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nuclear-weapon-explosion-1004-1aWhat will cause a nuclear incident? A nation or terrorist group launching an attack?

Or human error, a faulty computer chip or a dropped socket?

Investigative journalist Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation and Reefer Madness, takes on nuclear weapons in his new book Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident and the Illusion of Safety.

Schlosser published Command and Control about near nuclear misses over the last 68+ years of the Atomic Age. US Military parlance for nuclear related accidents or near-accidents is ‘broken arrows’ or ‘bent spears’. “A 1970 study by one of America’s nuclear weapon laboratories, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, stated that at least 1,200 [nuclear] weapons were involved in accidents between 1950 and 1968.” There have been many such events that have not only been kept secret, but fundamentally call into question nuclear defense as a practice and philosophy.

Nuclear weapons: an accident waiting to happen

One of the most chilling examples was in 1961 when two hydrogen bombs over North Carolina after the plane carrying them malfunctioned in flight.

… the US was narrowly spared a disaster of monumental proportions when two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs were accidentally dropped over Goldsboro, North Carolina on 23 January 1961. The bombs fell to earth after a B-52 bomber broke up in mid-air, and one of the devices behaved precisely as a nuclear weapon was designed to behave in warfare: its parachute opened, its trigger mechanisms engaged, and only one low-voltage switch prevented untold carnage. Each bomb carried a payload of 4 megatons – the equivalent of 4 million tons of TNT explosive. Had the device detonated, lethal fallout could have been deposited over Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and as far north as New York City – putting millions of lives at risk. [Pilkington, Ed. (20 September 2013) US nearly detonated atomic bomb over North Carolina – secret document The Guardian Newspaper, UK.]

possible fallout

Devastation: This is the theoretical fallout of the detonation of 8 megatons of nuclear weapons – the combined power of the two hydrogen bombs that fell into North Carolina fields in 1961

These and other bent spears or broken arrows happen with too great a regularity. [Kristensen, Hans M. (2008) Nuclear Safety and the Saga About the Missing Bent Spear, FAS Strategic Security Blog] Even still, apart from current news items, few understand the basic facts. They are often surprised to learn that today approximately 19,000 nuclear weapons are owned by nine nations and remain a threat to all life on earth. Many are unaware that nuclear weapons are unique and are not at all like conventional bombs — that these ‘weapons’ cause destruction through the splitting of the atom, which creates tremendous power, called nuclear fission.

Nuclear near misses

Soviet nuclear capability was regularly exaggerated by American intelligence in the nineteen-fifties, and it was in the interest of the armed services, and particularly the Air Force (not a hero in Schlosser’s story), not to correct the record. For more than ten years, the American government poured money into the manufacture of nuclear weapons, the American public was regularly frightened by warnings about the dangers of a nuclear attack that was always made to appear imminent, and defense intellectuals produced papers and books in which they thought about the unthinkable—how to prepare for, how to avoid, and how to survive a nuclear war.

The threat was largely, although not completely, imaginary. The Soviets didn’t have the capability that nuclear-war scenarios assumed, and there was no good reason to believe that anyone’s nuclear weapons would work the way they were designed to. The Kennedy Administration estimated that seventy-five per cent of the warheads on Polaris missiles (the missiles carried in submarines) would not detonate.

Even the war plans were flawed. An atomic explosion kills by shock waves, by radioactive fallout, and by fire. But, as Lynn Eden explained in “Whole World on Fire” (2004), American military planners never took fire into account when they made estimates of bomb damage. They therefore systematically underestimated the projected effects of nuclear bombing, and that led to the production of far more warheads than anyone needed.

But the threat, even though partly imagined, permitted the military to compile an arsenal that forced the Soviets to compile an arsenal to match it—and thereby to make the threat real. By the early nineteen-seventies, the Soviet Union had more long-range missiles than the United States did. By then, the public was no longer transfixed by the spectacle of imminent nuclear war, but the world was a far more dangerous place than it had been in the years of civil-defense exercises and back-yard fallout shelters.

doomsday_timeline

The Cold WarNuclear arms race

Cold wars are historically common events. They are just ways of gaining geopolitical advantage without military battles. In the seventeenth century, Louis XIV fought cold wars with his European neighbors and with the papacy. What made the American Cold War different was not the bomb itself but the idea of the bomb, the bomb as the symbol of ultimate commitment. That idea is what locked the East-West antagonism into place, and raised the stakes in every disagreement. The bomb may have prevented military conflict between the superpowers; it did not prevent the many superpower proxy wars—in Korea, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Afghanistan—in which millions of people died. In the end, the Soviet Union gave up, something that no one had predicted. But today many smaller powers have nuclear weapons, and even in the unlikely event that no leader of one of those nations ever decides to use them, out of fear or anger, there is always the possibility—in the long run, there is the inevitability—of an accident.

The danger that human beings faced from nuclear weapons after the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had to do with inadvertence—with bombs dropped by mistake, bombers catching on fire or crashing, missiles exploding, and computers miscalculating and people jumping to the wrong conclusion. On most days, the probability of a nuclear explosion happening by accident was far greater than the probability that someone would deliberately start a war.

Some nuclear incidents were sorted out just minutes before world leaders pushed the button to launch a counter-attack.

Schlosser chronicles a litany of absurd and terrifying nuclear close-calls since the end of WWII through to the Cold War and the Illusion of Safety.” Among the horror stories Schlosser exposes are the six minutes Soviet President Boris Yeltsin had to respond to a nuclear attack that turned out to be a Norwegian weather experiment, the apocalyptic image of a Mark 36 hydrogen bomb burning for two and a half hours on a Moroccan air field, and a socket from a wrench that damaged a Titan II missile, nearly leading to the annihilation of the state of Arkansas.

Damascus AccidentBy a miracle of information management, Schlosser has synthesized a huge archive of material, including government reports, scientific papers, and a substantial historical and polemical literature on nukes, and transformed it into a crisp narrative covering more than fifty years of scientific and political change.

In Command and Control, Schlosser shows how the US has been a minor bungle away from nuclear holocaust on more occasions than politicians or the military would admit.

Command and Control is a scary and important book.

Eric Schlosser

Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident

Controversy broke out at two nuclear weapons facilities in the US recently when it was reported that people in charge of monitoring blast doors at an underground command post were napping on the job. Each of the facilities contain 50 intercontinental ballistic missiles and their launch codes. It turns out that the incident is neither unprecedented, nor rare.

Award winning investigative journalist Eric Schlosser chronicles a litany of absurd and terrifying nuclear close-calls since the end of WWII through to the Cold War in his just published book “Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety.” Among the horror stories Schlosser exposes are the six minutes Soviet President Boris Yeltsin had to respond to a nuclear attack that turned out to be a Norwegian weather experiment, the apocalyptic image of a Mark 36 hydrogen bomb burning for two and a half hours on a Moroccan air field, and a socket from a wrench that damaged a Titan II missile, nearly leading to the annihilation of the state of Arkansas.

In Command and Control, Schlosser shows how the US has been a minor bungle away from nuclear holocaust on more occasions than politicians or the military would admit.

Eric Schlosser is an award winning playwright filmmaker and investigative journalist. His First book Fast Food Nation brought about a worldwide backlash against that industry

– See more at: http://uprisingradio.org/home/2013/10/31/command-and-control-nuclear-weapons-the-damascus-accident-and-the-illusion-of-safety/#sthash.gWx3X2EH.dpuf

Controversy broke out at two nuclear weapons facilities in the US recently when it was reported that people in charge of monitoring blast doors at an underground command post were napping on the job. Each of the facilities contain 50 intercontinental ballistic missiles and their launch codes. It turns out that the incident is neither unprecedented, nor rare.

Award winning investigative journalist Eric Schlosser chronicles a litany of absurd and terrifying nuclear close-calls since the end of WWII through to the Cold War in his just published book “Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety.” Among the horror stories Schlosser exposes are the six minutes Soviet President Boris Yeltsin had to respond to a nuclear attack that turned out to be a Norwegian weather experiment, the apocalyptic image of a Mark 36 hydrogen bomb burning for two and a half hours on a Moroccan air field, and a socket from a wrench that damaged a Titan II missile, nearly leading to the annihilation of the state of Arkansas.

In Command and Control, Schlosser shows how the US has been a minor bungle away from nuclear holocaust on more occasions than politicians or the military would admit.

Eric Schlosser is an award winning playwright filmmaker and investigative journalist. His First book Fast Food Nation brought about a worldwide backlash against that industry

– See more at: http://uprisingradio.org/home/2013/10/31/command-and-control-nuclear-weapons-the-damascus-accident-and-the-illusion-of-safety/#sthash.gWx3X2EH.dpuf