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c h a p t e r 5 The Theory and Practice of Armageddon Just as the debate over fallout shelters seemed to create endless conflicts in the political and social realms, so too did it engender friction in the scientific community. Indeed, a lack of consensus among experts on even the most basic premises was one of the hallmarks of the fallout shelter controversy.The issues were extremely technical, hard data were frequently lacking, and the conclusions to be drawn highly speculative. Since an all-out nuclear war obviously had no precedent, the consequences of a nuclear exchange between the Soviet Union and the United States were in many ways imponderable (although that did not stop people from pondering them). It was one of the cold comforts of the thermonuclear era that the Soviets seemed as bewildered as the Americans.The Soviets were making their own preparations for surviving a nuclear war, but the ramifications of such a war were perhaps even more disturbing to Soviet ideologues than they were to Western theorists. As early as 1954, Soviet premier Georgi Malenkov called for a reduction of tension with Western powers as the only alternative to “preparing for a new world war.” Such a war, said Malenkov,“given modern weapons, would mean the destruction of world 150 civilization.”1 Also in 1954Vyacheslav Malyshev, head of the Soviet atomic ministry, and a number of important Soviet atomic scientists sent a letter to Central Committee members calling attention to the “limitless potential for increasing the explosive power of the [atomic] Bomb, which makes defense from this weapon virtually impossible.” Malyshev further warned that “the use of atomic arms on a massive scale will lead to the devastation of combatant countries.”2 Such statements were problematic in the context of Marxist-Leninist ideology and, in the words of Vladislav Zubok and Constantine Pleshakov, represented “a startling blow” to the claim that “any war would lead to a crisis in the capitalist world and to the expansion of socialism.”3 Indeed, Khrushchev called Malenkov’s warnings “theoretically mistaken and politically harmful” because they encouraged “feelings of hopelessness about the efforts of the peoples to frustrate the plans of the aggressors.” Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov declared that “a communist should not speak about the ‘destruction of world civilization,’ but about the need to prepare and mobilize . . . for the destruction of the bourgeoisie.”4 The Soviet leadership suppressed Malyshev’s letter and Malenkov’s political career suffered as a result of his views. By January 1955 Malenkov had lost his position as prime minister, and by 1957 he had been expelled from the Party and forced into exile.5 There was also a debate between the military and civilian leadership in the Soviet Union on the viability of nuclear war as an element of strategy in its competition with the West. By 1962 the awesome destructive potential of nuclear war had become so obvious that the idea of using it as a state instrument of policy was enough to give pause to even the most ardent promoters of Soviet-style socialism. In his doctoral dissertation,“Soviet Attitudes towards Nuclear War Survival (1962–1977),” Robert Lee Arnett concluded that while the military leadership was more likely to defend the use of nuclear war than the civilian leadership, neither had “illusions about the possibility of obtaining a meaningful victory or of avoiding unacceptable damage in a nuclear war.”6 Soviet defense minister Rodion Malinovsky predicted in 1961 that a nuclear war would “lead to the deaths of hundreds of millions of people, and whole countries will be turned into lifeless deserts covered with ashes.”7 Khrushchev described nuclear war as a “catastrophe” that would “spare neither right, nor left, neither those who champion the cause of peace nor those who want to stay aloof,” and a commentator for Izvestiya claimed that nuclear war was “a direct road to the same heavenly kingdom which is praised by everyone but where no one wants to go.”8 Retired General-Major NikolayTalensky The Theory and Practice of Armageddon 151 observed in 1962 that “a modern war could clearly be so devastating that it cannot and must not serve as an instrument of politics.”9 But the idea that there would be no victors in a nuclear war was disturbing to other Soviet military men because they believed it would contribute to the same fatalism that seemed to be plaguing the United States. Lieutenant-ColonelYe. Rybkin claimed that the dismissal of...


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