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To Kill NationsAmerican Strategy in the Air-Atomic Age and the Rise of Mutually Assured Destruction$
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Edward Kaplan

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780801452482

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801452482.001.0001

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The Fantastic Compression of Time

The Fantastic Compression of Time

(p.77) 4 The Fantastic Compression of Time
To Kill Nations

Edward Kaplan

Cornell University Press

The most important change to the air-atomic strategy in the 1950s was the compression of time. The “time factor” forced the Strategic Air Command (SAC) to act ever more rapidly: defensively so to escape destruction, offensively in order to achieve a meaningful victory. The timescale for decision shrank from months to days to hours, which had uncontrolled, uncontrollable, and unintended consequences. This chapter examines the time factor itself; its impact on thinking within the Air Force; its consequences on planning for a campaign against the Soviet Union; and the perceived shape of future conflict. The causes for the change in the time factor fall in two broad categories: Soviet strategic power and technological change. The rise of a Soviet air-atomic force able to target the United States put the timer in motion, while technological progress dialed in ever shorter time limits. Both categories are necessary but neither is sufficient on its own to explain the dramatic changes to air-atomic thinking during the 1950s. Only the combination of a hostile Soviet atomic threat and missile technology can account for the dramatic effects of the time factor.

Keywords:   time factor, time compression, Strategic Air Command, US Air Force, defense policy, air-atomic strategy, Soviet atomic threat, missile technology

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