From the November/December issue of The National Interest.
John Mueller, Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 336 pp., $27.95.
Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda IT IS easy to overlook the fact that the most startling characteristic of our era is that we are still here. John Mueller reminds us that with the dawn of the nuclear age, we became obsessed first with the idea of all-out nuclear war, then with the idea that nuclear weapons would inevitably spread throughout the world, and, lately, that nuclear terrorism would threaten our cities.
Whether an optimist, a pessimist, a political scientist, a policy maker or merely a person of a certain age, almost all of us and much of our sense of culture has been preoccupied by the atom.
At the start of the Cold War, many levelheaded American officials like George Kennan doubted that this conflict could last for long without either igniting world war or undermining American society. Others looked to a longer and brighter future, and as early as 1946, Bernard Brodie, the father of nuclear-deterrence strategy, believed that mutual and stable deterrence was possible. Others still foresaw nuclear power making electricity too cheap to meter or expected peaceful nuclear explosives to be a key to economic progress by cheaply building ports and canals. And more recently, Columbia professor Kenneth Waltz argued that while nuclear weapons would spread, the result would be to replicate the stability that characterized Soviet-American relations.