There is something very grounding about studying nuclear weapons and policy. We have all these narratives about how society works, what countries are "for", why they go to war, etc.

These narratives don't hold up to reality. Everything is actually a mess.
I don't remember who it was, but someone in nuclear policy once said "these things have history rather than reasons."

What were these things? Decisions like nuclear targeting policy, why this delivery system was chosen over that one, etc. Life and death kind of things.
Game theorists like Schelling did amazing work coming up with rational policies for difficult nuclear scenarios. Not "Spock" rational, but the kind of thing real humans could use in a negotiation.

The problem was, no one has ever been solely in charge of the nuclear behemoth.
On paper, the president holds the most power. But that doesn't account for the defense contractors, the generals, the competition between the navy and the air-force, and the hundreds of other bureaucracies, each with their own small stake in things.
The decisions upon which the fate of civilizations depend are made in a meat grinder of aging bureaucracy.
The systems manage to work, for the most part. The warheads and missiles get made and many of them would probably explode near where they are supposed to explode. And we made it though the cold war without losing a single city.
However, we didn't make it through because of the unassailable logic of nuclear deterrence. We made it through because the leadership of the nuclear behemoth didn't screw up too badly, and those making the calls didn't want to die for something pointless.
It's not that leadership is unimportant. It's not that bureaucracies can't be effective. It's not that theory is useless or that the stakes aren't real. It's that at the end of the day, these systems are so complex that they take on a life of their own.
Our plight is to struggle under the complexity of the systems we've created that are so much bigger than any of us, while creating and spreading extremely simple stories about these systems.
It's grounding to know that the stories are fake, not because they are completely wrong, but because they claim to be something they clearly are not. The standard political stories are too simple to be real explanations for modern human systems. Our reality is a lot messier.
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