General, I Have Fought Just as Many Nuclear Wars as You Have: Forecasts, Future Scenarios, and the Politics of Armageddon
Connelly, Matthew - Columbia University

2011-10-20 16:10:00
Ann Arbor, MI - University of Michigan - Tisch Hall Room 1014
Duration: 01:48:00

Historical research on prevision has centered on utopian and dystopian visions, ideas of progress and decline, and visual and literary representations of the future. But what Reinhart Koselleck called "the horizon of expectation" also has an important and largely unexplored political history, especially over the last century, when projections, forecasts, future scenarios and long-range planning became indepensable tools of governance. U.S. preparations for nuclear war provide an exceptionally important example. There appeared to be no relevant historical experience, and the consequences of error were catastrophic. A new breed of "defense intellectuals" therefore developed novel methods to "think about the unthinkable." Specific predictions, such as the emergence of new nuclear powers, the effects on their behavior, and the likely peace. These predictions were usually wrong, with a systematic bias toward exaggerating threats. But some were self-negating, since they alerted policymakers to the need to take preventative action. In this way, technology forecasts, intelligence estimates, and war-gaming exercises helped regulate the long-term relationship between the superpowers, to the point that practitioners found it impossible to imagine that the Cold War could ever end without a nuclear holocaust.

Introduction by Ron Suny, Director of the Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies


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