The Seventh Decade The New Shape of Nuclear Danger

American Empire Project

Schell, Jonathan

Metropolitan Books



Trade Paperback

272 Pages



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When the Cold War ended, many Americans believed the nuclear dilemma had ended with it. Instead, the bomb has moved to the dead center of foreign policy and even domestic scandal. From missing WMDs to the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, nuclear matters are back on the front page.
Jonathan Schell argues that a revolution in nuclear affairs has occurred under the watch of the Bush administration, including a historic embrace of a first-strike policy to combat proliferation. The administration has also encouraged a nuclear renaissance at home, with the development of new generations of such weaponry. Far from curbing nuclear buildup, Schell contends, our radical policy has provoked proliferation in Iran, North Korea, and elsewhere; exacerbated global trafficking in nuclear weapons; and taken the world into an era of unchecked nuclear terror. Incisive and well-argued, The Seventh Decade offers essential insight into what may prove the most volatile decade of the nuclear age.


Praise for The Seventh Decade

"A passionately and cogently argued case for the complete abolition of nuclear weapons . . . Schell's careful assembly of the available evidence will scare the pants off most readers.  And so it should."—Martin Walker, The New York Times Book Review

“Jonathan Schell has been warning us about the dangers of nuclear weapons since his seminal book, The Fate of the Earth. The Seventh Decade shows how pressing this issue still is. Schell offers a provocative analysis of the current dangers and puts them in the context of history. It's a fascinating and important book.”—Walter Isaacson, author of Einstein: His Life and Universe

“Jonathan Schell, our chronicler as conscience, addresses the salient fact of the era—that amid the ultimate terror of nuclear weapons, Americans live under one of the most heedless and dangerous governments in history. Once again, Schell honors us with a profound warning. Our consummate shame is that we do nothing about it.”—Roger Morris, author of Taking Comfort

"Jonathan Schell has written a courageous book, a clarion call for the world to stop its drift toward 'nuclear anarchy'—which cannot occur absent a radical change in U. S. nuclear policy.”—Andrew J. Bacevich, author of The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War

"No voice is as clear, no mind is as sharp, and no writings about nuclear weapons have been as perceptive as Jonathan Schell's books and articles since 1982. Now, in The Seventh Decade, Schell once again reveals in lucid prose the most inconvenient truth: the nuclear weapons policies of our government endanger our security, our planet and the very existence of our species. This is a book that every responsible voter should read before November 2008.”—Martin J. Sherwin, Pulitzer prize-winning author of American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

"Veteran journalist Schell warns that the nuclear peril he described in The Fate of the Earth remains, in new and nasty forms. Readers expecting an update of his classic account of the terrible effects of atomic war will discover the author in a more philosophical mood here. The collapse of the USSR eliminated any need for nuclear arsenals, he avers, yet they are still with us, and additional nations are considering building their own. Discussing the peculiar fascination of atomic weapons, which is absent from other horrors such as germ warfare or poison gas, the author divides those who advocate them into three groups: nuclear realists, who consider the bomb a simple weapon of war; nuclear romantics, who look on it as a symbol of national honor; and nuclear Wilsonians (as in Woodrow Wilson), who yearn for a global institution to end war and believe that a nuclear arsenal qualifies. In Schell's view, these categories help explain bizarre behavior such as India's national outpouring of joy over its successful nuclear test and the United States's financing of a trillion-dollar fleet of nuclear submarines, which has been patrolling the seas for two decades despite the absence of a major threat. The author reserves his greatest criticism for followers of President Bush who combine all three of the above viewpoints and do not conceal their contempt for treaties and international institutions that hinder America's freedom of action. Bush's original reason for invading Iraq, Schell maintains, contained a certain logic. It was regrettable that no WMDs turned up, but the invasion aimed to warn irresponsible national leaders that building a nuclear arsenal might earn them a taste of the same medicine. Regrettably, the subsequent debacle accomplished no such thing. A cogent analysis of today's nuclear dangers and a plea for international action, unlikely to occur as long as America wants to handle matters on its own."—Kirkus Reviews

"Continuing themes of his previous books, Schell presents a history of the nuclear age since the earliest days of the Cold War. Today, he says, the issue of nuclear armament is complicated by the possibility of weapons or their component materials, falling into the hands of terrorist organizations. He provides a thorough background to developments in the 15-year post-Cold War period, examining why total disarmament of nuclear weapons did not occur, and describing how he feels the Bush administration has used the 9/11 terrorist attacks to justify a change in U.S. philosophy regarding use of nuclear force. Schell advocates elimination of nuclear weapons by global agreement to solve current global tensions over nuclear proliferation and expansion. Drawing extensively on details of the 1986 Reykjavík summit, he shows why there are no longer clear reasons to maintain nuclear arsenals and points out their serious risks to humankind."—Jill Ortner, Library Journal

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
The nuclear age has entered its seventh decade. If it were a person, it would be thinking about retirement—reckoning up its pension funds, weighing different medical plans. But historical periods, unlike human lives, have no fixed limit, and the nuclear age is in fact displaying youthful vigor. The birth of nuclear weapons in 1945 opened a wide, unobstructed pathway to the end of the world. Along that route was an end to cities, an end to countries, an end to continents, an end to human life itself. Sometimes one of these perils has moved to the fore, sometimes another, but all
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  • Schell, Jonathan

  • Jonathan Schell, author of The Unconquerable World (0-8050-4467-4) and The Fate of the Earth, among many other titles, is the Nation Institute’s Harold Willens Peace Fellow. His “Letter from Ground Zero” column appears in The Nation regularly. He also writes for Harper’s, The Atlantic Monthly, Foreign Affairs, and He is a distinguished visiting fellow at the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization.