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Zero-Sum Foolery 2 of 4: Doomsday Climate Machine

by Sandwichman

Zero-Sum Foolery 2 of 4: Doomsday Climate Machine

We have met the doomsday machine and it is us.

The “doomsday machine” became a household word after Herman Kahn speculated about building such a device in his 1960 book, On Thermonuclear War. Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove: How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb (1964), immortalized the doomsday machine in the following exchange between two Peter Sellers characters, President Merkin Muffley and Dr. Strangelove:

Muffley: Dr. Strangelove, do we have anything like that in the works?

Strangelove: A moment please, Mr. President. Under the authority granted me as director of weapons research and development, I commissioned last year a study of this project by the BLAND corporation. Based on the findings of the report, my conclusion was that this idea was not a practical deterrent, for reasons which, at this moment, must be all too obvious.

Muffley: Then you mean it is possible for them to have built such a thing?

Strangelove: Mr. President, the technology required is easily within the means of even the smallest nuclear power. It requires only the will to do so.

Muffley: But, how is it possible for this thing to be triggered automatically, and at the same time impossible to untrigger?

Strangelove: Mr. President, it is not only possible, it is essential. That is the whole idea of this machine, you know. Deterrence is the art of producing in the mind of the enemy… the fear to attack. And so, because of the automated and irrevocable decision making process which rules out human meddling, the doomsday machine is terrifying. It’s simple to understand. And completely credible, and convincing.

General Turgidson: Gee, I wish we had one of them doomsday machines, Stainsy.

Muffley: But this is fantastic, Strangelove. How can it be triggered automatically?

Strangelove: Well, it’s remarkably simple to do that. When you merely wish to bury bombs, there is no limit to the size. After that they are connected to a gigantic complex of computers. Now then, a specific and clearly defined set of circumstances, under which the bombs are to be exploded, is programmed into a tape memory bank….

Strangelove: Yes, but the… whole point of the doomsday machine… is lost… if you keep it a secret! Why didn’t you tell the world, eh?

Also in 1964, Rapoport’s Strategy and Conscience was published.

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