Know Your Enemy: Bomb Power, with Erik Baker

Know Your Enemy: Bomb Power, with Erik Baker

Matt and Sam welcome historian Erik Baker onto the podcast to discuss Garry Wills’s blistering critique of the national security state and unaccountable presidential power in his 2010 book, Bomb Power.

The atomic bomb codenamed Fat Man in August 1945 (PhotoQuest/Getty Images)

Know Your Enemy is a podcast about the American right co-hosted by Matthew Sitman and Sam Adler-Bell. Read more about it here. You can subscribe to, rate, and review the show on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher, and receive bonus content by supporting the podcast on Patreon.

For our final main episode of 2023, we’re dipping back into the Wills well to discuss Garry’s underappreciated 2010 book, Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State. Joining us is our great friend Erik Baker, lecturer in the history of science department at Harvard University and an editor at the Drift.

In Bomb Power, Garry Wills elegantly demonstrates how the imperatives of secretly conceiving, building, and deploying the nuclear bomb fundamentally changed American democracy—massively empowering the presidency, disempowering Congress, and setting the nation on a permanent war footing. At the same time, secrecy and deception metastasized through the American system, enabling the rise of extrajudicial assassinations, coup plotting, domestic surveillance, torture, and clandestine war.  “Secrecy emanated from the Manhattan Project like a giant radiation emission,” Wills writes. “Because the government was the keeper of the great secret, it began specializing in secret keeping.”

Also discussed: Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer (2023), Henry Kissinger (RIP), Bush and Obama, Snowden, Ellsberg, and the ways in which Bomb Power is a profoundly Catholic book. Enjoy!

Sources and further reading:

Garry Wills, Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State (2010)

Daniel Ellsberg, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear Planner (2017)

Barton Gellman, Dark Mirror: Edward Snowden and the American Surveillance State (2021)

Archbishop John Wester, Living in the Light of Christ’s Peace: A Conversation Toward Nuclear Disarmament (2022)

Erik Baker, Daniel in the Lion’s Den: On the Moral Courage of Daniel Ellsberg, The Baffler (2023)

John Schwenkler and Mark Souva, False Choices: The Unjustifiable Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Commonweal (2020)

…and don’t forget to subscribe to Know Your Enemy on Patreon for access to all of our bonus episodes!

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