Endangered Species: How We Can Avoid Mass Destruction and Build a Lasting Peace


A former nuclear weapons designer, Stephen M. Younger understands, as few others can, humankind's potential for violence. He knows that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction means that any nation, group, or even individual could cause unimaginable carnage—and the accelerating pace of communications and transportation means that things can happen faster than we can think about them.

In Endangered Species, Younger peers into the heart of modern civilization to present a...

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Endangered Species: How We Can Avoid Mass Destruction and Build a Lasting Peace

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A former nuclear weapons designer, Stephen M. Younger understands, as few others can, humankind's potential for violence. He knows that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction means that any nation, group, or even individual could cause unimaginable carnage—and the accelerating pace of communications and transportation means that things can happen faster than we can think about them.

In Endangered Species, Younger peers into the heart of modern civilization to present a practical plan for ending mass violence, the scourge of our times and a threat to our survival as a species. Looking across our knowledge of psychology, history, politics, and technology, Younger presents a convincing argument that we can escape our spiral into global destruction. But we haven't a moment to lose.

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Editorial Reviews

Lee Hamilton
“A provocative, challenging, engaging and ultimately important blueprint for the 21st century.”
John Barry
“Everyone can read with profit... Younger is a wise man. We should listen to him.”
Walter Reich
“In this wise and urgent book Younger distills for us what he’s learned about the dangers that threaten us.”
Jessica Stern
“Younger finds a way to teach us to hope for peace. A profoundly wise and moving book.”
Publishers Weekly

A scholar and former designer of nuclear weapons, Younger writes stimulatingly and convincingly on the causes of war and terrorism and ways to prevent them. He begins by asking if humans are violent by nature, answering "yes," because war and homicide occur in all cultures, but also "no," because they're rare in some, routine in others. What does history teach? His answer: autocratic governments tend to go to war against the will of the governed; and since "no two democracies have gone to war with one another," their spread will reduce mass violence. Characterizing the U.S. as "a great nation that eschews mass violence, he finds "foreign adventures ill-suited to our national character," despite our current involvement in Iraq. Younger begins his review of solutions to violence by extolling President Bush as a visionary with "a deep personal belief in the benefits of democracy" and the courage to take action "to create an island of democracy" in the Middle East. Sensibly, Younger moves on to specifics, urging America to take the lead in supporting free elections, fighting corruption, promoting the rule of law and encouraging small business, education and agricultural reform to defeat poverty and immunize nations against the siren song of terrorism. (Apr. 10)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Ah, for the good old days of the Cold War, when there were two superpowers and the state reserved the right to kill unto itself. Formerly a nuclear-weapons research and development specialist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Department of Defense, Younger, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, is not entirely free of Strangelovian visions of world order. His intentions, however, seem to be good: In an era when, as he writes, "the ability to cause mass destruction is spreading from the domain of the major nation to the domain of a small country, group, or even an individual," it is important for the remaining superpower-that is, the U.S.-to seek to ameliorate worldly woes so that the rest of humankind isn't inspired to take up arms against it. The framing for this argument is ungainly, however. Younger muses about whether we're programmed to kill one another, then dismisses the question with a truism-"while we may not be inherently violent as individuals, we have the potential for violence if we are placed in the right circumstances"-before settling into the heart of the matter, namely, what will happen once the people who hate us really do get hold of weapons of mass destruction. Here the discussion gets even more qualified. It's clear, for instance, that Younger isn't happy at the thought of nuclear explosions, but he argues for the continued development of nuclear weapons (". . . the alternative is to keep an aging stockpile of cold war dinosaurs that are much more destructive than required"). He urges, "We need to be very smart in deciding whom we attack and how"; still, he reckons that at least George W. Bush did something by invading Iraq, and he seems toendorse the premise that spreading democracy, by gunpoint if necessary, will lessen the terrorist threat in the end. Of some interest, but less so than Louise Richardson's recent What Terrorists Want (2006), which makes some of the same points. Agent: Christy Fletcher/Fletcher & Parry
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061139529
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/8/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen M. Younger is a senior policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He recently retired as a senior fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he was in charge of nuclear weapons research and development. From 2001 to 2004, he was director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency at the U.S. Department of Defense. He lives in Las Vegas.

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Read an Excerpt

Endangered Species

How We Can Avoid Mass Destruction and Build a Lasting Peace
By Stephen M. Younger


Copyright © 2007 Stephen M. Younger
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-06-113951-2

Chapter One

do our genes condemn us to war?

Little by little we human beings are confronted with situations that give us more and more clues that we aren't perfect. -Fred Rogers

Dawn was still a promise on the horizon as the tugboats peeled away for their return to port. After gently nudging the massive submarine from the dock, the tugs shielded us from shoreline threats as we inched down the long channel connecting the submarine base at Kings Bay, Georgia, to the Atlantic Ocean. I had eagerly accepted an offer to ride atop the conning tower (the "sail") of the USS Pennsylvania on this one-day familiarization cruise. When we reached the open ocean, I found it exhilarating to watch such a magnificent machine being superbly handled, to feel the wind in my face, and to see the waves surge across the partially submerged hull. There was a feeling of speed, of power, and, quite honestly, of pride in being an American.

Later, in the control room, I was asked to sit at the diving station and operate the controls that submerged the ship. Personally, I would not have chosen a theoretical physicist-someone who has learned through painful experience to keep his hands in his pockets when around anything with moving or breakable parts-to submerge a ballisticmissile submarine. Nevertheless, with help from the gruff (and somewhat nervous-looking) petty officer standing behind me, the evolution was completed without incident and soon we were cruising serenely three hundred feet beneath the surface of the sea.

The Trident class of ballistic missile submarines is the most powerful weapons system on earth. Over 500 feet long and weighing in at almost 19,000 tons, it is bigger and faster than a World War I battle cruiser. It was built for the sole purpose of carrying twenty-four D5 missiles, the most accurate long-range ballistic missiles ever developed, each capable of hurling multiple nuclear warheads over distances of thousands of miles with astonishing accuracy. A modern ballistic missile submarine can stay submerged for months at a time and is so quiet that even the most advanced sonar technology cannot locate it as it creeps along a patrol path known only to its captain and senior officers.

At the time of my short voyage in 2000, I was head of nuclear weapons programs at Los Alamos and a member of the Strategic Advisory Group (SAG) at U.S. Strategic Command, the military organization that controlled all American nuclear weapons. The purpose of the cruise was to familiarize SAG members with the Trident submarine, and we enjoyed free run of the ship. Most impressive, as I always found when aboard navy ships, was the remarkable quality of the crew, both officers and enlisted, all of whom seemed truly enthusiastic about their jobs. Several of my colleagues and I chatted with the ship's nuclear reactor operators while they sat at their stations, patiently scanning dials and display screens. "Couldn't this be done automatically?" we asked. "Yes," they replied, "but in the event of damage to the ship it would take too long to regain situational awareness. We need to be able to respond instantly to keep power flowing to the engine and the other vital systems." In an environment unforgiving of mistakes, every eventuality was considered, every contingency planned. Absolute excellence was the minimum standard to be met.

Just aft of the sail was the beginning of the "missile house" with its two parallel rows of twelve rust-colored cylinders extending from the bottom to the top of the ship, each of which held a D5 missile with its several warheads. There was a wide corridor between them-almost an avenue, given the tight confines of a submarine-that gave the missile house the appearance of a metallic forest. I have been in these rooms a number of times, always with the realization that I was in the presence of incredible power, something unique in human experience. There was a presence in that room full of missiles, a kind of hush in which the theory of mutually assured destruction became very, very real.

Popular movies on nuclear war, from Fail Safe to Crimson Tide, portray the moral dilemma that a commanding officer might undergo if he or she received orders to actually launch a nuclear holocaust. "Yes, New York, Washington, and Los Angeles are gone, but is that worth taking hundreds of thousands of other lives, essentially in revenge? Where does it stop?" Close-up and fade to credits. I don't think so. Having watched numerous exercises that simulated multiple launches of nuclear missiles, there is no doubt in my mind that, should the president of the United States so order, missile after missile would leave its silo with clockwork precision. The Emergency Action Message (EAM) would be received. Safes would be opened to extract sealed validation codes. The codes would be checked, checked again, and checked yet again. If it was a match, a rapid sequence of well-practiced actions would commence, each one accompanied by a loud but controlled confirmation of its completion. When the lights were all green, the launch control officer would press the trigger on his handheld controller, there would be a gentle thud, and a crewman would report "Missile away." Within seconds, they would move on to the next launch. Within minutes, an explosive force greater than all the weapons used in all the wars in history would be flying toward its intended target. After that there would be time for the crew members to think, time to come to terms with what they had done, and time to pray.

It is not that these sailors and airmen lack moral feeling or that they are somehow more bloodthirsty than the rest of us. Yes, they are trained in the most destructive military science. Yet they are ordinary people, with families and careers, law-abiding and gentle with children; many are deeply religious and all are intensely patriotic. And it's not only violence-prone males who do such work; women also do silo duty and perform with the same dedication and precision. Whatever reservations they have about their jobs have long since been thought through. They have no desire to kill other people, but they do believe that a country perceived to be weak on defense is inviting an attack on itself. Their job is to assure all comers that any aggression against the United States would have fatal consequences for the aggressor.


Excerpted from Endangered Species by Stephen M. Younger Copyright © 2007 by Stephen M. Younger. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     ix
Preface     xi
Introduction: The Imperative for Change     1
Setting the Stage: Human Beings and the Societies We Live In
Do Our Genes Condemn Us to War?     19
Some Useful Lessons from History     39
A Realistic Assessment of the World We Live In     54
The Limits of Choice: How Technology and Culture Will Affect Our Future
Two Technologies That Will Shape the World     81
How Culture and Ecology Will Limit Our Actions     110
Why Most Strategic Plans Fail     125
The Tools of Change: What We Can Do to Prevent Mass Violence
Politics and Diplomacy as Tools for Peace     139
Economic Measures to Reduce the Probability of Mass Violence     167
Military Capability to Make and Keep the Peace     188
The Necessity of Hope     206

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