Nuclear Titanic

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has ordered two reviews of America's nuclear force in the wake of mounting reports of drug use, drinking, womanizing, cheating and lapsed discipline among top officers. But if the studies focus only on personnel, it will be little more than rearranging the deck chairs on a nuclear Titanic. The core problem is not the people; it's the mission.

The first thing the studies should do is disclose how many accidents the U.S. has had with nuclear weapons. It is not a short list. Author of Command and Control, Eric Schlosser, cites an Air Force report on 87 accidents and incidents involving nuclear weapons just between 1950 and 1957. Jeffrey Lewis of the Monterey Institute points to a Department of Defense summary of 32 accidents involving nuclear weapons between 1950 and 1980.

These were not trivial incidents. On several occasions, we almost lost a state. In 1961, a B-52 bomber flying over North Carolina disintegrated in flight. Two bombs dropped from the bomb bay. One of these hydrogen bombs fell all the way to the ground. All of the weapon's safety mechanisms failed, except one. It was a single low-voltage switch that prevented a hydrogen bomb from destroying a good portion of North Carolina.

Read the full article on Huffington Post.

Image from Secrectary of Defense (Flickr)


Joe, I saw your comments in the USAF nuclear missile operators' misbehavior—your analysis of the situation was spot on. When people get put in situations where they realize they are essentially useless, their morale almost instantaneously goes to hell. It happened on a wide scale during Viet Nam, probably during the later stages of Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan. I saw it several times during my Navy career, on a smaller, more local, scale. What scares me about this situation is the thought that if our missileers are in such a sad state, what must the situation be among their Russian counterparts. Can't possibly be any better, but the consequences could be worse. During the cold war, the missileers hoped they would never have to push the button, but knew that they were there to do that if they had to. Now they know they'll never have to push the button, so they have to wonder why they're even there. And their superior officers know it, too, so the missile force has become a career dead end for them all. That has to have a particularly devastating effect on morale, and easily leads to the things that broke into the news this week, but have been building for several years. Obsolescence breeds ennui. I can't think of a better reason to take our missiles off-line (the Russians, too, but they have their own problems to deal with). At least, if we heed the urging of Schultz, Kissinger, et. al., and take our missiles off hair trigger the missileers might have a chance to regain their self-esteem. And if we did that, the Russians might just follow suit. They've done it before, and it would be a huge gesture to defuse the present problems. I'm well into Nuclear Nightmares. A worthwhile read. Hugh Haskell (Part-time at IEER)

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