Article – Almost Everything in “Dr. Strangelove” Was True

Half a century after Kubrick’s mad general, Jack D. Ripper, launched a nuclear strike on the Soviets to defend the purity of “our precious bodily fluids” from Communist subversion, we now know that American officers did indeed have the ability to start a Third World War on their own. And despite the introduction of rigorous safeguards in the years since then, the risk of an accidental or unauthorized nuclear detonation hasn’t been completely eliminated.

If you havent read it, Stephen Hunter (of “Point Of Impact” fame) wrote a terrific book, The Day Before Midnight, about some guys busting into a launch facility to do a little DIY WW3. It was a really great book and would make an awesome movie. It’s my favorite book of his, narrowly edging out POI. And, yeah, it’s a little derivative of “Twilight’s Last Gleaming.

Anyway, the gist of the article is that despite the protestations of the military and the government, there have been times when the ability to launch nukes on one’s own has been possible. I suppose in Cold War planning that made sense – if command-n-control is knocked out there has to be a way for weapons to be used without authorization from the smoldering radioactive ruins of DC.

I mention this because it’s a fascinating little bit of history that sort of segues into preparedness. For those of us who grew up in the world of first strike, second strike, MADD, and Minuteman missiles its rather interesting.

The article is also  interesting because it details how the .gov tried to balance a very complicated equation – nukes had to be tightly controlled so no one could go off-kilter and start WW3 on their own, BUT there had to be mechanisms in place to allow an individual command to launch independently if higher authorities were disabled/destroyed. The solution (if you want to call it that) was two-man rules, no-lone-zones, layers of verification, split codes, and a few other ‘team’ requirements. Basically, it was a lot like having two names on a checking account…without both people signing off, nothing happens. (At least, thats the plan anyway.)

And, to segue to a slightly less on-topic matter, it’s interesting to note that while it supposedly takes more than one person to launch a nuclear attack, it has historically taken only one to prevent it.

Although there is the premise of the rogue individual starting WW3,  most folks are unaware of the rogue individual who prevented WW3. There are at least two Soviet officers (here and here) who, when given the opportunity to allow a some fissionable matter to do its thing, said nyet and prevented what might have been the start of WW3.

Interestingly, once you start looking into these sorts of matters you discover there have been quite a few times that we’ve been just a phone call and a button press away from having a nuclear exchange. Nowdays I suspect the incidence of nuclear war is fairly low but the risk of nuclear attack is unchanged or perhaps a bit higher. Somewhere there is a cargo container with a couple nuclear artillery shells in it just waiting to go through the Port of Seattle or somewhere similar. I mean, you look at the numbers and you realize there is a huge amount of smaller, less dramatic nuclear devices out there…man-portable stuff that some zealot can stuff in the back of a Cessna 182 and detonate over pretty much anywhere. There’s a lot of those little nukes out there..artillery shells, torpedoes, ‘special weapons’, demolition packages, etc, etc….stuff that fits into a 55-gallon drum or smaller.

Anyway, an interesting article for those of us who have an interest in control (or lack thereof) of these sorts of things.



16 thoughts on “Article – Almost Everything in “Dr. Strangelove” Was True

  1. Was that the book that a Nam tunnel rat and a female Viet Cong have to breach the silo via old Cole mines? That was a fun read.

    • Well, most likely Seattle because it’d be easier to come in through Canada. A few years back someone tried to sneak in a cargo container full of something that the media was very quiet about…probably nothing fissionable, but almost certainly something terrorist-y. I suspect, although i cant prove it, that every couple years something gets snagged at these crossings that would be very alarming if the public knew about it.

  2. I work from the premise that the threat is already across the border and in several locales…it would explain the kid glove treatment toward some…

  3. You can probably goggle it, to find the list of US nukes that have been available. Everything from the giant 40’s/50’s vintage, to the artillery and backpack/suitcase types. Approximate sizes and weights, along with yields. Some of them are variable-yield design. The small ones are man-portable. I wonder how long a timer they come with?

    Fun fact for Middle East watchers: Israel is rated as the #4 nuke weapon builder, currently. Supposedly around 400 warheads of various sizes. Air, submarine (cruise missile), and ICBM types.

    • No surprise there…when things wwere starting to not go their way during the ’73 war they made it very clear that if their position deteriorated they would go nuclear. That’s what got Nixon off his butt to replace their war materials with operation Nickel Grass.

  4. I believe that anything we as a species are capable of, that we will eventually do. We are now capable of destroying life on earth.

    Kinda pessimistic I know, but …

  5. I probably emailed you a copy of this in 2011. Shocking how time flies. I’m told that the Germans have a saying, “Too soon old, too late smart.”

    An Unsung Hero of the Nuclear Age
    …[here’s an awesome excerpt:]
    you’ve probably read about Richard Nixon acting erratically,
    drinking heavily as Watergate closed in on him. You may not have read about the time he told a dinner party at the White House, “I could leave this room, and in 25 minutes, 70 million people would be dead.” (Try that line out at one of your dinner parties. I’ve always found it a good conversation starter.)
    Anyway, back down there in your launch capsule you might allow
    yourself to wonder: “This launch order, is this for real or for
    Nixon’s indigestion?”
    If you were asking yourself that question, you wouldn’t be the only
    one. James Schlesinger, secretary of defense at that time, No. 2 in
    the nuclear chain of command, was reported to be so concerned about Nixon’s behavior that he sent word down the chain of command that if anyone received any “unusual orders” from the president they should double-check with him before carrying them out.

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