On October 15, Robert Jervis reviewed Eric Schlosser’s new book, Command and Control, for The Nation. In what Professor Jervis calls a “gripping new book,” Schlosser uncovers what he deems the “illusion of safety” that Americans have when it comes to nuclear weapons. The author lays out a number of near-accidents during the Cold War involving nuclear weapons. He also discusses the concept that gives this book its name, the command and control system over nuclear weapons, and how what works well in peacetime can fail under the stress of a nuclear attack.
Jervis concludes with the following:
“On the other hand, we never had a nuclear explosion. But does this show the strength of the safety mechanisms? Schlosser draws the opposite conclusion, that we were lucky. If things had been a bit different in many of these cases—had wires crossed one way rather than another or had decay in a safety switch occurred in a bomber that crashed—bombs would have exploded. We can ask how close we came, which means thinking about would have had to have been different in order to produce this dreaded result. But we cannot be confident about where this way of thinking leads us. And that means we may have been a lot closer to disaster than most of us believed at the time.”
The entire book review can be read in full here.