Eric Schlosser’s “Command and Control” is alarmist nonsense

Wikipedia's thermonuclear device schematic. It's a lot tougher to detonate than that, though
Wikipedia’s thermonuclear device schematic. It’s a lot tougher to detonate than that, though

In 1961, an Air Force B-52 accidentally dropped 2 nukes on North Carolina during an in-flight mishap. The bombs required 6 switches, activated sequentially, to be detonated. At least 1 was found with only 1 switch left unactivated. From this, Eric Schlosser, who is writing a book on the nuclear arms races called Command and Control, concludes:

The US government has consistently tried to withhold information from the American people in order to prevent questions being asked about our nuclear weapons policy … We were told there was no possibility of these weapons accidentally detonating, yet here’s one that very nearly did.

Huh? Neither of the bombs exploded, which means the safeguards worked as designed. The 6 switches were in fact sufficient to prevent detonation in an extreme accident, because said accident happened without further ordinance incident.

Schlosser’s reasoning is typical of people who equate the fact that something almost happened – but was stopped by safeguards as intended – with that something actually happening. This logic is completely flawed.

Let’s not forget that, from an incentive perspective, the people with the biggest reason to ensure nukes are safe are those who possess them. Bombs spend most of their existence within fatal proximity of friendly forces. Thus, if there were ever anyone who wanted to ensure nukes don’t go off unless absolutely intended to do so via legitimate friendly command, it’s the US government.

Author: jdrch

ISTJ, Rice Owl, UF Gator, mechanical engineer. STEM, sports, music, movies, humor. Account mine only & unaffiliated.


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