Posts Tagged ‘Terrorism’


Re-examining the The Nth Country Experiment (1967)

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

This week's document is one that most nuclear wonks have seen before: the Summary Report of the Nth Country Experiment, produced by the Lawrence Livermore laboratory in 1967. It made a big splash when it was declassified in 2003, for good reason. Here was an official government study, from over 30 years ago, which said that there were essentially no secrets left when it came to designing nuclear weapons.1

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The report summarizes the results of a 1964 "experiment," in which Livermore hired two physics postdocs and had them try to come up with "a credible weapon design" based only on information in the public domain and computer support. A third postdoc was added a year later. The experiment ended in April 1967.

From a modern perspective, this is fascinating stuff. If three postdocs can design a nuclear weapon, then what's to stop a terrorist? What's the value of secrecy? Isn't it amazing they were worried about this stuff almost 50 years ago?

But I think there are some more things to say about this.

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  1. Source: W.J. Frank, ed., "Summary Report of the Nth Country Experiment," UCRL-50249 (March 1967), via the National Security Archive. []

War from Above, War from Below

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

It seems that there are really two flavors of war these days. One is what we might call "war from above," which involves getting quite literally above the people you're trying to make war on, and dropping nasty things on them that blow them up. The other is what we might call "war from below," in which involves blowing up people from an eye-level vantage point, and usually with somewhat more mundane weapons, like cars stuffed with homemade explosives. Two of my favorite "history of war" books dwell on each end of this extreme.

On the grand subject of "war from above," Sven Lindqvist's A History of Bombing (New York: New Press, 2001), is fairly unknown amongst bomb scholars, in my experience, but immensely interesting. It's an unusual book to say the least. The structure is something like a long, discursive timeline, with each entry numbered. You can read it front-to-back, which is fine enough, or, alternatively, the author offers up selective entry paths that lead to the development of different themes. It's sort of a mixture of Choose Your Own Adventure with non-fiction history. While I am generally not a huge fan of "experimental" works of history, this one actually works for me. I picked it up on a whim at a used bookstore awhile back, and was surprised at how much I found it both interesting and compelling.

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