We are all still living comfortable lives, and few people think much about thermonuclear war, but it wasn’t that way in the late 50s and early 60s. Everyone was worrying about the possibility of hydrogen bombs falling on their city, which was strange because everyone wants to live a long and healthy life while having as much fun as possible with their friends and family, so who would be trying to make H-bombs and preparing to kill millions of people? Unfortunately, it was primarily Americans and soon after the Soviets in Russia who were in a potentially civilization-destroying arms race. It was insane, everyone thought it was insane, and yet both of these countries were pursuing this craziness to the brink of Armageddon and to the very last hair trigger point before backing off.
15 Minutes: General Curtis LeMay and the Countdown to Nuclear Annihilation by L. Douglas Kenney clearly shows how intelligent sane men can push all humanity and the rest of our living world to the brink of extinction. Even though this was called the Cold War, and it was a war that never went into all out combat mode, it was the most dangerous time for humanity since Mt. Toba erupted 73,000 years ago. These two events almost destroyed our species. What worries me about nuclear war is that it is being conducted by sane people with positive human motives.
Stanley Kubrick, after making his Academy Award winning black comedy movie about the advent of a Doomsday war, Dr. Strangelove, is quoted as saying, “I suspect that few planets survive their nuclear age.” That comment is probably still true at the moment because we still have a super abundance of weapons and the only thing protecting us is dumb luck and fear of retaliation. That isn’t a stable situation! We have been very lucky so far, but our luck seems to be running out. Iran and Israel seem to be at loggerheads over each other’s right to exist. India and Pakistan don’t seem much more accommodating to one another’s existence. At present the U.S. and Russia have recognized their ability to annihilate one another but at the expense of self destruction, so they just respect each other’s power and live in a tight little peace. The major coming problem seems to be who will control the world when China surpasses the US in overall economic and military power.
After 20 years of aerial combat experience Curtis Lemay had created and was in control of what he thought was necessary to protect America: a collection of fabulously powerful weapons and a highly trained fighting force who were loyal and committed to his cause – the Strategic Air Command. At the end of 1961 – “we also know that the actual number of SIOP alert forces totaled 1,551 delivery vehicles—bombers, missiles, submarines, navy aircraft—with 3,382 megatons on hair-trigger readiness. There were 27,387 nuclear weapons in the national stockpile. The Soviet stockpile numbered 3,322 bombs.” p. 284
A year before the Cuba Missile crisis, on November 24, 1961 because of a minor fault on a radio tower near Black Forest, Colorado, SAC went onto a War Alert readiness status and every available bomber was either in the air or was loaded and with engines running at the end of the runways. The majority of SAC’s power could have been in the air in under 15 Minutes. That was caused by a technical error, but the Cuba Missile Crisis was worse because it was intentional and in some ways we came even closer to … _ _ _ …
Below is a promotional video seeking workers for the National Labs. Watch it and you will see that the people working in these occupations are normal and intelligent and apparently moral. That is what makes this a problem so dangerous and so intractable.