - on 25 May 1961 Kennedy made his famous "moon in this decade" speech to Congress, which had in fact more to say about the need for civil defense and American military assistance in the Vietnam conflict, than merely a trip to the moon:

President John F. Kennedy
Delivered in person before a joint session of Congress
May 25, 1961 ...

No role in history could be more difficult or more important. We stand for freedom. ... I am here to promote the freedom doctrine. The great battleground for the defense and expansion of freedom today is the whole southern half of the globe - Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East - the lands of the rising peoples. Their revolution is the greatest in human history. They seek an end to injustice, tyranny, and exploitation. ... theirs is a revolution which we would support regardless of the Cold War, and regardless of which political or economic route they should choose to freedom. For the adversaries of freedom did not create the revolution; nor did they create the conditions which compel it. ... They send arms, agitators, aid, technicians and propaganda to every troubled area. But where fighting is required, it is usually done by others - by guerrillas striking at night, by assassins striking alone - assassins who have taken the lives of four thousand civil officers in the last twelve months in Vietnam alone - by subversives and saboteurs and insurrectionists, who in some cases control whole areas inside of independent nations. ... We stand, as we have always stood from our earliest beginnings, for the independence and equality of all nations. This nation was born of revolution and raised in freedom. And we do not intend to leave an open road for despotism. ...

We would be badly mistaken to consider their problems in military terms alone. For no amount of arms and armies can help stabilize those governments which are unable or unwilling to achieve social and economic reform and development. Military pacts cannot help nations whose social injustice and economic chaos invite insurgency and penetration and subversion. The most skillful counter-guerrilla efforts cannot succeed where the local population is too caught up in its own misery to be concerned about the advance of communism. ... in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, we must communicate our determination and support to those upon whom our hopes for resisting the communist tide in that continent ultimately depend. Our interest is in the truth. ...

One major element of the national security program which this nation has never squarely faced up to is civil defense. This problem arises not from present trends but from national inaction in which most of us have participated. In the past decade we have intermittently considered a variety of programs, but we have never adopted a consistent policy. Public considerations have been largely characterized by apathy, indifference and skepticism ... this deterrent concept assumes rational calculations by rational men. And the history of this planet, and particularly the history of the 20th century, is sufficient to remind us of the possibilities of an irrational attack, a miscalculation, an accidental war, which cannot be either foreseen or deterred. It is on this basis that civil defense can be readily justifiable - as insurance for the civilian population in case of an enemy miscalculation. It is insurance we trust will never be needed - but insurance which we could never forgive ourselves for foregoing in the event of catastrophe.

Once the validity of this concept is recognized, there is no point in delaying the initiation of a nation-wide long-range program of identifying present fallout shelter capacity and providing shelter in new and existing structures. Such a program would protect millions of people against the hazards of radioactive fallout in the event of large-scale nuclear attack. Effective performance of the entire program not only requires new legislative authority and more funds, but also sound organizational arrangements.

Therefore, under the authority vested in me by Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1958, I am assigning responsibility for this program to the top civilian authority already responsible for continental defense, the Secretary of Defense ... no insurance is cost-free; and every American citizen and his community must decide for themselves whether this form of survival insurance justifies the expenditure of effort, time and money. For myself, I am convinced that it does. ...

Finally, if we are to win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny, the dramatic achievements in space which occurred in recent weeks [Russian Yuri Gagarin became the first person to orbit the earth on 12 April 1961] should have made clear to us all, as did the Sputnik in 1957, the impact of this adventure on the minds of men everywhere, who are attempting to make a determination of which road they should take. ... I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.

According to page 72 of Robin Clarke's 1971 Science of War and Peace, a Gallup poll "almost immediately" after this 25 May 1961 speech by Kennedy showed that 58% of Americans opposed Kennedy's plan to visit the moon before 1970. Both the American and Russian space exploration efforts began with Drs Dornberger and von Braun Nazi V2 missile research at Peenemünde on the Baltic Coast. The first V2 prototype was tested on 3 October 1942. The V2 had a one ton warhead (which could easily carry modern thermonuclear weapons), and was accelerated to a maximum velocity of 3,600 miles/hour by a rocket with 28 tons of thrust which used 10 tons of fuel (alcohol and liquid oxygen), giving it a range of 200 miles. Operation Paperclip recruited 127 German rocket scientists to White Sands Missile Range where they rebuilt and tested V2s, but it was not until the Korean War broke out in 1950 that von Braun was sent to the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama and authorized to develop a U.S. Army missile with a 500 miles range. Finally in Octover 1953, the Teapot Committee chaired by mathematician and computer programmer Dr John von Neumann studied the possibility of placing a "dry" (lithium-deuteride fusion fuelled) H-bomb on an ICBM. The first American H-bomb test in 1952, Mike, was a liquid deuterium unit requiring a large refrigeration plant to keep it liquid, but in 1954 various types of dry lithium-deuteride H-bombs were successfully tested at Operation Castle.

The missile gap threat between America and Russia was routinely dismissed by the media as scare-mongering until on 4 October 1957 the world's first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1 orbited the earth at 18,000 miles/hour, 215-939 km altitude, for 3 months. It was an 84 kg spacecraft containing a 20 and 40 MHz radio transmitter, and demonstrated that Russia had then achieved more successful rocket technology than America (echos of the technological successes that Nazi scientists had achieved with their V1 cruise missile and V2 IRBM). But what really worried Kahn was that, less than a month after Sputnik 1 was launched, Russia launched Sputnik 2 on 3 November 1957, a massive 4 metre high 508 kg cone-shaped spacescraft containing a living dog (Laika), which proved that they had the capability to send masses equivalent to nuclear warheads. In December 1957, America tried to match the Russian attempt on a more modest scale using its over-hyped Vanguard missile (trying to launch a measly 2 kg satellite), but failed in front of the world's media when the missile exploded after it had ascended just 2 metres. These events gave more credibility to the "missile gap" fear, but secret American U2 aircraft reconnaissance over the USSR did not substantiate fears of a large number of missile silos.

America however kept up its U2 aircraft reconnaissance which did, of course, end up discovering a real missile threat in Cuba in October 1962. Following Kennedy's failure with the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961, Premier Khrushchev placed 42 SS-4 IRBMs (loaded with megaton thermonuclear warheads), 9 Frog tactical nuclear missiles, and 43,000 Soviet servicemen in Cuba by October 1962. Their anti-aircraft capabilities were demonstrated when they shot down and killed Major Rudolf Anderson, who was on a U2 reconnaissance flight over Cuba on 27 October 1962. The time factor is extremely important here, because it increases the chance of a surprise attack succeeding. Bombers take 15 hours to travel from Russian to America, but an ICBM takes only 25-40 minutes, while it takes under 7 minutes for an IRBM launched in Cuba to detonate its warhead in America! Kennedy responded by a quarantine of Cuba backed up with 90 American ships, 50 nuclear armed B-52 bombers, and 136 liquid-fuelled, ground launched missiles which were prepared for use in the event of the launch of an IRBM from Cuba.

Kahn's Vietnam War criticisms in his January 1968 Foreword to the Paperback Edition of On Escalation

Kahn writes on pages xiii-xiv of the January 1968 new foreword that his 1965 edition's "escalation ladder" (discussed in the earlier blog post linked here) was not designed to be a template for "predicting infallibly that this or that event will happen, but only in describing a range of possibilities ... It is quite clear, however, that all the choices noted on the ladder actually can exist and might even be adopted by one side or the other in an escalatory confrontation. ... Also, it is perhaps important to recognise, even before the start of a severe crisis, the possible opportunities for bargaining, coercion, crisis abatement, and intra-war deterrence which might occur. ... History is all too full of crises escalating into major wars which might have been avoided if one or several of the participants had not foolishly foreclosed their options at such early dates. It is hard to overstate the importance of understanding the range of possibilities in advance of an actual crisis as it may be too late to work out and implement many of these options during an actual crisis or war. Indeed, President Kennedy made the point that if he had not had six days between the confirmation of the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba and the disclosure to the Soviets and the world that we had this knowledge and intended to act, he could not have worked out the blockade tactics which worked with reasonable success in the Cuban Missile Crisis."

On pages xiv-xvi of the January 1968 Foreword, Kahn discusses the failure of escalation theory in the Vietnam War, where he writes:

It is clear that no theory can guarantee improved performance in a competitive situation, particularly if the opponent is also using a good theory - perhaps the same one. It is also important to understand that if one nation tries to use the threat of escalation to coerce an opponent, it probably will be more effective in exerting psychological and political pressure if it does not seem to depend too explicitly on any specific 'escalation theory'. Indeed, it probably is a serious error to look like 'one has read a book'.

... an example of this kind of mistake can be seen in the American escalation in Vietnam which has given the appearance that United States' decision-makers are following an easily fathomed recipe [Ronald Reagan made this very point to Robert Scheer about LBJ's Vietnam policies, quoted by Scheer in his book Not Enough Shovels; Reagan Reagan said LBJ bent over backwards to promise the Vietcong and its communist arms suppliers that he wouldn't ever even think about using nuclear weapons, a promise that was a strong boost to Vietcong morale, like Truman's "secret" similar promise during the Korean War to British PM Attlee, which leaked through the British Foreign Office spy ring to Moscow and thence to the North Koreans, protracting the war until Eisenhower reversed the policy, bringing about a truce by taking away the promise of continued security]. In particular, the following characteristics of the escalation have had contraproductive aspects:

... No moves have been made which threaten the continued existence of the Hanoi [North Vietnam, Vietcong base] regime. In fact, the United States' decision-makers have gone to some pains to make explicit that this is not its intention. ...

... It seems likely that North Vietnam can have the bombing stopped almost at will, either by agreeing to a corresponding de-escalation on its part - or perhaps just by indicating a willingness to start extended negotiations. ...

... The very gradualness of the escalation not only does not provide any salient pressure point for Hanoi to give in, but probably increases Hanoi's self-estimated threshold of what they can bear by showing them by actual but gradual experience how much they can take, and by making clear to all - friends, neutrals, and opponents - that their collapse, if any, would be due to a general failure of will and not the specific result of a given attack or fear of passing some point of no return.

... this seemingly super-conscious, super-controlled use of escalatory tactics probably has been a serious source of weakness ... it is important to realize that the tactics used have entailed important political and perhaps moral costs to the U.S. and not as great pressures on North Vietnam and its allies to compromise as less gradual or less apparently controlled tactics might have had. ...

In his footnote on page xvi, Kahn suggests that strategic war-gaming exercises by people in "high office" were a possible cause of this too-gradual escalation in Vietnam: "If the game is made sufficiently dramatic for the individuals involved to be concerned at making awesome if simulated decisions, there is an almost overwhelming tendency for American players to inch up on the scale of violence rather than to jump to a high level."

Kahn finishes the January 1968 Foreword with a discussion of the "self-fulfilling prophecy" objection to "thinking about the unthinkable". This was one of the main "criticisms" of those who object to civil defense, and to planning against disasters generally. If you do a first aid course, they argue, you're setting yourself up to be more careless and have an accident deliberately so you can find a quick use for your new found skills. Kahn states on page xvii that he "once rejected this kind of argument as being analogous to the kind of superstition that plagues primitive tribesmen ..."

[To be continued when time permits. Kahn does go on to write extensively about the need to think about, plan for, and be concerned with the realistic facts concerning terrible possibilities. He makes the point that the "anti-war" propagandarists who claim that thinking about war causes problems, do just that themselves: the only difference is that they think about terrible things in shoddy non-fact based way. You don't have a choice about thinking about, and planning for, terrible things. You must do so, or you'll risk making things worse. Once you accept that, you then have a choice of going down the path of the anti-war league who were the appeasers of Hitler before WWII - exaggerating war effects and underplaying civil defense in the belief that war is the only danger and that "peace at any cost" is vital. E.g., collaborating with genocidal racists is - to many - a higher "price" than casualties in a war. So you have a choice between believing lies, or finding out the solid facts. Kahn concedes that there are examples of unlikely wars which are best not planned for, e.g. wars between allies like Britain and America or Canada and America. But where there is a real conflict and a real danger of disaster, then in that case you must face the facts.]


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