From MAD to
Inside Pentagon Nuclear War Planning
Memoir by Paul H. Johnstone
Commentary by Diana Johnstone
Paul Craig Roberts
$29.95 paper 2017
EBOOK ISBN: 978-0-9978965-3-4
PAUL H. JOHNSTONE was a senior
analyst in the Weapons Systems
Evaluation Group (WSEG) in the
Pentagon. He was assistant director
of three crucial studies on outcomes
of nuclear war and the director of a
fourth, on the impact on civilians. He
also initiated a series of “critical
incident” studies recounting
decision-making problems, which led
to the McNamara study of the errors
of Vietnam war policy known as The
Pentagon Papers and was one of its
This deathbed memoir by Dr. Paul H. Johnstone, former senior analyst
in the Strategic Weapons Evaluation Group (WSEG) in the Pentagon
and a co-author of The Pentagon Papers, provides an authoritative
analysis of the implications of nuclear war that remain insurmountable
today. Indeed, such research has been kept largely secret, with the
intention “not to alarm the public” about what was being cooked up.
This is the story of how U.S. strategic planners in the 1950s and 1960s
worked their way to the conclusion that nuclear war was unthinkable. It
drives home these key understandings:
• That whichever way you look at it -- and this book shows the many
ways analysts tried to skirt the problem -- nuclear war means mutual
• That Pentagon planners could accept the possibility of totally
destroying another nation, while taking massive destructive losses
ourselves, and still conclude that “we would prevail”.
• That the supposedly “scientific answers” provided to a wide range of
unanswerable questions are of highly dubious standing.
• That official spheres neglect anything near a comparable effort to
understand the “enemy” point of view, rather than to annihilate him, or
to use such understanding to make peace.
Dr. Johnstone’s memoirs of twenty years in the Pentagon tell that
story succinctly, coolly and objectively. He largely lets the facts speak
for themselves, while commenting on the influence of the Cold War
spirit of the times and its influence on decision-makers.
Johnstone writes: “Theorizing about nuclear war was a sort of virtuoso
exercise in creating an imaginary world wherein all statements must
be consistent with each other, but nothing need be consistent with
reality because there was no reality to be checked against.”
While remaining highly secret – so much so that Dr. Johnstone himself
was denied access to what he had written – these studies had a major
impact on official policy. They contributed to a shift from the notion
that the United States could inflict “massive retaliation” on its Soviet
enemy to recognition that a nuclear exchange would bring about
Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD).
The alarming truth today is that these lessons seem to have been
forgotten in Washington, just as United States policy has become as
hostile to Russia as it was toward the Soviet Union during the Cold
War. U.S. foreign policy is pursuing hostile encirclement of two major
nuclear powers, Russia and China. Without public debate, apparently
without much of any public interest, the United States is preparing to
allocate a trillion dollars over the next thirty years to modernize its
entire nuclear arsenal. It is as if all that was once understood about the
danger of nuclear war has been forgotten.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
FOREWORD by Paul Craig Roberts
The Dangerous Seduction of Absolute Power
by Diana Johnstone
The Spirit of the Times
The Fog of War Planning
MEMOIRS OF A HUMANIST IN THE PENTAGON
by Paul H. Johnstone
Foreword: What this is all about
Part I – The World of Target Planning
1. Air Targets Intelligence
By various means, intelligence was gathered to evaluate the strategic economic
value of potential enemy targets. The problems “were vastly compounded as
nuclear weapons gradually became the primary weapons considered for strategic
2. Air Targets Doctrine
Discusses the background of the conflict between the British doctrine of saturation
bombing and the American doctrine of strategic bombing of enemy industrial
potential and the weaknesses of both.
A. Economic War Potential Doctrine Applied to Occupation Policies3. Playing Nuclear War Games
As World War II ended, U.S. policy planners envisaged pursuing the strategic
bombing policy of depriving Germany of its industry during the peacetime
B. Some Problems and Methods
“I believe that, to anyone who has been deeply immersed in it and then has had
the privilege of viewing it with some measure of detachment, military
intelligence must seem a world of flickering light, dark shadows, mood music
and whispered rumors half heard against trumpeted accompaniment
proclaiming dire threats that imperil us from outer darkness. […] What is seldom
realized is that there is always a dominant mood that determines, more than the
sharpest senses or the most acute reasoning could do, what you decide is out
there and what is going on.”
A. The Cold War AtmospherePart II – Imagining Doomsday
“The prevailing Pentagon presumption was that at almost any time the
Russians would unleash their hordes upon Western Europe.” A Special
Studies Group was set up to write long-range strategic think pieces, dominated
by émigrés from Central Europe “who passed as experts on Communist Europe
and who had at least some small influence on strategic thought and the
formation of American policy.”
B. Games and Bonuses
Everybody in the business played war games, simulating nuclear war between
the U.S. and the USSR. Everything not directly targeted as military was scored
as “bonus damage”, which included human beings. Skilled labor might be
C. The Rise of Fear
Strategic planners gradually became aware of the magnitude of the devastation
and of the civilian casualties, calling for “appraisals of how such devastation
would affect the will and ability of a nation to continue to resist”. Totally
unrealistic civil defense projects were envisaged.
The rising awareness of the dangers of nuclear weapons led the Joint Chiefs of
Staff and the Defense Department to direct the Weapons Systems Evaluation
Group (WSEG) to study the “implications” of radioactive fallout.
1. The Fallout Study
2. The “Humane Alternative”
3. The Civilian Morale Study
4. The Strategic Weapons Study
A. The Tenor of the Times
Not only were people fearful of growing Soviet military power, but most were as
convinced as ever that the peril we faced was a Communist conspiracy
centered in Moscow to conquer the entire world, and that, above all, the
Communist enemy threatening us was a monolithic empire in which every part
and every event was directed by Moscow.
B. The Command and Control Dilemma
“Everyone recognized that events could occur with unprecedented rapidity in a
nuclear war, and that decisions of national life or death might have to be made
on an almost split-second basis, especially at the beginning of the crisis. […]
And it was believed that, as things stood, it would be possible, swiftly and with
comparative ease, to decapitate both our national political authority and our
national military command.”
C. Exploring “Implications”
This was a game played by a large number of bright young men with active Part III – The Critical Incident Studies
imaginations, Herman Kahn among “the most facile and least inhibited”, who
became the most widely known. “His manner was always jovial, even when he
began by saying, ‘Let's think about the unthinkable’, quickly followed by a
topical joke. Herman could talk about Doomsday bombs, big enough to destroy
continents or alter the earth's orbit, or 200 million dead in 200 minutes, assuring
his audience of the reality of the prospect with a rather amused attitude toward
the whole business.
Finally, top level decisions are made or influenced by officials too busy to read
In those years there were studies of some sixteen incidents, or crises, during
the sixties, in which military actions were taken. These included the Laos crisis of
1960-1961, two crises in the Dominican Republic, one under the Kennedy
administration and one under the Johnson administration, the Cuban missile crisis,
the Congo crisis centering around the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the Tonkin
Gulf crisis of 1964, and the Berlin Wall crisis and surrounding incidents precipitated
by Soviet harassment of Allied access to West Berlin.
by Diana Johnstone
Glossary of Acronyms
|Delusory Pentagon efforts to quantify and circumvent the cataclysmic implications of nuclear war
"From MAD to Madness could not be more timely reading. In it, a former senior
Pentagon analyst from the last Cold War comes back from the past to warn us of the
disaster we are courting in the new Cold War. We should heed his warning."
—Ron Paul, M.D.
Former Member of Congress (R-TX)
"In spite of being vastly superior to any other power on our beautiful globe, the
United States insists that it needs to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on
updating its nuclear triad and increase research and production of even more
Today, over 100 countries are pushing for a treaty to ban these weapons once and for
all. There exists no imaginable political goal that can justify the killings of millions of
people; nuclear possession, nuclear threats and nuclear (first) use is criminal and the
so-called balance of terror is just that: terrorism, terrorism so much bigger than any
Al-Qaeda or ISIL.
This book tells you just why and how people in these murky buildings have gone MAD
and continue the madness inside institutions that defy democratic transparency and
in which the people live in their own world. Not without reason does MAD also stand
for Mutually Assured Destruction: Omnicide!
Dr. Paul H. Johnstone's amazing insider account should be enough to make everyone
on earth demand total abolition. His daughter's framing of this uniquely important
piece of contemporary history is brilliantly written, thanks to her own immense
knowledge and devotion to a moral, peaceful world.
This book deserves the largest possible readership worldwide. Translate it! Let it
enter every relevant university course! And let it be used to nonviolently force the
Military-Industrial-Media-Academic Complex (MIMAC) to surrender. After all, in the
name of civilisation, humanity has abolished cannibalism, slavery, absolute monarchy
and child labour.
It's time to end the nuclear era. A nuclear-free world is possible. A MAD world is not."
—Dr. Jan Oberg
Director, Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future research (TFF)
"From MAD to Madness is a revealing memoir on how the Pentagon tried to turn its
essentially unusable nuclear arsenal into a normal policy instrument in the early Cold
War period by an insider of singular integrity and independence of mind. Paul
Johnstone's insights into the workings of the war planning system are still valuable
to understanding that system more than six decades later."
"In From MAD to Madness, Paul Johnstone depicts the thinking inside the Pentagon in
years gone by from the perspective of someone who was there -- and the thinking is
sheer insanity ... This ought to make us stop, think, and perhaps panic just a little.
Johnstone has done us a service. Any exposure of how war makers actually talk and
think is a blow to the pretense that war is justifiable or inevitable. This may be the
smartest way to be a Pentagon whistleblower: posthumously. No prison. No
demonization. But as valuable insights into the workings of the war machine as more
recent whistleblowers have provided."
—DAVID SWANSON, author of War Is A Lie
"From MAD to Madness is a detailed, enlightening and frightening record of Pentagon
Nuclear War Planning based on 20 years of inside experience by Paul H. Johnstone.
In excellent background and updating accounts Diana Johnstone shows that no
lessons have been learned from earlier mishaps and near misses; that with its new
aggressiveness and upgrading of nuclear weapons the U.S. political class has
opened a new round of nuclear madness."
—EDWARD S. HERMAN
DIANA JOHNSTONE, Ph.D., is the
author of The Politics of Euromissiles,
Fools' Crusade and Queen of Chaos:
The Misadventures of Hillary Clinton.
She is the daughter of Paul H.