Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety
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A myth-shattering exposé of America’s nuclear weapons
Famed investigative journalist Eric Schlosser digs deep to uncover secrets about the management of America’s nuclear arsenal. A groundbreaking account of accidents, near misses, extraordinary heroism, and technological breakthroughs, Command and Control explores the dilemma that has existed since the dawn of the nuclear age: How do you deploy weapons of mass destruction without being destroyed by them? That question has never been resolved—and Schlosser reveals how the combination of human fallibility and technological complexity still poses a grave risk to mankind. While the harms of global warming increasingly dominate the news, the equally dangerous yet more immediate threat of nuclear weapons has been largely forgotten.
Written with the vibrancy of a first-rate thriller, Command and Control interweaves the minute-by-minute story of an accident at a nuclear missile silo in rural Arkansas with a historical narrative that spans more than fifty years. It depicts the urgent effort by American scientists, policy makers, and military officers to ensure that nuclear weapons can’t be stolen, sabotaged, used without permission, or detonated inadvertently. Schlosser also looks at the Cold War from a new perspective, offering history from the ground up, telling the stories of bomber pilots, missile commanders, maintenance crews, and other ordinary servicemen who risked their lives to avert a nuclear holocaust. At the heart of the book lies the struggle, amid the rolling hills and small farms of Damascus, Arkansas, to prevent the explosion of a ballistic missile carrying the most powerful nuclear warhead ever built by the United States.
Drawing on recently declassified documents and interviews with people who designed and routinely handled nuclear weapons, Command and Control takes readers into a terrifying but fascinating world that, until now, has been largely hidden from view. Through the details of a single accident, Schlosser illustrates how an unlikely event can become unavoidable, how small risks can have terrible consequences, and how the most brilliant minds in the nation can only provide us with an illusion of control. Audacious, gripping, and unforgettable, Command and Control is a tour de force of investigative journalism, an eye-opening look at the dangers of America’s nuclear age.
**The upcoming documentary Command and Control, directed by Robert Kenner, finds its origins in Eric Schlosser's book and will continue to explore the little-known history of the management and safety concerns of America's nuclear aresenal.**
made. He told Morris that three airmen should put on RFHCO suits. A checklist had been prepared, and Moser wanted him to copy it down, word for word. Morris grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil and, while sitting in the front seat of Brocksmith’s truck, copied down the instructions. It was the same checklist that the command post had prepared two hours earlier, except that the 200 ppm fuel vapor limit had been raised to 250 ppm. Morris spent fifteen minutes listening carefully and
attack. Eisenhower had faith in the discipline of NATO forces. And he had, most likely, a private understanding with Norstad similar to the one made with LeMay—granting the permission to use nuclear weapons, if Washington, D.C., had been destroyed or couldn’t be reached during a wartime emergency. The supreme commander of NATO reported directly to the president, not to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Norstad was fiercely protective of his authority. He disliked General Thomas Power, the head of
Pentagon’s reluctance to allow civilian control of the SIOP was prompted mainly by operational concerns. A limited attack on the Soviet Union might impede the full execution of the SIOP—and provoke an immediate, all-out retaliation by the Soviets. A desire to fight humanely could bring annihilation and defeat. More important, the United States still didn’t have the technological or administrative means to wage a limited nuclear war. A 1968 report by the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group said that
first big, breaking story: CNN was the only national news network with a live camera at the sight. See Reese Schonfeld, Me Against the World: The Unauthorized Story of the Founding of CNN (New York: Cliff Street, 2001), pp. 182–86. “as a means of reducing or preventing widespread public alarm”: Quoted in Ellen Debenport, “Air Force Could Have Confirmed Warhead’s Presence,” United Press International, September 26, 1980. A newspaper cartoon depicted three Air Force officers: See “The Air
boiled into a reddish brown vapor that smelled like ammonia. Contact with water turned the vapor into a corrosive acid that could react with the moisture in a person’s eyes or skin and cause severe burns. When inhaled, the oxidizer could destroy tissue in the upper respiratory system and the lungs. The damage might not be felt immediately. Six to twelve hours after being inhaled, the stuff could suddenly cause headaches, dizziness, difficulty breathing, pneumonia, and pulmonary edema leading to