“Last night I had the strangest dream
I ever had before.
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war.” — Ed McCurdy
Shortly after the major news media hailed the end of the Cold War and the Berlin Wall fell, I was brought back to reality by a radio talk show host who reminded me that “those missiles are still there and they‘re pointed at us. Who’s got their finger on the trigger now?”
In his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy, David E. Hoffman once again jolts us back to reality. Just what is “the dead hand” and what does it have to do with me in 2010?
Many times over the years, I have often remarked with mock disappointment, “They didn’t ask me,” when considering the announcement of winners of big name prizes like the Nobel or the Pulitzer. After reading The Dead Hand, it’s pleasing to see that this book earned such a distinguished honor. Hoffman’s second book is an engaging page turner that reads like a Michael Crichton novel (high praise from me!).
Most of my adult life, I’d thought that Chernobyl was scary and that the Cuban missile crisis had brought us to the brink of war. In Hoffman’s prologue, the reader learns about a 1979 biochemical weapons incident and a brush with nuclear war in 1983 that makes the skin crawl! In the end, he leaves us with conclusions and stories that are nothing short of terrifying.
Presenting new information gleaned from diaries and memoirs recently made available along with declassified government papers and interviews, Hoffman takes the reader on an adventure of international intrigue and world politics that makes us wish it were fiction and along the way answers many important questions. How did we live through such times? Where did Reagan’s “Star Wars Defense” originate? How and why did the U.S. carrier Midway disappear near Russia? What was the significance of “007” if it wasn’t James Bond? Was U.S. Representative Larry McDonald (Dem.-GA) murdered? How did “reluctance” and fear of decapitation lead the Soviets to automation? How would the Russian Doomsday Machine guarantee retaliation in the event of a dead leader? Why did Gorbachev keep a sculpture of a goose in his office? What is the legacy of the Cold War that remains a threat to us today?