In his article entitled, “Almost Everything in “Dr. Strangelove” Was True!”, Eric Scholosser points out that in the black comedy movie, “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” is largely true. In the movie, the plot suggests that a mentally deranged American general could order a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, without consulting the President. One reviewer described the film as “dangerous … an evil thing about an evil thing.” True or False? Could a general order a nuclear attack on his own?
Scholosser writes that, President Ike Eisenhower actually agreed to let American officers use their nuclear weapons, in the case of an extreme emergency – if the president were unavailable. He states, “Air Force pilots were allowed to fire their nuclear anti-aircraft rockets to shoot down Soviet bombers heading toward the United States. And about half a dozen high-level American commanders were allowed to use far more powerful nuclear weapons, without contacting the White House first, when their forces were under attack and “the urgency of time and circumstances clearly does not permit a specific decision by the President, or other person empowered to act in his stead.”
Eisenhower was worried that this authority could be misused and said “something foolish down the chain of command” and start an all-out nuclear war.
When President John F. Kennedy came into office he was surprised to learn about this secret delegation of power. “A subordinate commander faced with a substantial military action,” Kennedy was told in a top-secret memo, “could start the thermonuclear holocaust on his own initiative if he could not reach you.” Kennedy and his national-security advisers were shocked to also learn that few of the weapons had locks on them – even though there were roughly three thousand American nuclear weapons stored in Europe that “were routinely guarded, transported, and handled by foreign military personnel.” And some of the weapons were about a hundred times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. The Kennedy Administration soon added locking devices inside NATO’s nuclear weapons. The coded electromechanical switches, known as “permissive action links” (PALs).
Scholosser also writes that, “Harold Agnew, a Los Alamos physicist who accompanied the group, was especially concerned to see German pilots sitting in German planes that were decorated with Iron Crosses—and carrying American atomic bombs. Agnew, in his own words, “nearly wet his pants” when he realized that a lone American sentry with a rifle was all that prevented someone from taking off in one of those planes and bombing the Soviet Union.”
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” was released in 1964, the film caused a good deal of controversy.
Via: New Yorker