estimate turned the strategic world that had preoccupied me for three years upside down.
The missile gap favoring the Soviets had been a fantasy. There was a gap, all right, but it
was currently ten to one in our favor. Our 4o Atlas and Titan ICBMs were matched by 4
Soviet SS-6 ICBMs at one launching site at Plesetsk, not by 120, as in the latest national
estimate in June, or by the SAC commander’s estimate of 1,000 I had heard of at SAC
headquarters in August. The specter of a deliberate Soviet surprise attack suddenly
appeared, with the new estimates, to have been a chimera.
...The lower number was 275 million dead. The higher number was 325 million.
This was for the Soviet Union and China alone, all that I had asked for. I drafted a
follow-up question for Komer covering areas contiguous to the Sino-Soviet bloc, and the
staff provided comprehensive estimates with equal dispatch. Another hundred million or
so would die from our attacks on targets in the Eastern European satellite countries.
Moreover, fallout from our surface explosions on the Soviet Union, the satellites, and
China would decimate the populations of the neutral nations bordering these
countries―such as Finland, Sweden, Austria, and Afghanistan―as well as Japan and
Pakistan. The Finns, for example, would be virtually exterminated by the fallout from
surface bursts on Soviet submarine pens near their borders.
These fatalities from U.S.
attacks, up to another hundred million depending on wind conditions, would occur without
a single American warhead landing on the territories of these neutral countries.
Fallout fatalities inside our NATO allies from U.S. attacks against the Warsaw Pact
could be up to a hundred million allied deaths from our attacks, “depending on which way
the wind blows,” as a general testifying before Congress had recently put it. All this was
without considering the effects of Soviet nuclear attacks on the United States, Western
Europe, and U.S. bases elsewhere, retaliating for the U.S. first strike that these JCS calculations
presumed. Nor did it include the effects of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons, the
point that McNamara had just made to me passionately.
The total death toll from our own attacks, in the estimates supplied by the JCS, was in
the neighborhood of five to six hundred million. These would be almost entirely civilians."
Daniel Ellsberg, "Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers", (2002)