The book that saved the world

Has a book ever saved the world? Literally? I mean actually stopped a nuclear holocaust. There is one and it is The Guns Of August by Barbara Tuckman. I had it in my hands today.

The subject matter is the lead-up to the First World War. It focuses on the events of August 1914 when control of events slipped so disastrously from the civilian governments  to the generals and their timetable for mobilisation. Once the first mobilisation of reserves was initiated by Germany there was a hideous inevitability in the automatic response of the threatened Great Powers. None could halt their mobilisation without fatally weakening themselves. Germany was dependant on its Schleifen Plan in order to defeat with France before the behemoth of Russia could marshal its huge manpower and commit her to war on two fronts.

During the Bay of Pigs debacle, Kennedy, a callow commander-in-chief of generals whose huge reputations had been made during the Second World War, had been railroaded by those generals with assurances of military success as well as covert threats as to what would happen if their advice was ignored. In a relatively minor military adventure, Kennedy had been given a glimpse of problems of the momentum and pressure of the military machine that he recognised from his reading of The Guns of August.

All his senior advisors were required to read Barbara Tuchman's book. And when the 'big one' - the Cuban Missile Crisis - came round, the crucial decision-makers knew that the threat to world peace came as much from the Military/Industrial complex as from the Kremlin. Psychologically, they were prepared to resist the pressure of the generals  and sceptical of their promises. The Guns of August may not have changed the world - but it might have saved it.

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