Listening to the riveting Dan Carlin tell the story of the Nuclear Arms Race on his latest Hardcore History podcast.
What started with two Atomic Bombs hastily dropped to end a war turned into a mad dash for nuclear supremacy after it. This part we know. Even the concept of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) – deterring war by threat of global nuclear destruction if one Superpower attacked another – is well known.
But before MAD, there was Brinkmanship, the art of coming as close to war as possible, without going over the edge. A delicate art that could win conflict without bloodshed, but could destroy the world in failure.
Wrote Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, “Of course we were brought to the verge of war. The ability to get to the verge without getting into the war is the necessary art. If you cannot master it, you inevitably get into war. If you try to run away from it, if you are scared to go to the brink, you are lost.”
It was a delicate balance.
Nerds have a tendency to be obsessive. The ability to have an idea wholly devour them is what makes them so good at things. That manic drive is what created our modern gods – Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos.
But it can devour you.
Last Friday I tasted chlorine in the gym water fountain, and realized that I wanted to bring my own water. What started with a search for a water bottle lead to a deep dive into whole house filtration systems, fluoride levels, BPA, reservoir contaminants. It didn’t make me smarter than anyone, it made me intolerable to be around.
“The ability to get to the verge without getting into the war is the necessary art.” I crossed over the Brink, and there was no happiness on the other side.
Life, especially for someone with nerd tendencies is a balancing act. On one side is knowledge and fulfillment, on the other is a manic abyss. Brinkmanship, IRL.