This sounds callous, and the book’s subtitle — The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan To Save Itself, While The Rest of Us Die — makes it sound more so. But in fact, plenty of top leaders, from Eisenhower to Kennedy to Chief Justice Earl Warren, rather than fleeing, said that they would die at their desks in the event of a nuclear exchange. (And after the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sent his deputy Paul Wolfowitz to safety while he stayed on site, saying “That’s what deputies are for.”) So it’s not that our leaders were cowards.
Instead, the thinking was that if the Soviets couldn’t be sure of knocking out the U.S. government completely, they wouldn’t even try. And hey, we survived the Cold War without the nuclear armageddon everyone expected, so maybe the Cold Warriors knew what they were doing.
But now we face a situation where things look a lot like the earliest days of the Cold War, where we faced a handful of Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs, not the (literally) thousands of bombs often (literally) nearly a thousand times stronger than the Hiroshima bomb that were around by the late 1960s. We no longer face such a Strangelovian apocalypse, but rather an attack with one or a few atomic weapons of Hiroshima size, from places like North Korea or Iran. So maybe the old duck-and-cover training (which was based on the experiences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors) makes sense again.