Alex Medvick (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Thomas K. Jones, a high-ranking official in the Reagan administration who was likened to Dr. Strangelove because of his controversial comments, has died. Jones, in a 1982 interview with Robert Scheer (now Truthdig editor-in-chief), said that Americans could survive a Soviet nuclear attack by digging residential trenches. “If there are enough shovels to go around,” he said, “everybody’s going to make it.” The onetime arms negotiator died May 15 of complications related to Parkinson’s disease.

The New York Times reports:

His “enough shovels” assurance was largely derided, but his faith in the efficacy of civil defense, his certitude that the Soviets were better prepared to rebound from a nuclear strike and his fears that the United States was lagging in weapons development undergirded the Reagan administration’s aggressive missile defense strategy and its resolve during arms limitation talks to maintain America’s bomber superiority.

Mr. Jones, the deputy under secretary of defense for strategic and theater nuclear forces and a technical adviser to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, was an acolyte of Paul Nitze, an architect of Cold War arms policy. Mr. Nitze, a deputy defense secretary under President Lyndon B. Johnson, co-founded Team B, the think tank whose assessment of America’s vulnerability to Soviet weapons — it later appeared to have been overstated — prompted an arms race that began in the waning days of Jimmy Carter’s administration and accelerated under Ronald Reagan.

Mr. Jones operated mostly below the radar until 1982 when, in an interview with Robert Scheer of The Los Angeles Times, he delivered his “enough shovels” civil defense prescription.

Without adequate protection, he warned, “half the people in the country” would die in a nuclear attack, and it would take “a couple of generations” to recover. However, he was quoted as saying, “if we used the Russian methods for protecting both the people and the industrial means of production, recovery times could be two to four years.” …

Mr. Jones finally appeared on Capitol Hill on March 31, 1982, joining the assistant secretary Richard N. Perle in appealing to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for more civil defense funding. Asked about his “enough shovels” remarks, Mr. Jones said they had been misinterpreted. Mr. Scheer, who later wrote a book titled “With Enough Shovels: Reagan, Bush and Nuclear War” (1982), said he had tape-recorded their interview.

Read more here.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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