Tag: 1945

If there’s any doubt ….

…. there’s no doubt!

My title and sub-title comes from commercial aviation. It’s one aspect of the safety culture that safely the millions of passengers who embark on a commercial flight each year. (IATA estimate that it will be 3.6 billion in 2016.) In other words, if the flight crew have even an inkling of an issue with the aircraft while in flight they will make an immediate decision to land.

Why I chose this title will become clearer as you read on.

The end of the Second World War so far as Europe was concerned came on May 8th, 1945. In other words: VE Day. London was not a pretty sight in 1945.

Toni Frissell’s famous image of an abandoned boy clutching a stuffed animal in the rubble of 1945 London.
Toni Frissell’s famous image of an abandoned boy clutching a stuffed animal in the rubble of 1945 London. (Image taken from this website page.)

What’s the relevance of May 8th, 1945 to me? Well exactly six months, to the day, before VE Day yours truly was born in Acton which was just six miles West of Marble Arch in the centre of London.

It has been a family legend that when VE Day was announced my mother looked at her six-month-old baby son and announced that he was going to live! For those first six months of my life in London were very dangerous. From that same website page where that photograph above came from one can read (my emphasis):

Nazi Germany continued to bomb London up until 1945 using a variety of delivery methods including V-1 and V-2 rockets. In total 1,115 V-2s were fired at the United Kingdom. The vast majority of them were aimed at London, though about 40 targeted (and missed) Norwich. They killed an estimated 2,754 people in London with another 6,523 injured.

I have very clear mental images of playing in and around bomb sites near our home right up to 1953 when there was a real push to clear the sites away ahead of the Queen’s Coronation on June 2nd, 1953.

German V-2 bomb damage on Uppingham Avenue, Stanmore, just a few miles from home
German V-2 bomb damage on houses in Uppingham Avenue, Stanmore, just a few miles from home. The bomb exploded on March 16th, 1945.

So what’s this all about and why do I see it as relevant to today’s world? Stay with me for a little longer.

Yesterday, Patrice Ayme left a comment to my Private Power post. He opened that comment by saying:

With all due respect, and abundant apologies for the daring image, we can’t write exclusively about dogs, lest we want to finish as dog food. As Paul is suggesting. Indeed I view seriousness in global inquiry as a basic moral duty.

Imagine Jews worrying just about dogs, while Auschwitz was being built; it’s arguably what happened, said Hannah Arendt (I’m paraphrasing; she was hated for it, though…) Some will scoff, but Kim in Korea is building one new H bomb every 5 weeks… One single H bomb, in the ‘right’ place, can kill more than Auschwitz.

On December 27th, Patrice published a post under the title of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. It started:

In the Real World, Foundations Saved Civilization Before:

The combination of imperial collapse followed by re-birth from Foundations within happened several times already, for real.

Civilizations collapsing into Dark Ages from the actions of dozens of millions of people occurred more than once. And then very small groups arose, often within the collapsing empire, and imposed new ways of thinking which enabled civilization to restart.

After I read his post I left a question as a comment: “Are you saying that our present civilization is on the point of collapse?”

Patrice replied:

Well, we are certainly tottering at the edge:
http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/world-war-three-by-mistake
Playing Russian roulette works only that long. Unfortunately demoncrats did not care.

I then went across to that article carried by The New Yorker. It was an article written by Eric Schlosser, author of the book Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety and a producer of the documentary Command and Control from 2016.

It’s a long article but an extremely important read. Here are some of the key extracts:

ooOOoo

World War Three, by Mistake

Harsh political rhetoric, combined with the vulnerability of the nuclear command-and-control system, has made the risk of global catastrophe greater than ever.

 A dilemma has haunted nuclear strategy since the first detonation of an atomic bomb: How do you prevent a nuclear attack while preserving the ability to launch one?PHOTOGRAPH BY ANDY CROSS / THE DENVER POST VIA GETTY
A dilemma has haunted nuclear strategy since the first detonation of an atomic bomb: How do you prevent a nuclear attack while preserving the ability to launch one? PHOTOGRAPH BY ANDY CROSS / THE DENVER POST VIA GETTY

On June 3, 1980, at about two-thirty in the morning, computers at the National Military Command Center, beneath the Pentagon, at the headquarters of the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), deep within Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, and at Site R, the Pentagon’s alternate command post center hidden inside Raven Rock Mountain, Pennsylvania, issued an urgent warning: the Soviet Union had just launched a nuclear attack on the United States. The Soviets had recently invaded Afghanistan, and the animosity between the two superpowers was greater than at any other time since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

U.S. Air Force ballistic-missile crews removed their launch keys from the safes, bomber crews ran to their planes, fighter planes took off to search the skies, and the Federal Aviation Administration prepared to order every airborne commercial airliner to land.

President Jimmy Carter’s national-security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was asleep in Washington, D.C., when the phone rang. His military aide, General William Odom, was calling to inform him that two hundred and twenty missiles launched from Soviet submarines were heading toward the United States. Brzezinski told Odom to get confirmation of the attack. A retaliatory strike would have to be ordered quickly; Washington might be destroyed within minutes. Odom called back and offered a correction: twenty-two hundred Soviet missiles had been launched.

Brzezinski decided not to wake up his wife, preferring that she die in her sleep. As he prepared to call Carter and recommend an American counterattack, the phone rang for a third time. Odom apologized—it was a false alarm. An investigation later found that a defective computer chip in a communications device at NORAD headquarters had generated the erroneous warning. The chip cost forty-six cents.

[Two paragraphs later]

My book “Command and Control” explores how the systems devised to govern the use of nuclear weapons, like all complex technological systems, are inherently flawed. They are designed, built, installed, maintained, and operated by human beings. But the failure of a nuclear command-and-control system can have consequences far more serious than the crash of an online dating site from too much traffic or flight delays caused by a software glitch. Millions of people, perhaps hundreds of millions, could be annihilated inadvertently. “Command and Control” focusses on near-catastrophic errors and accidents in the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union that ended in 1991. The danger never went away. Today, the odds of a nuclear war being started by mistake are low—and yet the risk is growing, as the United States and Russia drift toward a new cold war. The other day, Senator John McCain called Vladimir Putin, the President of the Russian Federation, “a thug, a bully, and a murderer,” adding that anyone who “describes him as anything else is lying.” Other members of Congress have attacked Putin for trying to influence the Presidential election.  On Thursday, Putin warned that Russia would “strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces,” and President-elect Donald Trump has responded with a vow to expand America’s nuclear arsenal.  “Let it be an arms race,” Trump told one of the co-hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

The harsh rhetoric on both sides increases the danger of miscalculations and mistakes, as do other factors. Close encounters between the military aircraft of the United States and Russia have become routine, creating the potential for an unintended conflict. Many of the nuclear-weapon systems on both sides are aging and obsolete. The personnel who operate those systems often suffer from poor morale and poor training. None of their senior officers has firsthand experience making decisions during an actual nuclear crisis. And today’s command-and-control systems must contend with threats that barely existed during the Cold War: malware, spyware, worms, bugs, viruses, corrupted firmware, logic bombs, Trojan horses, and all the other modern tools of cyber warfare. The greatest danger is posed not by any technological innovation but by a dilemma that has haunted nuclear strategy since the first detonation of an atomic bomb: How do you prevent a nuclear attack while preserving the ability to launch one?

[Going to the closing paragraph]

Every technology embodies the values of the age in which it was created. When the atomic bomb was being developed in the mid-nineteen-forties, the destruction of cities and the deliberate targeting of civilians was just another military tactic. It was championed as a means to victory. The Geneva Conventions later classified those practices as war crimes—and yet nuclear weapons have no other real use. They threaten and endanger noncombatants for the sake of deterrence. Conventional weapons can now be employed to destroy every kind of military target, and twenty-first-century warfare puts an emphasis on precision strikes, cyberweapons, and minimizing civilian casualties. As a technology, nuclear weapons have become obsolete. What worries me most isn’t the possibility of a cyberattack, a technical glitch, or a misunderstanding starting a nuclear war sometime next week. My greatest concern is the lack of public awareness about this existential threat, the absence of a vigorous public debate about the nuclear-war plans of Russia and the United States, the silent consent to the roughly fifteen thousand nuclear weapons in the world. These machines have been carefully and ingeniously designed to kill us. Complacency increases the odds that, some day, they will. The “Titanic Effect” is a term used by software designers to explain how things can quietly go wrong in a complex technological system: the safer you assume the system to be, the more dangerous it is becoming.

ooOOoo

My greatest concern is the lack of public awareness about this existential threat, the absence of a vigorous public debate about the nuclear-war plans of Russia and the United States, the silent consent to the roughly fifteen thousand nuclear weapons in the world.

Is there a dog angle to all of this? You bet! For dogs as well as people are all innocents caught up in the madness of war.

nd sympathy to a now homeless man, who returned home from walking his dog to find his house destroyed and wife killed by a V1 flying bomb. London 1944
A policeman offering sympathy to a now homeless man, who returned home from walking his dog to find his house destroyed and wife killed by a V1 flying bomb. London 1944. (The dog is just below the Policeman’s left shin.)

Now do you see why I entitled today’s post If there’s any doubt. there’s no doubt.

For if we were the flightcrew of the good ship Earth we would be urgently looking for a diversion airfield upon which to land; and land now!

Wherever you are in the world, whatever you are doing, if you share the concern expressed so clearly by Patrice don’t do nothing. Even if all you do is to send a message on one of the social media apps that’s far better than doing nothing. All that evil requires to succeed is for good people to do nothing!

For I haven’t a clue as to when and how my life will come to an end but, as sure as hell, I would prefer that it isn’t six months to the day after the start of World War III.

Especially if that war came about as a mistake!