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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unbelievable... simply unbelievable..., 27 July 2014
This review is from: Command and Control (Paperback)
Oh my God !! This is an astounding and outstanding piece of work. Eric Schlosser's book is a frightening study of incompetence, negligence and plain, simple stupidity. How on earth the United States government allowed the maintenance of its nuclear defence to get so precarious is unbelievable. I'm stunned we're all still here to find out !!

Schlosser's work is a combination of narrative and analytical history of the United States nuclear weapons programme from 1945, with a concurrent description of a serious incident that occurred in Arkansas during the late summer of 1980. The author describes how the US nuclear plan developed from the initial 'Trinity' detonation in 1945 to the introduction of the multiple war-headed 'Peacemaker' missiles at the end of the 1980s. After the attack on Japan, the United States discovered just how difficult it was to maintain a stockpile of nuclear arms and maintain them in a state of readiness for quick use. Upon asking his commanders how many weapons were available for immediate use during the 1948 Berlin Crisis, President Truman was told bluntly 'None': they simply hadn't been built by the scientists at Los Alamos !!

It gets worse. With the development of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) by General Curtis LeMay during the subsequent two decades, arguments and endless debates arose as to who maintained control of the weapons and determined their ultimate usage in any particular circumstance. President Eisenhower believed it should be the military, Defence Secretary Robert McNamara was adamant it remain under civilian control. In conjunction with this there was to be virtually no co-ordination between the Army, Navy and Air Force in how best to use these weapons in the advent of a new world war. Some Soviet targets were to be hit at the same time, some not at all. Inter-service rivalry was clearly operating at an unbelievable level and hampering the development of a clear strategy.

The nuclear strategy of the United States is also analysed... and heavily criticised. As mentioned there was precious little inter-service co-operation in the event of maximising damage upon the Soviets in the event of a confrontation. Eisenhower's idea of 'Massive Retaliation' against any Soviet aggression soon became impractical and a wider range of nuclear options soon developed involving limited war and further led to the development of 'tactical' nuclear weapons. Situations changed, but the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) never did and it highlighted how vulnerable the US was to the possibility of complete political and military decapitation during a nuclear war. Eventually, the penny dropped and by the time of Reagan's election, the thinkers and strategists were discovering one key aspect of nuclear war: it's un-winnable !! The terrifying descriptions of 'attacks' which turned out to be simple computer faults is unbelievable. Nuclear war was only just avoided on so many occasions... chilling !!

Equally chilling is the amount of accidents that occurred involving nuclear weapons over the years. Some bombs were dropped from air planes, others burned, some melted and a select few blew up !! How the Hell there was not a thermonuclear detonation on the continental United States at some point over time is a complete mystery. There was little command and even less control. Schlosser's detailed narrative of the disaster in Arkansas in September 1980 epitomises the lack of maintenance, training, tolerance and even interest in maintaining the condition of bombs and missiles in storage. Too many accidents were blamed on front line personnel when the generals were the real culprits. This was to be an overhang of the rigid command structure introduced by General LeMay himself.

Schlosser dedicates pages to other serious concerns such as weapons safety, security at US bases in Europe (there wasn't any !!) as well as the surprising amount of drug abuse amongst the staff employed to maintain and guard the bombs and missiles.

This is a very scary, sobering and frightening publication. Very easy to read however and a must for all Cold War scholars.
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Location: Lancashire, England

Top Reviewer Ranking: 5,001