It’s about halfway through the Cuban Missile Crisis anniversary and if you want to dip in, Dan Carlin did a great podcast about the event. I enjoy listening this time of year to ‘feel it’. Media transports us through time and space but to listen on anniversaries or read in places adds a something.
1/ It’s no wonder game theory thinking came from this era. John von Neumann worked on the Manhattan project and later advocated for mutually assured destruction. My prior is more Oppenheimer less Neumann, but as Carlin reminds us, life is complicated:
“What if the US had gone the full force Robert Oppenheimer ban-this-stuff route? What would the Soviets and Joseph Stalin had done? To a man they (the Russian advisors) say it would have been seen as weakness and Stalin would push forward with his weapons program.”
Like the prisoner dilemma, if one player will choose with certainty it reduces the opportunities for the other.
2/ As we covered, Eisenhower liked to argue well. That can be difficult for leaders to model. One technique according to Marc Andreessen, is for those in charge to challenge each other.
Eisenhower gives the Atoms for Peace speech but before playing a clip Carlin confesses, “nothing can be trusted from this era, nothing. The presidents, from Truman to Eisenhower all have two faces to them and I don’t know which one is real.”
Or, it’s hard to have ‘Yes’ men if no one knows what you’re thinking.
3/ That Atoms for Peace speech only comes about because of career capital. Eisenhower succeeds Truman, born in 1884, the year the steam turbine was invented. Carlin suggests we imagine Truman as a grandfather calling his grandchildren asking how to turn the damn devices off.
Eisenhower is elected, gives the speech and coins military industrial complex eight years later. Carlin adds, “I can’t imagine our leaders today giving a speech like (Atoms for Peace). In 1953 he laid the whole situation out.”
If you’ve a long solo fall drive, fall walk, or evening outside take a listen. There’s many more parallel ideas like between humanitarian intervention (related: With the Old Breed) and herd immunity. It’s also a prompt for thinking about hot and cold communication (it took half a day for Kennedy’s letters to make it to Krushchev as well as alternative histories.