Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government's Secret Plan to Save Itself—While the Rest of Us Die by Garrett M. Graff

(New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017), 409

The scale of the doomsday preparation for "Continuance of Government" during the Cold War is staggering: billions of dollars spent on multiple enormous secret bunkers hidden across the country, alternate command post aircraft always airborn, and secret plans to evacuate key officials (but not their families). Many of these COG procedures were put to the test (and performed rather dismally) on 9/11, and you can only imagine what exists today but is secret. I would love to read a similar book from the Soviet perspective, especially after reading anecdotes about how averse American leaders were to instigating an accidental nuclear conflict.

  • "In a country with no bejeweled crowns or royal thrones, the black Football briefcase is perhaps the only physical manifestation of our nation's sovereign, the outward sign of presidential power. And on that day it had already abandoned Richard Nixon." (xv)
  • Consumer technology growing out of the military, says Frank Rose: "The computerization of society, then, has essentially been a side effect of the computerization of war." (xxii)
  • "No one else noticed the military's absence [at Truman's swearing in], but Truman thought it a remarkable testament to American democracy that no one asked the country's powerful military leaders whom they supported as their next leader." (4)
    • Same sentiment about the natural transfer of power from Nixon to Ford and the chef making the new president lunch. "The king is dead. Long live the king!" (226)
  • The Lincoln Memorial was damaged during WWII during a misfire from an adjacent antiaircraft gun emplacement (6)
  • Efforts to protect civilians in nuclear war wanted and the government instead decided to focus on Continuity of Government (COG) so that democracy could survive. (14)
  • The three tools of nuclear weapons, computers, and containment (coined by George Kennen) would define much of the Cold War
  • Truman's farewell address of January 15, 1953...is to this day one of the best speeches of the Cold War, containing insightful analysis and a prediction of how, decades later, it would end. (42)
  • "COG Plans, Eisenhower argued, must be as straightforward as possible...the job of government is the preserve some common sense in a situation where everyone is going crazy [after an attack]" (92)
  • Kennedy was grateful to Eisenhower for his advice, and gave Camp David its permanent name (105)
  • "Project x" was the secret congressional bunker at the Greenbrier (207)
  • Prophetic observation about technology: "New technologies are developed and seem to be allowed to spread without thought for their future social and political ramifications." (230, perhaps cf. Amusing Ourselves to Death)
  • "ARPANet and the birth of the internet was perhaps the best thing to come out of the horrifying possibility of a nuclear holocaust." (232)
  • The Boeing 747 Doomsday planes (E-4As) were flown by the Nightwatch program, named after the painting by Rembrandt

The Night Watch by Rembrandt

  • They ran mock drills where officials would sit in for the president and they always were so hesitant to launch a nuclear attack, even in a drill setting: "No one would ever press the button" (246)
  • Time management: "Nate Newmark was a busy and impatient man; he wore a wristwatch with an alarm that he'd set to fifteen minutes at the start of a meeting. It went off and your time was up." (258, cf. Cal Newport's time blocking)
  • They arranged for the best cultural artifacts, including paintings, to be evacuated from the capital in an attack. This included the Ginevra de' Benci by Leonardo da Vinci on display at the National Gallery, the only da Vinci painting in the Americas which I got to see on a trip to DC in ~2018 (272)

Ginevra de' Benci by da Vinci

  • City escape: one official parked kept two motorcycles in his garage and a trailer at a campsite 85 miles out of town knowing the roads would be clogged but you could probably get there on motorcycle. (299)
  • 9/11 showed the continual problem of how a president could either evacuate or command, but not both (351)
  • The bunker at the vice president's residence "was inadvertently made public...when Joe Biden gabbed that he'd found a bunker in his new house." (369)

Topic: Nuclear weapons, the Cold War

Source: Practical Doomsday


  • The Organization Man by Willliam Whyte (bestselling 1956 Management book, 57)
  • Lost Horizon by James Hilton, inspired FDR's naming of Camp David as Shangri-La (88)
  • Seven Days in May by Fletcher Knebel (1962 novel about military coup against the president that caused Kennedy to understand the football better, 129)
  • Fail-Safe by Eugene Burdick (142, 339)
  • The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman about how WWI started (142)
  • Red Alert by Peter George (basis for Dr. Strangelove, 155)
  • The Fate of the Earth by Jonathan Schell, shows just how awful a nuclear war would be (283)
  • Films to Watch: The Day After showing life in Kansas after a hypothetical nuclear attack, left Reagan feeling depressed (294)

Created: 2022-05-21-Sat
Updated: 2023-01-07-Sat