It’s Midnight in America – A book review

Here’s a review I wrote of Dan Ellsberg’s new book, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, published in Tikkun magazine.  The review’s title is “It’s Midnight in America”.

Read the review on Tikkun magazine here:

There was a game that children in the southern Midwest played during the early days of the Cold War. It was called, “What Time is it Mr. Fox?”  It was a version of “tag” and went something like this.

We children gathered at the brick wall in the school yard. One of us was given the role of “Mr. Fox”, and that child faced the brick wall, hands on the wall and eyes closed. As the rest of us approached the wall slowly, one step at a time, we asked, “What time is it, Mr. Fox?”  Mr. Fox replied

“Five-thirty” and we took another step forward. We asked again and Mr. Fox replied “Seven-thirty” and we took another step. So it continued.

The idea was to get as close to the wall before Mr. Fox announced in a booming voice, “MIDNIGHT!” Then all the children screamed and fled before Mr. Fox caught one of us—that child then becoming the new Mr. Fox.  We repeated the game again and again, the repetition of questioning and the exhilaration of flight. We reveled in the ritual of coming very close—but always escaping being caught at midnight.

Years later it became clear to me that we were enacting the anxiety we felt as our nation approached the likelihood of thermonuclear war and the oblivion of midnight. I remember the thrill of getting so close and then escaping at midnight. Each Mr. Fox helped us indulge in the fantasy that no matter how close we came, we might always get away.

Now, with the publication of Daniel Ellsberg’s new book, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, we must all admit that it’s midnight in America.  Ellsberg gives one example after another of how close we’ve come to thermonuclear war across the last seven decades—and still we’re here, defying the apocalyptic consequences of midnight. Do we revel at the thought we have gotten away so many times by the “skin of our teeth”, as Thornton Wilde would say? Or have we sunk into denial of the impending catastrophe?—which means we have slowly become habituated and socialized to the idea of our inevitable destruction of our species.

Ellsberg traces how we got ourselves into this deadly game. Each step builds on and reinforces the last step until we approach the final step, which Ellsberg calls “omnicide”—the annihilation of all humans and sentient beings we share the planet with.  The first step was the gradual acceptance of killing civilians en masse as a war strategy. This idea took hold after World War I with the development of airpower capable of such mass killing. The second step was the urgency the US government felt to develop a nuclear bomb in the early 1940’s in order to thwart the greater evil of the Nazis. The third step came with the erroneous but widely held US  belief that we won World War II by using a nuclear weapon, drawing the false conclusion that nuclear war was “winnable.” The fourth step was the accommodation of the US economy to a permanent state of war readiness and dependence on the production of more and more expensive weapons of war.

Ellsberg also indicates the steps we can take to end the terror of living under the threat of Nuclear Winter. First, Citizens must demand their representatives in Congress conduct hearings on the consequences of Nuclear Winter—following a thermonuclear war. Hearings on the subject have never taken place, although the fact of Nuclear Winter has been known for decades. Nuclear Winter is the inevitable result of thermonuclear explosions that drive smoke far into the stratosphere where rain never falls. Therefore, the smoke is left to circle the earth, blocking the light of the sun for years and causing the death of all human life and all animal life by starvation.

Second, citizens must demand that Congress initiate debate on the current U.S. thermonuclear war strategy—that measures our safety as a people on the basis of more thermonuclear weapons not less and which advocates greater dependency on the economic benefits that derive from the manufacture and maintenance of thermonuclear weapons. These topics ought to be the subject of on-going scrutiny and debate within the public at large. At present, the facts presented in Ellsberg’s book are hardly known by the U.S. public and even less discussed as a national conversation of urgent concern.

The Doomsday Machine  is a sober assessment of our current thermonuclear strategy and a call for citizen engagement to challenge the authority of the political leadership that perpetuates it. Don’t read this book unless you’re willing to be disturbed. And don’t be disturbed unless you’re willing to take action to stop this madness. Otherwise, we’re just playing another round of “What Time is it, Mr. Fox?”

If you haven’t already, please watch and share my interview with Dan Ellsberg on on Vimeo.

Interview with Dan Ellsberg Now Available on Vimeo

The interview that I conducted with Dan Ellsberg on April 22, 2018 concerning his new book, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, is now available on Vimeo.

The man who revealed the Pentagon Papers now gives us a candid look inside the world of thermonuclear war planning from the perspective of one who in the early 1960’s helped develop the U.S strategy for using thermonuclear weapons.

Ellsberg believes that not much has changed in the U.S thermonuclear war strategy since the days of his active involvement: First Strike Capability, Civilian Targets, and the acceptable levels of civilian deaths approaching billions of human beings.

He reminds us of the consequences of Nuclear Winter–the inevitable occurrence of massive amounts of smoke in the stratosphere from the explosion of thermonuclear weapons–resulting in the loss of the sun’s light for years and the death of all human life on earth by starvation. This fact still remains outside the realm of political debate by elected representatives and beyond the general public’s awareness.

To watch the entire interview with English captions go to

I would very much appreciate your feedback.


Interview with Dan Ellsberg on April 22, 2018

I will be interviewing Dan Ellsberg about his new book, The Doomsday Machine, at the Marine’s Memorial Building in San Francisco on April 22, 2018 at 2 PM.  Dan is the person who revealed the lies and deceptions of 5 presidents concerning our thirty year engagement with Vietnam, including a ten year war. Before working with the Pentagon he worked as a thermonuclear war planner for the Rand Corporation. In that capacity, he was appalled to discover that the U.S. thermonuclear war strategy included an estimate that 600 million people would be killed if their plans were “successfully” carried out. Unable to fathom in conscience that level of horror, he decided to dedicate his life to seeing that those plans were never executed.

Persons wishing to attend this interview can go to the website below:

We shall post a video of the interview on YouTube following the event.

Group Therapy Can Be a Solution for Over-crowded Prisons Rather Than a Technique of Shame at California Corrections

Group Therapy Can Be a Solution for Over-crowded Prisons Rather Than a Technique of Shame at California Corrections
       Governor Brown and his Attorney General, Kamila Harris, have the opportunity to make some changes in California Corrections, including eliminating a costly and unethical practice. A well planned and managed program of group therapy for prisoners placed on probation can be part of the solution for over-crowded prisons in California instead of its current use as a technique of shame.

      Group therapy emerged as both a science and an art in the cities of Vienna and New York early in the last century. Its theory and practice reflected the core ideas of the Western Enlightenment: that human beings would be treated as equals and worthy of respect as they endeavored to change their lives by listening and learning from the lives of others. Participation in group therapy would be an act of personal liberation based on the development of trust and cooperation among its members.

        Currently, these principles are all but obliterated by the techniques now foisted on some inmates by the California Department of Corrections under the guise of “group therapy.” Prisoners are assembled in separate “cages” (euphemistically called “therapeutic cubicles”) to which they are individually brought in chains by guards. The cages are plexiglass boxes and ostensibly “protect” the prisoners from each other. The so-called “group therapists”, who are not in cages, lead the assembly of caged prisoners in some activity. But whatever the activity, it in no way meets the criteria for group therapy defined above. What the citizens of California are paying for is a travesty of treatment, a form of degradation and humiliation that has no clinical justification whatever and has nothing to do with the goals of group therapy. Unfortunately, it is but one example of the mistreatment of the mentally ill in our prison system.

     There are historical precedents for the maltreatment of the mentally ill in jails in the United States and individuals who challenged the authority of those who condoned the maltreatment.  In 1841, Dorothea Dix confronted the Massachusetts legislature on the conditions in state prisons where the mentally ill were incarcerated. She cited evidence that inmates were subject to “cages and chains” among other persecutions. Her protest forced changes by the legislature and produced a wave of reform that swept the country and resulted in the first hospitals that sought to relieve the suffering of the mentally ill.  As citizens, we have the choice to emulate the work of Dorothea Dix.  Are we going to allow our institutions to regress to a standard of behavior that was deemed inappropriate and inhuman 172 years ago?  If we allow this to happen, then who are we as a people?  Is this how we wish to be seen by other nations — and is this the kind of world we want to pass on to our children?

      The mentally ill must not be locked away in isolation as is currently the practice in our prisons — nor must they be locked in cages like animals. It does not matter if this technique is reserved for prisoners in administrative segregation or supermaximum security units which contain  6% to 8% of prisoners in the California Department of Corrections at any given time. No prisoner should ever have to endure such conditions and no judge should ever mandate such practices. If a prisoner is thought to be of danger to self or others, he is not a suitable candidate for group therapy and ought to be given an alternative form of clinical intervention.  Legitimate forms of group therapy can play a significant role in helping prisoners who will be paroled as a result of the Supreme Court decision. Many of those now incarcerated suffer from mental illnesses that have gone untreated by appropriate methods.

   We call on Governor Brown and his Attorney General to stop this circus of caged prisoners immediately and undertake bona fide treatment of mentally ill prisoners in California as they are released from incarceration. An effective program of group therapy for prisoners placed on probation will allow many of them to readjust themselves to life on the outside and significantly reduce recidivism.


 Bill Roller, Life Fellow, American Group Psychotherapy Association

Philip Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Stanford University


Bill Roller is a Fellow of the American Group Psychotherapy Association and past Ethics Chair of the International Association of Group Psychotherapy and Group Processes.


Philip Zimbardo is the producer of A Quiet Rage: The Stanford Prison Experiment. 
An internationally renowned social psychologist, his life work was featured in an article in Science, Volume 332, 29 April 2011 ( See






Armand Volkas’ excellent improvisational troupe of players and musicians will present  a special fundraising performance for our film project, “Group Dynamics and the New Heroism”  on Sunday, May 19th at 2 PM, Live Oak Theatre in Berkeley. Call me directly for directions at (510) 525-9215.

Our film will insprire a new generation of ordinary people to act heroically and nonviolently.

The improvisational performance will take personal stories of courage from the audience and transform them into improvised theatrical pieces. Come and be a part of this exceptional program.


Bill Roller



Please check out our newly edited video on Indiegogo.  It’s more concise and I hope conveys our message more clearly.

Phil Zimbardo and I will co-lead a workshop where we shall mentor participants to form groups of like minded people who will take nonviolent courageous action in defense of ethical principles even at personal risk to themselves. We shall make a state of the art video of this unscripted, spontaneous group process and make the video available for sale and distribution to high school and college classes in the United States and abroad.


My First Experience with Sociocentric Heroism

Inspired by the anti-Vietnam War activism of  Dave Dellinger and David Harris, a group of my fellow college students and I started a draft counseling service for young men in Putnam County, southern Indiana, in 1968.  We prepared ourselves by learning the essentials of the 1967 Selective Service Act supplied to us by Ann Fagan Ginger of the National Lawyers Guild, based in Berkeley, California.

Armed with some legal knowledge and with the moral support of the American Friends Service Committee, we began operations.  Our organizing principle as a group was the shared belief that the war must end and that we had a joint responsibility to stop it by helping young men to refuse service in the armed forces.

A local 19 year old boy soon appeared at our door.  He said he had been drafted, believed the war was wrong, and did not want to serve. Although he had received his induction notice much earlier, he had waited until the week of his induction to come to us. We had about 72 hours, so we scrambled to find a provision in the law that allowed him a delay of induction. By the morning of the scheduled induction, we had found the provision we needed and were ready to present our case to the local government draft lawyer at the County Seat.  Our biggest obstacle that morning was collecting enough gas money—gas was 25 cents a gallon—to get the 1955 Volkswagen running to make the trip to the County Courthouse.

Once there, we presented our findings to the lawyer and waited.  He looked at the law with the eyes of someone who was looking at it for the first time.  His brow furrowed and he announced in a grave tone, “According to the provision here, I have no choice but to instruct the Board to stop this boy’s induction immediately.”  Both jubilant and weary, we went home to rest before afternoon classes.

This was my first experience with sociocentric heroism—joining with like minded people to act nonviolently in the defense of an ethical principle.  The young man whose induction we stopped , was lost in Selective Service paperwork and was never sent to war.

Our success in this case reinforced our belief that collective activism of this kind was not only effective but also exhilarating and life changing.  It is this spirit that Phil Zimbardo and I want to imbue by our video project, “Group Dynamics and the New Heroism.”  Once people have caught that spirit, they are never the same.

Bill Roller

I Just Spent the Day with Hector Aristizibal, the Colombian Psychotherapist and Performance Artist

I  just spent the day with Hector Aristizibal, the Colombian psychotherapist and performance artist now living in Los Angeles but traveling the world with his special kind of magic. Hector  is the creator of the powerful video, “Night Wind” or “Viento Nocturno,” the story of his courageous resistance and resilience in the face of torture. He works with people who have heroically survived torture and have become extraordinary persons with a deep sense of who they are and where they are going. Hector embodies the New Heroism that Phil Zimbardo and I speak of. He enlists the help of others to courageously challenge those authorities who dismiss the legal and binding significance of Article I of the United Nations Declaration and Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment and Punishment. I admire and respect Hector for his personal commitment to this cause.

Bill Roller


Our New Video “Psychology and the New Heroism” Was Chosen as a Premium by Project Censored

Our new video, “Psychology and the New Heroism” was honored to be chosen as a premium by Mickey Huff and Peter Phillips for their Project Censored show on KPFA RADIO 94.1 as part of the station’s winter fund drive.  We will also have an opportunity to share information about our video and our INDIEGOGO  campaign at the Project Censored event, Thursday, February 21st at 7 PM, Grand Lake Theatre in Oakland, California, featuring Dan Ellsberg in conversation with film maker, Oliver Stone regarding his new book with Peter Kuznick and his ten part television documentary film, The Untold History of the United States.

Click here for information about our campaign

Click here for information about our campaign

Bill Roller