SpyCast 3.22.22
Ep 531 | 3.22.22

“The Nuclear Doomsday Machine” – with Sean Maloney on Cold War Emergency Plans

Show Notes

Sean Maloney (Website) joins Andrew (Twitter; LinkedIn) to discuss the secret history of emergency war plans and the nuclear doomsday machine. He was the first Canadian civilian historian to go into combat since WWII. 

What You’ll Learn


  • Top secret emergency war plans for WWIII
  • The role of human intelligence operations in nuclear doomsday planning
  • Some key terms you need to understand the nuclear issue
  • The policy of “massive retaliation” versus “flexible response”


  • Movies to scare yourself by
  • The best and worst of humanity

Episode Notes

Sean Maloney is a force of nature. The first Canadian civilian historian to go into combat since WWII - he went to Afghanistan eleven times, survived multiple attempts on his life, and two bomb attacks. “I’ve been shot at, rocketed, mortared, all of it.” He is also a Professor at the Royal Military College of Canada and the author of more than a dozen books, including the “Rogue Historian in Afghanistan” trilogy, as well as another trilogy in the form of the official history of the Canadian Army in Afghanistan. 

He is never happier, though, than when wading through secret nuclear war plans and documents. Coming on the back of Learning to Love the Bomb (2007) and The Secret History of Nuclear War Films (2020), he returns to “Nukes” in Emergency War Plan: The American Doomsday Machine. Sean has been described as intense and unorthodox, but I found him intense and unorthodox.

“Megadeath” is a unit of measurement for nuclear war, equivalent to the death of one million people. It is crazy that as a species we have reached the point where we now have a term for it.

Quote of the Week

"We have public pronouncements…We have the media and academic discussion of the public pronouncements, but then there's the strategy itself. Which is usually highly classified…that's what I'm getting at with the Emergency War Plan book…you can see all the factors that fed into that, including the intelligence and the intelligence directly affects the plan…there is a direct relationship between the intelligence and the targeting, but it's also in terms of collection of information to get the bombers to the target…that's important because, to have a deterrent posture, that's credible, you have to demonstrate that you're capable of carrying it out."




  • Restricted Data: A History of Nuclear Secrecy in the US, A. Wallerstein (UCP, 2021)
  • The Bomb, S. Kaplan (S&S, 2020)
  • Raven Rock, G. Graff (S&S, 2017)
  • My Journey at the Nuclear Brink, W. Perry (SUP, 2015)
  • The Making of the Atomic Bomb, R. Rhodes (S&S, 1987)
  • Best Books on Nuclear (Five Books)



Documentary Sources

Oral Sources

Wildcard Resource

  • Threads, Movie (M. Jackson, 1984)
  • “Arguably, the most devastating piece of television ever produced”