15 MINUTES by L. Douglas Keeney


General Curtis LeMay and the Countdown to Nuclear Annihilation
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A history of United States nuclear warfare based heavily on declassified documents.

Military Channel cofounder Keeney (Gun Camera Pacific, 2004, etc.) explains the evolution of U.S. mass-destruction weaponry from 1945 through 1968. The primary perspective is that of the Strategic Air Command, the high-powered organization developed by Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay. The author focuses on the first two possessors of nuclear weapons: the United States and the Soviet Union. In that sense, the book is also a history of the Cold War as defined by two superpower nations. U.S. presidents and military officials said they would never initiate the use of nuclear weapons, but rather wanted a strong retaliatory force to wipe out the Soviet Union in response to an attack. The no-first-strike claim might have sounded hollow, considering the United States had become the first, and only, nation to drop nuclear weapons on another country—Japan in 1945. Still, LeMay, as well as presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson, apparently believed the rhetoric, and thus built up U.S. defense accordingly, at the cost of billions of dollars, tragic accidents and lost lives. With a cast of hundreds, the narrative becomes a dizzying welter of human names, agency names, geographic names and weaponry names. Keeney organizes the chapters by year, but within each chapter jumps around among various “episodic vignettes.” Most of the vignettes are clearly composed, but their arrangement is occasionally random.

The author’s information-gathering skills, especially his unearthing and decoding of previously classified documents, make the book worthwhile despite the difficulty following the interconnected sagas.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-61156-9
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2011


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