Raven Rock by Garret Graff relays the history of how the government attempted to protect itself during the difficult time of the Cold War. The author is a journalist who focuses on significant political events and the use of technology, and both areas are central to the book. The Cold War is in the past, but the nuclear threat is still present, especially among the tense American-Russian relationships and terrorist attacks, making government continuity relevant. Throughout the book, Graff argues that the plans were primarily inadequate and outdated, threatening the US existence as a country, and the recorded delivery based on objective facts separates the work from leak-based accounts.
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Raven Rock focuses on how the continuity of governance (COG) initially appeared and evolved, starting from the end of World War II. The author begins by describing the situation during the Truman era when the government was drunk with nuclear success. Graff proceeds to stress that the world became more dangerous as the presidents changed (Eisenhower inherited a more perilous situation, and Kennedy almost started World War III). Various COG initiatives are discussed, and the civil defense issue is emphasized. Graff examines how quickly the plans became outdated and other problems would be minimized only during Reagan’s era. He concludes with 21st-century accounts, which are ambiguous, as 9/11 was neither a success nor a failure, although Obama’s presidency seemed hopeful.
Graff masterfully promotes that COG planning was rife with issues, highlighting Reagan’s presidency and the current era as relatively prepared to replace the government. For instance, he shows that the post-World War II period did not have the necessary facilities and instruments, and shelter construction only started in 1950. Once Raven Rock and Mount Weather were finished, it appeared that COG was viable. However, the post-attack future was unclear, and the Supreme Could refused to relocate on several occasions. During Nixon’s presidency, it became clear that COG was outdated due to not implementing advanced technologies. Carter’s interest in COG revealed the system’s “rusty” state, and false alarms could have had disastrous consequences (Graff, 2017, p. 256). The author makes it apparent that during 9/11, the Cold War COG could not address the new challenges of terrorism. Thus, Graff rightfully criticizes COG’s shortcomings because the implication is that the plans were so fragile that a Soviet missile would destroy the country, including the government.
Another prominent idea is that COG was too focused on protecting the officials and failed to consider their families. As a result, many refused to relocate alone and believed the idea to be preposterous. For instance, Johnson, an undersecretary of state during Kennedy’s term, described abandoning families as “unrealistic” (Graff, 2017, p. 168). McDermott believed that individuals prioritized their family before the country. The main reason chief justice Warren refused to relocate was due to the wish to remain with his family. The Greenbrier facility during Nixon’s presidency eventually addressed the concern by including an expansion for families after O’Neil’s complaint. Meanwhile, the President’s family members had special codes assigned to them, which was especially evident during George Bush’s first term when they had to be relocated. What the planning staff failed to consider is that it might be difficult for people to resume duties after suffering the trauma of losing one spouse and children. Therefore, Graff’s attention to the matter is justified, as he exposes the absence of humanism.
As far as civil defense is concerned, I find Graff’s implied opinion that neglecting it was malicious flawed. President Truman did raise the civil protection concern during the Korean War and initiated Alert America. The Eisenhower-era strategy included such public options as dispersal, evacuation, and shelters. Executive Order 10660 implied that select non-government civilians would receive training and be involved in the national defense plans. President Kennedy signed Executive Order 11002 for registering post-nuclear survivors, showing some concern for the population. The civil defense project appeared utopian, and even the shelter solution would result in racial tension and armed confrontations. Simultaneously, the “nine men” plan, which involved the most trusted people who would rebuild the private sector, seemed elitist (Graff, 2017, p. 113). The post-nuclear government would be a self-serving dictatorship aiming to nationalize everything for nobody’s sake among the people’s dust. Consequently, only disarmament appears sensible, and Graff is likely to agree.
The title is also misleading, despite the facility’s undeniable significance. For example, it does not reflect Truman’s offensive efforts, which transformed upon realizing the Cold War’s nuclear threat, and the obsession with ICBMs, which put sabotage and sneak attack prevention at the forefront. Still, Site R was always prominent, ready to serve as a military emergency hub and host the necessary personnel. It was regularly updated and never neglected, and the 21st century saw the facility in action again. Together with Mount Weather, Raven Rock formed a solid base for the shadow government. Overall, the book offers much more than the title suggests, including offensive efforts, civil plans, and other facilities, such as the Cheyenne Mountain one, which was no less important in the grand scheme.
Raven Rock does an excellent job at highlighting the flaws in the US defense during the Cold War and several 21st-century events, such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. Although the title undersells the content, and the subtitle ignores the nuances of civil protection, the main arguments are well-developed, and the criticism of COG’s shortcomings is justified. Raven Rock has much in common with The Doomsday Machine, which also criticizes the level of national security and promotes the disarmament solution (Ellsberg, 2018). Although the last chapter is full of achievements, Graff ends the book with questions. Perhaps, someday, a person will discuss how flawed the current COG is.
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Ellsberg, D. (2018). The doomsday machine: Confessions of a nuclear war planner. Bloomsbury Publishing.
Graff, G. M. (2017). Raven Rock: The story of the U.S. government’s secret plan to save itself—While the rest of us die. Simon & Schuster.