17481 Dr. Sean Maloney: Deconstructing Dr. Strangelove

17481 Dr. Sean Maloney is a Professor of History at RMC and, among other things, served as the Historical Advisor to the Chief of the Land Staff during the war in Afghanistan. He recently took the time to discuss his new book, Deconstructing Dr. Strangelove, with eVeritas. Deconstructing Dr. Strangelove is available here.

eVeritas: Briefly describe the book, its intent, and its themes.

Dr. Sean Maloney: Deconstructing Dr. Strangelove is a journey into the realities of Cold War nuclear deterrence as seen through a new analysis of the classic films in the genre: Dr Strangelove, FAIL-SAFE; The Bedford Incident; Seven Days in May and others. Over time the films take on a documentary-like feel and because information on the realities of how nuclear deterrence actually worked was and remains highly classified, public perception and even public policy is informed by the fictional depiction of things like nuclear safety systems, human reliability programmes, and technical capabilities instead of what was really going on at the time. The films all depict human failure, malevolent and otherwise, as part of a process that leads to nuclear war. Yet this did not occur in real life. Why is that? Was it sheer luck? There are reasons, indeed very good ones, and the book examines them in detail.

eVeritas: Why write this particular book and how does it follow on from the others you have written? The subject matter is obviously a departure from your previous work concerning the history of the war in Afghanistan. Why the change?

Dr. Sean Maloney: Actually, my PhD dissertation which led to the book Learning to Love the Bomb: Canada’s Nuclear Weapons During the Cold War pre-dated my involvement with the war in Afghanistan, so in many ways DDS is a return to my roots as a scholar. Once I returned to RMC and created new courses dealing with the Cold War, it was important that I re-establish myself in this particular field. After more then ten years dealing with Afghanistan, I had a lot of catching up to do, so the research for DDS played a catalytic role with that. It was also important to put some psychological distance between myself and my Afghanistan work. I deployed there eleven times between 2003 and 2014, and I was regularly involved in observing ground combat operations with all that implies. There was so much new material I uncovered for DDS that I have a sequel of sorts coming out in early 2021: Emergency War Plan: The American Doomsday Machine 1945-1960. This book is a reconstruction of how the United States would have destroyed the Soviet Union in the 1950s and thus is in some ways a supporting document to DDS.

eVeritas: How does this book fit with your work as a professor at RMC? Would you say it ties into a need for broader historical education at the Colleges?

Dr. Sean Maloney: It is crucial that RMC be and be seen to be on the cutting edge of research in all areas. DDS and EWP are ground-breaking studies using unique approaches and tons of new information. I use that material in several courses: the basic Cold War history course; the Atomic Age, which is a cultural examination of nuclear weapons; even the most basic Plato-to-NATO military history course I teach to engineers from time to time benefits from this research. One of the CAF principles is concurrent operations. I go into my research with the intent of using it as widely as possible. As for the Cold War, it tends to be overshadowed by the other conflicts of the 20th Century, in part because of the deep secrecy that surrounded many aspects of it and particularly nuclear weapons. Since the Cold War’s end, however, the innovative approaches and the constant availability of new information makes the Cold War an exciting field to be in. And it has direct implications for the types of conflicts our students will be involved in in the 21st Century.