by Paul Craig Roberts
Did you know that Washington keeps 450 nuclear ICBMs on “hair-trigger alert”? Washington thinks that this makes us “safe.” The reasoning, if it can be called reason, is that by being able to launch in a few minutes, no one will try to attack the US with nuclear weapons. US missiles are able to get on their way before the enemy’s missiles can reach the US to destroy ours.
If this makes you feel safe, you need to read Eric Schlosser’s book, Command and Control.
The trouble with hair-triggers is that they make mistaken, accidental, and unauthorized launch more likely. Schlosser provides a history of almost launches that would have brought armageddon to the world.
In Catalyst, a publication of the Union of Concerned Scientists, Elliott Negin tells the story of Soviet Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov. Just after midnight in 1983 the Soviet Union’s early warning satellite system set off the alarm that 5 US ICBMs were headed for the Soviet Union.
Col. Petrov was supposed to inform the Soviet leader, who would have 8 to 10 minutes to decide whether to launch in retaliation. Who knows what he would have decided. Instead Col. Petrov used his judgment. There was no reason for the US to be attacking the Soviet Union. Moreover, Petrov reasoned that an American attack would involve hundreds of ICBMs, possibly thousands. He checked whether Soviet ground-based radar had detected incoming ICBMs, and it had not. Petrov decided it was a false alarm, and sat on it.
It turned out that the early warning system had mistaken a pattern of sunlight reflection on clouds as missiles. This was a close call, but Negin reports that “a failed computer chip, and an improperly installed circuit card are some of the culprits” that could initiate nuclear war. In other words, the sources of false alarms are numerous.
Fast forward to today. Imagine an American officer monitoring the US early warning system. This officer has been listening to 15 years of war propaganda accompanied by US invasions and bombings of 8 countries. Terrorist warnings and security alerts abound, as do calls from American and Israeli politicians for nuking Iran. The media has convinced him that Russia has invaded Ukraine and is on the verge of invading the Baltics and Poland. American troops and tanks have been rushed to the Russian border. There is talk of arming Ukraine. Putin is dangerous and is threatening nuclear war, running his strategic bombers close to our borders and holding nuclear drills. The American officer has just heard a Fox News general again call for “killing Russians.” The Republicans have convinced him that Obama is selling out America to Iran, with Senator Tom Cotton warning of nuclear war as a consequence. We will all be killed because there is a Muslim in the White House.
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