Nuclear war

What Washington was like during the Cuban Missile Crisis (2002)

On 27 October 1962, US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara stepped out of crisis meetings and looked up at the sky. ‘I thought it was the last Saturday I would ever see,’ he recalled.  This month marks 60 years since the Cuban Missile Crisis. In 2002, Peregrine Worsthorne wrote about what it was like to be in Washington during humanity’s closest shave. Forty years ago the Americans won what I hope will be the nearest thing to nuclear war between superpowers — of which only one is left — ever fought; and the fact that they won it without firing a shot should not diminish but rather increase the extent of the victory.

Letters: What happened to hymns in schools?

Disarming by default Sir: Underpinning Rod Liddle’s amusing article on use of nuclear weapons last week is the reassurance provided by our deterrent (‘Will Putin go nuclear?’, 7 May). It is not difficult to imagine Putin’s behaviour if Russia alone possessed nuclear weapons. Our nation has embarked on refreshing the deterrent; and replacement of the four ballistic missile submarines, modifications to missiles and production of a new warhead are at the very limit of our nation’s industrial capability. Despite the US being extremely helpful, the performance of the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) does not inspire confidence. It is crucial that there is sufficient funding, particularly at AWE, over the next

Is global warming really more dangerous than Putin’s nuclear threats?

Having just dusted down my Geiger counter and argued with the family about whether or not there is room for our dog, Jessie, in the cellar fallout shelter, I thought I would check in with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to see how long we’ve got before our recently acquired small paddock sprouts its first crop of Cobalt-60. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was begun in 1945 by the physicists who, having devoted several years of their lives to the Manhattan Project, suddenly realised that their striving might not be, in the end, exclusively beneficial for the human race. As the most lionised of them, J. Robert Oppenheimer,

In defence of mutually assured destruction

The slow return of the 1980s has reached its logical conclusion. The prospect of nuclear annihilation is haunting our nightmares once again. Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has been marked by a willingness to engage in blatant nuclear sabre-rattling of a sort not seen since the end of the Cold War.  From his statement that anyone ‘interfering from outside’ would ‘face consequences greater than any you have faced in history’ to his placing Russia’s nuclear forces on ‘a special combat duty regime’, Putin’s strategy has been to threaten nuclear war to keep the West out of what he sees as his business. But these threats don’t mean that Putin is about to send

Nuclear war, magic mushrooms and a teenage trip I’ll never forget

Vladimir Putin’s decision on Sunday to put his ‘deterrence forces’ – code for nuclear weapons – in a high state of readiness revived a fear in me that I haven’t experienced since the fall of the Berlin Wall. As someone who spent his teenage years during the Cold War, the threat of nuclear war was never very far from my mind. Indeed, one of the biggest political battles back then was between unilateralists and multilateralists and I was firmly in the latter camp, even starting a local anti-CND group called ‘A Sensible Approach to Nuclear Questions’. But the two sides were united in their fear of Armageddon, only disagreeing about

The end is always nigh

Typically for my generation, I woke repeatedly as a kid with my pyjamas soaked in sweat because I’d had yet another nightmare about nuclear war. While I rarely dream about mushroom clouds any more, a dark cloud of one shape or another has dogged me like a sooty, vaporous stray for my entire life. For my conservative classmates in the mid-1960s, American democracy was on the cusp of being overtaken by communism, even if they weren’t sure what that bogeyman was. Yet don’t imagine liberals like my parents were by contrast keeping sensibly calm and carrying on. The left has manfully merchandised the end of the world since I can

The Big Three who ended the Cold War

Historians argue endlessly and pointlessly about the extent to which the human factor rather than brute circumstance determines the course of events. History, geography and economic reality always constrain personal freedom of action. But within these limitations the individual can make a decisive difference. Britain’s war would have taken a different turn if Halifax rather than Churchill had become prime minister in May 1940. Archie Brown’s thesis is that the Cold War could have ended quite differently— much later and perhaps much more bloodily — had it not been for the fortuitous combination of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev. In 1997 Brown published The Gorbachev Factor, a pioneering