Main Book Contents Background Reflections Building on Breakthrough  

Preface to the Online Edition

Martin E. Hellman

Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering, Stanford University. Dr. Hellman is best known as the inventor of the "public key" and "trap door" cryptographic techniques. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.


Where it came from

What it is

Why Now?



Where it came from

The book Breakthrough: Emerging New Thinking had the good fortune to be published late in 1987, during that amazing time when the cold war went from almost hot to almost over.

In a miraculous transformation of confrontation into cooperation, the book simultaneously came off two printing presses, literally a world apart. The English version, available on this web site, was printed in New York, while the exact same content streamed off a Moscow press in Russian. Each version found people hungry for evidence that the threat of global annihilation, which had become all too clear in the preceding decade, really could recede and be replaced by the vision of a world beyond war.

The project was supported in the West by the Beyond War Foundation, a predecessor to the Foundation for Global Community, whose web site you are now viewing. Support in the East came from the prestigious Committee of Soviet Scientists In Defense of Peace Against the Nuclear Threat, chaired by Gorbachev's science advisor, Evgeni Velikhov. Even before Gorbachev came to power, this committee was active in laying the foundation for what later became known as perestroika and glasnost. Those of us who participated in this project had the privilege of seeing a preview of the miraculous events that were soon to transform Soviet society and the world.


What it is

Breakthrough was more than evidence that peace was possible. It was also a road map into that previously inaccessible promised land. Drawing on some of the freshest thinking in the international scientific community, the book made three key points:

Organized into three corresponding sections, the book consists of essays by leading scientists that provide flesh on the above skeleton. In reading these essays, feel free to skip around. With contributions from two very different cultures and many different individuals, there is a variety that will often tantalize, but sometimes frustrate one or another reader. In the latter event, we encourage you to skip to a more palatable entry. Skipping an essay will not prevent you from understanding later ones or the overall thrust of the book.


Why now?

While the threat of global annihilation and the concomitant need for a new, global mode of thinking, has become less clear, this is largely a problem of perception. The fundamental change in thinking that Breakthrough argued was needed for survival has not happened. As explained in the first section of the book, Inevitability, every small war, even every threat of war, carries with it some probability of escalation, much as the Cuban Missile Crisis can be traced to seemingly minor actions (the Bay of Pigs invasion and the introduction of American IRBM's in Turkey). Violence in the Mideast, which twice before has brought the world to the brink of disaster, is again almost daily front-page news.

The former Soviet Union is in economic and political turmoil. Unemployed or underemployed nuclear and rocket scientists have a strong motivation to sell their expertise to any bidder, adding many new, unknown variables to the nuclear equation. While the United States has made some effort to provide aid to reduce this threat, old thinking has led many Americans to favor "defanging the Soviet bear," not realizing that the fangs are likely to find a new home in a much less rational adversary.

While alleviating the problem in many ways, the improvements in Russo-American relations have added a new dimension to the threat, complacency. When even one failure can be globally fatal, complacency is perhaps our greatest enemy.

On the positive side, the advent of the Internet has provided a fantastic new opportunity for disseminating these still very current ideas. Given the Foundation's educational, non-profit goal, it not only allows, but encourages, free use of this on-line version for educational purposes.

When this project was started in 1984, our first means of communication with the Soviet participants was telegrams at US$0.25 per word. That today the thousands of words in this book are available almost anywhere in the world, virtually for free, says much of the possibility for communicating needed truths.

We hope you will participate in distributing this information so that the long-term solution envisioned in Breakthrough can become a reality and the dedication in the book "To our children and grandchildren" can have lasting meaning. Thank you for visiting and considering these thoughts.


Main Book Contents Background Reflections Building on Breakthrough  
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