Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Honors Thesis



First Advisor

Zachary Scarlett


Sitting amongst his National Security Councilors in 1958, President Eisenhower quipped of how he “could remember well when the military used to have no more than 70 targets in the Soviet Union and believed that destruction of these 70 targets would be sufficient.” Yet moments later, Eisenhower would grant his approval of a nuclear targeting plan which would strike all Soviet cities over the population of 25,000—a plan requiring thousands, not dozens, of nuclear weapons. The potential consequences of this dramatic surge in nuclear armament has led scholars to dispute how to characterize operational planning during the Nuclear Arms Race. Is the nature of nuclear deterrence one that results in a long peace as argued by John Lewis Gaddis? Or is David Alan Rosenberg’s assessment correct that U.S. nuclear posturing through the 1950’s was outright overkill? How can renowned scholars of nuclear history reach such incongruous conclusions as to what nuclear weapons fundamentally are? Through “Our Nuclear Quandary” I broaden the dialogue of nuclear planning beyond the entrenched “hawk-dove” debate. If executed, the nuclear plans orchestrated by the U.S. would be genocidal. Yet this fundamentally rational state could conceive of no alternative to wholescale and long-term death. My scholarship uses nuclear targeting to display the larger failures of the state-governance system in the atomic age. It contemplates the uneasy truth that a rational state is willing to fund, organize, and potentially execute a war plan that could end human habitation of this planet when threatened.