Nicholas Thompson – “Nuclear War and Nuclear Fear in the 1970s and 1980s”

Nuclear War and Nuclear Fear in the 1970s and 1980s

Journal of Contemporary History January 2011 46: 136-149,doi:10.1177/0022009410383298

This article looks primarily at a series of interviews carried out by John Hines of the BDM Corporation between 1990 and 1994 for the Pentagon, the full text of which is available online.

The article is about the set of documents created by Hines called “Soviet Intentions, 1965–1985” and looks at Soviet intentions, policies and fears over the use of nuclear weapons over that 20 year period. In this remarkable set of interviews of senior Soviet figures gives a very different insight into the Soviet machine which is completely different to Western interpretations of Soviet nuclear intent over this period. Much of the self-serving Western propaganda of that period frequently portrayed the Soviet Union as the aggressors and numerous films described this block as having a political agenda of world domination. These interviews present a fundamentally different version of events.

It is impossible to say whether Western interpretations of the Soviet Union were a case of genuine or deliberate error – certainly the more colourful the Soviet menace appeared the easier it was to justify our own arms spending and aggressive military posture. Either way, it didn’t hurt those with the most to gain.

Thompson’s article highlights some of the painfully exaggerated parts of the Soviet threat and the reader is left to ask how much of it is correct; for example the Wikipedia article on the Soviet “Dead Hand” system (a automated system of nuclear retaliation reported to be able to fire even after all human decision makers are dead/incapacitated) yet Thompson reports that Marshal Akhromeev, Chief of the General Staff, rejected the ‘‘Dead Hand’’ trigger mechanism and it ‘‘was never realized’’.