Thursday, August 20, 2020

from Inventing Accuracy: A Historical Sociology of Nuclear Missile Guidance by Donald MacKenzie

"Apart from the general prejudice that the true driving forces must be grander things, there is a particular difficulty for those who are not intimately familiar with it in keeping the ordinariness of nuclear politics in mind. Like the politics of any office, to an outsider it seems intricate, devious, and boring, difficult to understand in comparison with the memorable but misleading simplicities of technological and macropolitical determinism. So it is perhaps worth substituting a single striking example for all the details. It may not even be altogether accurate, as it is not well documented, but if true, it vividly shows how the same sort of mundane considerations can shape nuclear war plans as can shape, for example, a local authority budget. If nuclear war had broken out early in 1961, Moscow was to have been the target for no fewer than 170 American nuclear weapons. This was not because that many were needed to destroy it: even a tiny fraction of that number would have been more than sufficient. Nor was it primarily because of worries that technical failure, a Soviet preemptive strike, or Soviet defenses might lead to attrition of the attacking force. The chief reason was the reluctance of the various branches of the armed services to give up the Soviet capital for a less prestigious target."

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