Herman Kahn

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Herman Kahn

Herman Kahn (1922-1983) was a military strategist and systems theorist employed at RAND Corporation, USA. Born in Bayonne, New Jersey, he devised several strategies for nuclear warfare during the Cold War using applications of game theory, and had earlier played a role in the development of the hydrogen bomb.

The basis of his work was systems theory, applied to military strategy and economics. His books On Thermonuclear War (1961) and Thinking about the Unthinkable (1962) attracted a great deal of attention and criticism and brought to public attention such phrases as "massive retaliation," "overkill," and "mutual assured destruction." Then and now, discussions of nuclear war involved controversy as to whether there was any meaningful sense in which a large-scale nuclear war could be "won" or whether "the survivors would envy the dead." In Kahn's view, a war in which the U.S. sustained ten million deaths versus one in which it sustained a hundred million should be regarded as "tragic but distinguishable outcomes."

Kahn also engaged with the question of the practical politics of a Doomsday Machine -- a computer attached to a cache of thermonuclear weapons which could automatically trigger in the event of a nuclear attack and purposely coat the planet in nuclear fallout. Building such a weapon would be, in Kahn's mind, impractical, dangerous, and foolish, but he used the idea as an analogy to the state of Europe at the time, where NATO troops, despite their conventional military appearance, were, in Kahn's formulation, a mere tripwire for an all-out nuclear war.

Aside from the very dramatic works on nuclear strategy, he wrote several works on systems theory and futurism, including the well received work, "Techniques in System Theory," and a number of books extrapolating the future of the U.S., Japanese and Australian economies.

In 1961 Kahn, along with Max Singer and Oscar Ruebhausen, founded the Hudson Institute, a policy research organization located in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. The organization challenged the pessimism of left-wing groups like the Club of Rome. The 1976 book The Next 200 Years, written by Kahn with William Brown and Leon Martel, presented an optimistic scenario of economic conditions in the year 2176.

He was reportedly a model for Dr. Strangelove from Stanley Kubrick's film of the same name released in 1964. Walter Matthau's character in Fail-Safe was also based on Herman Kahn.


  • Fred Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon, (Stanford Nuclear Age Series), ISBN 0804718849
  • Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi, The Worlds of Herman Kahn : The Intuitive Science of Thermonuclear War, (Harvard University Press), ISBN 0674017145
  • Herman Kahn, Jerome Agel Herman Kahnsciousness;: The megaton ideas of the one-man think tank, (New American Library)
  • B Bruce-Briggs, Supergenius: The mega-worlds of Herman Kahn, (North American Policy Press)
  • Kate Lenkowsky, The Herman Kahn Center of the Hudson Institute, (Hudson Institute)
  • Herman Kahn, The Coming Boom: Economic, Political, and Social, (Simon & Schuster), ISBN 0671492659
  • ---- The Japanese challenge: The success and failure of economic success, (Morrow), ISBN 0688087108
  • ---- Things to Come: Thinking About the Seventies and Eighties, (MacMillan), ISBN 0025604708
  • ---- World Economic Development: 1979 and Beyond, (William Morrow), ISBN 0688034799
  • ---- Will she be right?: The future of Australia, (University of Queensland Press), ISBN 0702215694
  • ---- The Year 2000: A Framework for Speculation on the Next Thirty-Three Years, (MacMillan), ISBN 0025604406
  • ---- Emerging Japanese Superstate : Challenge and Response, (Prentice Hall), ISBN 0132746700
  • ---- The nature and feasibility of war, deterrence, and arms control (Central nuclear war monograph series), (Hudson Institute)
  • ---- A slightly optimistic world context for 1975-2000 (Hudson Institute. HI)
  • ---- Social limits to growth: "creeping stagnation" vs. "natural and inevitable" (HPS paper)
  • ---- A new kind of class struggle in the United States? (Corporate Environment Program. Research memorandum)
  • Herbert I. London, forward by Herman Kahn, Why Are They Lying to Our Children. (Against the doomsayer futurists.), ISBN 0967351421

External links

de:Herman Kahn fr:Herman Kahn


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