Command and Control

command jacketCommand and Control by Eric Schlosser

On the night of September 18-19, 1980, Strategic Air Command in Omaha, Nebraska was very nervous. They were on a secure link with one of their Titan II missile silos near Damascus, Arkansas. It seems that a routine maintenance exercise had gone terribly wrong.  A worker had dropped a wrench socket component down the 90 foot length of the silo and had punctured a hole in the missile, which was leaking highly inflammable fuel. At the rate of fuel loss an explosion could happen at any time, but with 100% certainty within the next 8-10 hours. Not only was the Titan II loaded with fuel, it also had a 10 Megaton warhead sitting on the top. This incident and the politics and war-gaming that lead up to it are the subject of a riveting new book called Command and Control. 

There are three main topics interspersed throughout the book. The first is an “on the scene account” of the “Damascus missile” accident. The second is a thorough review of nuclear weapons development, starting with the Manhattan Project and running to the present day. The third is a history of the political developments that came to be known later as the “Cold War”. 

The development of nuclear weapons would seem to be the height of human folly. Although the first Atomic Bombs were developed with great haste and secrecy, and were used sparingly and to great effect, scientists and politicians came gradually and grudgingly to grasp that the lethality of what they were working on was getting away from them. The world was introduced to new terms such as “Megadeath”, “Overkill”, and “Nuclear Winter”. At the height of the Cold War, during the “Cuban Missile crises”, the planet came as close as it ever has to Armageddon.

Whereas it has come perilously close a number of times, the world has never had a major nuclear weapons accident. The threat of nuclear war is still with us, but as the tensions of the Cold War abated there arose new tensions with a different kind of war, “The War on Terror”,  starting with the “9/11” attacks.

An amazing and satisfying read.


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