THE HUMAN ELEMENT SEEMS TO HAVE FAILED US HERE

As an obsessive consumer of books, movies, and TV from the Cold War era about living under the threat of nuclear annihilation, one thing that becomes apparent is that the fear of accidental apocalypse was easily as prominent (or, in the view of some scholars, more prominent than) as the fear that some madman bent on destroying the world would gain access to the Big Red Button. It was broadly recognized, particularly once the hydrogen bomb and the ICBM entered the picture in the early 1960s, that a nuclear war was not "winnable" and that even the evil, bloodthirsty Commie understood that well enough that no sane man would initiate one. Ivan knew that Uncle Sam was ready to hit him back hard enough to return the planet to the Stone Age, and both Eastern and Western political systems were robust enough (in their own very different ways) to prevent the elevation of the kind of lunatic who would say "Screw it, let's all die!" into a position of authority.

The biggest fear, then, was that once a massive apparatus of global annihilation was created humans would somehow lose control of it – that like a careless child who finds dad's gun, we would blow the planet up without intending to do so. On the American side, the heavy reliance on automation and seemingly half-crazed SAC Generals combined with the sheer size of the nuclear arsenal strained the ability of the civilian leadership to ensure that nothing happened that was not supposed to happen. For the Soviets, perversely, it was the lack of effective command and control, combined with the doddering character of their political leadership after Kruschchev, that raised the red flags (pun intended). That the world could come to an end because an American computer or a Soviet radio hookup from the 1930s malfunctioned was more plausible to most people than a cartoon villain President or General launching the missiles with a bloodthirsty laugh.

The most popular and in many ways best depiction of this fear in the arts is, of course, Dr. Strangelove:

Muffley: Well I assume then, that the planes will return automatically once they reach their failsafe points.

Turgidson: Well, sir, I'm afraid not. You see the planes were holding at their failsafe points when the go code was issued. Now, once they fly beyond failsafe they do not require a second order to proceed. They will fly until they reach their targets.

Muffley: Then why haven't you radioed the planes countermanding the go code?

Turgidson: Well, I'm afraid we're unable to communicate with any of the aircraft.

Muffley: Why?

Turgidson: As you may recall, sir, one of the provisions of plan R provides that once the go code is received the normal SSB radios in the aircraft are switched into a special coded device, which I believe is designated as CRM114. Now, in order to prevent the enemy from issuing fake or confusing orders, CRM114 is designed not to receive at all, unless the message is preceded by the correct three letter code group prefix.

Muffley: Then do you mean to tell me, General Turgidson, that you will be unable to recall the aircraft?

Turgidson: That's about the size of it. However, we are plowing through every possible three letter combination of the code. But since there are seventeen thousand permutations it's going to take us about two and a half days to transmit them all.

Muffley: How soon did you say the planes would penetrate Russian radar cover?

Turgidson: About eighteen minutes from now, sir.

This is, as we have already been reminded with the Taiwan Phone Call Crisis, the fear we once again have to live with as a nation. If for no other reason than self-interest, we can safely assume that Donald Trump does not actually want to get us all killed. The problem is that he's exactly the kind of person who would blunder into it. Shoot first – from the hip, naturally – and ask questions later. Act with an open disdain for forethought. Be "disruptive" and then let others rush in to clean up the mess you just made. This is, as the well worn saying goes, precisely how accidents happen. I'm not worried that Donald Trump wants to start a war. I'm worried that Donald Trump will start a war, at which point his intent will be irrelevant. That refusal to think about things he says and does that was pointed out throughout the campaign is not a bug. It's a feature. He states explicitly that he wants to be "unpredictable" in foreign policy. It doesn't take much imagination to envision how the infamously irony-deficient Chinese or Russian leadership are going to react to Diplomacy by Coked Up 3 AM Twitter Zinger.

"He wouldn't do that" is only reassuring inasmuch as the "he" in question is conscious of the potential consequences of his words and actions. Your dog doesn't want to knock over the glass perched on the edge of the kitchen table, but dammit if he doesn't do it every time he gets excited.

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56 Responses to “THE HUMAN ELEMENT SEEMS TO HAVE FAILED US HERE”

  1. Nate Says:

    Well, let's hope that the Premier loves surprises.

  2. Martine Says:

    Terrifying stuff! At least the dog will seem chagrined and happily (in most cases) clean up the mess he's made.

  3. Joe Jonas Says:

    Tying into this fear is that those around him will exploit this uncertainty for their own gains. What is Flynn or some other hawk begins pushing Trump toward a war with Iran, for instance? Then we're all fucked. But at least those voters got a really sweet red baseball cap.

  4. Emerson Dameron Says:

    Detente is so beta.

  5. Jon Says:

    This is where we're at. Claiming that the President of the United States of America has less self restraint than a dog is not excessive hyperbole.

  6. Droppy Says:

    But, really, you have to remember that Hillary Clinton used the wrong kind of server for her email, so our New Stone Age descendants should blame her for everything.

  7. Jim Says:

    "Yeah but you should see these babies! A big plane, like a 52….flying in so low, jet exhaust is frying chickens in the barnyard!!!"

  8. Dorothy Says:

    Members of my friends and family have discussed this and speculated whether those closest to him would be willing to 'engineer' a death by 'natural causes' if they deem him too dangerous. While many of these people have well-documented repellant views on the value of the lives of non-white, non-Christian peoples, ostensibly at least some have children and grandchildren in whose futures they have a stake. Then again, after seeing Michael Flynn Jr. continuing to perpetuate lies about the pedophile ring even after the scary incident in DC over the weekend, who the f**k knows.

  9. Dave Dell Says:

    A quick little ditty from my youth…

    The Merry Minuet
    Kingston Trio

    They're rioting in Africa,
    They're starving in Spain.
    There's hurricanes in Florida,
    And Texas needs rain
    The whole world is festering
    With unhappy souls.
    The French hate the Germans,
    The Germans hate the Poles;
    Italians hate Yugoslavs,
    South Africans hate the Dutch,
    And I don't like anybody very much!
    But we can be tranquil
    And "thankfill" and proud,
    For man's been endowed
    With a mushroom-shaped cloud.
    And we know for certain
    That some lovely day
    Someone will set the spark off,
    And we will all be blown away!
    They're rioting in Africa,
    There's strife in Iran.
    What nature doesn't do to us
    Will be done by our fellow man

  10. Major Kong Says:

    I mean really what's the worst that can happen?

    Oh………yeah……..that.

    If anyone needs me I'll be curled up in the corner quietly sobbing.

  11. Miles Bjornstam Says:

    There won't be any nukes. Nukes are for 'ending' wars. An ended war is no good for the war business.

    What there will be is dozens if not hundreds of local quagmires with US boots on the ground… as the local management team. That's how it works already. The military officers in Afghanistan are there to manage the mercenaries and the troops are there to give reasonable doubt. 90% of the time the troops are sitting around on base. The 'contractors' in the hot areas are the ones doing everything. The black hole defense budget is a perfect cover for this sort of international grift.

    The disinformation experts on Trumps staff will be spinning this new format of American Privateer Imperialism in the same way Putin's trolls spin the Russian occupation of Ukraine.

  12. Mo Says:

    Is this another one of those remember-the-past-or-else-repeat-it things?

    Global warming AND nuclear war! USA! USA!

    I was thinking of stocking the basement with emergency food, but maybe I'll just put in a still and start buying suspicious quantities of potatoes.

  13. MS Says:

    On the plus side, the dust kicked up by a few hundred nuclear detonations really will cool the planet.

  14. ConcernedCitizen Says:

    "irony-deficient"

    Ha! How have I not heard that before? (Assuming you didn't just come up with it. If so, props.)

  15. Dave Dell Says:

    I'm reminded of a small book, a reprint of a New Yorker article I believe, "The Fate of the Earth, A Republic of Insects and Grass", from the early 80's.

    http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1982/02/01/the-fate-of-the-earth-a-republic-of-insects-and-grass

    Nuclear Winter in all its glory.

    I see trump as not realizing that battlefield nuclear warheads aren't actually useful. I recall a short movie in (ridiculously enough in my case) NCO leadership school. How to get the troops to move into an area that just got treated to a peewee nuke. The short answer is… "Sarge is dead".

    But I sense their use is very tempting to the trumpeter. Once used, where does it end? Echo answers mournfully.

  16. Dave Dell Says:

    I should add that "Sarge is dead." is the unofficial answer.

  17. Aurora S Says:

    @Dorothy–

    I was discussing the total stupidity of the Taiwan Phone Call Incident with a friend and a good point arose–the total obliviousness of Trump to the fact that he is just as much a figurehead as every president from Ford onward. He appears completely unaware of the consequences of pissing off China…he may not care how it affects the average prole when/if China comes calling to collect a debt we can't repay (as these things are often repaid with an ocean of commoners' blood), but the Republicans are certainly aware of how their spending habits must be financed if they want to maintain their current lifestyle of not paying taxes and spending money on wars we don't need. He's been allowed to go off the reservation thus far, but if he keeps this up, the Republicans will take him out behind the shed. Or, if he's lucky, just blackmail him into resigning.

  18. Skepticalist Says:

    I Apologize for all my rants about the lunatics all over the world that live in their underground bunkers keeping stock of their precious bodily fluids.

  19. mago Says:

    Hey. Wait a minute. Major Kong straddles the big one; he doesn't curl in the corner and cry.

  20. mago Says:

    Does he? I forget.

  21. Dom Says:

    I don't know what the folks in Beijing think of this, but i get the feeling they're gonna treat Trump like a drunk guy with a gun – keep calm and friendly until you can determine if the gun's loaded.

  22. Major Kong Says:

    @mago

    You are correct. I've seen the movie enough times to have the script memorized.

  23. John Danley Says:

    Then there’s the Scott Adams (quixotic mirth) position. Let’s pretend there’s deep psychological motivation behind the “Master Persuader” who will surprise us in the end with his unmitigated benevolence, strategic perspicacity, and CEO acumen. Dilbert’s progenitor seems to be trying to square a circle that is destined to remain spherical.

    “Caught between the twisted stars, the plotted lines, the faulty map, that brought Columbus to New York.” — Lou Reed

  24. schmitt trigger Says:

    As an engineer myself, Scott Adams used to be my hero. He understood and clearly explained the dystopian life we engineers face every single working day.

    His far-right, pro-Trump views have alienated me. However, the guy is no dummy, he is actually a sharp individual.

    On his blog, he succinctly explained Ford's and Carrier's blackmail techniques:
    "Facts don’t matter. What matters is how you feel. And when you watch Trump and Pence fight and scratch to keep jobs in this country, it changes how you will feel about them for their entire term."

    In other words, as long as he can tickle the endorphins on the "real Americans" reptile brain, his popularity will be yuge! Trump-tower yuge.

    The Taiwan stunt falls into the same category.

    My prediction on whats next? He will order the CBP to raid some food processing plant in California, the ones that employ hundreds of undocumented migrants.
    He will achieve two goals: first, it will strike terror on the minds of many undocumented aliens.
    Second, it will teach a lesson to those California blue liberals. Retribution for having voted for Hillary.

  25. Miles Bjornstam Says:

    Scott Adams isn't an engineer, and engineering firms aren't like Dilbert. Maybe corporate IT is like Dilbert, I don't know. He's about as sharp as any other cartoonist who can't draw with an economics degree from an unknown liberal arts college.

  26. Major Kong Says:

    I worked in corporate IT (long story). It wasn't like Dilbert for the most part.

  27. jcdenton Says:

    I think this is a movie we should force every Trump voter to rewatch (it's The Day After, btw): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yif-5cKg1Yo&ab_channel=MovieClassics

  28. Berkeley '74 Says:

    I'm surprised some of y'all report having conversations with others about the situation at present. In my CA voting area (%73 Hillary) no one is talking about any of this. If a related subject does come up in conversation, everyone says, Let's not go there. As if our silence is somehow going to keep away the madness. Hey, I love nukes as well as the next geek, but I'm used to watching them in 1950s test films, not on the nightly news, please. I was in grade school in the 1950s and performed the duck and cover drills under our desks. Will be interesting to see if I can laugh like old times the next time I view Dr. Strangelove again. The Day After has always been a bit difficult to take, even after repeated views. But I did like the way ham radio operators played their part. The ultimate emergency communication activity. While at Berkeley, for fun and sport, I earned a certificate from the Civil Defense Authority for Nuclear Readiness Preparations. Learned how to dig fox holes and cover them with doors to survive. It was never clear how you were supposed to get that done before the blast. How would you know ? Ham radio I guess. Food will get scarce real quick. This is the best summary I've found to date: youtube.com/watch?v=wV8tFZZGhL8

    Good luck out there …

  29. Broad Says:

    @Dom — Well, after the phone call, China's currency dropped lower than it has since '08, (http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/12/05/did-chinas-currency-just-drop-off-a-cliff/), so I suspect Beijing has no interest in playing friendly.

  30. Major Kong Says:

    I was a B-52 aircraft commander at the tail end of the Cold War.

    I've seen the charts that show the effects of a full scale conflict with the arsenals we had circa late 1980s.

    Nothing east of the Mississippi lives and very little to the west of it.

  31. Totoro Says:

    …and folks are still driving Buffs 25 years later. Whodathunkit?

  32. Major Kong Says:

    And they'll probably be driving them 25 years from now.

    I've heard that they'll be around until at least 2030 and probably 2040.

  33. Skepticalist Says:

    Dad was a radio ham in the fifties and sixties. He got involved practicing relaying messages between other Civil Defense hams too. CD even supplied nice yellow transmitter.

    We were supposed to sit through the blast and relay related messages I guess. Thems was the days. Wish I still had the shitty equipment and water barrel.

  34. Tim H. Says:

    One thing about living close to a large city, there's enough strategic targets (Even in Kansas City.) that I don't expect to suffer very long. Wonder if they've updated target lists? They might waste warheads on corn fields that used to have Minuteman 2 silos.

  35. democommie Says:

    I'm sure that it will all be, like, surgical strikes, doods; they will confine it to THIS planet.

  36. seniorscrub Says:

    About two miles down the road from where I live, there's an abandoned Nike Missle site that was part of the air defense system that ringed large cities in the 50's (before ICBM's rendered them useless).
    Might want to go check out how accessible the old command and control bunkers are….although I'm probably too late.

  37. geoff Says:

    Not trying to be a troll here, but Mrs. Clinton scared the hell out of me as well. Her repeated calls for a no-fly zone over Syria would likely have led to open confrontation in Russia, and her subordinate Samantha Power was deeply involved in Ukraine's revolution and its aftermath. The NATO war games in the Baltics were pretty worrisome too. I certainly don't trust the Giant Evil Baby (or Flynn for fuck's sake) to be "rational actors", but Clinton's neoconservative foreign policy wasnt looking too promising either.

    I remember Cold War II (say '79-'86) very well and thought Reagan was a very dangerous man. I'm not quite there again just yet.

  38. geoff Says:

    ("…open confrontation WITH Russia", sorry.)

    Ed, I wish you'd written Schlosser's Command And Control (need italics). But I just checked and it doesn't look like there are any books on the 1986 Reykjavik Summit between Reagan and Gorbachev not written by the participants. The wikipedia article confirms my dim recollection that the two sides came heartbreakingly close to the most sweeping nuclear arms reduction treaty ever, but it foundered on Reagan's insistence on continuing research on the Strategic Defense Initiative (aka the pie-in-the-sky "Star Wars" ABM system, which NEVER WORKED).

    I think a real tell as to the new President's attitude toward nuclear weapons is whether or not he approves President Obama's 10 year/ trillion dollar "upgrade" to US strategic forces. I am not optimistic.

  39. bb in GA Says:

    For the record, Dilbert's daddy worked for Pac Bell from 1986 – 95. That was in the post 01-01-84 AT&T break-up period where a lot of the Bell System corporate culture started to be washed away, but was still alive.

    I worked for the BS and a post break-up company from 1970 thru 2002. The early Dilbert nails a lot of the corporate stupidity that still reigned when he worked there.

    //bb

  40. Major Kong Says:

    @geoff

    Likewise Clinton worried me on foreign policy. That's why I went with Obama over her back in 2008.

    I see two problems with Trump:

    1. He doesn't know what he doesn't know.

    2. The people he's surrounded himself with know how much he doesn't know.

  41. Mo Says:

    Just had to share:

    Giuliani picked to head C.H.U.D.

  42. seniorscrub Says:

    @Mo
    I suggest he perform an immediate on-site investigation.

  43. Katydid Says:

    Gotta go with BB on this one; I have nothing to do with any telecomm company, but I'm dealing with situations daily that are right out of Dilbert. Currently dealing with a Pointy-Haired Boss who, like Trump, doesn't know what he doesn't know.

  44. Talisker Says:

    @Major Kong

    B-52 trivia: The shortest runway ever used to land one is at Duxford airfield in the UK, for delivery to the Imperial War Museum. I was there last week, and damn, that's a big airplane.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_War_Museum_Duxford#American_Air_Museum

  45. mothra Says:

    Well, now that you all have had fun with this, I heard an interview with a fellow from the Woodrow Wilson Institute this morning on Nice Polite Republicans regarding that Taiwan call. This gentleman said that openly jabbing China by engaging directly in discussions with Taiwan has been on certain Republicans' wishlist for a very long time. They found their useful idiot.

    I feel privileged to live in a state that has high value targets, so I probably won't be around to see the day after. As a matter of fact, in the '80's I used to irritate my mother greatly by telling her I was banking on oblivion (and therefore didn't need to get a nice office job).

  46. April Says:

    Thinking about the cold war, in the 80's I helped break down a bunker that had been stocked with supplies in the late 50's. The food kits contained cans of Coke. I opened one. A thirty year-old can of coke is black, thick syrup.

  47. geoff Says:

    @MK, agreed on all points. On another site I read regularly a lot of lefty types prior to the election were pulling for Trump because they thought his words about working with the Russians (as opposed to confronting them) made him the peace candidate. (Seriously!) I'm afraid they're going to be deeply disappointed. I don't see Mattis and Flynn as the de-escalating types, and I can only assume they'll have the new President's ear. Or more likely the VICE President's ear, which REALLY worries me.

  48. jcdenton Says:

    geoff,

    I'm going to go out on a limb and say that these were probably not mainstream progressives. More like the CT (conspiracy theory) left. Also, we're all pretty fucked anyway. Even if Republicans spend the next 4-8 years engaged in merely conventional warfare, the cost will basically make US debt completely unmanageable.

  49. geoff Says:

    @jcd, well, it was Naked Capitalism, whose founder, ex-wall-streeter Yves Smith, is actually suing the Washington Post for defamation and demanding they retract their "NC (among others) is pushing Russian propaganda" story. But these are only some of the commenters, not the main writers for the site. I'm of the opinion that anyone who expects DJT to do ANYTHING other than burnishing his "brand" and lining his pockets is a fool. But hey, I voted for Obama in '08 and Bubba twice, so what do I know?

  50. Fiddlin Bill Says:

    Trump is the next example of the GOP Presidential strategy of the "useful idiot." He is even more incompetent than W. People who's names we don't know will allow him to create a constant state of turmoil and distraction as long as he stays within certain boundaries. Trump is a patent coward. If he makes serious mistakes from the point of view of those who have long-term goals in mind he will immediately be brought to heel. The GOP has had no interest in democracy since 1945. Same old same old.

  51. Safety Man! Says:

    Fallout used to be my favorite game, too.

  52. Major Kong Says:

    @Safety Man

    Start saving your bottle caps and call Vault-Tec.

    I think we may be living in Fallout in a few years.

  53. Anonymous Prof Says:

    So a Trump voter comes home one day to find his boss screwing his wife.

    And he blurts out, "Oh my God, Mr. Henderson- how can you do this? As soon as my back was turned, you started screwing my wife! HOW COULD YOU BE SUCH A CUCK?"

  54. democommie Says:

    Being an atheist has led to my making better use of this, the one and ONLY life that I will have; enjoying, in Warren Zevon's terms, every sandwich.

    Not that I will get to experience the schadenfreude, but I take some comfort in knowing that all of those smug, KKKristianist Fucks will wind up just as dead as I do.

  55. PhoenicianRomans Says:

    Remember when Reagan made this joke to a radio technician?

    "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes."

    It didn't go out on the air.

    Now, imagine Trump trying to be funny on Twitter at 3.00 a.m. …

  56. Procopius Says:

    You guys are worried about Trump?!!??? Why haven't you been worried about Hillary and Victoria Nuland and Robert Kagan and the rest of the neocon lunatics for the last four years???? While they've been threatening and pressuring and provoking the Russian Federation, installing NATO forces right on the Russian Federation's borders, installing phony anti-missile systems right on the Russian Federation's borders? Haven't you noticed? General Breedlove roaming over NATO exhorting its members to join in a crusade against the Russian Federation? Haven't you heard about that? Oh, wait, no, you didn't hear about that unless you follow outlets like Al Jazeera or RT or Moon of Alabama, or Sic Semper Tyrannis.