How I learned to stop worrying and love the secrecy system

From Eric Schlosser, The Truths Behind ‘Dr. Strangelove’  in The New Yorker.

“Although ‘Strangelove’ was clearly a farce, with the comedian Peter Sellers playing three roles, it was criticized for being implausible. An expert at the Institute for Strategic Studies called the events in the film ‘impossible on a dozen counts.’ ….The first casualty of every war is the truth — and the Cold War was no exception to that dictum. Half a century after [Director Stanley] Kubrick’s mad general, Jack D. Ripper, launched a nuclear strike on the Soviets to defend the purity of ‘our precious bodily fluids’ from Communist subversion, we now know that American officers did indeed have the ability to start a Third World War on their own.”

Secrecy spared us all that terrifying knowledge. Are you grateful?

Schlosser’s book, “Command and Control” brilliantly evokes, in slow-motion as it were, a September 1980 accident that nearly nuked northern Arkansas. I had just graduated from college at the time and I think I read one news story about it and forgot. For thee decades, I slept easy about nuclear safety. Now not so much.


  1. Tom says:

    Okay, so the declassification of the primary sources regarding permission action links (PALS) is less relevant to our present state of national security than are the still classified JFK files.

  2. leslie sharp says:

    Agreed, truth is stranger than fiction. For a real life study of how the nuclear weapons programme expanded under our noses, this is an excellent read:

    “Amarillo, a Bible-belt city in the Texas Panhandle, is the home of Pantex, the final assembly plant for all nuclear weapons in the United States. Through the microcosm of this city, A. G. Mujtabai takes a hard look at our nation and our habits of nuclear accommodation.”

  3. Jonathan says:

    General Ripper was right about fluoridation, it turns out. Too much fluoride given to a child can cause fluorosis, a rather permanent staining of the teeth. Purity of Essence should be engraved above the entrance to every public school.

    Two other b/w national security films of the same time — “Seven Days in May” and “Manchurian Candidate” — were far from humorous.

    While “Strangelove” made reference to WWII, “Manchurian Candidate” was a direct shot from the Korean War, specifically including stories about communist mind-control experiments. Turns out as we know the commies had nothing on the CIA when it came to mind control.

    Americans ought to wonder what Sirhan Sirhan’s Queen of Diamonds was.

  4. Ronnie Wayne says:

    Who was Jack D Ripper, “supposedly” based on? A General who vaporized a lot of Japanese in two different ways. Justifiably according to many, to end a war in which we were attacked. He pioneered the use of napalm there. He wanted a full invasion in the Bay of Pigs. He wanted a first strike on the USSR before, during, and after the Missile Crisis. Over it he told JFK face to face “it was almost as bad as the appeasement in Munich.” (google it).
    His activities on 11/22/63 are also an active topic among prominent researchers currently, in relation to the Air Force One tapes from that day.
    I Thank JFK to this day for standing up to General Curtis LeMay during the Cuban Missile Crisis for potentially preventing, me, my family, and Fellow Americans potential annihilation.

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