Konstantin Kakaes, author of The Pioneer Detectives: Did a distant spacecraft prove Einstein and Newton Wrong?, is a Future Tense fellow at the New America Foundation writing about science and technology, and is the former Mexico City bureau chief for The Economist. His work has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, and The Washington Post and appears frequently in Slate. He was a 2010 Knight Science Journalism Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Before becoming a journalist, he studied physics at Harvard University. He lives in Washington, D.C.
It took decades after the invention of nuclear weapons for today’s taboos against them to take hold. Some witnesses to the first nuclear explosions apprehended their horror immediately. Some planners, civilian and military, fell in love. In the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. built nuclear reactors in Iran, Pakistan, and dozens of other countries; in the 1960s and 1970s, the Atomic Energy Commission made plans to use nuclear explosions to dig a canal in Nicaragua and carve a pass-through in the California mountains for Interstate 40. Influential strategists like Herman Kahn were enthralled by the potential of nuclear weapons to reshape the world. On Thermo-nuclear War, Kahn’s best-known book, contains scenarios not only for how nuclear weapons would work in World War III but also in World Wars IV, V, VI, and VII.