Monday, April 7, 2014

Book Report #85 - Command and Control by Eric Schlosser

Book 9 of 52
Page count - 17 CDs, 20 hours 40 minutes

I struggled with whether I should include this in my challenge since I did not "read" it.  However, it was far too important a book not to include.  Plus, this audiobook was unabridged and took over 20 hours of my time to consume.

I grew up during the Cold War and there were times that I was very scared my life would end in a thermonuclear flash.  According to Eric Schlosser there was more to be scared of than Geo-political tension between the super powers.  There were countless accidents, mishaps, losses, crashes, fires and human errors with atomic and thermonuclear weapons that it is a wonder we are all still alive today.

The book was chilling.  It scared me to my core.  I found the level of paranoia of the first two decades of the Cold War to be nearly incomprehensible.  How could men of power be so foolish?

The book itself followed a terrible accident that happened at one missile silo in the United States.  The author explained just how dangerous the Titan II missile system was on it's own, never mind that one of the most powerful warheads sat on top of it.  From the moment a technician accidentally drops a socket down the silo and damages the missile Schlosser takes us on a journey of just how that weapon was developed and the history behind the cold war as well.

It was an enormous subject that could have branched off into the Space Race, espionage, satellite development and submarine warfare.  I would have gladly listened to more.  But limits must be put on to the scope of a book and there was a lot of material to ponder here.

There were a couple of times in the history of the arms race that fiction played a powerful role in it's direction.  The first was the 1958 book called Red Alert by Peter George (published under the pen name Peter Bryant) which told the story of a rouge USAF general launching a first strike against the USSR.  The novel was so profoundly plausible that it was distributed among the decision makers in the US military and influenced readiness and safety policy for decades.  It was also the book that was the basis of Stanley Kubrick's movie Dr. Strangelove.

Red Alert is in the public domain and I've downloaded a copy which I will review here in the future.

The other bit of fiction was the Jason Robards TV movie The Day After, which showed how a nuclear war affected the residence of Lawrence, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri.  This show had such a profound effect on President Ronald Ragan that after watching it, he began to negotiate with the USSR to stop nuclear testing and reduce the arsenal.

I once reviewed the book Seawitch by Alistair MacLean -( ) and blasted it for the unbelievable lack of security surrounding a military weapon storage facility.  Well, I was wrong about the security; there were many instances in Command and Control that illustrated incredibly lax measures taken to prevent the theft of atomic weapons.  Fiction may be fiction but it can be spot on.


NOTE - Be ready to have the shit scared out of you at the end.  Just saying.

Eric Schlosser

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