The End of Victory
Prevailing in the Thermonuclear Age
Published by: Cornell University Press
276 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 mm
- ISBN: 9781501766121
- Published: November 2022
The End of Victory recounts the costs of failure in nuclear war through the work of the most secret deliberative body of the National Security Council, the Net Evaluation Subcommittee (NESC). In nuclear war, from 1953 onwards, American leaders chose to know as precisely as possible what would happen—how many Americans would die and how much of the country would remain—if they failed. The NESC told Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy what the result of the worst failure of American strategy—a maximum-effort surprise Soviet nuclear assault on the United States—would be.
Edward Kaplan details how NESC studies provided key information for presidential decisions on the objectives of a war with the USSR, and the size and shape of the American military. The subcommittee delivered its annual reports in a decade marked by crises in Berlin, Quemoy and Matsu, Laos, and Cuba, among others. During these critical moments and day-to-day containment of the USSR, the NESC's reports were the best estimates of the butcher's bill of conflict and of how to reduce the cost in American lives.
Taken with the intelligence community's assessment of the probability of a surprise attack, the NESC's work framed the risks of American strategy in the chilliest years of the Cold War. The End of Victory reveals how all policy decisions run risks—and ones involving military force run grave ones—but that they can rarely be known with any precision.