*Thermonuclear Monarchy*

That is a new (early 2014) and excellent book by Elaine Scarry, the subtitle is Choosing Between Democracy and Doom.  Here is one good sentence:

…the British government arranged a secure fallout shelter for 200 leading officials, it neglected to include the queen in its plans…

Here is a more thematic sentence:

The impossibility of “governing” nuclear weapons emerges across many pages of this book.

Recommended, and consistent with my long held view that the production of nuclear weapons represented one of the most fundamental revisions of the U.S. Constitution.  The discussion of nuclear submarines, and how hard it can be to send them revised orders, is both fascinating and scary.


The national security state in America was born on December 7, 1941. Add nuclear weapons to the fear of Pearl Harbor-style sneak attack, plus global quasi-empire, and you don't have the Old Republic anymore.

Am I the only one that thinks this is good?

"National Security State" is Gore Vidalesque cant that he may have dreamed up some time in the 1940s.

'it neglected to include the queen in its plans'

A cynical person might think that if every official royal residence was already equipped with a fallout shelter, there would be no need.

The basis of the monarchy's continuing appeal was in not evacuating the Queen and Princesses to the countryside in 1940.

And you honestly believe that the royals were sleeping above ground during air raids? Evacuation is one reason thing - having a nice basement bomb shelter with servants is another.

'It would go down in history as the day the Luftwaffe came closest to claiming the ultimate trophy – the life of George VI. Exactly 69 years ago today, German bombs hit Buckingham Palace when he was in residence, an event elevating the reluctant, stammering monarch to hero king in the eyes of the people.


While her "knees trembled a little bit", she was "so pleased with the behaviour of our servants", some of whom were injured as one bomb crashed through a glass roof and another pulverised the palace chapel.

Hours later, after lunching in their air-raid shelter, she and the King were visiting West Ham in London's East End. She wrote: "I felt as if I was walking in a dead city... all the houses evacuated, and yet through the broken windows one saw all the poor little possessions, photographs, beds, just as they were left."' http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/sep/13/queen-mother-biography-shawcross-luftwaffe

And if one can trust a 20 year old British socialist source, the Buckingham Palace air raid shelter is likely still used to bunker the Queen's valuables - http://pubs.socialistreviewindex.org.uk/sr180/orr.htm

"The" basis? Think much before hitting the submit button?

The queen, being head of state, might lead one to consider her among the "200 leading officials". However, the British monarchy does not rule, so the queen would be non-essential to an emergency governing body.

The Emperor played a role in bringing about the surrender of Japan in WWII in a first-of-its-kind radio address. It's not inconceivable that a cultural icon like the British monarch could play a similar role in communicating in time of national crisis.

As a technical note, 'The discussion of nuclear submarines, and how hard it can be to send them revised orders, is both fascinating and scary.' was solved in the later 70s, at least in terms of sending orders to subs using ELF - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communication_with_submarines

Solved, perhaps, but still hard to do nonetheless.

As your own Wiki link states, the bandwith is very low and it does not work in all areas of the seven seas. When the message to abort the launch will have come through, it'd presumably be too late.

I don't understand how the production of nuclear weapons represented a revision - fundamental or otherwise - of the US Constitution. The US federal government regularly produced/acquired powerful weapons since its founding. Can someone explain this to me?

Timing: the Constitution assumes a sedate pace for public affairs, allowing Congress to deliberate at leisure over matters such as war and peace.

Since shortly after Pearl Harbor, however, Congress has not declared war once.

Technology, moreso than politics really changed this. Pearl Harbor wasn't possible in 1788. Nobody contemplated anything like the SS-18.

Since WWII, however, the US has never been in a single war that could not be debated beforehand "at leisure".

Good point. A lot of the ignoring of the Constitution has to do with peoples desires and not any technological requirement.

Perhaps he feels that the balance of powers is thrown off slightly when one branch arrogates the right to blow up the planet.

Judicial review would not be of much help in such an instance.

The US features the same protective policies for its chosen ones. The interesting part is that these most valuable citizens would hope to emerge from hiding after a nuclear conflagration to what? A pulverized landscape littered with dead bodies and incinerated buildings glowing with nuclear contamination? At least they'd still be in charge.

Of course, when it comes to nuclear survival, a democratically elected official is far more important than any hereditary monarch, who almost by definition doesn't deserve to live.

The idea isn't so much that they get to inherit the rubble, but rather that they get to keep running the war and the recovery in as best a manner as possible. This assumes most likely wars fall short of some world-ending event, which is probably a reasonable assumption.

Notably, it's a studied phenomenon that people make higher quality decisions when they and their family are reasonably safe.

I always do my best work when playing with other people's lives and money.

Not trying to be too harsh here, but do you think you'd make better decisions if you thought someone just killed your kids? Would that incline you to reconciliation? Would it help you remain calm?

Nor am I, but I think there is a real risk of a self-interested elite putting their interests above the interests of the community which elevated them to their privileged position.

Consider Iran: many U.S policy makers have been focused on a preemptive war against Shiite Iran (to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon) even as Sunni extremists funded by our friends the Saudis have been slaughtering infidels here and everywhere. I submit that it's partly due to the inability to craft a military solution to non-state actors (Sunni extremists) and partly due to the humiliation suffered by the U.S. decades ago, but mostly due to the idea that only the U.S. can be trusted with nuclear weapons. Since Cowen mentions both bomb shelters and nuclear submarines, I will submit that they are one and the same. Several years ago I talked to two crew members from one of the nuclear submarines stationed at the nearby submarine base and what I learned was shocking: once at sea the submarine does not surface, staying submerged months at a time, and except for the captain and navigator, nobody on board knows the location of the submarine; the crew works 12 hour shifts, a crew member on one shift sharing the same bunk and quarters as a crew member on the other shift; and the crew has no direct contact with anyone other than crew members for months at a time. I understand that the crew members for a nuclear submarine go through a rigorous selection process and training, but if ever there was a powder keg at risk of blowing up, it's the bomb shelter we euphemistically call a nuclear submarine.

@rayward - in theory, but in practice the boaters are pretty stable. The powder keg is actually having nuclear weapons in an unstable country like North Korea or Pakistan (both having GDPs smaller than a city like Greater Atlanta, and in the case of North Korea much smaller).

Israel is another trigger, and Paul Wolfowitz, a key Bush hawk and sometime IMF/WF director, was instrumental in arguing various cold war US policies that were eventually adopted, including: China is weak as an ally in the event of war with Russia, Israel must keep its nuclear weapons ostensibly secret to prevent retaliation (hence Mordechai Vanunu's harassment), Iraq, Iran are US enemies (largely followed), detente sucks (Id), futures wars will result in smaller casualties than Vietnam, contrary to Colin Powell's argument (and Wolf* was right). All in all, Wolfowitz, ironically a Democrat, had more influence on US nuclear policy than any elected official. It's scary since his mindset is so warped (along with Richard Perle), albeit he is very smart. He however does not react to events, but rather engages in logical argument, which is a potentially fatal policy since you cannot predict the future, which changes. These are the people in charge of nuclear policy at the State Dept. and Pentagon.

It looks like Philip Giraldi is now commenting under the 'Ray Lopez' sock-puppet handle.

The neocon-commissar declares Steve Sailer and Ray Lopez non-persons.

You mean calling someone 'Philip Giraldi' causes them to disappear into the ether?

You seem to feel that "bomb shelter" connotes something more than a place civilians go to hide, but I'm not getting it.

There's a chapter on unconstitutionality and nuclear war in the excellent albeit boring by now best seller by James Mann, Rise of The Vulcans (2004) on Bush II's war cabinet. In one chapter Mann discusses how the Bush presidency had a war games exercise that protected certain Bush officials in the event of nuclear war that did not follow the Constitution, meaning the Speaker of the House etc was not protected, only key Bush cabinet officers. At the same time, it had to be established to the Russians that these protected officials represented the USA in the event of a full-scale nuclear war, to negotiate a cease fire. That circle was never squared and eventually all was moot since the USSR dissolved. It's scary that government, which never gets anything done right, holds the nuclear football (on both sides, the Russians and the USA).

It's pretty twee to be worrying about the well-being of a parliamentary officer when you're facing a seven digit death toll and massive destruction of physical capital. I those circumstances, the Constitution does not really exist. (Actually, it's a dead letter as we speak, bar as an occasionally convenient supplement to Bartlett's Quotations).

@Art Deco- actually some of the participants themselves at the time were concerned they were acting unconstitutionally.

That is a new (early 2014) and excellent book by Elaine Scarry, the subtitle is Choosing Between Democracy and Doom. Here is one good sentence:

This woman, who is an English professor whose competence in any branch of engineering is nil, was able to place a multipart series in the New York Review of Books contending several plane crashes which took place over the years running from 1996 through 1999 were caused by electromagnetic interference (and naming the U.S. Navy as a culprit, natch). Of course, the National Transportation Safety Board had responded to her missives with polite form letters and the thesis was torn to shreds when the articles attracted the notice of actual experts. This is not the sort of mind which produces anything of excellence. Neither is Robert Silvers', who could not be bothered to call the the engineering faculty at City College of New York and ask if one of their number might review the articles 'ere publication.

Paul Bracken, an engineer turned political scientist at Yale who specializes in nuclear weapons, has commented that once the Cold War ended he would have had the wrong specialty to have any hope of tenure. So the academy barfs up this sort of thing instead.

One of my favorite movies is Crimson Tide, an excellent tale of the problems of communicating with and controlling a nuclear submarine. Instead of being a "good versus evil" story, the two protagonists are neither right nor wrong, or both right and both wrong, but nuclear annihilation still hangs in the balance.


Yes, I am inclined to watch Crimson Tide again instead of reading this book. Great movie with prescient casting - James Gandolfini and Viggo Mortensen in supporting roles.

Agreed - it would have been very easy to make Denzel Washington's character obviously right and Gene Hackman obviously wrong, an updated Captain Queeg. But they did a good job of providing just enough information supporting either side of the argument.

I recommend Richard Rhodes' review: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/23/books/review/thermonuclear-monarchy-by-elaine-scarry.html

The salvific effects of democracy are apparently boundless.

"Recommended, and consistent with my long held view that the production of nuclear weapons represented one of the most fundamental revisions of the U.S. Constitution."

Could you elaborate on this? Obviously the creation of nuclear weapons is a big deal, but what's the constitutional issue?

From Rhodes' review, linked above:

Scarry constructs a legally interesting but highly abstract argument about the consent of the governed. She clarifies what the Second Amendment was about before it was trivialized into merely a guarantee of personal pistol-­packing. That amendment, she says, provided a second level of consent by the people, after the consent of both houses of Congress, to a president’s taking the nation into war, a level enforced by tens of thousands of personal decisions about whether to shoulder one’s rifle, don one’s kit and field cap, and muster strong. It’s an inspiring picture, but Congress long ago ceded most of its war-making power to the imperial presidency, and the termination of the draft after popular resistance to the (undeclared) Vietnam War mooted the “well regulated militia” of the amendment. A professional army, however often and obsequiously we thank it for its heroism, ultimately answers to the commander in chief, not to the people.

So it has nothing to do with nuclear weapons. I mean I guess the argument could be made that without nuclear weapons the U.S. would never have abolished the draft no matter how angry the Vietnam War protest. It couldn't have afforded to having to match the Soviets tank for tank man for man in Europe. But that argument isn't made.

Europe could have done it, but we decided to subsidize their welfare state instead. And the end result is that Europe is an important base of operations for Muslim holy war.

Europe maybe could have done it if German had been allowed to demilitarize almost immediately without any de-Nazification protocol being followed. The Wehrmacht and frankly probally the SS would have had to have been re-activated and re-armed with American and British equipment by at the latest 1950 (keeping in mind that the Brits would have trouble supplying their own forces during Korea).

That simply wasn't an option.

Once Vietnam was winding down the US no longer needed a draft, and to buy social peace at home (something they had run on in 1968) the Nixon administration ended the Draft.

We have not needed a draft at any time since and the military is generally hostile to the idea, believing that they obtain higher quality recruits through the volunteer system, and also that the days of mass battles requiring a huge reserve of "cannon fodder" is over. Nukes haven't really been part of that, though automation (drones, etc.) is starting to be an important factor.

Because we have nuclear weapons. Please read the comment carefully. In an absence of nuclear weapons, during the Cold War period at least, the USA would never have suspended the draft it couldn't have afforded to. That's why neutron weapons were so important it appeared to allow for large scale use of anti-tank nuclear weapons without reducing Germany to ruins. There was never any question of repelling a Russian offensive without nuclear weapons.

At no point did NATO approach parity in tanks and men with the Warsaw Pact in a conventional standoff that would have been an invitation to defeat.

But male potential targets must still register: http://nailheadtom.blogspot.com/2014/01/you-must-register.html

What Tyler may have in mind is the fact that when NORAD spots something there's no time to have 435 Representatives debate a declaration of war.

Or maybe his thought is that when the government has nuclear weapons, the range of issues actually permitted for republican vote (much less referendum) is going to shrink.

This may be related: the Constitution appears (it is admittedly not explicit) to require at least one representative for every 30,000 people. But a House of 10,000 members would be completely unwieldly.

When government has a monopoly on unanswerable, overwhelming force, it is pretty much agreed that they can make it up as they go along.

I guess it's too bad the left and the more Russophilic paleos caterwauled so angrily about Reagan and Bush's anti-ballistic missile shields then. They were simply efforts to restore a constitutional balance by changing the nature of nuclear war. The president activating SDI is a lot different than the president ordering a defensive retaliatory strike to dull the strength of a second wave attack.

My objection is more prosaic: they don't work, and just incentivize more WMD's.

Russia thought otherwise, and was pissed to no end about installing them in Poland.

Exactly either missile interceptors work and Russia rationally freaked out about seeing it's one claim to great power status negated, or Russia is prone to absurd diplomatic overreaction. In that case let's keep that in mind when Purin cries crocodile tears about encirclement.

False dichotomy. The unmentioned other possibility is that the Russians were afriad they might work.

In fairness, we never really got to see whether they would work. SDI effectively ended with the end of the cold war. Small scale ballistic missile defense seems to work okay today, though early attempts weren't as successful as first appeared. It's not obvious how relevant Patriot in 1991 and Iron Dome in 2014 are to some hypothetical well-funded strategic defense we never developed.

The Soviets would have been stupid to underestimate the potential. I realize there are a lot of naysayers, but nukes and decoys can only get so small and your defensive system can allocate a lot of shots to each potential target. The technology and economics seem to favor the defense long-term.

No military technology ever works in the sense of being unbeatable. They all can be defeated. The only question is are they worth the cost vis via what the enemy will/can build. In all cases it is seems to me that spending money on missile defense was worth the cost because of the effect it had on the enemy.

However, in terms of "restoring the constitutional balance" I do agree that that missile defense was/would be a failure even if Regan full dreams were realized.

To be more clear, my objection to Anti-Gnostic's claim about missile defense leading to more wmds is historical. We had a massive increase in WMDs all throughout the cold war ending only during the Carter/Regan years. Regan's missile defense plan did not lead to more missiles being built. The idea that missile defense systems are somehow more disestablishing then building the missiles themselves is not proven. Not by a long shot.

Nonetheless, we find a lot of people stating it as fact.

Related fascinating reading is Eric Schlosser's "Command and Control"


He covers quite a bit of nuclear game theory in the context of accidents in the U.S. weapons program.

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