Boy, those dang nukes. Yeah, they blow stuff up real good, but it seems like they’re always falling out of a plane, or off of a plane, or rolling off an aircraft carrier while hanging from a plane. Or you know, sinking in a submarine in three miles of water. And then there was that one time one of those finicky liquid-fueled missiles blew up in its silo and the warhead popped off! Only took us a day to find that one, though.
You could be forgiven for assuming for assuming the preceding paragraph is some sort of fiction. Because it does seem crazy, doesn’t it? I mean, we didn’t really lose a bunch of atom bombs in accidents did we? And keeping 30,000 of them on hand? That can’t be right, because, you know, that’s insane.
But it’s all true and these are the two themes that coalesce while reading Command and Control: 1) The nuclear arms race was pure madness and 2) it’s incredible that there was never an accidental detonation.
The sheer number of these weapons the U.S. possessed, the cavalier way in which they were often deployed, and the glaring fallibility of the human beings working with them all play a part in the litany of mistakes and mishaps documented in the book (and now the film). What might otherwise be a dry bit of history is intertwined with a suspenseful narrative of the Damascus Incident, the aforementioned warhead-popping missile explosion. It all adds up to an unexpected and rare reaction for a piece of nonfiction – this stuff is terrifying.