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Daniel Ellsberg: The nuclear war planner who knew too much

Nuclear war would be an unimaginable calamity for life on Earth. But according to a new book by whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, this is a catastrophe just waiting to happen. By Lyle Jeremy Rubin 

Wednesday 23 September 2020 18:09 BST
The former military analyst is now 89 years old
The former military analyst is now 89 years old (AFP/Getty)

Suppose a grave-looking man, after approaching you on the sidewalk, announced that the government had contingency plans to annihilate the bulk of humanity and most large non-human species to boot. Odds are you would offer a nervous grin or grimace and pick up your pace.

 Imagine this same man kept track and informed you he had once served in the highest reaches of the national-security bureaucracy as a nuclear war expert when such plans were being hatched, and not much has changed since then. At this point you might search for a convenient storefront or cafe to make your prompt escape. But what if your unwelcome interlocutor then grabbed you by your cuff and warned of “a catastrophe waiting to happen!” What then?

It is an uncomfortable hypothetical, although not as uncomfortable as the fact that someone like this man does exist, and everything he has to say is credible. His name is Daniel Ellsberg. In the introduction to The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, the historic whistleblower of Pentagon Papers fame cuts to the chase: “The hidden reality I aim to expose is that for over 50 years, all-out thermonuclear war — an irreversible, unprecedented, and almost unimaginable calamity for civilisation and most life on Earth — has been, like the disasters of Chernobyl, Katrina, the Gulf oil spill, Fukushima Daiichi, and before these, World War One, a catastrophe waiting to happen, on a scale infinitely greater than any of these. And this is still true today.”

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