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Annie Jacobsen — What Happens Minutes After a Nuclear Launch?

Every generation, a journalist has looked deep into the heart of the nuclear military establishment: the technologies, the safeguards, the plans, and the risks. These investigations are vital to how we understand the world we really live in—where one nuclear missile will beget one in return, and where the choreography of the world’s end requires massive decisions made on seconds’ notice with information that is only as good as the intelligence we have.

Pulitzer Prize finalist Annie Jacobsen’s Nuclear War: A Scenario explores this ticking-clock scenario, based on dozens of exclusive new interviews with military and civilian experts who have built the weapons, have been privy to the response plans, and have been responsible for those decisions should they have needed to be made. Nuclear War: A Scenario examines the handful of minutes after a nuclear missile launch. It is essential reading, and unlike any other book in its depth and urgency.

Annie Jacobsen is an investigative journals, Pulitzer Prize finalist, and New York Times bestselling author. Her books include: Area 51, Operation Paperclip, The Pentagon’s Brain, Phenomena, First Platoon, and Surprise, Kill, Vanish. Her book Nuclear War: A Scenario, has been optioned to be made into a dramatic film.

Shermer and Jacobsen discuss:

  • So much has been written on this subject…what is new? (Richard Rhodes’s nuclear tetraology (The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Dark Sun, Arsenals of Folly, Twilight of the Bombs, Eric Schlosser’s Command and Control, Fred Kaplan’s The Bomb, Martin Sherwin’s Gambling with Armageddon, Daniel Ellsberg’s The Doomsday Machine, Carl Sagan’s and Richard Turco’s A Path Where No Man Thought)
  • How much more is classified that we still do not know?
  • Why we have a nuclear triad (land missiles, submarine missiles, bombers)
  • Competition among military forces and increasing budgets for more weapons
  • How many types of nuclear weapons are there now, and how many total?
  • Why humans engage in aggression, violence and war
  • The Prisoner’s dilemma, Hobbesian trap, Security Dilemma, the “other guy” problem
  • Balance of Terror, Mutual Assured Destruction, Logic of Deterrence
  • Close calls: Cuban Missile Crisis, Nuclear sub/Vasily Arkipov (1962), Damascus Titan missile explosion (1980), Able Archer 83 war exercise in Europe, Stanislav Petrov, etc.
  • Surviving a nuclear explosion/war
  • What happens in a nuclear bomb explosion
  • Short terms and long term consequences of a nuclear exchange
  • Nuclear Winter
  • Nuclear protests & films (On the Beach, Fail Safe, Dr. Strangelove, War Games, The Day After)
  • Getting to Nuclear Zero: Stockpile reduction, No First Use, No Launch on Warning, shift taboo from not using them to not owning them,
  • Reagan and Gorbachev and arms reductions
  • North Korea, China/Taiwan
  • Göbekli Tepe and post-apocalyptic world.

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This episode was released on April 20, 2024.

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