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The Bomb and Bombing: Dangerous Illusions

Eric Schlosser's COMMAND AND CONTROL [Allen Lane £25 ISBN: 978:1846:41485], a highly original study of US nuclear weapons in the Cold War disturbingly chronicling accidents and near-misses, poses the fundamental unresolved question: how to deploy WMDs without being ultimately destroyed by them? Packed with detail and first-hand reports, and drawing on declassified sources, it focuses on an extraordinary accident with a Titan II ICBM in Arkansas in 1980, when minor failures escalated to a huge explosion. Fortunately its nine megaton thermonuclear warhead did not detonate, and great heroism by US personnel averted terrible catastrophe. Citing other accidents in USA and around the world, Schlosser argues such is an ever-present menace. "Every one [of the thousands of nuclear weapons still extant] is an accident waiting to happen,a potential act of mass murder. They are out there waiting, soulless and mechanical, sustained by our denial – and they work." Do other nuclear powers, eg. India, Pakistan, Israel, have stringent controls? And what of UK? We have been warned.

With no-fly zones and bombing campaigns typifying NATO interventions from Kosovo to Libya (fortunately not against Syria), Richard Overy's THE BOMBING WAR (Allen Lane £30 ISBN: 97807:399:5619) is timely reminder of the destructiveness, immorality - and military limits - of bombing campaigns. First full narrative of 1939-45 Europe's air war from Coventry to Berlin, which massacred half a million civilians (conservative estimate), it shows German, British and US bombing neither broke enemy morale nor greatly weakened war ouput, nor even speeded end of hostilities - rather wreaking terrible suffering and vast physical and cultural destruction. Under 'Bomber Harris', RAF was only major airforce to target civilians deliberately - but all abandoned previous moral and legal limits on aerial warfare, with consequences to this day.

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