Furtherance: The Cold War Plan to Launch a Full-On Nuclear Assault If the President Were Killed

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The United States was going to launch an automatic and all-out nuclear attack on both the Soviet Union and China, in the event that the President was killed in an attack, a newly released document reveals. The plan was in place until 1968, when the plan was revised by President Johnson. It went by the name "Furtherance." Here's how William Burr of the National Security Archive at George Washington University described the state of play before the changes


Prior to President Johnson's decision, instructions for the emergency use of nuclear weapons that both he and his predecessors had previously approved stipulated a full-scale nuclear counter-attack even if the initial strike were conventional, or the result of an accident, and both Communist giants would be targeted regardless of whether either of them had launched the first strike.

This predelegation of nuclear launch authority was real. And terrifying. It's no wonder that a generation grew up terrified of nuclear holocaust: The U.S. government had plans to wipe out Communist countries, even if they hadn't launched a nuclear attack on America.
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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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