Herman Khan (born 1922)
("After electing to defer his studies in favor of eventually pursuing a Ph.D. in statistics (a program not yet offered by the University of Chicago), Marshall joined the RAND Corporation, the original "think tank," at the behest of mentor W. Allen Wallis in 1949. While he would briefly return to academia to cover Wallis's courses during the 1953-1954 term and continued to take statistics courses at George Washington University, Marshall soon gained the cachet of being part of "a cadre of strategic thinkers" that coalesced at the RAND Corporation in the 1950s and 1960s, a group that also included Charles J. Hitch, Herman Kahn, James Schlesinger and Daniel Ellsberg. Notably, he worked with Kahn on developing and advancing Monte Carlo methods.") [HK003A][GDrive]
February 15, 1922
Bayonne, New Jersey, U.S.
July 7, 1983 (aged 61)
Chappaqua, New York, U.S.
University of California, Los Angeles (B.S., Physics)
Herman Kahn (February 15, 1922 – July 7, 1983) was a founder of the Hudson Institute and one of the preeminent futurists of the latter part of the twentieth century. He originally came to prominence as a military strategist and systems theorist while employed at the RAND Corporation. He became known for analyzing the likely consequences of nuclear war and recommending ways to improve survivability, making him one of the historical inspirations for the title character of Stanley Kubrick's classic black comedy film satire Dr. Strangelove.
Kahn was born in Bayonne, New Jersey, the son of Yetta (née Koslowsky) and Abraham Kahn, a tailor. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. He was raised in the Bronx, then in Los Angeles following his parents' divorce. Raised Jewish, he later became an atheist.
Cold War theories
Kahn's major contributions were the several strategies he developed during the Cold War to contemplate "the unthinkable" – namely, nuclear warfare – by using applications of game theory. Kahn is often cited (with Pierre Wack) as a father of scenario planning.
Kahn argued for deterrence and believed that if the Soviet Union believed that the United States had a second strike capability then it would offer greater deterrence, which he wrote in his paper titled "The Nature and Feasibility of War and Deterrence".
The bases of his work were systems theory and game theory as applied to economics and military strategy. Kahn argued that for deterrence to succeed, the Soviet Union had to be convinced that the United States had second-strike capability in order to leave the Politburo in no doubt that even a perfectly coordinated massive attack would guarantee a measure of retaliation that would leave them devastated as well:
At the minimum, an adequate deterrent for the United States must provide an objective basis for a Soviet calculation that would persuade them that, no matter how skillful or ingenious they were, an attack on the United States would lead to a very high risk if not certainty of large-scale destruction to Soviet civil society and military forces.
In 1961, Kahn, Max Singer and Oscar Ruebhausen founded the Hudson Institute, a policy research organization initially located in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, where Kahn was living at the time. Luminaries such as sociologist Daniel Bell, political philosopher Raymond Aron and novelist Ralph Ellison (author of the 1952 classic Invisible Man) were recruited.
The Year 2000
In 1967, Herman Kahn and Anthony J. Wiener published The Year 2000: A Framework for Speculation on the Next Thirty-Three Years, which included contributions from staff members of the Hudson Institute and an introduction by Daniel Bell. Table XVIII in the document contains a list called "One Hundred Technical Innovations Very Likely in the Last Third of the Twentieth Century". The first ten predictions were:
Multiple applications of lasers.
Extreme high-strength structural materials.
New or improved superperformance fabrics.
New or improved materials for equipment and appliances.
Extensive commercial applications of shaped-charge explosives.
More reliable and longer-range weather forecasting.
Extensive and/or intensive expansion of tropical agriculture and forestry.
New sources of power for fixed installations.
New sources of power for ground transportation.
In Kahn's view, capitalism and technology held nearly boundless potential for progress, while the colonization of space lay in the near, not the distant, future. Kahn's 1976 book The Next 200 Years, written with William Brown and Leon Martel, presented an optimistic scenario of economic conditions in the year 2176. He also wrote a number of books extrapolating the future of the American, Japanese and Australian economies and several works on systems theory, including the well-received 1957 monograph Techniques of System Analysis.
During the mid-1970s, when South Korea's GDP per capita was one of the lowest in the world, Kahn predicted that the country would become one of the top 10 most powerful countries in the world by the year 2000.
In his last year, 1983, Kahn wrote approvingly of Ronald Reagan's political agenda in The Coming Boom: Economic, Political, and Social and bluntly derided Jonathan Schell's claims about the long-term effects of nuclear war. On July 7 that year, he died of a stroke, aged 61.
Herman Kahn was the son of Abraham Kahn and Yetta Kahn. His wife was Rosalie "Jane" Kahn. He and Jane had two children, David and Debbie.
Along with John von Neumann, Edward Teller and Wernher von Braun, Kahn was, reportedly, an inspiration for the character "Dr. Strangelove" in the eponymous film by Stanley Kubrick released in 1964. It was also said that Kubrick immersed himself in Kahn's book On Thermonuclear War. In the film, Dr. Strangelove refers to a report on the Doomsday Machine by the "BLAND Corporation". Kahn gave Kubrick the idea for the "Doomsday Machine", a device which would immediately cause the destruction of the entire planet in the event of a nuclear attack. Both the name and the concept of the weapon are drawn from the text of On Thermonuclear War. Louis Menand observes, "In Kahn’s book, the Doomsday Machine is an example of the sort of deterrent that appeals to the military mind but that is dangerously destabilizing. Since nations are not suicidal, its only use is to threaten."
Outside physics and statistics, works written by Kahn include:
1962. Thinking about the unthinkable. Horizon Press.
1968 Can we win in Viet Nam?. Praeger. Kahn with four other authors: Gastil, Raymond D.; Pfaff, William; Stillman, Edmund; Armbruster, Frank E.
1973. Herman Kahnsciousness: the megaton ideas of the one-man think tank. New American Library. Selected and edited by Jerome Agel.
The nature and feasibility of war, deterrence, and arms control (Central nuclear war monograph series), (Hudson Institute)
A slightly optimistic world context for 1975–2000 (Hudson Institute)
Social limits to growth: "creeping stagnation" vs. "natural and inevitable" (HPS paper)
A new kind of class struggle in the United States? (Corporate Environment Program. Research memorandum)
Works published by the RAND Corporation involving Kahn:
The nature and feasibility of war and deterrence, RAND Corporation paper P-1888-RC, 1960
Some specific suggestions for achieving early non-military defense capabilities and initiating long-range programs, RAND Corporation research memorandum RM-2206-RC, 1958
(team led by Herman Kahn) Report on a study of Non-Military Defense, RAND Corporation report R-322-RC, 1958
Herman Kahn and Irwin Mann, Ten common pitfalls, RAND research memorandum RM-1937-PR, 1957
Herman Kahn, Stochastic (Monte Carlo) attenuation analysis, Santa, Monica, Calif., RAND Corp., 1949