Command and Control Book Summary By Eric Schlosser

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Command and Control is a must-read book (2013) which shines a light on the troubled and dangerous nuclear weapons program of the United States.

Through this book, readers are able to understand the history behind the development of the first nuclear bomb since World War II, as well as learn about the close calls that could have triggered Armageddon.

The book reveals how much luck we've had in managing to safely store our stockpile of nuclear weapons in spite of numerous accidents over time.

If you believe that such weapons were always under strict security - think again!

This compelling read covers all aspects of US' risky nuclear weapons program and is essential for anyone interested in understanding these issues.

Command and Control Book

Book Name: Command and Control (Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety)

Author(s): Eric Schlosser

Rating: 4.8/5

Reading Time: 27 Minutes

Categories: Economics

Author Bio

Eric Schlosser, one of the most well-known investigative journalists today, is the man behind Command and Control: The Story of Nuclear Weapons and The Illusion of Safety.

His work has been featured in prominent publications such as The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and the Atlantic.

He's also responsible for some earlier works such as Fast Food Nation, for which he won much praise.

To top it off, Schlosser has been on multiple television programs and has spoken to numerous audiences worldwide, which is evident from his fame and newfound recognition in regard to the Command and Control book.

In essence, Eric Schlosser is an influential force within current literature and journalism with a career spanning several decades.

A Journey Through The History Of Nuclear Warfare: From The Manhattan Project To North Korea

North Korea

If you want to get a clear picture of the decades-long conflict between nations over nuclear weapons, Command and Control is the book for you.

Taking readers on a journey through the history of nuclear warfare, it lays out the events that have brought us to this deadly domain – and highlights why nuclear war should never be an option.

From delving into the Manhattan Project with an international team of scientists and examining how Reagan was convinced by a TV movie that nuclear war is never a viable solution, to discussing what put us at risk of total annihilation back in 1983 – this book gives an in depth look at what it takes to ensure global peace.

Not only will readers gain a better understanding of how we got here, but they’ll also learn from the mistakes of our past to guide us into building a brighter future.

The Manhattan Project: How The First Nuclear Bomb Was Created

The nuclear bomb is a devastating weapon that harnesses the power of fission to trigger an enormous chain reaction.

The scientists behind the Manhattan Project discovered that the reaction could be triggered by either uranium-235 or plutonium-239, both of which have a high amount of protons.

At the center of any nuclear bomb is a plutonium core, which is surrounded by a series of high explosives.

The explosives are designed so that when they all ignite at precisely the same instant, they will cause an implosion – creating immense pressure from within and forcing the core to split apart.

This releases a massive amount of energy, devastating anyone and anything in its path.

In order to ensure that all 32 explosives detonate simultaneously and produce this chain reaction, Donald Horning invented the X-Unit electronic triggering device.

Amazingly enough, it worked flawlessly with their first test on July 17th, 1945 – yielding results far more powerful than even imagined by producing a mushroom cloud reaching 8 miles into the sky.

Truly terrifying yet awe-inspiring all at once!

The Aftermath Of The Dropping Of The Atomic Bombs: How To Control The Revolutionary Weapon And Its Ethical Implications

In the wake of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the challenge became figuring out how to regulate nuclear weapons in order to prevent a similar disaster from happening again.

To achieve this end, an uneasy mix of civilians and military personnel were tasked with establishing rules and regulations.

While some US Air Force Generals called for the immediate banning of nuclear weapons, the eventual outcome was the Atomic Energy Act of 1946.

This act provided civilian oversight over America’s nuclear program through a Joint Committee on Atomic Energy comprised of politicians.

At the same time, military officials were brought in to serve as advisors; however, they would go on to fight for more control in upcoming decades.

The decision-making process between civil policy decisions and national security may never be easy as is evident by this case.

For now though, a delicate balance must be struck between both sides in order to ensure safe handling of these powerful weapons.

The Cold War Led To A Nuclear Arms Race Between The United States And The Soviet Union

Nuclear Arms

During the Cold War, a dangerous arms race began between the United States and the Soviet Union to develop more powerful nuclear weapons.

Both sides started out with implosion bombs, also known as Mark 3 bombs, which were used in World War II.

However, in 1949 the US began working on its own stronger weapon: the Mark 4 bomb.

It was safer than other bombs because it stored its nuclear core separately from the rest of the bomb and featured a detonation device that could detect a change of altitude—and remain unarmed until released from a plane.

But even this would be replaced by the far more powerful Mark 6 bomb, and then superseded by an even deadlier one: The Mark 7 bomb.

This was smaller and lighter but significantly more powerful than its predecessors.

At about the same time, both countries raced to develop their own hydrogen bombs.

In November 1952, America conducted it’s first full-scale test of a liquid-fueled H-bomb while in August 1953 Russia performed their own thermonuclear test with their RDS-6 bomb.

Both events demonstrated weapon yields 500 times greater than those of Nagasaki’s atomic bomb dropped during WWII—showing just how far nuclear weapon technology had advanced since then.

Safety Vs. Preparedness: The Dilemma Of Nuclear Weapons In The Cold War

As the American nuclear stockpile grew during the Cold War, so did the risk of a potential deadly accident.

The Strategic Air Command routinely loaded and unloaded bombs from planes that flew over populated areas and these routines increased the chances of human or mechanical errors.

The Soviets launching Sputnik triggered an even greater need for more powerful weapons, raising concerns about how close storage facilities were to densely-populated areas and how much explosives were handled during training missions.

Nuclear experts such as Robert Peurifoy and Carl Carlson warned about the issue of “one-point safety,” which is how vulnerable bombs were to having a single explosive detonator go off.

Doing so could cause serious damage if radioactive materials were released into the air, even from small traces of plutonium dust.

Both scientists worked for Sandia research laboratory under contract with the US military but their efforts to make nuclear weapons more secure by adding extra safety features were met with resistance in government and military circles due to fears that it would decrease weapon reliability.

As such, many of the older bombs never received full upgrades or retrofit measures

The Threat Of Nuclear Accidents And Loose Security Measures In The 1950S And 1960S Posed A Grave Risk To World Peace

Accidents were quite common when it came to handling nuclear weapons during the 1950s and 1960s, and there was little protection in place against disturbed military personnel.

The first detailed safety report on nuclear weapons revealed that an average of seven bombs were being accidentally dropped every year.

On top of that, twelve crashes or accidents involved planes carrying a nuclear bomb.

This highlighted the danger of such weapons, especially considering the lack of thorough screening process for military personnel who handled them.

It was especially worrying as Europe had barely any security measures to prevent a pilot or soldier from accessing and launching a missile or rocket.

If someone inebriated, high or in a psychotic state got his hands on these powerful devices, the world could be pushed into a devastating nuclear Armageddon.

The B-52 Bomber: A History Of Malfunctions And Drug Abuse In The Military

B-52 Bomber

Accidents continued to occur with the B-52 planes throughout the 1960s and 1970s, as they remained the main vehicle transporting nuclear bombs.

In 1961, a malfunction caused a B-52 to crash into a barley field in northern California with two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs on board (fortunately, these malfunctioned and shattered without incident).

Just weeks later in the Appalachian Mountains, turbulence led to another B-52 breaking apart and crashing into a mountain side.

This plane was carrying two Mark 53 H-bombs which were thankfully undetonated upon recovery from the wreckage.

In 1966, another mid-air collision occurred when a B-52 was attempting to refuel over the coast of southern Spain; unfortunately this resulted in plenty of fatalities, as well as an explosion that released plutonium onto a nearby farm due to one bomb partially detonating in its impact crater.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the end of such incidents involving dangerous material; during this time period, military personnel at Air Force bases across America began partaking in drug culture – even those responsible for nuclear bomb storage.

As many as 230 officers alone were arrested on Missouri base for their involvement with drugs.

The Danger Of Nuclear Automation: How The Single Integrated Operational Plan Almost Brought Us To The Brink Of War

Increased efforts to develop a reliable system of command and control didn’t necessarily make things safer.

Take, for example, the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) that was developed in the late 1950s using an early IBM computer.

It was designed to ensure the complete annihilation of the enemy with a 75-percent probability.

It called for 3,423 nuclear weapons to be aimed at 1,000 different ground zeroes, destroying 3,729 targets and resulting in the death of an estimated 220 million people.

This plan would have been impossible to stop once it was initiated.

On multiple occasions throughout history NORAD incorrectly identified incoming missiles due to faulty computers or accidental running of test programs.

In fact, during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 they were placed at DEFCON 2 – one level away from imminent nuclear war – until cooler heads prevailed and the Soviet Union agreed to remove their weapons from Cuba.

It’s clear that there is still much work to be done when it comes to developing reliable systems of command and control for nuclear weapons, especially if we want our world to remain safe and secure for years to come.

The Danger Of Nuclear Weapons: A Look At The Arkansas Missile Silo Incident Of 1980

On September 18, 1980, a routine maintenance procedure at a missile silo in Damascus, Arkansas went horribly wrong.

The team was attempting to fill the oxidizer tank with highly toxic liquid propellants and an oxider that can release an even deadlier explosive vapor.

Unfortunately, a metal socket fell 70 feet before striking the side of the rocket.

This small mistake triggered alarms and warning lights across the area and panic spread amongst those in the underground silo.

Everyone evacuated but hours passed as a growing toxic cloud of rocket fuel vapor rose up into the heavens.

Curious onlookers began to gather around the access road to witness what would happen next.

The Air Force and SAC had been cautious yet thorough in their bureaucratic process for such an emergency but people were anxious about what would come next as this most powerful nuclear weapon created by the United States had a risk of accidental detonation – something nobody wanted to experience.

The Disastrous Consequences Of Turning A Blind Eye To Expert Advice: The Jeff Kennedy And David Livingston Story

David Livingston

A number of poor decisions by those in authority resulted in the explosion of the Titan II missile and the death of an Air Force officer that night.

Jeff Kennedy, a highly respected Air Force missile mechanic, arrived on the scene with a plan to resolve the situation – but no one approved it until they had passed his proposal up the bureaucratic chain of command.

This took nearly eight hours and when they finally took action, it was a bad decision: technicians were ordered to enter the silo usingthe main access door instead of the smaller escape hatch.

Kennedy and fellow technician David Livingston then made their way inside, their protective suits melting due to a high level of toxins in the air.

Before he could leave, Kennedy received an order to activate a ventilation fan, which would increase chances of ignition – and sure enough, as soon as he left, there was an explosion that sent a tower of fire into the sky.

It’s clear that things could have been avoided if better decisions were taken earlier on.

The death of an Air Force officer is a tragedy that did not need to happen if only those in power had followed through with Kennedy’s initial plans more quickly.

The Able Archer 83 Crisis: How A Cold War Drill Almost Triggered A Nuclear Apocalypse

The Damascus incident of 1980 served as an early warning of the perils of nuclear weapons and the carelessness with which they were handled.

Fortunately, the only fatality was a low-ranking officer, but many others were severely injured.

With Ronald Reagan entering office in 1981, the situation only got worse.

He committed $1.5 trillion to defense spending that would expand the United States’ nuclear arsenal, one weapon being the Pershing II – capable of destroying Moscow in under ten minutes with its short-range missiles.

This move further heightened tensions between East and West.

To make matters even worse, Russia invaded Afghanistan and the US responded with psyops; regularly sending SAC bombers into Soviet airspace, conducting Navy exercises close to facilities and even shooting down a Korean Airlines Flight due to an accidental entry into Soviet airspace killing all 269 passengers on board.

The Day After: How A Movie Changed The Attitude On Nuclear Weapons And Dangers Of Unsecured Radicals

Nuclear Weapons

In the 1990s, more safety precautions were implemented in the wake of Reagan and Gorbachev’s efforts to reduce nuclear programs.

Robert Peurifoy’s warnings were finally heeded by the military, who started retrofitting their stockpile with improved safety devices.

Additionally, a barcode system was introduced to prevent accidental transport of armed weapons on training missions following a 2009 incident where six nuclear missiles sat unguarded in a plane for two days.

But despite these attempts at minimizing risk, a very real threat still persists today.

Both India and Pakistan are known to have over 100 nuclear weapons each, which could cause irrehookable damage should they fall into the wrong hands.

In fact, Islamic radicals from the area have already made multiple attempts to steal a nuclear weapon – highlighting the need for prompt and effective security measures.

Wrap Up

The final summary of Command and Control is that nuclear weapons are not foolproof and it takes more than just strict bureaucratic checklists to ensure their safe use.

Humans are prone to mistakes, which can lead to catastrophic accidents, regardless of the secretive nature of many nations involved in the technology behind these weapons.

Computers can malfunctioning as well, highlighting the importance of making sure all systems are functioning properly in order to avoid an accident from happening.At the end of the day, no matter what kind of procedures or technology is employed in managing nuclear weapons, there will always be risks involved – but with proper management and care for these weapons, we can reduce those risks and make all our lives a little safer.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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