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Command and Control
Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety
Eric Schlosser
read on February 1, 2017

A terrifying book on America's nuclear arsenal - it's development, history, and current state. I didn't take good notes while listing to this, but some highlights were below. The book alternates between nuclear history, and a specific disaster in Damascus, Arkansas in the 80s. Really, really scary stuff - especially considering our current political situation.

  • Completely unbelievable the decisions that these leaders were facing, and the state of the world. How are we still alive? 
  • Interesting take on first-strike policy, and how/where to keep nukes. not until submarine were we able to step back a tic from "strike first". Nuts that we had a constantly flying airborne nuke capability for some time.
  • For the first time since war of 1812, attack on us seemed possible. NA didn't have a single radar to search for planes. (in 1949 we had only 23 radars for earstern US). In event of war, the plan was literally to have civillian volunteers search the sky with binoculars for russian planes. "overwhelmed by stress, lack of sleep and fears of international communism, SecDef forestall had recently sufferred a nervous breakdown, and leaped to his death from a sixteenth floor window at bethesda naval hospital."
  • "Two weeks after an accident that could have detonated a hydrogen bomb in morocco, the DoD and atomic enegery comision issues a joint statement on atomic weapon saftey. "in reply to inquiries about hazard which may be involved in the movement of nuclear weapons" they said "it can be stateed with assurance that the possibility of an accidental nuclear explosion is so remote as to be negligible." Less than a month later, Walter Greg and his son Walter Jr were in the toolshed outside their home in Mars Bluff South Caronlina when a Mark 6 atomic bomb landed in the yard. Mrs Greg was inside the house, sewing, and her daughters Helend and Francis, aged 6 and 9, were playing outdoors with a 9 year old cousin. The Mark 6 had a variable yield of anywhere from 8 to 160 kilotons, depeding on the type of nuclear core that was used."
  • "The only weapons in todays stockpile that trouble Purefoy are the W76 and W88 warheads carried by submarine launched Trident 2 missiles. The drell panel expressed concern about these warheads more than 20 years ago. Both of them rely on convention high explosives, instead of insensitive high explosives. The navy had insisted on the use of the more dangerous explosive to reduce the weight of the warheads, increase their range, and slightly increase their yeild. The decision was unfortunate from a saftey perspective, because the multiple warheads of a trident 2 dont sit on top of the missle, they surround the rocket motor of its third stage as a space saving measure. And the navy chose a high-energy propellent for the rocket motor thats much more likely to explode in an accident, simply by being dropepd or struck by a bullet than other solid fuels. the trident submarine has as many as 24 of these missles, each carried btwn 4 to 5 warheads. An accident with one missile could detonate the third stage propellent, set off the high explosives of the warheads, and spread a good deal of plutonium around the ports of Georgia and Washington state, where Trident submarines are based."

Author Bio:

Schlosser started his career as a journalist with The Atlantic Monthly in Boston, Massachusetts. He quickly gained recognition for his investigative pieces, earning two awards within two years of joining the staff: he won the National Magazine Award for reporting for his two-part series "Reefer Madness" and "Marijuana and the Law" (Atlantic Monthly, August and September, 1994), and he won the Sidney Hillman Foundation award for his article "In the Strawberry Fields" (Atlantic Monthly, November 19, 1995).[citation needed] Schlosser wrote Fast Food Nation (2001), an exposé on the unsanitary and discriminatory practices of the fast food industry. Fast Food Nation evolved from a two-part article in Rolling Stone. Schlosser helped adapt his book into a 2006 film directed by Richard Linklater. The film opened November 19, 2006. Chew On This (2006), co-written with Charles Wilson, is an adaptation of the book for younger readers. Fortune called Fast Food Nation the "Best Business Book of the Year" in 2001. His 2003 book Reefer Madness discusses the history and current trade of marijuana, the use of migrant workers in California strawberry fields, and the American pornography industry and its history. William F. Buckley gave Reefer Madness a favorable review, as did BusinessWeek. Schlosser's book Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety was published in September 2013. It focuses on the Damascus Titan missile explosion, a non-nuclear explosion of a Titan II missile in 1980. The New Yorker''s Louis Menand called it "excellent" and "hair-raising" and said that "Command and Control is how nonfiction should be written." It was a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for History. He has been working on a book on the American prison system, which has been nearly 10 years in the making