DEFCON-2: Standing on the Brink of Nuclear War During the Cuban Missile Crisis
Norman Polmar and John D. Gresham. Foreword by Tom Clancy. New York: John Wiley, 2006. 303 pp. Illus. Appens. Notes. Bib. $27.95.
Reviewed by Philip Brenner
DEFCON-2, or Defense Condition Two, is the highest state of military alert short of nuclear war to which U.S. strategic forces can be readied. The United States has gone to DEFCON-2 only once-during the Cuban Missile Crisis. As the authors explain in this readable and engaging study of the crisis, when nuclear weapons are hair-trigger ready-as they are under DEFCON-2-the greatest danger is not that opposing leaders will choose to engage their countries in a war. The catastrophic threat to humanity occurs, they rightly argue, when officials who want to avoid war make seemingly rational decisions, which unintentionally propel the antagonists into conflict.