Daniel Ellsberg and the American Doomsday Machine

 Last week, I finished negotiating  a contract with Bloomsbury Press  for a memoir by Daniel Ellsberg  tentatively titled: The American Doomsday Machine.  There is a good article announcing the deal in The New York Observer.  This is the story that Dan wanted to tell at the time of  The Pentagon Papers affair. But he felt that the Viet Nam War took precedence.

 It is a pretty shocking story, never before told, of the American nuclear plan developed in the early Sixties; a plan  that the Department of Defense knew by their own calculations would kill 600,000,000 people. It was a fairly inflexible plan that, in fact, came rather close to being implemented.   The DOD’s estimates were probably low. There was no understanding of nuclear winter back then. And the  numbers did not take into account any additional deaths that might be caused by a retaliatory attack.

 At the time, Dan worked at the highest levels of the national security system as a nuclear planner. In 1961 he drafted the top secret guidance from the Secretary of Defense to the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the operational plans for general nuclear war. As you may have read once or twice over the last 40 years, Dan’s access to the national security apparatus has become, well—uh—somewhat attenuated.

 Most of us have a feeling that we already know  all this. But we don’t. We take it as conventional wisdom, because we all saw a movie that has become a classic. It was called: Dr. Strangelove. It turns out that movie was more a documentary that a work of artistic imagination. It turns out, in fact,  that it was actually a little restrained.

 I love to read history. I studied it in graduate school. And I am always looking for  book projects on historical subjects. Dan’s book is a lot more than that. Yes. It is history. But also a book that will change our whole understanding of an historical period.




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2 Responses to “Daniel Ellsberg and the American Doomsday Machine”

  1. writingistheeasypart Says:

    This is unrelated to your blog post but I hope you can help.

    I’ve read conflicting information on what to do when an agent has a copy of your ms but since sending you’ve made changes to it. Is it okay to notify them of the changes? Does this irk agents? I’m sure I’m not the only writer to have experienced this.

    Before you yell at me for sending an ms to an agent in the first place. Know that the ms is complete, was complete at the time. Because an unpublished manuscript is something that can always be improved upon, I did another round of revisions.

    Thank you for any help or suggestions you can offer.

    • andyrossagency Says:

      Dear writingistheeasypart,

      I can only speak for myself, but I understand that writers are always making changes. There isn’t really a problem sending an email to an agent with the revised ms or proposal and telling them that it has been updated.

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