Book Recommendation-Command and Control

by Rick Bretz

Sometimes what you don’t know can hurt you or, after a second look at atomic and hydrogen weapons, can obliterate you. Command and Control

This is what you learn after reading the book “Command and Control” by Eric Schlosser. The subtitle gives away the theme, “Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety.”

The book moves through the early stages of the Cold War landscape where the country’s leaders addressed many thorny issues such as fixing weapons program technical malfunctions and, even tougher, how to eliminate human errors.

In the Cold War business doing things right 99 percent of the time only gets you criticized for the other one percent when things go wrong. The men and women who keep the country safe and secure while working inside missile control centers and bombers remain examples of intelligent and reliable military professionals. The military forged new territory after World War II when they had to invent procedures and checklists for managing and controlling intercontinental ballistic missiles and warheads designed to wipe cities and countries off the map.

Despite the best planning and “What If” matrices by government and defense professionals in the military, accidents will happen and did happen. Through sheer good fortune the nuclear weapons program didn’t accidentally kill innocent civilians like the 1961 “Broken Arrow” incident near Goldsboro, NC., when bombs went through all but one of the fail safe steps that prevented a detonation after a B-52 bomber crash. Prior to that, the government even authorized military studies such as the Army’s Office of Special Weapons Development report in 1955 titled, “Acceptable Military Risks from Accidental Detonation of Atomic Weapons.”  These chapters make you sit up and read with a little more attention so you won’t miss any other revealing “that was a close one” information.

This book scrutinizes and outlines the thought processes and policy battles within the civilian and military government leadership for control of the country’s use and design of the nuclear defense program. He portrays key figures at the early stages of weapons technology like Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay and Presidents Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy, who had to deal with the weapons command and control issues in the beginning. A concern raised by leaders at the start was the communication time-lapse from a Soviet Union launch to the moment the President receives word  that missiles were on the way. This time period was vital for having enough time to make the correct decision to launch weapons or realize it was a false indicator.  If recognition and communications were slow, the President may not have had enough time to give the OK to send missiles down range in retaliation, especially if the target was the nation’s capital.

For the baby boomer generation, this book is a trip down mutual destruction memory lane. The author liberally uses the acronyms some of us have come to know and love like MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), DEFCON (Defense Readiness Condition), ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) and even some new ones like PAL (Permissive Action Link), a term used to describe a coded device installed within a nuclear warhead or bomb, like a lock to prevent unauthorized use of the weapon that might accidentally facilitate MAD.

Several of the acronyms are downright ingenious like MANIAC (Mathematical Analyzer, Numerical Integrator, and Computer), an early electronic, digital computer used at Los Alamos to design the first hydrogen bombs.

The author Schlosser, who also wrote “Fast Food Nation”, begins with an event that occurred on September 18, 1980, in a Titan II missile silo near Damascus, Arkansas. It describes the command and control center and how, through a series of mistakes, a missile came close to contaminating a large part of the state. It’s a story thread that is woven throughout the book. The author walks you through the launch complex while giving the reader a vivid picture of what a missile looks like and the difficult job “Missileers” had keeping our country safe from communist aggression. The job was much more dangerous than conventional thinking would have you believe.

The Air Force officers and airmen mentioned in the book, working at missile silos and control centers across the United States and overseas, trained diligently for a task they were given during a tense time on the Cold War timeline. They were putting into action the Cold War Theory of deterrence.  In between the face-offs and stare downs, misinformation and disinformation flowed as part of campaigns to unsettle each other’s government leadership. All the while, agency and department chiefs fought for control, budgets increased, military services developed their own weapons initiatives, and strategies shifted from deterrence and MAD to the strategy of conflict escalation during the arms race.

For some people this book will get tedious in the middle when the author outlines policy arguments and protocols. The read gets interesting when he describes the many personalities that have worked in the program. Some parts take on a solemn tone at times when he writes about young people who have given their lives while flying missions or trying to prevent a missile silo from contaminating an area.

I recommend this book if you want to read about the history of America’s arms race with the Soviet Union and how the two countries played a high stakes game of poker with millions of lives on the table.  At times, America bluffed and other times the Soviet Union had the bad hand but played as if they had a straight flush.

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I’m Sorry Everyone’s Sorry, and I Apologize for That


by Rick Bretz

The first apology in the history of the world, of course, occurred shortly after Eve ate the fruit from the forbidden tree.
She had to send out a Tweet that went something like this, “I deeply regret the error of my ways. I saw it and I took it. I shouldn’t have and media cameras caught me. Most of all, I am sorry for hurting the only human being that I can have a conversation with, Adam. Please do not use me as an example. I didn’t know what I was thinking.”

That Twitter apology was followed by a Facebook post and several talk show appearances.

This was soon followed by a heartfelt, “I’m Sorry” from Adam for coming home later from whatever he did in those days.
Many apologies later from Caesars, Pharaohs, Kings, Queens, husbands and entertainers led to another famous apology.
History would reveal that Leonardo Da Vinci apologized for taking so long (4 years) to complete the Sistine Chapel. Ok. That didn’t happen but if he were doing today, he would have to explain why he was behind schedule on an evening news show, followed by Congressional Hearings to explain how the money was being used.

An avalanche of heavy-hearted apologies have inundated the radio, internet and talk shows the last several years. Too bad most of them aren’t sincere. The apology-makers are trying to save something they have, like money, reputations, endorsement deals or careers. Part of the problem is that the word usage police and special interest groups have begun to hold people’s reputations and careers hostage until they submit to their social penance demands. People have to show the proper amount of contrition or else they can’t move on with their lives.

Here is an effective apology from the past. In 1077: Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV apologizes to Pope Gregory VII for church-state conflicts by standing barefoot in the snow for three days.

Now this is an apology. No words but action. I’ve given some apologies but I would have never thought about this as a way to say, “I’m Sorry.” If I did think of it, I would have kept it to myself and thought of something else like “I’ll light the candles in the Chapel for seven straight days or something like that.”



However, when you need a real apology done the right way there are two examples that come to mind. One is a non-apology no fault appeal.

It was John Belushi’s last second plea to his scorned girl friend at the end of the Blues Brothers movie, “No I didn’t. Honest… I ran out of gas! I–I had a flat tire! I didn’t have enough money for cab fare! My tux didn’t come back from the cleaners! An old friend came in from out-of-town! Someone stole my car! There was an earthquake! A terrible flood! Locusts! IT WASN’T MY FAULT, I SWEAR TO GOD!!






Then there is the insincere heartfelt apology given to Kevin Kline by John Cleese in the movie, “A Fish Called Wanda.” He states while hanging upside down out of a window, “All right, all right, I apologize. I’m really, really sorry. I apologize unreservedly. I do. I offer a complete and utter retraction. The imputation was totally without basis in fact, and was in no way fair comment, and was motivated purely by malice, and I deeply regret any distress that my comments may have caused you or your family, and I hereby undertake not to repeat any such slander at any time in the future.”

There are many ways to apologize but don’t say you are sorry unless you mean it. Also, don’t keep saying I’m sorry for no reason, it loses its effectiveness and just makes the offender look ridiculous. So, with that stated, I’m sorry for wasting your time reading this post. Really I am.



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