L. Douglas Keeney
St. Martin's Press
"A chilling and unsettling account of accidents, oversights, errors in planning, and other mistakes and misjudgments by the military and its civilian masters...sobering and recommended." --Library Journal
"With access to newly declassified documents, Keeney delivers a jolting year-by-year history of SAC’s transformation into a massive worldwide force primed to launch bombers within 15 minutes of the order. He also reveals alarming numbers of lost nuclear bombs, disastrous atmospheric tests, and nuclear war near-misses." --Publishers Weekly
"15 Minutes is brilliantly written, and engrossing...[It] shows us the world beyond the press releases of American propaganda, into the imperfect, human world of missing nukes, air-mishaps and the oh-so-close, two minutes to midnight of Nuclear Armageddon. It is a must-read for anybody interested in the Cold War, or anyone with an interest in the 20th century." --Portland Book Review
"A history of United States nuclear warfare based heavily on declassified documents. Military Channel cofounder Keeney explains the evolution of U.S. mass-destruction weaponry from 1945 through 1968. The primary perspective is that of the Strategic Air Command, the high-powered organization developed by Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay. The author focuses on the first two possessors of nuclear weapons: the United States and the Soviet Union. In that sense, the book is also a history of the Cold War as defined by two superpower nations...The author's information-gathering skills, especially his unearthing and decoding of previously classified documents, make the book worthwhile..." --Kirkus Reviews
"At the peak of the Cold War, L. Douglas Keeney informs us, the U.S. had some 34,000 American nuclear weapons aimed at no less than 4,000 targets, most of them large industrial centers inside the Soviet Union. In terms of megatonnage, that's roughly 13 Hiroshimas per target. The Soviet nuclear-attack plan against America was only slightly less lethal.
It all sounds a bit crazy. At the time the strategy was called MAD, for Mutually Assured Destruction. Movies like "Dr. Strangelove" and "Fail-Safe" conveyed the notion that we had indeed put our fate in the hands of madmen.
Mr. Keeney's "15 Minutes" offers a very different picture of what was going on in those early days of the Cold War. Far from being a wild and irrational idea, America's nuclear doctrine grew out of a careful attempt to address real-life problems—both strategic and technological—and to manage a constantly shifting political landscape. The 15 minutes of the title was the time that the big bombers of Strategic Air Command needed to get aloft in the event of a nuclear attack—but also the 15 minutes that an American president had to decide, once Soviet bombers or missiles were detected entering U.S. air space, whether to launch a full nuclear exchange.
That no president ever did so was a tribute to the concept of nuclear deterrence and to the men who flew the B-47s and B-52s that ultimately kept America safe during 40 years of international tension—and always within a hair's trigger of mutual annihilation....
On Jan. 29, 1968, the Strategic Air Command stopped carrying nuclear weapons during airborne alert missions. Nearly 25 years later, when the Soviet Union was no more, SAC itself ceased to exist. The men who flew its planes hadn't won the Cold War, but they had kept us from losing it. "Those were long sorties, over 24 hours, and you could come down pretty tired," recalled one pilot, "but I think having the weapons was an attention getter and there was always the possibility you might be needed." Such dedication to dangerous work—on the part of everyone involved in the Strategic Air Command, not least LeMay himself—deserves to be recognized and honored. Thanks to Mr. Keeney, it now is."—The Wall Street Journal