Anyone who lived through the Cuban missile crisis also remembers air raid sirens and the absurdity of duck-and-cover drills in elementary school.
A decade later, that bureaucratic overstatement regarding the protective powers of student desks planted the seeds of distrust for authority that grew while watching my first footage of a nuclear test at Alamogordo and the disintegration of architectural structures during a nuclear blast.
Back then, an eccentric great-uncle had retired from a “hush-hush” job in public service and elected to live far from population centers at the base of a mountain, where he built a well-stocked bomb shelter to protect his family for the two to three years it would take for things to cool down in the event of a Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) scenario.
Has any acronym ever dripped more irony?
The 1960s introduced the public to the films “Failsafe” and “Dr. Strangelove,” triggering sleepless nights and countless nightmares.
As the late Carl Sagan proposed in Cosmos, “Humanity has yet to create a weapon considered too terrible to deploy.” Greek fire? Chemical warfare? Biological agents? Nuclear fission? Human beings have been proven too willing to inflict maximum carnage on any foe. In the 20th Century, the aggression that guaranteed survival and the intelligence that assured dominance as a species coalesced to become a threat to our continued existence.
This nation delivered the devastating blows of “Little Boy & Fat Man” on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, with explosions measured at 13 and 20 kilotons respectively. Later, a book entitled “Unforgettable Fire,” shared the drawings and observations of children who survived those blasts. In two blinks of an eye in August of 1945, 169,000 civilian souls were lost.
Our first tests of the hydrogen bomb, measured in megatons, modified national policy from tactical deployment to strategic deterrence, avoiding the absurd possibility of waging a war with no victor. Try to imagine a mile-wide crater 16 stories in depth, or informing the residents of Elugelab that their island in the Bikini Atoll had been blown from the sea in a stratospheric plume of fire.
The cinematic version of Tom Clancy’s “The Sum of All Fears” portrayed the fictional President Fowler agonizing about retaliation for what he believes to be a nuclear strike on Baltimore. Resolved to carry out the attack, POTUS seeks confirmation of his order from his cabinet under what he calls “the two man rule.”
Unfortunately, the “two man rule” applies only to missile technicians in the silo, both of whom must simultaneously turn keys to initiate launch. However, because the need for response to a threat might be measured in mere moments, POTUS has sole authority to order soldiers to turn the keys.
Sole authority? In 2017, what could possibly go wrong?