On Thermonuclear War

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Transaction Publishers, Dec 31, 2011 - Political Science - 668 pages
On Thermonuclear War was controversial when originally published and remains so today. It is iconoclastic, crosses disciplinary boundaries, and finally it is calm and compellingly reasonable. The book was widely read on both sides of the Iron Curtain and the result was serious revision in both Western and Soviet strategy and doctrine. As a result, both sides were better able to avoid disaster during the Cold War. The strategic concepts still apply: defense, local animosities, and the usual balance-of-power issues are still very much with us. Kahn's stated purpose in writing this book was simply: "avoiding disaster and buying time, without specifying the use of this time." By the late 1950s, with both sides H-bomb-armed, reason and time were in short supply. Kahn, a military analyst at Rand since 1948, understood that a defense based only on thermonuclear arnaments was inconceivable, morally questionable, and not credible. The book was the first to make sense of nuclear weapons. Originally created from a series of lectures, it provides insight into how policymakers consider such issues. One may agree with Kahn or disagree with him on specific issues, but he clearly defined the terrain of the argument. He also looks at other weapons of mass destruction such as biological and chemical, and the history of their use. The Cold War is over, but the nuclear genie is out of the bottle, and the lessons and principles developed in On Thermonuclear War apply as much to today's China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea as they did to the Soviets.

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Alternative National Strategies
Will the Survivors Envy the Dead?
Neither Oblivion Nor Surrender
Conflicting Objectives
Stresses and Strains
Additional Remarks on the Military Problems
The Role of Analysis
The Real Past
The Problem Must Be Taken Seriously
Appendix Introduction
Improve Policy Formulation
Proposal for a War Damage Equalization Corporation
The Special Importance of Installations
A Proposed Civil Defense Program
Some Questions and Answers

The Hypothetical Past
Present and Future

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Page 524 - Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up?
Page 485 - The great globe itself is in a rapidly maturing crisis — a crisis attributable to the fact that the environment in which technological progress must occur has become both undersized and underorganized.
Page 208 - States [that are] dangerous to peace, it is enough to ask the question what would happen if the military Air Force of the Soviet Union began to act in the same way as the American Air Force is now acting? After all, Soviet radar screens also show from time to time blips which are caused by the flight of meteors or electronic interference. If in such cases Soviet aircraft also flew out carrying atom and hydrogen bombs in the direction of the United States and its bases in other states, what situation...
Page 379 - ... five years of futile good intention, five years of eager search for the line of least resistance, five years of uninterrupted retreat of British power, five years of neglect of our air defences.
Page 291 - Chicken!' It is played by choosing a long straight road with a white line down the middle and starting two very fast cars towards each other from opposite ends. Each car is expected to keep the wheels of one side on the white line. As they approach each other, mutual destruction becomes more and more imminent. If one of them swerves from the white line before the other, the other, as he passes, shouts 'Chicken!', and the one who has swerved becomes an object of contempt.
Page 17 - In order to preserve a nuclear stalemate under conditions of nuclear plenty it is necessary for both sides to possess invulnerable retaliatory forces.
Page 3 - ... petroleum products needed in and available from the friendly foreign nations. These estimates will include the type of facilities needed and available for the production, processing, storage and distribution of petroleum and petroleum products. Evaluate this information in light of criteria furnished by the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization, the Department of Defense, and other interested agencies and develop supply and demand forecasts pertaining to petroleum, petroleum products, and...

About the author (2011)

Herman Kahn (1922-1983) was a renowned political scientist, economist, historian geo-strategist, and considered by many to be the founder of futurology as a serious field of study. Associated for many years with the RAND Corporation, he was the founding director of the first independent “think tank,” the Hudson Institute. Among his many books are Thinking About the Unthinkable, The Year 2000, The Next 200 Years, The Coming Boom, The Resourceful Earth, and On Thermonuclear War.

Evan Jones is Herman Kahn's nephew. He is an historical analyst and game designer specializing in strategic simulations. He worked at the Hudson Institute in the mid-70s, primarily doing research used in The Next 200 Years.

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