"Death Wears Bunny Slippers"
January 14, 2011 6:22 AM   Subscribe

In Nuclear Silos, Death Wears a Snuggie
posted by Blazecock Pileon (94 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
What a weird and interesting view into the lives of people I've never given a moments thought to before.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:33 AM on January 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


" "
posted by pineapple at 6:36 AM on January 14, 2011


Great little article. Thanks, BP.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:39 AM on January 14, 2011


I always thought that being a missileer would be one of the best gigs if you decided to become a military officer. You're a line officer, but hundreds of miles away from any conflict in a bunker and they only chance you have of being killed is in a nuclear war.

Also, you can generally line up a cushy defense job when you get out, because there aren't a lot of people with familiarity with ICBMs.

I mean, North Dakota's boring, but that's a pretty sweet gig.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:42 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Related
posted by Dr Dracator at 6:52 AM on January 14, 2011


but that's a pretty sweet gig.

I suppose, if you like knowing that your job is to push a button labeled End of the World.
posted by pracowity at 6:57 AM on January 14, 2011 [13 favorites]


"Full Metal Slanket" is not going to be a very interesting movie.
posted by mhoye at 7:04 AM on January 14, 2011 [41 favorites]


Do you think any of those guys would actually push the button if it came down to it?

Could you?

Even if the bombs were on the way? Would you launch the missiles just as a 'fuck you' to the Russians? I wouldn't.
posted by empath at 7:06 AM on January 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Do you think any of those guys would actually push the button if it came down to it?

Are you just making a philosophical point, here? The article stated clearly that "Every missileer is carefully screened for mental aptitude and stability, yet they’re evaluated for their readiness to unleash hell."

Obviously, you wouldn't have made the cut for the job.
posted by pineapple at 7:10 AM on January 14, 2011


I wonder what Mr Petrov would write on the subject.
posted by The Mouthchew at 7:11 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm curious if other people on metafilter would do it.

Nothing you do is going to save your life (as he said, you're going to be 100 feet under a 200 foot crater). You have a choice on whether to kill a few million people on the way out or not.

I just don't see how anybody makes the decision to do that.
posted by empath at 7:12 AM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


empath: "Do you think any of those guys would actually push the button if it came down to it?"

Stanislav Petrov didn't.
posted by brokkr at 7:14 AM on January 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Do you think any of those guys would actually push the button if it came down to it?

Could you?

Even if the bombs were on the way?


If the bombs were on the way, then obviously the other guys were willing to push the button. So why wouldn't these guys be wiling to do the same?
posted by brain_drain at 7:15 AM on January 14, 2011


Pardon, Mouthchew.
posted by brokkr at 7:15 AM on January 14, 2011


Brain drain: because the people they would be killing would be innocent.

No moral person could design, build, use, or order the use of a nuclear weapon against any populated target.
posted by Reverend John at 7:18 AM on January 14, 2011


If the bombs were on the way, then obviously the other guys were willing to push the button. So why wouldn't these guys be wiling to do the same?

My question wasn't just about retaliation. I said "EVEN if" the bombs were on the way, but I was asking about pushing the button in general. I think very few sane, rational people would ever push the button under any circumstances. Not as a first strike, not in retaliation, not even with direct orders from the president.
posted by empath at 7:21 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like the idea that the Wii could shut down the missile systems. I suppose that 50 years ago, no one anticipated that Japan could destroy the US's defense using a couple of Italian plumbers.
posted by jeather at 7:23 AM on January 14, 2011 [8 favorites]


No moral person could design, build, use, or order the use of a nuclear weapon against any populated target.

I can go up to the point of designing and building, particularly if the other guy went there first. Governments weren't thinking through the consequences of what they were doing. But once MAD became policy, there was almost no chance of nuclear war. (I realize we had close calls, but it's important to note that no one actually pushed the button).
posted by empath at 7:23 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Only one person has ever had to make the decision, and they refused.
posted by Mick at 7:24 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do you think any of those guys would actually push the button if it came down to it?

Obviously we need to design a super-intelligent computer that can control the nuclear arsenal. We've made amazing advances in AI that can learn. Maybe we can start by teaching it chess. Or tic-tac-toe.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:24 AM on January 14, 2011 [19 favorites]


Great article. If video games aren't allowed down there, I hope at least crossword puzzles are.

The Temptation of Adam, by Josh Ritter

If this was the Cold War we could keep each other warm
I said on the first occasion that I met Marie
We were crawling through the hatch that was the missile silo door
And I don't think that she really thought that much of me
I never had to learn to love her like I learned to love the Bomb
She just came along and started to ignore me
And as we waited for the Big One, I started singing her my songs
And I think she started feeling something for me

We passed the time with crosswords that she thought to bring inside
"What five letters spell apocalypse?" she asked me
I won her over singing "W-W-I-I-I"
And she smiled and we both knew that she'd misjudged me
Oh Marie it was so easy to fall in love with you
It felt almost like a home of sorts or something
And you would keep the warhead missile silo good as new
And I'd watch you with my thumb above the button

Then one night you found me in my Army issue cot
And you told me of your flash of inspiration
You said fusion was the broken heart that's lonely's only thought
And all night long you drove me wild with your equations
Oh Marie, do you remember all the time we used to take?
We'd make our love and then ransack the rations
I think about you leaving now and the avalanche cascades
And my eyes get washed away in chain reactions

Oh Marie if you would stay then we could stick pins in the map
Of all the places where you thought that love would be found
But I would only need one pin to show where my love's at
In a top-secret location 300 feet under the ground
Oh we could hold each other close and stay up every night
Looking up into the dark like it's the night sky
And pretend this giant missile is an old oak tree instead
And carve our names in hearts into the warhead

Oh Marie there's something tells me things just won't work out above
That our love would live a half-life on the surface
So at night while you are sleeping I hold you closer just because
As our time grows short, I get a little nervous
Oh I think about the Big One, W-W-I-I-I
Would we ever really care the world had ended?
You can hold me here forever like you’re holding me tonight
I think about that big red button and I'm tempted

posted by emelenjr at 7:25 AM on January 14, 2011 [14 favorites]


Hey, I've been to F. E. Warren and even got to take a tour of the trucks they use to transport ICBM components from the silos to the repair facilities! Now that the chance of nuclear armageddon seems remote, the technology itself is deeply deeply cool.

Yes, working in the bunker is a cushy job - they have a private chef - but it seems incredibly boring. Even when they're on the topside portion of their rotation they don't have much to do. It's a job that's ripe for sci-fi exploration.
posted by muddgirl at 7:26 AM on January 14, 2011


I've wanted a "Death Wears Bunny Slippers" insignia patch since Reagan was President.

No, I couldn't throw the switch.
posted by loquacious at 7:26 AM on January 14, 2011


It's one thing to say "Let's have a philosophical abstract bean-plating conversation about whether anyone could or should do it."

It's another to willfully set aside the fact that there are plenty of people out there who are not only able and willing, but get paid handsomely by their governments to be able and willing, as demonstrated by the article.

I don't know. The morality of nuclear weapons seems, to me, to actually not be the point of the story or the FPP, even.

There are in fact people who don't have a problem with the morality of it. Stipulated. And, here's a day in the life of one of them.
posted by pineapple at 7:27 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are in fact people who don't have a problem with the morality of it. Stipulated. And, here's a day in the life of one of them.

You don't know that, at all. There is a big difference between a simulation and reality.
posted by empath at 7:30 AM on January 14, 2011


empath: "I can go up to the point of designing and building, particularly if the other guy went there first."

I don't agree with you, but I don't think your argument is entirely unreasonable. Nevertheless, the use or ordering of the use of nuclear weapons is plainly immoral. I have a hard time even understanding the kind of monster who would do such a thing.
posted by Reverend John at 7:32 AM on January 14, 2011


empath : I'm curious if other people on metafilter would do it.

"Could", yes. "Would", not under the conditions described. I believe I could flip the switch, but not as a "cog" under orders.


Nothing you do is going to save your life (as he said, you're going to be 100 feet under a 200 foot crater). You have a choice on whether to kill a few million people on the way out or not.

I just don't see how anybody makes the decision to do that.
posted by

Reverend John : No moral person could design, build, use, or order the use of a nuclear weapon.

As TFA points out, "That a capacity for great violence sustains great peace is one of the genuine paradoxes of our time". If not for the threat of ending the world, would the US and USSR have all-but-done so via 40 years of "conventional" warfare?


against any populated target

Quick - we just received confirmation of an uncontained Ebola outbreak in NYC, and every second of hesitation means literally undreds of international flights getting further away. Do you kill 18 million (mostly innocent) people in a flash of light, or do you let 5.5 BILLION people die in a pretty horrible way over the next few months?
posted by pla at 7:33 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


As far as recruiting people to man the missile silos. In terms of MAD, it's not important to hire someone who would actually push the button. It's only important to hire someone that the Russians believe would push the button. It's important that they say they're willing to push it, that they're trained to push it. But once we get to the point where someone, in reality, has to actually push the button, its already too late. The purpose of having the missiles has failed.
posted by empath at 7:34 AM on January 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


Do you think any of those guys would actually push the button if it came down to it?

Could you?

Even if the bombs were on the way? Would you launch the missiles just as a 'fuck you' to the Russians? I wouldn't.


At some point they ran drills designed to see who would pus those buttons and who wouldn't. Essentially they disarmed the actual launch connections without the missilemen knowing, then ran through a whole fake "America is really under attack" sequence. Of course those in the silos had no way of knowing if this was fake, or true. I don't have the cite in front of me so can not say the exact number who refused to launch.. but it wasn't an insignificant number. But... thee where sufficient numbers "launched" to answer your first question, yes many of those guys would have actually pushed the button.

The results of these tests of course where used to both refine the recruitment process and I suspect increase the number of missile silos (more silos means more launches even if some refuse to launch).

I am pretty adamant in my opposition to nuclear weapons. However, I will recommend to just about anyone that they take a tour of the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota. The setup is a little different than what the FPP article described, but pretty close.

It is a strange confluence of events, but within fairly close proximity you have Wounded Knee, the Minuteman Missile site, and a major Airforce base where you can go look at massive killing machines.
posted by edgeways at 7:36 AM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't agree with you, but I don't think your argument is entirely unreasonable.

I personally don't think designing and building the systems was moral or reasonable. But I can understand how a sane, moral person would do such a thing, given a lack of foresight and the horrors of WWII. At somepoint, it tips over to bugfuck crazy, and then as they kept building them, it went from bugfuck crazy to 'this is so crazy that it just might work.' Without the threat of nuclear holocaust, would the Russians and Americans have gone to war? I have a hard time seeing what would have prevented it.
posted by empath at 7:37 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd push it just to see what happened, which is probably another thing they screen for. LIKE BOOMS!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:39 AM on January 14, 2011


> Videogame systems are forbidden, a rule that was mocked until it got out that wireless Nintendo Wii controllers could cause the system to detect a false electromagnetic pulse attack and shut down.

The XBox and PS3 fanboys were all, like, "The Wii is for little kids," but only the Wii can trigger Armageddon.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:39 AM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


If there was a full release of silo based ICBMs, I would wager that there would be something like a 10% failure rate due to human moral imperative overriding training and orders. This situation has no doubt been foreseen by the strategic planners, and simulations have been adjusted accordingly. There would be plenty of "good soldiers" to dutifully commit large scale mass murder with very little reflection beforehand.

The interesting thing about this kind of thing is how malleable and limited psychology can be from a true humanistic perspective. One person's sanity is another person's insanity. It's not much different than Army psychologists whose task is to ensure that front line soldiers are mentally healthy enough to return to combat positions after trauma.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:39 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


The human factor is the system’s greatest vulnerability, something I unwittingly contributed to whenever I engaged in high-minded navel gazing.

No, the human factor is a necessary safeguard. What a relief that Petrov is human.
posted by hydrophonic at 7:40 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


If I were a truly unhinged dictator--which, certainly, I would be--I'd have a massive arsenal of ICBMs, enough to truly eliminate the possibility of life as we know it, and no other military force. Should you take an aggressive stance against my little paradise, I'd just take my globe and go home, as it were. Which I guess is sort of the North Korean model, except without the paradise.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:41 AM on January 14, 2011


I think very few sane, rational people would ever push the button under any circumstances.

In The Fog of War, McNamara points out that it was all sane, rational people-- Kennedy, Kruschev, Castro-- who came within a hair's breadth of all-out nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:41 AM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


though I never doubted that I would execute a launch order without question, other misgivings occasionally surfaced. We arrested a group of Catholic nuns staging a peaceful protest on one of our launch facilities a few years back.

My son is stationed at that base (but not a missileer.) I used to tease him about watching out for renegade nuns.

Turns out that not long after he got there he had to supervise the arrest of a 70-something priest who, dressed as a clown, got into the missile sites to protest. (He'd done it in the past, served time, and was back. Let's just say he was expected.) My son said he was really polite, fwiw.

And yep, I too want to get my hands on the "death wears bunny slippers patch."
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:43 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think very few sane, rational people would ever push the button under any circumstances. Not as a first strike, not in retaliation, not even with direct orders from the president.

In the history of the world, soldiers have murdered, raped, firebombed, tortured, gassed, burned, maimed, and committed countless other unspeakable acts against others, including innocent civilians.

Soldiers have also, on two occasions, executed nuclear strikes on civilians. Soldiers also have ordered and executed attacks that resulted in more deaths than a nuclear strike -- see, e.g., WW2 firebombing campaigns.

It's highly unlikely that all of the soldiers participating in these efforts were insane or irrational.

So why is it so inconceivable that a soldier would push the button to execute a nuclear strike, particularly if he or she has been screened for willingness to do so?
posted by brain_drain at 7:43 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Only one person has ever had to make the decision, and they refused.

Not a silo, but during the Cuban Missile Crisis there was an incident where 2 out of the 3 Russian officers required to authorize a nuclear strike were for it and only the third's refusal prevented it. If the authorization procedure had been different, who knows what would have happened. If you give enough people access to nuclear weapons and the ability to push the button, Murphy's Law says eventually there's going to be a circumstance where somebody pushes it.

No moral person could design, build, use, or order the use of a nuclear weapon against any populated target.

Nuclear weapons are the only practical way to really cause an Earth-destroying global holocaust, but if it's just killing millions of innocent people that's the issue, many people have planned and carried out massive military campaigns against civilian targets. 40+ million civilians were killed in WWII, in part thanks to non-stop conventional bombing against populated cities on both sides. Blowing up an entire city with one bomb is just a more efficient way of doing what months of carpet bombing could also accomplish. I mean hell in Rwanda they almost killed a million innocent people in a few months with just rifles and machetes.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:43 AM on January 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


You don't know that, at all. There is a big difference between a simulation and reality.

Sure. But I'm going to take the article at face value. This is Wired, not some random dude's blog. And I still maintain that dwelling on the "nukes: moral or not?" to the exclusion of all else is missing the point of the FPP.
posted by pineapple at 7:47 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


As for Petrov, he was higher up the command chain than than Captain Noonan, and the Soviet process was much different than the US process at the time (indeed, a somewhat-mythological story told by current ICBM officers is that we intentionally leaked many of our 'classified' missile safety procedues both as an assurance to the Soviet Union that we would not accidentally launch ICBMs, and so that they would hopefully incorporate many of our redundant layers of launch verification). By the time the launch order gets down to the guys turning the key, whether or not it's a real threat is waaaay over their heads.

Of course that doesn't mean that every one will go through with it, but by then the individual decision is sort of moot. Captain Noonan and his bunker-mate aren't the only two soldiers controlling the whole aresenal. There are several wings controlled by each base, and three bases. I don't know how many total bunkers there are, but it's in the dozens. And as implied by the Petrov story, if we launch ICBMs we're likely going to launch all of them. If Captain Noonan won't launch his missiles, it doesn't make much of a difference in the outcome.

(Tangentially, if you want to talk about bloated military budgets: The ICBM program has a target up-time of 99.99% or something like that. They want to keep their missiles operable, and they pay heartily for it.)
posted by muddgirl at 7:48 AM on January 14, 2011


What with the kind of week I'm having, give me the button--I'll push it right now.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:50 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


pineapple: "I don't know. The morality of nuclear weapons seems, to me, to actually not be the point of the story or the FPP, even.

There are in fact people who don't have a problem with the morality of it. Stipulated. And, here's a day in the life of one of them.
"

Perhaps, but to me the article raises the question, which I occasionally turn over in my mind (especially around 11 am on the first tuesday of the month). What should the rest of us do about them. I don't have an answer.

Furthermore, I don't know what would have happened between World War II and now if it hadn't been for the existence of nuclear weapons, and I don't know what the best response would be for some hypothetical Ebola outbreak. But in the first case the peace would have all been for naught if it had come to the use of nukes, and it still will have all been for naught if those damn things get used tomorrow or next year or in 2045. As for the Ebola outbreak, if you want to raise that possibility then those nukes should be the property of the Center for Disease Control. Even then, humanity has faced the problem of disease for thousands of years without needing nukes. I reject both the nuclear-peace and potential-pandemic arguments.

I sometimes wonder if those nuns in the article are the only sane, moral people walking this earth.
posted by Reverend John at 7:52 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Game" by Donald Barthelme is a chilling read.
posted by hydrophonic at 7:53 AM on January 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


burnmp3s: "Nuclear weapons are the only practical way to really cause an Earth-destroying global holocaust, but if it's just killing millions of innocent people that's the issue, many people have planned and carried out massive military campaigns against civilian targets. 40+ million civilians were killed in WWII, in part thanks to non-stop conventional bombing against populated cities on both sides. Blowing up an entire city with one bomb is just a more efficient way of doing what months of carpet bombing could also accomplish. I mean hell in Rwanda they almost killed a million innocent people in a few months with just rifles and machetes"

You say that as if its an argument against my statement that these are things a moral person would not do.
posted by Reverend John at 7:58 AM on January 14, 2011


Contrary to popular myth, there is no red button.

I don't think that this has been that popular of a myth since War Games.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:11 AM on January 14, 2011


empath wrote: "Even if the bombs were on the way? Would you launch the missiles just as a 'fuck you' to the Russians? I wouldn't."

Theoretically, it's not just a "fuck you" to the Russians. The point of launching even if the bombs are already on the way is to take out their second-strike capability, thus giving at least some folks a chance at survival.

And as others have pointed out, the extreme irony is that it's probably the ICBM and SLBM that has prevented nuclear holocaust, or at least attempted nuclear holocaust. One could easily believe it possible to shoot down a bomber fifty before they drop their catastrophic payload. Not so much with a missile tipped with 14 different bombs coming at your ass from space.

That inevitability is why we have submarines equipped with nuclear missiles. And the inability to know where all those subs are is yet another reason why there will never be an unrestrained nuclear war. That's not to say that we or the Russians or the Chinese won't blast Pyongyang to smithereens if they were to use a nuke, but an all out exchange by conventional nuclear powers (how's that for an oxymoron) is exceedingly unlikely. There's no point in a world where you can't be assured of taking out even most of your adversary's nukes.
posted by wierdo at 8:15 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


And I still maintain that dwelling on the "nukes: moral or not?" to the exclusion of all else is missing the point of the FPP.

Take it up in metatalk, I guess.
posted by empath at 8:15 AM on January 14, 2011


You say that as if its an argument against my statement that these are things a moral person would not do.

I guess it depends on what you mean by a "moral person" and "monster." My point was that nuclear weapons were not really any different from conventional weapons, because your original statement seemed to be saying that there was some sort of special immoral nature of nuclear weapons. If your contention is that war in general is inherently immoral I wouldn't really disagree.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:15 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


If I were confident that all good people (including my family, my friends, and myself) were going to be happy in an afterlife paradise for eternity, I suppose I wouldn't be all that worried about the end of the world.

Do the people at these control panels tend to be strongly religious?
posted by pracowity at 8:18 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't ask me man, I'm just flipping some switches.

I get some small bit of satisfaction by thinking about a lone guy, stuck in his isolation chamber a hundred feet below ground, pausing his Lost DVD to confirm some codes and flip some switches, and then heading back to his easy chair to finish up an episode while waiting to see if he'll ever return to the surface.
posted by mikeh at 8:20 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Take it up in metatalk, I guess.

No need, that I see. Most people seem to be happy to discuss the article, rather than be re-directed back to your pet bent on it.
posted by pineapple at 8:26 AM on January 14, 2011


burnmp3s: "I guess it depends on what you mean by a "moral person" and "monster." My point was that nuclear weapons were not really any different from conventional weapons, because your original statement seemed to be saying that there was some sort of special immoral nature of nuclear weapons. If your contention is that war in general is inherently immoral I wouldn't really disagree"

Well, first I'd argue that even a single use of a nuke on a populated target is such a massively immoral thing to do by itself and that the responsibility of the few people directly involved in the act is so concentrated that this act dwarfs even the normally-immoral acts of being part of a war. And secondly the act itself risks and even invites a chain of events so catastrophic that I would think that even a person willing to fight in a war and commit conventional war crimes would recoil from the gross immorality of using nuclear weapons.
posted by Reverend John at 8:34 AM on January 14, 2011


Of course, I pictured this memorable scene from wargames (with a young Michael Madsen):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReJ3RltihME
posted by justkevin at 8:35 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


and that the responsibility of the few people directly involved in the act is so concentrated that this act

How many people do you think are involved with this act? It's not "a few people" - it every person from the colonol who monitors and identifies the threat, all the way up the chain of command to the President, and back down to the officers who flips the switches.
posted by muddgirl at 8:37 AM on January 14, 2011


Those who think you can't find somebody to do this need to read Stanley Milgram's 'Obedience to authority' - The setup of the experiment is outlined in this youtube video.
In Milgram's original tests, 26 people out of 40 were willing to shock a participant they've actually met, past heart complaints,screaming and unconsiousness.

All because somebody in a lab coat kept saying 'The experiment requires that you continue.'
posted by Orb2069 at 8:42 AM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Even if all the guys in all the bunkers refused to lauch on command, the United States has a robust Second Strike capabiltiy in the form of 14 nuclear armed Ohio class submarines, at least 6 or so of which are deployed around the world at all times. If the guys in the bunkers failed to fire and the incoming missles destroyed all of America, there would still be subs ready to return fire. In addition, the US has forward stationed bombers in 7 NATO countries. MAD theroy works in part because it would be nearly impossible to take out every type of retalitory threat at once, and the consequences of missing even a single sub or bomber are too great to consider.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:53 AM on January 14, 2011


Of course, I pictured this memorable scene from wargames (with a young Michael Madsen):

Who cares about Michael Madsen, that clip has Leo Motherfuckingbadass McGarry!
posted by kmz at 8:59 AM on January 14, 2011


pla: " Quick - we just received confirmation of an uncontained Ebola outbreak in NYC, and every second of hesitation means literally undreds of international flights getting further away. Do you kill 18 million (mostly innocent) people in a flash of light, or do you let 5.5 BILLION people die in a pretty horrible way over the next few months?"

Nuking a city is what they do in zombie movies.

I'm pretty sure the sort of pandemic you're describing is beyond what anyone thinks is possible for Ebola.

Containing pandemics is done by following a series of steps: (I'm simplifying here)

1) Establish accurate and rapid detection
2) Identify the reservoir populations (insect, animal, etc.)
3) Control/Curtail the movements of the general population
4) Isolation of those who are infected.
5) Treatment of infected. In the case of an outbreak in an animal population, culling of infected animals where cure is impossible or not cost-effective.
5) Prevent disease transmission from outside areas: other states, nations, continents, etc.

With human pandemics, we take a page in this from veterinary outbreaks. A plague of some sort strikes an animal population every 2-3 years, a pattern that has for been ongoing for the last 2-300 years. This is how veterinary plagues are dealt with. It's an effective strategy that helps prevent mass killings.

...every second of hesitation means literally undreds of international flights getting further away.

What exactly do you think happens when someone gets sick from Ebola on an airplane? Do you think the nearest country launches missiles and takes the plane out? Maybe they drop a well-armed Jack Bauer in a hazmat suit from S-Mart onto the plane in mid-air so he can get with the zombie-killin'? :)

No boom sticks are required: the plane lands. Local authorities isolate the plane, go in and grab everyone who seems healthy, and quarantines them. Then it tests them to make sure they're okay.
posted by zarq at 9:08 AM on January 14, 2011 [7 favorites]


I seem to have two fives in that list there. I can count good.
posted by zarq at 9:10 AM on January 14, 2011


I said 'lunch', not 'launch'!
posted by banshee at 9:11 AM on January 14, 2011


Turns out that not long after he got there he had to supervise the arrest of a 70-something priest who, dressed as a clown, got into the missile sites to protest. (He'd done it in the past, served time, and was back. Let's just say he was expected.) My son said he was really polite, fwiw.
Father Carl Kabat. While you can debate his methods, you cannot deny that he has the courage of his convictions.
At 75 he continues his crusade against nuclear weapons at missile silos across the United States, armed with a hammer and a pair of bolt cutters. He usually wears a clown suit, in homage, he says, to St. Paul’s words: “We are fools for Christ’s sake.”

Though his actions are mostly symbolic — the authorities have always seized him before he could damage a live missile — he has spent half of the last three decades in state and federal prisons.
posted by zamboni at 9:18 AM on January 14, 2011


Wargames is one of my favorite movies of all times.

"Turn your key, sir!"
posted by vibrotronica at 9:27 AM on January 14, 2011


I think very few sane, rational people would ever push the button under any circumstances.

That's what most of the psych students thought about the Milgrim study too.
posted by NoraReed at 9:28 AM on January 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I sometimes wonder if those nuns in the article are the only sane, moral people walking this earth.

If your definition of "sane" and "moral" excludes 99.99999% of humanity, then your definitions are so precious as to be worthless.
posted by fatbird at 9:34 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Reverend John wrote: "Well, first I'd argue that even a single use of a nuke on a populated target is such a massively immoral thing to do by itself and that the responsibility of the few people directly involved in the act is so concentrated that this act dwarfs even the normally-immoral acts of being part of a war."

Not every nuke is the Tsar Bomba. Their immorality is inherently no different than any other bomb.

I don't argue against the premise that all war is on some level immoral, even those I might consider necessary. I do, however, argue with the concept that a nuclear weapon is somehow worse than other kinds of weapons. We can build pretty big conventional bombs, too.
posted by wierdo at 9:44 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


fatbird: You make an interesting point, which is why in that same post I also said in that same comment that I didn't have an answer. My admiration for those nuns is that at least they had tried something which is better than me, and better than most people. I wonder what your answer is?
posted by Reverend John at 9:48 AM on January 14, 2011


I'm sorry, Mr. President, but you don't have that capability. The hardware only recognizes Warplan A or Warplan B. Yes, sir, there's a switch for it. You can nuke Russia, or you can nuke Saskatchewan.


What's that, Mr. President? Well, I'm not really sure, sir. It's just always been that way since I joined the military. I guess when they built this thing, everybody figured it was always just going to be Warplan A.
posted by Naberius at 9:48 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


My admiration for those nuns is that at least they had tried something which is better than me, and better than most people.

I think the fact that you singled out the nuns erases all the hundreds of thousands of other people who work against war and against nuclear war. Visible-but-pointless protests are not the only way to effect change.
posted by muddgirl at 9:50 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually, those protests aren't even that visible because the missile silo sites are literally in the middle of nowhere. "Nuns protest missiles" hasn't been newsworthy since the 70s, so a camera crew isn't going to come out.

Basically, the best they can hope for is that Catholic Captain Noonan has a change of heart and requests a reassignment or quits the military. He is replaced with Fundamentalist Captain Smith who has no such respect for a woman of the cloth.
posted by muddgirl at 10:02 AM on January 14, 2011


Every nuke doesn't need to be Tsar Bomba to make it different. Yes, there is some slight overlap between the yield of the largest conventional bombs and the smallest nuclear bombs. The ATBIP you cite has a yield of 44 tons of TNT. The W54 has a minimum yield of 10 tons of TNT. But even then these bombs aren't really comparable. The Wikipedia article on ATBIP questions whether the bomb could even be carried by a bomber, whereas the W54 can be carried by a man. Also I doubt the ATBIP creates any significant radioactive contamination.

The whole point of these small yield nukes is to make it easier to nuke something, not to do what conventional explosives could do.

I find it a little bit shocking that people keep trying to downplay the significant differences between nuclear weapons and conventional weapons. Paired with the ridiculous scenarios used to try to justify some legitimate use of nuclear weapons (stopping an Ebola outbreak, etc) I can't help but wonder if I'm not just running into MetaFilter's penchant for being contrary for contrariness's sake, or if this isn't the kind of madness that we need to indulge in to let us live with these things.
posted by Reverend John at 10:04 AM on January 14, 2011


> Basically, the best they can hope for is that Catholic Captain Noonan has a change of heart and requests a reassignment or quits the military.

But I saved this starfish. So the thinking goes, anyway.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:05 AM on January 14, 2011


Some people here are saying that every murder is equivalent. You are saying that some murders are worse than others. I can't see how your position is more justifiable than theirs.
posted by muddgirl at 10:07 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder what your answer is?

My answer is that I don't know. I struggle with this myself.

It's easy to understand why the nuns would seem to be the most sane, moral people on Earth. But the nuns response to the Mongol hordes or the Crusades or the Nazis strikes me as futile: After they're dead, evil rules the Earth. Their stance is noble and symbolically important and useful only within the context of the safety provided by the nuclear weapons they're protesting.

I remember reading a short story that was an alternate history of WWI where Germany conquered Britain and took over her colonies, so Germany ruled India as a colonial possession rather than the British. In response to Ghandi, the Germans practiced the same collective punishment that they did in WWII, and Ghandi and his followers were mowed down by machine guns and their independence movement destroyed because the colonial power had no qualms about using brutal force to crush it. Essentially, the argument was that passive resistance only works to the extent that the conquerers have a conscience that can be exploited.

I do agree that nuclear weapons are not more immoral than other weapons. Dead is dead; destroyed is destroyed. Arguments about the morality of dropping nuclear bombs on Japan tend to founder on the atomic part of "atomic bombs", rather than the "bomb" part, as if being killed by a blast wave or cancer is somehow worse than burning to death from incendiaries.

Not having nukes only works if your enemies don't have nukes. That's way oversimplified, of course, but there's a pernicious prisoner's dilemma to the whole affair that's maddening.

Do you think any of those guys would actually push the button if it came down to it?

Beyond screening these guys for stability and willingness to execute orders, they were also constantly drilled to desensitize them to the mechanical acts, and given no information beyond the order to launch. If I was in that silo and pondered the consequences of launching my missiles, I would also be forced to ponder the consequences of not launching my missiles, and I would recognize that I was doing so in an information vacuum that makes all my ponderings moot. I like to think I'd make a purely moral choice and not launch, but I don't think I'm such a special snowflake that I wouldn't be in Milgram's 2/3rds of test volunteers who shocked someone almost to death because it seemed situationally appropriate.
posted by fatbird at 10:08 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I always like to mention DEFCON in nuclear war threads. The only thermonuclear war strategy game for PC and Mac!

Download the demo and wargame the end of the world. Everybody dies, no one wins, but with the right planning, maybe you can lose the least. The demo supports head-to-head multiplayer over tcp/ip, the full version allows up to 6 players.

(I don't have any affilitation, it's just a morbidly exciting game. Very tense.)
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:08 AM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


muddgirl: "I think the fact that you singled out the nuns erases all the hundreds of thousands of other people who work against war and against nuclear war. Visible-but-pointless protests are not the only way to effect change"

Your point is well taken. It wasn't my intent to slight anyone who does actively work against nuclear weapons in less visible ways. My admiration for them was wholly based on their willingness to go above and beyond their own personal safety and comfort in opposing these things, which I think the situation warrants.

To my own shame, I haven't yet even done all I can within the bounds of my own personal safety and comfort though I have often thought about it. Mostly my own feelings of powerlessness against the problem have been what stopped me, but, damnit, I am going to do *something*, within the bounds of the law, even if its just a donation to an anti-nuke group.

I also wonder if there isn't something I can do legally to support those nuns (or would that be supporting "terrorism"?) and those like them like Father Kabat.
posted by Reverend John at 10:14 AM on January 14, 2011


Get me Wing Command post.

That`s not the correct procedure, Captain.

Try SAC headquarters on the HF.

That`s not the correct procedure.

Screw the procedure, I want somebody on the goddamn phone before l kill 20 million people.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:20 AM on January 14, 2011


Ugh, I don't want this thread to be all about me, so after this I'm going to take a break (I'll be back, but I'm just going to let it rest a while)

muddgirl: "Some people here are saying that every murder is equivalent. You are saying that some murders are worse than others. I can't see how your position is more justifiable than theirs"

My position is basically that nuclear weapons make causing a *lot* more deaths a *lot* easier, and also immorally, unjustifiably, risks causing those deaths in a way which no one wants, and which is entirely foreseeable and preventable by disarming. I'm certainly not arguing that killing huge numbers of innocent people by doing things like intentionally firebombing civilian population centers or other war crimes is in any way justified or diminished because those crimes are non-nuclear.
posted by Reverend John at 10:25 AM on January 14, 2011


At some point they ran drills designed to see who would pus those buttons and who wouldn't. Essentially they disarmed the actual launch connections without the missilemen knowing, then ran through a whole fake "America is really under attack" sequence. Of course those in the silos had no way of knowing if this was fake, or true. I don't have the cite in front of me so can not say the exact number who refused to launch.. but it wasn't an insignificant number. But... thee where sufficient numbers "launched" to answer your first question, yes many of those guys would have actually pushed the button.

This is pretty insane. I recognize that simulated "real" war - in that the participants aren't aware it's a simluation - is a part of some military training, but we're talking about the annihilation of the human race here, including (as the article points out) very likely the missileers themselves.

Wouldn't such an exercise, for those who went through with completing the launch, possibly trigger at least some kind of PTSD, at least in some people? Seems like a pretty heavy price to pay just to separate the missile-launching wheat from the gunshy chaff.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:49 AM on January 14, 2011


Download the demo and wargame the end of the world. Everybody dies, no one wins, but with the right planning, maybe you can lose the least. The demo supports head-to-head multiplayer over tcp/ip, the full version allows up to 6 players.

Never ever play that game with a player named JOSHUA. Just don't.
posted by kmz at 10:56 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Firebombing is a great example: Can't we easily kill a large number of civilians with firebombs? Don't most people not want their country to be firebombed? Can't we easily prevent such deaths by disarming?

I think that the fact that ICBMs are pretty much "all-or-nothing" ensures they won't ever be used. Of course I'd rather we didn't have them, but since they exist, I'd like them to be as safe and secure as possible. We can keep them safe and secure by preventing access and damage (yes, even access by kindly nuns and priests dressed as clowns), and at the same time we can work on world-wide nuclear disarmament, like we have done with the Minuteman IIs and the Peacekeepers

Wouldn't such an exercise, for those who went through with completing the launch, possibly trigger at least some kind of PTSD, at least in some people?

The military has been consistently and historically unconcerned with PTSD.
posted by muddgirl at 11:01 AM on January 14, 2011


Reverend John wrote: "My position is basically that nuclear weapons make causing a *lot* more deaths a *lot* easier"

I disagree. If you had said "ICBM," I would agree. When using aircraft or other conventional (as in, WWII and earlier) methods of delivery, one must essentially treat a nuclear raid like a conventional bombing raid. The only reason the US didn't have to do that against Japan was the same reason the 9/11 attacks worked: the victims didn't know what was coming. The Japanese saw the Enola Gay, took it as a spy plane and pretty much ignored it since it was alone.

If we had kept bombing them, they would have gotten wise to the ruse and we'd have had to send squadrons in to ensure delivery of at least one bomb.

The ICBM, on the other hand, makes most defense moot. Even if you do have missile defense, it's unlikely to work. And for the attacker, it puts no difficult-to-replace highly trained soldiers in harm's way, it does not put a two billion dollar aircraft at risk, nor anything else for that matter. The sole impediments to launching are morality and possible retaliation.

The nuclear weapon is not much of a game changer unless you're the only one who has it. It's just a bigger bomb. The long-range missile, on the other hand, changes the "game" in a more fundamental way. Until the ICBM, war plans didn't change all that much from what we saw in WWII. It was still about tanks and planes and infantry and capturing territory, just with a big-ass bomb in the back pocket in case it was needed.

It may not be the best road to peace, but I dare say that the nuclear-armed ICBM is precisely what has prevented a third world war. Even today, with Russia and the US "only" having a few thousand active warheads, the consequences of a full exchange are too terrible to consider. We simply can't fight war on a scale large enough to induce the sort of desperation that loosing the missiles would imply.
posted by wierdo at 11:14 AM on January 14, 2011


It may not be the best road to peace, but I dare say that the nuclear-armed ICBM is precisely what has prevented a third world war. Even today, with Russia and the US "only" having a few thousand active warheads, the consequences of a full exchange are too terrible to consider. We simply can't fight war on a scale large enough to induce the sort of desperation that loosing the missiles would imply.

The only thing nuclear weapons of that scale have prevented is nuclear war. Instead we have endless wars of attrition and drone attacks peppering the globe, and the body count keeps rising even as the missiles sit in their silos. MAD has done less than assured "peace"; they're irrelevant.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:59 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Do you think any of those guys would actually push the button if it came down to it?"
"There is a big difference between a simulation and reality."
"By the time the launch order gets down to the guys turning the key, whether or not it's a real threat is waaaay over their heads."

Let us not forget the other time that the world came close to nuclear destruction: Able Archer 83, in which the Russians came perilously close to thinking that the US/NATO nuclear exercises were prelude to an actual first strike.

So the question is really, do you think any of the guys on the other side would actually push the button?
posted by ceribus peribus at 12:03 PM on January 14, 2011


There is a line of thought that all nuclear weapons did was push that war between the US and USSR off onto proxy countries... that the "Cold War' was really a hot war for many many people. good chucks of Central America and Africa and Asia are still recovering from it.



This is pretty insane. I recognize that simulated "real" war - in that the participants aren't aware it's a simluation - is a part of some military training, but we're talking about the annihilation of the human race here, including (as the article points out) very likely the missileers themselves.

Wouldn't such an exercise, for those who went through with completing the launch, possibly trigger at least some kind of PTSD, at least in some people? Seems like a pretty heavy price to pay just to separate the missile-launching wheat from the gunshy chaff.


Oh, I don't disagree, but from that slightly warped POV of military planning I understand why they needed to know the answer to this. If they had run that test and literally no-one had turned the key, while that would have said something positive about humanity it would have been a serious concern for the military.

Now, I am in the camp that refuses to concede that it was solely nuclear weapons that kept the peace. It is near impossible to prove a negative, and saying "well we had nukes, they had nukes and we didn't have war so it must be because of the nukes" may feel emotionally correct (and I fully understand the argument behind it) but I will not blindly concede that nukes are what kept America safe, as we have just seen in this past decade it doesn't take an ICBM to throw us into war.
posted by edgeways at 1:12 PM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


The W54 has a minimum yield of 10 tons of TNT [and] can be carried by a man.

Idea: distill a small batch of mash, bottle it at cask strength in 375 ml bottles, and call it Whiskey Fifty-Four.
posted by exogenous at 1:21 PM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I worked on missile sites and command control centers at F.E. Warren (enlisted, not an officer) and this is one of the most accurate stories I have read on the subject. It is really spot on.

For those debating what you would do if you got the command, consider this: The guys with the keys have no idea what has been going on in the world above their heads since they went on shift, up to 24 hours before, unless someone outside tells them.
posted by feersum endjinn at 1:23 PM on January 14, 2011


muddgirl: "Firebombing is a great example: Can't we easily kill a large number of civilians with firebombs? Don't most people not want their country to be firebombed? Can't we easily prevent such deaths by disarming?"

I don't think its such a great example. We can't kill a large number of people nearly as "easily" as we can with a single nuclear bomb. It would be difficult and expensive to launch a massive firebombing attack against many targets. You couldn't really "accidentally" launch a firebombing attack. You wouldn't launch massive retaliatory firebombing attacks using everything in your inventory on the fear that you might lose it in the face of a warning of a possible firebombing attack.

Also, if you had even moderate resistance to the attack within your own military you probably couldn't pull it off successfully. The time it would take to carry out a firebombing attack would give at least a chance for cooler heads to prevail if there was a reason for them to. Firebombing attacks don't cause radioactive fallout. None of this is to say that intentionally firebombing innocent civilians is any kind of a good thing. Just that the stakes still don't rise to the level of the threat and harm that nuclear weapons can.

Now weirdo raises an interesting point that some of these problems are related to nuclear bombs being on ICBMs, rather than the mere existence of the bombs themselves. I'd be greatly in favor of removing nukes from ICBMs as a concrete step towards a safer world and disarmament. However, I think the ICBMs aren't really much of a problem without the bombs. I don't think you can deliver too much conventional explosives with one. It's definitely harder to deliver nukes without missles, but once delivered it doesn't make much difference how it got there, and the destruction relative to the effort is still pretty damn huge. Plus the existence of nukes which can be delivered by one method will tend to make all the nuclear powers want to deliver it by the most effective method, especially during a period of tension and mistrust. Taking nukes off ICBMs could be a step towards disarmament and help build trust, but its not the solution by itself, and it doesn't eliminate the threat that nukes pose or the moral problems of being willing to use them.

Having said all that, I suppose there's an argument to be made that being a "missileer" is *even more immoral* than being the pilot of a nuclear-armed bomber, but I think its splitting hairs.
posted by Reverend John at 2:14 PM on January 14, 2011


We can't kill a large number of people nearly as "easily" as we can with a single nuclear bomb.

Again, it seems to me like you're arguing that a method which kills millions of people is "more immoral" than a method that kills merely thousands of people. I just don't see it.

It would be difficult and expensive to launch a massive firebombing attack against many targets.

It would be difficult and expensive to launch an ICBM attack if we did not have constant situation monitoring. Are you arguing that it would be less immoral if we did not have airmen in bunkers?

You couldn't really "accidentally" launch a firebombing attack.

You cannot "accidentally" launch an ICBM.

You wouldn't launch massive retaliatory firebombing attacks using everything in your inventory on the fear that you might lose it in the face of a warning of a possible firebombing attack.

So? We're not going to use ICBMs against, say, Dresden. To me, the existence of ICBMs is less immoral than the actuality of, say, Iraq, where we've managed to kill 100,000 civilians without a single nuclear weapon of any kind.

Basically, you seem to be arguing not against the existence of nuclear weapons, but the fact that we keep them manned 24-7. That's quite an odd position to take.
posted by muddgirl at 2:27 PM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


zarq : With human pandemics, we take a page in this from veterinary outbreaks. A plague of some sort strikes an animal population every 2-3 years, a pattern that has for been ongoing for the last 2-300 years. This is how veterinary plagues are dealt with. It's an effective strategy that helps prevent mass killings.

For "nuisance" veterinary plagues, yes. For serious outbreaks, particularly with potential human pathogens, once every 20 years or so we hear about tens of millions of animals "culled", every last one of them over a wide geographic area, to stop the spread of the pathogen in its tracks.

Though I tend to agree with you, a nuclear response to a plague only really happens in zombie movies - Largely, IMO, because by the time we noticed an outbreak in a major international city, we'd already have carriers all over the globe and destroying that one city wouldn't help.
posted by pla at 2:53 PM on January 14, 2011


Again, it seems to me like you're arguing that a method which kills millions of people is "more immoral" than a method that kills merely thousands of people. I just don't see it.

Errr, earlier when you said that I was "saying that some murders are worse than others." I assumed you meant that it seemed like I was arguing that on a death-per-death basis it was worse to die by a nuclear weapon than another method. I'll gladly say that for killing equal numbers of people the situation is equally immoral and the method isn't particularly relevant. On the other hand I would *definitely* say that killing a million people is about a thousand times worse than killing a thousand people. I didn't even think that aspect of things was in dispute on either side. I'd be surprised if you didn't think that killing more people wasn't worse than killing fewer, not that its ok to kill any at all.

And, yes, the *existence* of ICBMs *may* be less immoral than the *actuality* of Iraq (and maybe not). You seem to keep wanting to bring up some other sort of horror in order to try to ... I don't know what... refute my assertion that using nuclear weapons is plainly immoral? I don't really see where you're going with this.

I am certainly arguing that preparing to use nuclear weapons is immoral, and that steps which would make it harder to use nuclear weapons would be better. You can certainly "accidentally" launch a nuclear weapon if you do so on the basis of faulty information, your own mistaken analysis of the information. Sure, you're not likely to trip and go "whoops, I launched a nuke! Yikes!" But when you set the situation up to use nukes on short notice you are inviting an accident. A mistake if you prefer. Again, you wouldn't really mistakenly plan, order, or carry out a firebombing.

I really don't see at all how you could possibly conclude that I am not arguing *strenuously* against the existence of nuclear weapons due to their inherent riskiness and potential for nearly unfathomable destruction. Certainly since I am against their existence I am also strongly against any measures which increase the likelihood of their use. Why wouldn't I be?
posted by Reverend John at 3:15 PM on January 14, 2011


No time for fear, it's Def Con One
No time to eat, so get me some
Big Mac, fries to go
Get me Big Mac, fries to go
Get me Big Mac, fries to go
Get me Big Mac, get me fries to go
posted by ostranenie at 6:44 PM on January 14, 2011


Once the nukes were built, you had to threaten major catastrophe, billions of deaths, to prevent many minor ones strung out over a long time. Plus possible build up of things over time that could kill us all.
Not that people knew that early on.

It appears MAD prevented smaller scale nuclear wars (Nixon was reality checked on using small yield nukes against a guerrilla force in rural terrain). Didnt' stop war though. The U.S. had a number of proxy wars with the Soviets, et.al.
But I like that it's still in uncertain terrain. There's little question that, eventually, a nuclear weapon is going to be employed in asymmetric warfare. As it sits it's possible but out of the realm of practical since the response is uncertain and conventional forces haven't used them.

Close engagement with 'rogue' elements (Iran, North Korea, non-government actors, etc) might lead to more low intensity conflicts, but all a terrorist or other outfit has going for them in using a nuke is deniability. And it's a traceable weapon. So the stakes are high and getting higher for retaliation.

With nuclear powers, you don't have to actually launch. You just have to say you would. If it ever actually comes to it any strategy (offensive or defensive) is going to include overkill.

So a sane man might not launch, but would always say he would (or have others who say they would) in retaliation.

Would I launch? Doesn't really matter, I would always say I would only in retaliation.

Again, you wouldn't really mistakenly plan, order, or carry out a firebombing.
Boise City in the U.S. was bombed by mistake. Although, no, that wasn't an operation.

Sort of the problem here, isn't it?
The missile silos are there because the nuclear genie is already out of the bottle and if there is a large scale nuclear missile attack there isn't time to plan and order and execute a retaliatory operation.

Turning the key isn't done with deliberation, as it were. It's done in, and planned for, the "oh shit!" of the moment.

I wholly object to the existence of nuclear weapons. I'm open to debate as to what sort of plan is most effective to prevent their use. As it's impossible to erase the knowledge to build them I don't see simply not having them as a solution. Although that would be great. But anything that prevents the odds of their use, more communication, engagement, open inspection, if me dancing in grass clippings in a brothel was demonstrably practically effective, anything, I'm in favor of.

But I don't think asking whether one would turn the key is a moral question in the sense that it's a deliberate act indicative of an ethic.
It's meant to be reflexive. That's the policy and the framework.

A better moral compass might be to ask whether one would capture and imprison those actively working to change that framework.

In that sense I would say no sane man would imprison Father Carl Kabat.
He's Tom Bombadil.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:37 AM on January 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


In The Fog of War, McNamara points out that it was all sane, rational people-- Kennedy, Kruschev, Castro-- who came within a hair's breadth of all-out nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Also in Fog of War, McNamara mentions a conversation (via translator) with Castro in 1992.
Robert McNamara: [about Castro] I said, "I must have got the translation wrong." So I asked him three questions. One--did you know there were nuclear warheads in Cuba? Two--would you have recommended to Khrushchev to use nuclear missiles in the event of an American invasion of Cuba? And three--what would have happened to Cuba? He said, "One--I knew the missiles were there. Two--I would not have recommended it, I did recommend it! And three--we would have been totally obliterated".
In terms of game theory, Castro's response was arguably rational. The use of tactical nuclear weapons in response to an invasion may very well have given the communists the upper hand, albeit temporarily and at the cost of his own country. But can his response be considered sane? I submit that, when it comes to nuclear war, rationality and sanity are often at odds.
posted by dephlogisticated at 11:27 AM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


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