Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety

The book starts out detailing the dangers of the fuel on nuclear warhead rockets. Then we hear the uh oh as a bolt slices open a gash on the rocket. This looks like it could be a problem.

The book then drifted into the background on nuclear weapons and the cold war arms race. There goes the excitement. It feels like a technical military history was interleaved with a thriller. The momentum from the thriller is quashed by the exposition on the history of the politics between nuclear armaments. (Though there are some funny bits, such as when they discover that the "nuclear stockpile" doesn't really exist.) We do hear about a few "accidents" that could have led to large scale nuclear disaster, but luckily did not.

The "Illusion of Safety" is repeatedly brought up. There are often complex mechanisms put in place to ensure safety. However, these can often backfire due to the humans carrying them out. There are also the trade-offs inherent in a "weapons of mass destruction" military policy. If the weapons are too safe, they may not be effective in a rapid retaliation.

After a lot of history, the book finally ends up with the big explosion in Arkansas. It shifts back into narrative action, as we have some bravery as people attempt to rescue others and escape the missle that has decided to launch itself. Then there is some post mortem. There were a lot of things to blame (including a bumbling public response by the air force.) They eventually chose to blame the little guy because they could, however, there were plenty of things done right and wrong all around.

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