The RAND Corporation was the ur-think tank, the Cold War granddaddy of them all, and it’s still with us. In the 1950s, nuclear war-gaming a conflagration for which the usual war games would have been ludicrous, it took the U.S. military into virtuality and science fiction long before there was an Internet to play with. (And it had a hand in creating the Internet, too!) In the 1960s, it helped several administrations plan and fight the Vietnam War, making antiseptic theory into an all-too-grim reality. And that’s just the beginning of the work RAND did on a range of hot-button imperial issues.
For a brief period in the 1960s, Chalmers Johnson was a RAND consultant. Now, the author of the prophetic pre-9/11 book Blowback and, most recently, of Nemesis, The Last Days of the Republic, which every news day seems to make more relevant, turns to the think tank that did it all. Tom
A Litany of Horrors
This essay is a review of Soldiers of Reason: The RAND Corporation and the Rise of the American Empire by Alex Abella (Harcourt, 400 pp., $27)
The RAND Corporation of Santa Monica, California, was set up immediately after World War II by the U.S. Army Air Corps (soon to become the U.S. Air Force). The Air Force generals who had the idea were trying to perpetuate the wartime relationship that had developed between the scientific and intellectual communities and the American military, as exemplified by the Manhattan Project to develop and build the atomic bomb.
Soon enough, however, RAND became a key institutional building block of the Cold War American empire. As the premier think tank for the U.S.’s role as hegemon of the Western world, RAND was instrumental in giving that empire the militaristic cast it retains to this day and in hugely enlarging official demands for atomic bombs, nuclear submarines, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and long-range bombers. Without RAND, our military-industrial complex, as well as our democracy, would look quite different.
Alex Abella, the author of Soldiers of Reason, is a Cuban-American living in Los Angeles who has written several well-received action and adventure novels set in Cuba and a less successful nonfiction account of attempted Nazi sabotage within the United States during World War II. The publisher of his latest book claims that it is “the first history of the shadowy think tank that reshaped the modern world.” Such a history is long overdue. Unfortunately, this book does not exhaust the demand. We still need a less hagiographic, more critical, more penetrating analysis of RAND’s peculiar contributions to the modern world.