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Barnes and... A Conversation with Neil deGrasse Tyson

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Be sure to watch "Barnes and... A Conversation with Neil deGrasse Tyson" Thursday, May 8 at 6:30 p.m.,  Repeats Wednesday, May 14 @ 6:30 p.m.

Steve sits down with Neil deGrasse Tyson an American astrophysicist, author, and science communicator. Tyson serves as the Director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City.  Tyson's professional career includes serving five seasons, 2006-2011, as host of PBS-NOVA's spin-off program NOVA ScienceNOW.  He currently premieres on the television series COSMOS on the FOX network.  Tyson discusses the importance of science to all and why science education is vital. 

TRANSCRIPT

HOST: HELLO AGAIN, EVERYONE. THANKS VERY MUCH FOR JOINING US. HARD TO BELIEVE THAT IT HAPPENED 33 YEARS AGO, BUT THERE IT IS, OR THERE IT WAS. 3 74-7 NEAR DAMASCUS, ARKANSAS. AND AN ENORMOUS FIRE BALL SENDING ITS NUCLEAR WAR HEAD 200 YARDS DISTANCE, TAKING ONE LIFE IMMEDIATELY AND OTHERS, AND MAYBE IN A WAY CHANGING THE WAY AMERICA THOUGHT ABOUT NUCLEAR WEAPONS. OUR GUEST JUST MAY, WITH HAD  ~ HIS NEW WORK, ERIC SCHLOSSER, CLINT SCHOOL OF BUSINESS. WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO DO THIS?

I WROTE A BOOK CALLED FASCINATION SET IN COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO. AND ONE OF THE PLACES I VISITED WAS THE NORAD COMMAND CENTER IN SIDE OF CHYENNE MOUNTAIN. I KNEW A GUY IN THE AIR FORCE. IN THE SPRING WAS THE AIR FORCE SPACE COMMAND WHICH WAS EVENTUALLY GOING TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR WARFARE IN THAT STATE. I SPENT TIME WITH THIS GUY AND HE STARTED TELLING ME A LOT OF COLD WAR STORIES BECAUSE MOST OF THE PEOPLE IN THE STATE'S COMMAND AT THAT POINT HAD STARTED OFF AS LAUNCH OFFICERS. AND ONE OF THEM TOLD ME THE STORY OF THIS ACCIDENT IN DAMASCUS, ARKANSAS INVOLVING A MISSILE. I HAD NEVER HEARD IT. I HAD NEVER REMEMBERED IT HAVING HAPPENED. I THOUGHT IT WAS AN INCREDIBLE, INCREDIBLE STORY. AND JUST ALMOST COINCIDENTALLY, AS I WAS VISITING DIFFERENT AIR FORCE BASES IN THE UNITED STATES FOR SOMETHING I WAS THINKING ABOUT WRITING, I GOT THE OPPORTUNITY TO WATCH THE LAUNCH OF A TITAN II MISSILE AT THE AIR FORCE BASE. I THINK THE AIR FORCE LET ME STAND REALLY CLOSE TO THE MISSILE WHEN IT LAUNCHED.

HOST: AFTER I INDEMNIFIED THE AIR FORCE.

AFTER I INDEMNIFIED THE AIR FORCE. THE OFFICER WASN'T THAT CLOSE. IT WAS AN AWESOME, AWESOME SIGHT. AFTER HEARING THIS EXTRAORDINARY STORY ABOUT THE TITAN II, I'VE SEEN ONE LAUNCH AND REALIZING THE CHILD OF THE COLD WAR, THESE THINGS WORKED AND THEY HAVE AWESOME POWER. THISES WASN'T THE DETONATION OF A NUCLEAR WEAPON. THIS WAS ONE MISSILE. THOUGH MISSILE WERE HUGE AND THEY REALLY COULD FLY.

HOST: THERE WERE 18 OF THEM, I BELIEVE 18 IN ARKANSAS.

THAT'S RIGHT. YEAH, AND I MEAN, ARKANSAS, I SPENT -- I MADE A NUMBER OF VISITS HERE OVER THE YEARS RESEARCHING THE BOOK AND I REALLY LOVE BEING HERE. AND PARTICULARLY IN THE FOOTHILLS OF THE OZARKS IN AND AROUND DAMASCUS, BEAUTIFUL. I HAVE TO SAY, SORT OF AN ODD PLACE PUT 18 INTER CONTINENTAL BALLISTIC MISSILES, THE MOST POWERFUL WAR HEAD EVER ON AN AMERICAN MISSILE. AND, SO, IT WHAT A SORT OF UNUSUAL SETTING NOT ONLY FOR THE BOOK, BUT FOR THE AIR FORCE TO HAVE PUT THE MISSILES THERE.

HOST: STRANGER EVEN WHERE THE OTHER LOCATED, DAKOTA, WYOMING.

THEY TENDED TO PUT THESE MISSILES IN VERY REMOTE RURAL AREAS, PARTICULARLY IN THE AMERICAN WEST SO THAT IF THERE WAS A PROBLEM WITH THE MISSILE, THEY WOULDN'T NECESSARILY BE ENDANGERING THE LOCAL POPULATION. BUT IN ARKANSAS THESE MISSILES WEREN'T IN RURAL AREAS, BUT THEY WERE IN POPULATED RURAL AREAS. COMPARED TO OTHER MISSILES, THE MINUTE MAN MISSILE THAT HAS A SOLID FUEL, THE TITAN II WAS A DANGEROUS MISSILE TO HAVE IF YOU'RE A NEIGHBOR EVEN IF THERE WASN'T A WAR HEAD ON TOP OF IT.

HOST: WHAT MADE IT SO DANGEROUS, THE FUEL COMBINATION?

YEAH, IT WAS -- YOU ARE CORRECT, IT WAS THE LIQUID. NASA HAS USED LIQUID PROPELLANT FROM THE VERY BEGINNING IN THE SPACE AGE AND USES LIQUID PROPELLANT. BUT WHEN THEY'RE LAUNCHING A ROCKET TO THE MOON OR A NASA SATELLITE, THEY DON'T LOAD UP THE ROCKETS WITH PROPELLANT UNTIL THEY'RE GETING CLOSE TO LAUNCH BECAUSE THEA ARE TOXIC, VERY CORROSIVE, DANGEROUS, DANGEROUS CHEMICALS. SOME OF THE MOST DANGEROUS CHEMICALS THAT THERE ARE. BUT IN THE CASE OF THE TITAN II, THE TITAN II, BECAUSE IT NEEDED TO BE LAUNCHED ON A MOMENT'S NOTICE, WOULD SIT IN ITS SILO IN RURAL ARKANSAS WITH THESE PROPELLANTS FOR WEEK, MONTHS, YEARS AT A TIME. AND BECAUSE THESE PROPELLANTS, PARTICULARLY THE OXIDIZER, ONE WAS AN OXIDIZER THAT HAD OXYGEN IN IT. THE OTHER WAS A ROCKET FUEL, AND THEY WERE IN SEPARATE TANKS. AND WHEN THEY CAME DOWN THE MISSILE AND MET IN THE ROCKET ENGINE, THEY TOUCHED AND IGNITE, AND THAT'S WHAT WOULD MAKE THE ROCKET FLY IN THE SKY. BUT THIS OXIDIZER, INCREDIBLY CORROSIVE. THERE WERE CONSTANTLY LEAKS OF PROPELLANT. ASIDE FROM THE FACT THAT THE MISSILE COULD EXPLODE, IF THE OXIDIZER LEAKED INTO YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD, IT COULD KILL YOU OR SEVERELY INJURE YOU. THERE WERE OXIDIZER LEAK HERE THAT KILLED CATTLE, THAT SICK ENED PEOPLE. THE STORY THAT I'VE BEEN TOLD AND THE STORY THAT WAS PUBLISHED, CONGRESSMAN WILBUR MILLER WHO WAS HEAD OF THE HOUSE WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE, VERY POWERFUL DEMOCRAT, WANTED TO BRING SOME FEDERAL INVESTMENT TO ARKANSAS. SO, HE CUT A DEAL AND AS PART OF THE DEAL ARKANSAS GOT THE 18 TITAN II MISSILES AND SOME INVESTMENT IN THE STATE. BUT APART OF THE BARGAIN, THEY GOT A VERY DANGEROUS WEAPON SYSTEM IN THEIR MIDST.

HOST: AND IN FACT, THE EXPLOSION AT DAMASCUS WAS THE SECOND INVOLVEMENT IN -- WITHIN FOUR OR FIVE YEARS.

THERE HAS BEEN A SERIOUS OXIDIZER LEAK AT THAT VERY SILO THAT HAD KILLED CATTLE, SICKENED PEOPLE IN NEARBY DAMASCUS. HOUSES WERE NOT THAT FAR AWAY FROM THAT MISSILE COMPLEX. THERE WAS AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL THAT WASN'T THAT FAR AWAY FROM THAT MISSILE COMPLEX. AND YOU KNOW, IN THE HEAT OF THE COLD WAR, I THINK RISK WERE TAKEN WHICH YOU'D NEVER TAKE TODAY BECAUSE IT REALLY SEEMED LIKE THESE WERE DANGEROUS TIMES AND PEOPLE HAD TO ASSUME A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF RISK. BUT LOOKING BACK I DON'T THINK IT WAS A VERY GOOD IDEA TO PUT TITAN II MISSILES IN ARKANSAS. I THINK THE STATE IS VERY FORTUNATE THERE WASN'T ANY MORE CATASTROPHIC ACCIDENT.

HOST: ONE OF THE PROPONENTS OF IT, IF THE EXPERTS REALIZED THE RISK INVOLVED, THEY DIDN'T ALWAYS SHARE THE KNOWLEDGE AT THAT TIME WITH THE COUNTRY -- WITH CITIZENRY.

NO, THEY DIDN'T. ROBERT MCNAMARA, WHEN HE WAS SECRETARY OF DEFENSE IN THE KENNEDY -- HE WHAT IN THE KENNEDY AND JOHNSON ADMINISTRATION, HE WAS READY TO RETIRE THE TITAN IIS IN THE LATE 1950S. THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO START GOING OUT OF SERVICE AROUND '67, '68. THE MINUTE MAN MISSILE WHICH IN THE COLD WAR WAS THE REAL HEART OF OUR MISSILE DETERRENT, HAD A SOLID FUEL AND THAT SOLID FUEL WAS MUCH MORE DANGEROUS TO BE AROUND. SO, BY 1980, WE HAD A THOUSAND OR SO MINUTE MEN MISSILES AND ONLY 54 TITAN IIS. THE TITAN IIS IN AMERICA WERE A TRIVIAL PART OF OUR ARSENAL. WHAT WAS SIGNIFICANT ABOUT THEM WAS THE WAR HEAD ON TOP OF THE TITAN II. AS I SAID EARLIER, WAS THE MOST POWERFUL NUCLEAR WAR HEAD THE UNITED STATES EVER PUT ONTO A MISSILE. IT WAS A 9 MEGATON WAR HEAD, AND THAT ONE WAR HEAD IN DAMASCUS, ARKANSAS WHICH WAS THE SAME WAR HEAD IN ALL THE SILOS IN ARKANSAS, HAD THREE TIMES THE EXPLOSIVE FORCE OF ALL THE BOMBS USED BY ALL THE ARMIES IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR.

HOST: ALL THE ARMAMENT --

ALL THE ARMAMENT, THREE TIMES INCLUDING BOTH ATOMIC BOMB. THE UNITED STATES WAS RELUCTANT TO JUST GET RID OF THE TITAN II WITHOUT GETTING THE SOVIETS TO GET RID OF SOMETHING AS A CONCESSION. THESE MISSILES, EVEN THOUGH THEY WERE ONLY 54, REPRESENTED A HUGE PROPORTION OF THE MEGATONNAGE OF THE EXPLOSIVE FORCE OF OUR ARSENAL. HENRE KISSINGER WAS QUITE RUNT IN HIS MEMOIRS AND SOME OF THE DOCUMENTS THAT HAVE BEEN REVEALED. HE WAS DESPERATE TO GET RID OF THE TITAN II. HE FELT LIKE IT WAS AN OBSOLETE AND UNRELIABLE, INACCURATE WEAPON SYSTEM. BUT IF YOU GO BACK, AGAIN, TO THE ARMS RACE THAT WE HAD WITH THE SOVIET UNION, IT WOULD HAVE TAKEN A BIG STEP OF COURAGE TO VOLUNTARILY GET RID OF OUR MISSILES WHEN THE SOVIETS WEREN'T GOING TO GIVE ANYTHING IN RETURN. HE TRIED TO TRADE A VERY POTENT POWERFUL MISSILE AND WE GET RID OF OUR TITAN IIS. AND THE SOVIETS HAD NO INTEREST BECAUSE THEY KNEW THE TITAN II WAS OBSOLETE.

HOST: SO IT WASN'T JUST THE MILITARY. IT WASN'T A STRATEGIC TACTICAL QUESTION, BUT A POLITICAL QUESTION AS WELL. THE CLIMATE OF THE '80S.

IT WAS -- IT WOULD BE A BARGAINING CHIP IN ARMS CONTROL TALK. NOW, HAVING SAID THAT, IF WE WERE TO GO TO WAR WITH THE SOVIET UNION, THAT WAS A FEAR SOME, FEAR SOME WEAPON TO BE USED AGAINST THEM. BUT IT COULD ONLY REALLY BE USED IN A FIRST STRIKE. AND OUR WAR PLAN DID NOT CALL FOR A SURPRISE ATTACK ON THE SOVIET UNION. BUT THE WAR PLAN, THE NUCLEAR WAR PLAN WE HAD IN THE '70S REALLY EMPHASIZED IF IT LOOKED LIKE WE WERE GOING TO GO TO WAR WITH THE SOVIETS, WE WERE GOING TO TRY TO HIT THEM BEFORE THEY HIT US. SO, THE TITAN II WAS ONLY GOOD FOR THAT PURPOSE BECAUSE WHEN THE SILOS WERE BEING BUILT IN AROUND 1961, '62, THEY WEREN'T AWARE OF HOW POWERFUL AND HOW ACCURATE THE SOVIET MISSILES WERE GOING TO BECOME. SO, IT WAS A FEAR SOME WEAPON. BUT I HAVE TO SAY, IT ALSO PUT A VERY BIG BULL'S-EYE ON THE STATE OF ARKANSAS BECAUSE THE TITAN II WASN'T THAT ACCURATE SO IT ONLY HAD A COUPLE OF USES. IT COULD BE AIMED AT THE COMMAND BUNKERS IN BIG CITIES LIKE MOSCOW. IT COULD BE AIMED AT MAJOR COURTS OR MAJOR MILITARY INSTALLATIONS. SO, IT WAS SOMETHING THAT THE SOVIETS WOULD WANT TO GET RID OF FAIRLY QUICKLY. SO, IT WAS AN EXTRAORDINARY THING TO HAVE IN A SMALL STATE LIKE THIS.

HOST: LET'S FIT DAMASCUS IN THE LARGER CONTEXT OF YOUR BOOK, SUBTITLE, THE ALLUSION OF COMMAND AND CONTROL, OF SECURITY OF AMERICA OR THE WORLD'S NUCLEAR ARSENAL. PEOPLE WONDER HOW WHEN DAMASCUS, THE ORIGIN OF THE EXPLOSION OF DAMASCUS WAS NEITHER THE ORIGIN NOR THE OUTCOME WAS NUCLEAR. WE HAD A SOCKET WRENCH THAT FELL, A YOUNG AIRMAN ACCIDENTALLY DROPPED -- PUNCTURED THE SKIN OF THE MISSILE.

YEAH.

HOST: PROPELLANT, OXIDIZER CAME OUT A FEW HOURS LATER.

YEAH, THE WAR HEAD DID NOT DETONATE. THE WAR HEAD DID NOT DETONATE AND THE AIR FORCE AT THE TIME WAS ADAMANT THAT THERE WAS NO POSSIBILITY OF THAT WAR HEAD DETONATING. ONE OF THE REASONS THIS BOOK TOOK ME SIX YEARS AND IS SIGNIFICANTLY LONGER THAN THE BOOK THAT I OFTEN WRITE IS THE AIR FORCE WASN'T TELLING THE TRUTH. AND THERE ARE A COUPLE OF NARRATIVES IN THE BOOK, COUPLE OF NAME NARRATIVES -- ONE OF THE NARRATIVES IS A MINUTE BY MINUTE DESCRIPTION OF THE UNFOLDING OF THE DAMASCUS ACCIDENT.

HOST: LET ME SAY IT'S A GRIPPING READ.

THANK YOU, THANK YOU. AND THE OTHER NARRATIVE IS ABOUT THE GROWING REALIZATION IN THE WEAPONS COMMUNITY AMONG DESIGNERS, WEAPON DESIGNERS IN THE UNITED STATES THAT ARE NUCLEAR WEAPONS ARE VULNERABLE -- WERE VULNERABLE IN THAT PERIOD TO ACCIDENTAL DETONATION. AND IN THE BOOK I WRITE ABOUT, SOMETHING THE AIR FORCE DIDN'T TELL THE PEOPLE OF ARKANSAS AT THE TIME, THERE WAS A MAJOR STUDY DONE OF OUR NUCLEAR WEAPONS AT THE NATIONAL LABORATORY WHICH IS ONE OF OUR MAJOR WEAPONS LABS. AND THEY LISTED THE WEAPON IN THE GREATEST ORDER OF RISK OF ACCIDENTAL DETONATION. AND THE W-53 WAR HEAD ON TOP OF THE TITAN II WAS CONSIDERED THE LEAST SAFE WAR HEAD. YOU WOULD NEVER PUT A WAR HEAD WITH THE SAFETY DEVICES IT HAD AT THE TIME ON A MISSILE TODAY. AND, SO, THERE IS A MAJOR NARRATIVE OF THE BOOK ABOUT THE WEAPONS DESIGNER THAT SAID, ONE OF THEM IS TRULY HEROIC, ROBERT, WHO LATER WOUND UP BEING VICE PRESIDENT OF THE LAB AND HIS EFFORT TO GET MODERN SAFETY DEVICES INSTALLED. SO, THAT WAR HEAD ON THAT MISSILE DID NOT DETONATE, BUT IT COULD HAVE. I THINK THE BEST WAY TO PUT IT WOULD BE IT WAS IMPROBABLE THAT IT WOULD DETONATE, BUT NOT IMPOSSIBLE. BUT IT WAS ALSO IMPROBABLE THAT THAT MISSILE COULD EXPLODE BECAUSE SOMEONE DROPPED A SOCKET. I SPENT TIME WITH TTS CREWS. THOSE ARE THE GUYS THAT SERVICE THE MISSILES. YOU COULD DROP A SOCKET ON THAT WORK PLATFORM WITHIN A SILO THAT THE YOUNG WORKER DID, A THOUSAND TIMES TRYING TO HIT THE MISSILE AND NEVER HIT THE MISSILE. IT WAS A COMPLETELY FREAK, BIZARRE ACCIDENT, AND TOOLS FELL IN THE SILO ALL THE TIME. AND WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IS THEY WERE WORKING ON A WORK PLATFORM. A TOOL, FLASHLIGHT, SOMETHING WOULD FALL. THEY'D HAVE TO CLIMB -- TAKE THE ELEVATOR, GO ALL THE WAY DOWN TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SILO, GO DOWN INTO WHAT WAS CALLED THE W BELOW THE MISSILE, PICK UP THE TOOL, AND GO GET IT. AND THIS WAS JUST A LOW PROBABILITY, HIGH CONSEQUENCE EVENT. AND THAT'S WHAT THE DETONATION OF A NUCLEAR WEAPON INADVERTENTLY WOULD BE. THE ODDS ARE LOW, BUT IF IT HAPPENED, THE CONSEQUENCES WERE UNIMAGINABLE. IF THAT WAR HEAD HAD DETONATED THAT NIGHT IN DAMASCUS, ARKANSAS, QUITE HONESTLY, IT WOULD HAVE CHANGED THE COURSE OF AMERICAN HISTORY. IT WOULD HAVE ENGULFED THIS STATE IN FIRESTORM. IT WOULD HAVE SENT RADIOACTIVE FALLOUT UP THE EAST COAST OF THE UNITED STATES. AND BILL CLINTON, WHO WAS IN HOT SPRINGS DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION AND VICE PRESIDENT WALTER MONDALE WHO WAS ALSO THERE AT THE TIME, WOULD HAVE HAD A LIFE CHANGING EXPERIENCE.

HOST: 30 MILES FROM DAMASCUS, I ASSUME THE TOMATO CROP --

THE LAND AROUND THERE WOULD NOT BE FARMED FOR A LONG, LONG, LONG TIME.

HOST: THE WEAPON THAT DIDN'T EXPLODE AT DAMASCUS HAD ITS COUNTER OF PARTS IN WHAT NUCLEAR WEAPONS THAT DIDN'T EXPLODE IN OTHER STATES FOLLOWING OTHER -- AN EXAMPLE OF AN AIRMAN SERVICING I THINK A FIGHTER BOMB OR BOMBER -- EACH BOMB FELL 8, 9 FEET FROM THE BELLY OF THE  PLANE ONTO THE RUNWAY AND DIDN'T EXPLODE.

SEE, ONE OF THE THEMES OF THE BOOK IS HOW -- IT'S BASICALLY OUR ABILITY TO CREATE COMPLEX TECHNOLOGY EXCEEDS OUR ABILITY TO CONTROL THEM. IT IS AN ILLUSION OF CONTROL. I THINK THAT WE BUILD NUCLEAR WEAPONS SAFER THAN ANY OTHER IN THE WORLD -- ANY OTHER COUNTRY IN THE WORLD. WE INVENTED THIS TECHNOLOGY. WE PERFECTED IT. WE -- YOU KNOW, AT ONE POINT WE HAD 32,000 NUCLEAR WEAPONS. WE PROBABLY BUILT A TOTAL OF 60 OR 70,000 OF THEM, AND WE NEVER HAD ONE OF THEM ACCIDENTALLY DETONATE. AND THAT'S A TRIBUTE TO THE SKILLS OF THE WEAPONS DESIGNERS. A LOT OF THE BOOK IS ABOUT THE HEROISM OF ORDINARY SERVICEMEN WHO RISKED THEIR LIVES AND SOMETIMES LOST THEM TO PREVENT NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE. BUT THERE'S NO QUESTION WE'VE COME CLOSE, WE'VE COME MUCH TOO CLOSE TO AN ACCIDENTAL DETONATION, AND THERE'S NO GUARANTEE WHATSOEVER THAT OUR GOOD FORTUNE --

HOST: MUCH OF THE CONCERN EXPRESSED IN THE PUBLIC ARENA, ANYWAY, HAS BEEN NOT A TECHNICAL MALFUNCTION, THE FAIL-SAFE SORT OF SCENARIO, AS HAS BEEN ROGUE STATES. MANIACS, LOOSE NUKES, YOU SAID THE U.S. IN ITS MANUFACTURE OF WEAPONS SYSTEM HAD MADE THEM SAFER THAN ANY OTHER NATION.

YEAH.

HOST: AND AT THE SAME TIME YOU NOTE IN YOUR BOOK THAT THE SOVIET UNION HAD A TIGHTER COMMAND MECHANISM OVER -- POLITICAL MECHANISM, ADMINISTRATIVE MECHANISM OVER ITS NUCLEAR WEAPONS THAN THE U.S.

SOME PEOPLE BELIEVE THAT BECAUSE THEY HAD AN AUTHORITARIAN GOVERNMENTAL SYSTEM. SO, THEY EXERCISED EXTREME TIGHT CONTROL OVER WHO HAD ACCESS TO THEIR WEAPON WITHIN THEIR OWN MILITARY. WE HAD A VERY DIFFERENT NUCLEAR STRATEGY. WE HAD DELEGATED IN ADVANCE THE AUTHORITY TO USE NUCLEAR WEAPONS TO OFFICERS DOWN THE CHAIN OF COMMAND. UNDER THE LAW, ONLY THE PRESIDENT CAN AUTHORIZE THE USE OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS. BUT IN THE EISENHOWER ADMINISTRATION, PRESIDENT EISENHOWER DELEGATED IN ADVANCE -- PRE-DELEGATED THE AUTHORITY TO OFFICERS IN EUROPE. IF THE SOVIET TANKS WERE ROLLING OVER WEST GERMANY AND AMERICAN TROOPS WERE ABOUT TO BE OVERRUN, AND COMMUNICATIONS WERE LOST, HAD BEEN CUT OFF, THOSE TROOPS WERE ALLOWED TO USE NUCLEAR WEAPONS. IF IT LOOKED LIKE WASHINGTON, D.C. AND NEW YORK CITY AND OMAHA, NEBRASKA, THE HEADQUARTERS OF THE STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND, HAD ALL BEEN WIPED OUT, THERE WERE HIGH-LEVEL OFFICERS WHO WERE ALLOWED AND GIVEN ADVANCE AUTHORIZATION TO USE THEIR WEAPONS. THE SOVIETS WERE MUCH MORE WARY OF DOING THAT, MUCH MORE AUTHORITARIAN, AND THEY CAME UP WITH AN EVEN MORE DANGEROUS SYSTEM. IN THE UNITED STATES, WHEN YOU PRE-AUTHORIZE OFFICERS TO BE ABLE TO USE WEAPONS, THERE'S A CHANCE YOU MIGHT GET A ROGUE OFFICER. THERE'S A CHANCE THAT, YOU KNOW, SOMEBODY MIGHT BECOME UNHINGED. BUT WE DEPENDED ON THE ESPRI DECOR AND DISCIPLINE OF OUR FORCE HE AND THEY BEHAVED THAT WAY. IN THE SOVIET UNION, THEY CREATED AN AUTOMATED SYSTEM CALLED THE PERIMETER SYSTEM OR THE DEAD HAT WAS THE NICKNAME FOR IT. AND THIS SOUNDS LIKE IT'S OUT OF DR. STRANGE LOVE, BUT IT ACTUALLY EXISTED. IF THERE WAS AN AUTOMATED SYSTEM, AND ONCE A SOVIET LEADER SWITCHED IT ON, AS SOON AS IT'S DETECTED, NUCLEAR EXPLOSION ON THE SOIL OF THE SOVIET UNION, IT WOULD LAUNCH SOVIET MISSILES. AND THAT WAS TO PROTECT AGAINST WHAT IS CALLED A CAPITATION ATTACK. IF THE UNITED STATES LAUNCHED A PREEMPTIVE STRIKE OR SURPRISE ATTACK AND WIPED OUT THE KREMLIN, OR WIPED OUT THE TOP MILITARY OFFICIAL, THE SOVIET UNION WANTED TO FEEL CONFIDENT THAT THEY COULD RETALIATE. BUT CREATING AN AUTOMATED COMPUTER CONTROL SYSTEM OF RETALIATION IS A VERY UNNERVING THING. THERE'S NO EVIDENCE THAT IT WAS EVER ACTIVATED. IT'S CLEAR THAT IT WAS BUILT. IT'S ALSO CLEAR THAT THE UNITED STATES HAD NO IDEA THAT IT EXISTED UNTIL AFTER THE COLD WAR. AND WHAT'S SIGNIFICANT ABOUT THAT IS WE HAD ALL KINDS OF POTENTIAL NUCLEAR OPTIONS. ONE OF THEM WAS TO FIGHT A LIMITED WAR. ONE OF THEM WAS TO HIT THE SMOOCH YET WITH A FEW NUCLEAR WEAPONS AND TRY TO NEGOTIATE OR BARGAIN A PEACE IF THEY'RE TRYING TO OVERRUN WEST GERMANY. AND WITH THE EXISTENCE OF THE PERIMETER SYSTEM REVEALED TO AMERICANS, THERE WAS PROBABLY NEVER GOING TO BE THAT LIMITED NUCLEAR WAR BECAUSE IF THAT SYSTEM HAD BEEN SWITCHED ON, ONCE THE -- ALL WAR HEADS STARTED DETONATING ON SOVIET SOIL, IT COULD HAVE TURNED OUT INTO AN ALL-OUT NUCLEAR WAR. IT'S A GOOD BOOK, I THINK IT WON A PULITZER PRIZE ON THE PERIMETER SYSTEM CALLED THE DEAD HAND BY A WASHINGTON POST REPORTER. AGAIN, THIS SOUNDS LIKE THE STUFF OF -- IT REALLY HAPPENED. AND ONE OF THE THEMES OF THE BOOK IS JUST LOOKING AT THE EFFORT OF THE UNITED STATES JUST HOLD ON, KEEP THESE WEAPONS UNDER CONTROL. KEEP THAT SORT OF MISTAKE FROM HAPPENING. AND IT WAS A REAL CHALLENGE. AND THE PEOPLE WHO RAN OUR NUCLEAR COMMAND AND CONTROL SYSTEM HAD A PROFOUNDLY STRESSFUL JOB. THEY TOOK -- THEY WANTED TO SEND THE UNITED STATES AGAINST THE ATTACK. THEY DIDN'T WANT TO START A NUCLEAR WAR BY MISTAKE. THEY WERE CONSTANTLY -- THAT MISSILES WERE COMING TOWARDS US AND IT TURNED OUT THAT THEY WEREN'T. SO, IT WAS A VERY, VERY DIFFICULT JOB. AND IT'S AMAZING THAT WE GOT THROUGH THE COLD WAR AND THE SOVIET UNION VANISHED FROM THE FACE OF THE EARTH, AND THE BERLIN WALL CAME DOWN, AND GERMANY WAS REUNITED WITHOUT THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE BEING KILLED. AND IT WAS BY NO MEANS GUARANTEED THAT IT WOULD END THAT PEACEFULLY. SO, WE WERE VERY FORTUNATE TO GET OUT OF THAT CONFLICT WITHOUT A NUCLEAR EXCHANGE OR WITHOUT AN ACCIDENTAL NUCLEAR DETONATION.

HOST: OF COURSE NOW WE HAVE INDIA THAT'S NUCLEAR, PAKISTAN THAT'S NUCLEAR, THEY HATE EACH OTHER ELEMENTS.

YEAH.

HOST: THE PROSPECT OF A NUCLEAR WITH ISRAEL.

AT THE CONCLUSION OF SEARCHING DEMAND AND CONTROL, DO YOU SEE A WAY OUT? ~

I DO. THIS WAS A VERY COMPLICATED, OFTEN VERY DARK SUBJECT TO SPEND SIX YEARS RESEARCHING. BUT I'M NOT APOCALYPTIC. I DON'T THINK THAT WE'RE DOOMED. AND IF I THOUGHT THAT, I WOULDN'T HAVE BOTHERED TO WRITE THIS BOOK. I FEEL LIKE NUCLEAR WEAPONS HAVE SORT OF WRECKED THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION. I THINK IT'S VERY IMPORTANT THAT WE THINK ABOUT THEM AGAIN, THAT WE HAVE A REAL DEBATE IN THIS COUNTRY ABOUT HOW MANY WEAPONS DO WE NEED? WHAT'S THE STRATEGY FOR USING THEM? WHICH KINDS SHOULD WE HAVE SUBMARINE BASED, LAB BASED, THESE ARE ISSUES OF FUNDAMENTAL IMPORTANCE. AND THE DECISION SHOULDN'T BE MADE BY A SMALL GROUP OF PEOPLE IN WASHINGTON, D.C. THEY SHOULD BE PART OF A NATIONAL DEBATE. NOW, AT THE END OF THE BOOK I LOOK AT THE RATE OF INDUSTRIAL ACCIDENTS IN OTHER COUNTRIES AS A MEASURE OF THEIR ABILITY TO MANAGE COMPLEX TECHNOLOGICAL SYSTEMS. AND I'M DEEPLY CONCERNED ABOUT COUNTRIES LIKE PAKISTAN OR LIKE INDIA HAVING THESE SYSTEMS. WE HATED THE SOVIET UNION, BUT WE HATED THEM FROM A DISTANCE OF 6,000 MILES. AND WE BOTH SHARED ENOUGH OF A COMMON SET OF VALUES SO THAT WE DIDN'T HAVE A SUICIDAL EFFECT. RIGHT NOW WE HAVE COUNTRIES THAT ARE NOT ONLY CELEBRATING SUICIDE, BUT ARE ALSO DELIBERATELY TARGETING CIVILIANS AND SUICIDE BOMBINGS, CAR BOMBINGS, ET CETERA, ET CETERA. THE NOTION OF THOSE COUNTRIES OR THOSE GROUPS GETTING ACCESS TO A NUCLEAR WEAPON IS TERRIFYING. SO, WE NEED TO FOCUS ON THE NUCLEAR THREAT. AND BY LOOKING AT OUR OWN ARSENAL, AND AGAIN, I THINK WE'VE DONE A BETTER JOB OF ANYONE AT MANAGING IT. I THINK WE HAVE THE MOST SOPHISTICATED ADVANCE TECHNOLOGICAL CONTROL. BUT IF WE COME CLOSE, THINK ABOUT INDIA, PAKISTAN, THINK ABOUT IF IRAN GETS A NUCLEAR WEAPON. A MAJOR CITY HASN'T BEEN DESTROYED SINCE NAGASAKI IN 1945. WE DON'T WANT TO SEE A MAJOR CITY ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD --

HOST: THE BOOK BEGINS AND ENDS AT DAMASCUS, ARKANSAS. COMMAND CONTROL. SCHLOSSER, THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR THIS TIME.

THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

HOST: WE'LL SEE YOU NEXT TIME. ♪ ♪

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