Imagine you’ve just wandered into the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC. You run into the museum’s historian in the hallway, and for some reason he opens up to you. In the coffee shop downstairs, he starts telling you about all the crazy stuff that never made it off the drawing board at the CIA and the Pentagon. And it’s hard not to listen, because he speaks in a breezy, conversational style, and he’s often funny. These are comic misadventures that are sometimes, well, comic. And that’s exactly what you’ll find when you open up Nuking the Moon. The author is Vince Houghton, and, yes, he’s the museum’s historian and curator.
Now, that’s actually Dr. Houghton. He holds a PhD in Diplomatic and Military History from the University of Maryland. He’s an Army veteran besides. But there’s nothing in Nuking the Moon that’s suggestive of Pentagon bureaucracy or wooden academic jargon. Houghton relates a long list of cockamamie schemes—some of them silly, even downright stupid, and some dangerous beyond belief—that ostensibly serious and intelligent men (it was almost always men) dreamed up in the name of national security over the past three-quarters of a century. As the author explains, “Most history books are full of stories of things that happened; this is a history book full of stories behind things that didn’t happen.”
Nuking the Moon: And Other Intelligence Schemes and Military Plots Left on the Drawing Board by Vince Houghton (2019) 318 pages @@@ (3 out of 5)
The comic misadventures in national security that you never heard about
Along the way in this recitation of comic misadventures, you’ll meet a smattering of name-brand individuals: Ronald Reagan, Edward Teller, Werner von Braun, and Carl Sagan, as well as others who were equally accomplished but less well known. And every one of them at some point in his storied career got behind some unbelievably stupid (and usually expensive) plan to do something like embedding a listening device in a cat or exploding a nuclear weapon on the moon. The CIA actually field-tested what they called Acoustic Kitty (it got run over by a car) and that nuke was never rocketed to the moon because the Cold War ended. Yes, as Houghton notes, “all of these stories should have you saying, ‘What were they thinking?'” And believe me, you’ll be saying that.
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