If there are enough shovels to go around, everybody's going to make it."" Scheer, a Los Angeles Times reporter and former...


WITH ENOUGH SHOVELS: Reagan, Bush, and Nuclear War

If there are enough shovels to go around, everybody's going to make it."" Scheer, a Los Angeles Times reporter and former Ramparts editor, got that assessment of American civil defense capabilities from T. K. Jones, current Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Strategic and Theater Nuclear Forces, and a former Boeing manager. What ""T.K."" meant was that, with a shovel, anyone can dig a fallout shelter--a simple hole in the ground with a door over the top and three feet of earth on top of that. ""It's the dirt that does it,"" he said. The fact that this quack is a government official has Scheer upset. He was also upset by presidential-candidate George Bush's claim, in an interview that received national attention, that nuclear war was ""winnable."" The two sorts of quackery go together, of course, and Scheer uses the conjunction to show that the Reagan Administration thinks that a combination of civil defense and tactical nuclear weapons makes nuclear war a practical possibility. The main lines of this posture have been provided by the likes of the Committee on the Present Danger, which stocked the Administration with its members, including Arms Control and Disarmament Agency head Eugene Rostow. The Committee, wedded to a hard-line anti-communism, provided the bulk of the outside ""Team B"" set up by then-CIA chief Bush in 1976 to challenge the CIA's own assessment of Soviet military strength, predictably discovering that the Soviets had the nuclear edge. Scheer counters the views of the Committee and Team B with those of former Defense chief Robert MacNamara, and other experts like Paul Warnke, Herbert J. Scoville, Michael Howard, Hans Bethe, Herbert York, and Jerome Weisner. (Scheer's interviews with Bush, Reagan, Rostow, York, Bethe, Warnke, MacNamara, and Cyrus Vance are included as appendices.) He has little trouble making the advocates of winnable nuclear war appear foolish and ideologically driven. York, former head of the Lawrence Livermore Labs, for example, notes that the main reason for the superiority of total Soviet strategic megatonnage--that is, more total explosive power packed into their warheads--is that the US shifted from mostly bombers to mostly missiles as delivery systems, and missiles carry less weight; so, the reduction in US megatonnage is a result of tactical shifts on our own part (in the '60s we had the megatonnage they have now, York says). The trouble is that while Scheer has a lot of dope, and a lot of dopey lines like T.K.'s, his interest is in shock--and he may find himself preaching to the converted.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 1982


Page Count: -

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1982