He applied the page 179 test to his new book, The Great Cold War: A Journey Through the Hall of Mirrors, and reported the following:
I had long felt that if we were ever to understand the fraught half century of confrontation that we call the Cold War, we would need to explore the perceptions each side had of the other. Besides researching the papers once held in secret archives, I travelled to Moscow and Washington to interview nearly one hundred of the key players. These included top policy makers, strategists and military commanders and key figures in the world of intelligence in Moscow and Washington. They provided some eye opening accounts of what was going on behind the scenes, as well as many valuable insights into the mixture of insecurity, ignorance and ambition that drove the rivalry between the two opposing forces.Read the prologue to The Great Cold War, and learn more about the book at the Stanford University Press website.
When I asked Milt Bearden, a former senior CIA officer, what he thought had been the West’s most serious intelligence failure during the Cold War he responded pithily, saying: “We didn’t realize just how f***ing scared Soviet leaders were of us!” Page 179 provides a riveting example of their horror of nuclear war and some vignettes showing that Leonid Brezhnev had no wish to go anywhere near Armageddon.
After the Moscow Summit Marshal Grechko invited Brezhnev and some of his colleagues to take part in a “war game,” seemingly hoping to stiffen Brezhnev’s resolve in dealing with the harsh realities of a nuclear war. The exercise began with generals describing the impact of a surprise attack by over a thousand American missiles. They grimly explained that 80 million people would be killed, the armed forces obliterated, 85% of industry destroyed and European Russia so irradiated as to be uninhabitable. General Danilevich recalled that “Brezhnev and Kosygin were visibly terrified by what they heard.”
Marshal Grechko then asked Brezhnev to push a button that would launch a “retaliatory strike,” which in reality involved the launch of just three missiles with dummy warheads along a test range. Brezhnev turned pale, began perspiring and trembled visibly. He repeatedly asked Grechko, “Is this definitely an exercise?” The leadership were traumatized by this experience. None of them ever again participated in such an exercise. Brezhnev immediately ordered yet tighter controls to ensure that there could never be unauthorized use of Soviet nuclear weapons.
It was clear that none of the leadership wanted a nuclear confrontation, especially Brezhnev, who was a bon viveur of the first order. In his diary, he often wrote little notes about lovely ladies who had made him feel good. On his way to visit Nixon in 1973, he took such a shine to a Soviet air hostess that he had her made a “nurse” in his official party so that she could comfort him at night. During the same visit, Brezhnev’s enthusiasm for women was famously documented in a photo [at right, click to enlarge] of him admiring Jill St. John’s rear. This man had no wish to go anywhere near Armageddon.
While the Soviet leadership fretted over the inadequacies of their strategic nuclear forces, they had one great source of comfort—they knew that the West believed that before long Soviet strategic forces would have the upper hand. This was a perception that worked to Moscow’s political advantage.