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We're Still Alive, Somehow

So far. Ron Bailey wraps up the end-of-the-world conference. I hadn't previously heard the Yeltsin nuclear football story. It makes one wonder how many other close calls we've had.


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Carl Pham wrote:

I dunno. A million what if scenarios seem like just so much Chicken Little hot air in the face of the single stark fact that the US and Soviet Union or Russia have had several thousand nuclear missiles on "hair-trigger alert" for coming up on a full fifty years with no actual accidents whatsoever.

I'm vaguely reminded of the pendulum demonstration done in freshman physics classes, where an instructur draws a heavy pendulum suspended from the ceiling up to his face, on one side of the classroom, and then releases it. It swings across the room and back, and, being heavy, comes within an inch or two of smashing the instructor's face. But of course, it doesn't, conservation of energy being the iron law it is. Is this a "close call?" From the point of view of naive observers, yes indeed. From the point of view of the expert, not in the least.

Which of the two applies to nuclear weaponry command and control has always been a subject of heated debate. So far, the actual track record favors those who suggest the dangers of accidental nuclear war have been wildly exaggerated for decades.

Bob Hawkins wrote:

The Soviets did accidentally launch a nuclear-armed IRBM at a target in Western Europe, but the engine failed almost immediately and the missile only traveled something like 400 meters.

My theory is that, at some point during the Cold War, someone did push the button, and nothing happened.

Carl Pham wrote:

Well, Bob, it would be a beautifully clever conspiracy if there were no nukes at all, nor missiles, nor secret underground bunkers with their own air supply manned 24/7. Just a hugely elaborate papiér-mâche façade, with grim-faced lieutenant-colonels carrying "footballs" for the President, containing giant red buttons...with dangling wires...hooked up to nothing at all.

Bill Maron wrote:

Carl, I think Bob means someone did push the button and, Whoops, the machine thingy didn't work so disaster was avoided not that the stuff doesn't exist.

Carl Pham wrote:

I know, Bill. I was suggesting that it would be amazing if the button didn't work because it was never hooked to anything. World's greatest bluff. It would never work, but wouldn't it be marvelous if it could, and did?

Paul Breed wrote:

Isee no metion in the conference of the "Evil aliens come and wipe us out that was covered a few posts ago with respect to active SETI.

Also see:,23599,24070088-13762,00.html

Godzilla wrote:

I suggest playing the curiously addictive, albeit simple, Endgame: Singularity and laughing off...

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on July 23, 2008 12:42 PM.

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