Herman Kahn (1922-1983)

Herman Kahn

Born in Bayonne, New Jersey, Kahn grew up in the Bronx until his parents divorced. He then moved to Los Angeles, where he would attend UCLA, majoring in Physics. After serving in Burma in the U.S. Army, he completed his B.S. degree. Kahn then started his graduate work at Cal Tech. He had to drop out for financial reasons, although he did receive a M. Sc.

Soon he was hired by the RAND corporation, a think tank funded by the U.S. Air Force. He began working with physicists Edward Teller, John von Neumann, Hans Bethe and mathematician Albert Wohlstetter, on the development of the hydrogen bomb

Herman Kahn's greatest legacy was his use of game theory in nuclear warfare strategies. His ideas were published in the book On Thermonuclear War. In this work, Kahn argued the case that a nuclear war could be fought and won. This book is seen as one of the cornerstones of Mutual Assured Destruction, or MAD. Kahn's book drew a wide range of criticism.

Kahn would leave RAND in 1961, to form the Hudson Institute, a conservative polling research group. He continued his work on strategic theory, publishing Think About the Unthinkable and On Escalation.

Kahn was also reportedly a source of inspiration for Stanley Kubrick's film Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Kahn, who had been severely overweight all of his life, died of a massive stroke on July 7, 1983.