Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda

Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda

by John Mueller
     
 

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Following 9/11, Americans were swept up in a near hysteria-level fear of terrorists, especially of Islamic extremists working domestically. The government and media reports stoked fears that people living in the US have the desire and means to wreak extreme havoc and destruction. Early reports estimated slightly more than 300 al Qaeda operatives living in the United…  See more details below

Overview

Following 9/11, Americans were swept up in a near hysteria-level fear of terrorists, especially of Islamic extremists working domestically. The government and media reports stoked fears that people living in the US have the desire and means to wreak extreme havoc and destruction. Early reports estimated slightly more than 300 al Qaeda operatives living in the United States. It wasn't long before this number became 2,000 or 5,000 domestic terrorists. As these estimates snowballed, so did spending on federal counterterrorism organizations and measures, spending which now totals over a trillion dollars. The federal government launched more covert operations in the name of fighting terrorist adversaries than they did in the entirety of the forty-five year Cold War. For each apprehension of a credible terrorist suspect, the US government created or re-organized two counterterrorism organizations. The scale of these efforts has been enormous, yet somehow they have not been proven to make Americans feels safe from what they perceive to be a massive terrorist threat. But how well-founded is this fear? Is the threat of terrorism in the United States as vast as it seems and are counterterrorism efforts effective and appropriately-scaled? It has not, statistically speaking, been efficient or successful. Only one alarm in 10,000 has proven to be a legitimate threat-the rest are what the authors refer to as "ghosts." These ghosts are enormous drains on resources and contribute to a countrywide paranoia that has resulted in widespread support and minimal critical questioning of massive expenditures and infringements on civil liberties, including invasions of privacy and questionably legal imprisonments. In Chasing Ghosts, John Mueller and Mark Stewart argue that the "ghost chase" occupying American fears, law enforcement, and federal spending persists because the public believes that there exists in the US a dire and significant threat of terrorism. The authors seek to analyze to what degree this is a true and to what degree the threat posed by terrorists in the US defends the extraordinary costs currently put towards their investigation. The chance that an American will be killed by a terrorist domestically in any given year is about one in four million (under present conditions). Yet despite this statistically low risk and the extraordinary amount of resources put towards combatting threats, Americans do not profess to feel any safer from terrorists. Until the true threat of domestic terrorism is analyzed and understood, the country cannot begin to confront whether our pursuit of ghosts is worth the cost.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"His witty and unmerciful intellectual attack on the doomsayers, who have been arguing for the past 50 years that rapid proliferation is just around the corner, that we stand on the brink of a new nuclear age, or that it is a few minutes to midnight, is a refreshing one."—Survival

"The narrative is liberally seasoned with striking facts and a dash of wry humour."—Times Literary Supplement

"This is both a well written book and an important scholarly contribution...Policy makers and their staffs could benefit from this piece." —Choice

"With his rare combination of wit and meticulous scholarship, John Mueller diagnoses that America is paralyzed by atomaphobia and prescribes a fifteen-chapter treatment to help us recognize that we have blown reasonable concerns about weapons of mass destruction and terrorism out of proportion and that many of our policy responses actually make things worse. Atomic Obsession is recommended bed-time reading for nervous Nellies both inside and outside of government."—Michael C. Desch, Professor of Political Science, University of Notre Dame, and author of Power and Military Effectiveness

"John Mueller's argument will almost certainly change your interpretation of some significant events of the past half-century, and likely of some expected in the next. It did with mine."—Thomas C. Schelling, 2005 Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics, and author of Arms and Influence

"With clear-eyed logic and characteristic wit, John Mueller provides an antidote for the fear-mongering delusions that have shaped nuclear weapons policy for over fifty years. Atomic Obsession casts a skeptical eye on the nuclear mythology purveyed by hawks, doves, realists, and alarmists alike, and shows why nuclear weapons deserve a minor role in national security policymaking and virtually no role in our nightmares. It is the most reassuring book ever written about nuclear weapons, and one of the most enjoyable to read."—Stephen M. Walt, Professor of International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, and author of Taming American Power

"How much should we worry about nuclear terrorism? How far should we go to stop Iran (or North Korea) from acquiring nuclear weapons? In this fascinating and provocative book, John Mueller addresses such questions. Policymakers, scholars, students—indeed all Americans who are concerned about threats and the allocation of scarce resources—must read this volume, ponder its conclusions, and debate what now needs to be done."—Melvyn P. Leffler, Professor of History, University of Virginia, and author of For the Soul of Mankind

"...the book will certainly make you think. Added bonus: It's immensely fun to read." — Stephen M. Walt, ForeignPolicy.com

"Mueller's achievement deserves admiration even by those inclined to resist his central thesis. The book is meticulously researched and punctuated with a dry wit that seems the perfect riposte to the pomposity of security experts who have so far tyrannized debate. Although by no means the last word on nuclear weapons, Mueller deserves praise for having the guts to shout that the atomic emperor has no clothes... the book should nevertheless be packaged up and sent to Presidents Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Gordon Brown with a simple message: 'Please calm down.'" —Arms Control Today

"There is much to agree with in the book. Mueller performs an important service in puncturing some of the inflated rhetoric about nuclear weapons...Mueller provides an unusual and fruitful perspective on nuclear history." —Science Magazine

"...this book is lively and provocative and a useful corrective to much of the mainstream consensus."—Foreign Affairs

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199745814
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
11/05/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
957,595
File size:
2 MB

Meet the Author

John Mueller a political scientist at Ohio State University and at the Cato Institute. He is the author, co-author, or editor of 18 books and hundreds of scholarly and popular articles. His research areas include international relations, security studies, risk analysis, public opinion, foreign policy, terrorism and counterterrorism, and dance history. Mark G. Stewart is Professor of Civil Engineering at The University of Newcastle, Australia. He has more than 25 years of experience in probabilistic risk and vulnerability assessment of infrastructure and security systems. His expertise in risk assessment is applied to a wide range of threats and hazards most notably terrorism and climate change.

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