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Communications The Military United States

How Nukes Were Almost Launched From Okinawa During Cuban Missile Crisis (thebulletin.org) 289

Lasrick writes: Aaron Tovish is calling on the U.S. government to release documents pertaining to one of the scarier incidents of the Cuban Missile Crisis. According to an Air Force airman, the system designed to prevent an accidental launch of nuclear weapons failed as the codes ordering a launch were given in each of the three transmissions required for a launch: "By Bordne's account, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Air Force crews on Okinawa were ordered to launch 32 missiles, each carrying a large nuclear warhead. Only caution and the common sense and decisive action of the line personnel receiving those orders prevented the launches -- and averted the nuclear war that most likely would have ensued."
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How Nukes Were Almost Launched From Okinawa During Cuban Missile Crisis

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  • by NotDrWho ( 3543773 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @12:15PM (#50804001)

    Considering the number of incidents in the Cold War where a nuclear war was averted by cool heads, it makes me glad (as General Baringer would say) that our boys were in those silos, instead of a computer.

    • by NotDrWho ( 3543773 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @12:17PM (#50804023)

      Obligatory shout out:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @12:21PM (#50804059)

      Bah. All you need is your simulation program of a nuclear war to cross reference with Tic-Tac-Toe to come up with some correlation that the only way to not fail, is to not start. To make sure this is effect, please make sure your sumulation program is hooked up to a 300bps modem, and allow anyone who had war diled the number to get it.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Unless, of course, the computer discovered that the way to win is to go first and hope the other player messes up.

      • by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @03:01PM (#50805209) Homepage

        One of my first introductions to card-based gaming was a game called Nuclear War. As you might guess, players lob nuclear warheads at each other trying to decimate each others' populations. One of the more inventive gaming rules was "Final Strike." A player whose last civilian died would be able to throw everything he still had in one last "I'm dying and will take everyone I can with me" maneuver at either a single player or at multiple players. If any of those players were then killed, they would launch their own Final Strike. It was quite common for games to end with everyone dead.

        It was a fun game, but could also teach a valuable lesson about battling using nuclear weapons.

      • by plopez ( 54068 )

        And a password set to the programmer's son's name.

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @01:11PM (#50804419) Homepage Journal

      If it happened. From the link.
      "I recognize that Bordne's account is not definitively confirmed. But I find him to have been consistently truthful in the matters I could confirm. An incident of this import, I believe, should not have to rest on the testimony of one man."

    • Considering the number of incidents in the Cold War where a nuclear war was averted by cool heads ...

      There may have been a number of incidents ... but I doubt if this one really happened. This is all based on the testimony of ONE person, backed up by another anonymous witness that may, or may not, actually exist. Since there were dozens of people supposedly aware of the situation, I find it hard to believe that no one told this story before, or is able to corroborate this one guy's story.

      This is likely just some half-senile old geezer trying to draw attention to himself by making up wild war stories.

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        First paragraph of TFA:

        John Bordne, a resident of Blakeslee, Penn., had to keep a personal history to himself for more than five decades. Only recently has the US Air Force given him permission to tell the tale, which, if borne out as true, would constitute a terrifying addition to the lengthy and already frightening list of mistakes and malfunctions that have nearly plunged the world into nuclear war.

        So, it seems there was a permission process involved and it was only recently given. That would put everyone involved into the 70-90 year old range by now. Some are no doubt dead. Others just don't care anymore. Someone had to be the first to say something.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Considering the number of incidents in the Cold War where a nuclear war was averted by cool heads, it makes me glad (as General Baringer would say) that our boys were in those silos, instead of a computer.

      In a somewhat tangential note, the hotter heads frightened the cooler heads into making a deal. Castro basically told Khrushchev to go nuclear if Cuba is invaded by the US. Supposedly Castro's willingness to sacrifice his own country and millions around the globe to defend the global Communist movement frightened Khrushchev, convincing him Castro was nuts. Not so coincidentally Khrushchev and Kennedy reached a deal immediately after Khrushchev received Castro's letter.

      • by Luckyo ( 1726890 )

        Considering your average dictator of the time and the fact that both US and USSR dealt with such dictators as a matter of routine, your theory sounds highly implausible.

        Those leaders did not get any say in usage of the weapons stationed in their countries.

    • by ranton ( 36917 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @01:42PM (#50804693)

      it makes me glad (as General Baringer would say) that our boys were in those silos, instead of a computer.

      If this story is true, it is an example of a tragedy that would have only happened because humans were in control instead of computers. There was no order to move to DEFCON 1, so the computer would never have launched the missiles. The human operators in this case did just what a computer would have done (not launch), except for one lieutenant. It is this single human officer who allegedly almost launched his nukes.

      I'm not saying we should remove humans from launch command, but if this story is true it is an argument against having humans in the loop, not the other way around.

    • Amazing we didn't kill ourselves

      I wish it were appropriate to use past tense here. Unfortunately, the risk of a launch that is accidental or based on misinterpreted data, and sparks a major nuclear exchange, is about as high today as it ever was.

    • by wallsg ( 58203 )

      I'd piss on a spark plug if I thought it would help.

  • by halivar ( 535827 ) <bfelger@@@gmail...com> on Monday October 26, 2015 @12:16PM (#50804007)

    Nothing can replace the wisdom or common sense of a discerning and skeptical human being.

    • That's so untrue, it's a real WOPR.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 26, 2015 @12:22PM (#50804067)
      Nor can the meanness, paranoia, stupidity, psychosis, or evilness be replaced either.
    • Nothing can replace the wisdom or common sense of a discerning and skeptical human being.

      I follow your point, but all my instincts tell me to doubt it.

    • by ranton ( 36917 )

      Nothing can replace the wisdom or common sense of a discerning and skeptical human being.

      Skeptical and discerning humans did not solve this problem. They were simply following orders, and their orders were not to fire missiles unless they were at DEFCON 1. Based on this story, they most certainly would have launched if they were at DEFCON 1.

      The only real tragedy that almost happened was one lieutenant who was going to fire his missiles even though they were not at DEFCON 1. If this tragedy had happened, it would have been because the process was not automated enough.

  • It is encouraging, the number of times we read about launch orders being given and the people manning the silos or submarines disobeying those orders, only to find out later that a mistake had happened to generate the order.

    That is a bright spot in humanity's hope for survival.

  • by bogie ( 31020 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @12:27PM (#50804105) Journal

    http://www.amazon.com/Command-... [amazon.com]

    A fun history of one particularly disturbing incident where a single dropped tool almost caused a huge explosion and also some other fun anecdotes as well. When you think about how true the phrase "to err is human" is, you have wonder why they ever thought building these WMDs was ever a good idea in the first place. Scary stuff.

  • deterrent (Score:4, Funny)

    by bigdavex ( 155746 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @12:32PM (#50804139)

    That seems like a reasonable deterrent. How else would we stop the Cuban software?

  • That is all.

    Damn near WAS all...thank $DEITY CPT Bassett had a good head on his shoulders.

  • by Eloking ( 877834 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @12:41PM (#50804199)

    From the first Fallout game :

    In 2077, the storm of world war had come again. In two brief hours, most of the planet was reduced to cinders. And from the ashes of nuclear devastation, a new civilization would struggle to arise.

    A few were able to reach the relative safety of the large underground Vaults. Your family was part of that group that entered Vault Thirteen. Imprisoned safely behind the large Vault door, under a mountain of stone, a generation has lived without knowledge of the outside world.

    So far, it have been mostly what I have imagine the world during a nuclear conflict, but how will it have turned out exactly? Is there a more thoughtful research on the subject? I've found a few text with a quick google search but none really catches my eyes so far.

  • by pr0nbot ( 313417 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @12:46PM (#50804235)

    Suddenly having a prime minister who'd at least hesitate at the height of a crisis before nuking a few million civilians doesn't sound like such a bad idea...

    http://blogs.new.spectator.co.... [spectator.co.uk]

    • by Jamu ( 852752 )
      I used to think that we needed nukes to prevent someone nuking us. But I'm not sure this makes any sense. What we need is the capability to retaliate. We need a way of killing the people responsible for launching nukes. We don't need a way to kill lots of people in the same country.
    • So, what, are you suggesting that our "leadership" shouldn't be made up of complete sociopaths?

  • Fermi Paradox (Score:5, Insightful)

    by somenickname ( 1270442 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @12:56PM (#50804297)

    Anecdotes like this practically answer the Fermi Paradox. We don't meet advanced civilizations because those civilizations destroy themselves fairly quickly. Once you have the technology to destroy your civilization, you only have to fuck up once to do it.

    • Let's take the philosophical musing of a nuclear physicist as good clear headed thinking. Yea, he has a real gift for understanding human nature.

      I don't agree with Femi on this particular point. Nuclear weapons have been used ONCE in the 70 years since their invention and have in recent decades been declining in number. Where I'm not willing to claim success on this, evidence seems to say that Man has at least *some* capacity for restraint. In fact, we have made great strides in limiting "weapons of ma

      • by gweihir ( 88907 )

        And people like you are a huge part of the problem. No, this is not some irrelevant side-show and hopes of people not eventually fucking up completely are entirely misplaced. This is the thing that still has a good chance of sterilizing this planet. The weapons are around and ready to use. The safeguards are not really better, as the fully insane military mind-set places destruction of the enemy above survival.

    • by sinij ( 911942 )

      Anecdotes like this practically answer the Fermi Paradox. We don't meet advanced civilizations because those civilizations destroy themselves fairly quickly. Once you have the technology to destroy your civilization, you only have to fuck up once to do it.

      To build on this - as your civilization becomes more advanced, the ways to destroy itself multiply and the threshold to trigger this is lowered.

      So within couple generations, something equivalent to incorrectly dereferencing a pointer on nanbots cloud can trigger the end of the world.

      We are f*&^ed.

  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @01:00PM (#50804337) Journal

    There have been several near-misses to nuclear Armageddon on both sides of the Atlantic. We got real lucky.

    With that many near misses, we statistically should not be here*. Common sense is usually hit and miss during crisis.

    Let's say common sense kicks in about half the time, which is typical of humans in crisis. We've had roughly 7 near misses. 0.5 to the 7th power is about 0.008, which is less than 1 percent. (Remember, it takes only one instance out of those 7 to finish us.)

    I wonder if multi-verses are not at play: only "forked" realities in which we got "lucky" have us in it to ponder our luck. 99% of the forks got fried.

    * At least not in large numbers. A few lucky stragglers perhaps could survive an all-out nuclear war. But most likely the vast majority of us would not be here reading this if launched.

    • Well if you get back in time and step on a dead leaf, you will kill insects that a slug will then eat, thus a rat won't have the same encounter with the slug meaning its sperm cells configuration inside of gonads won't be the same when it meets its significant other, and baby rat will or will not be eaten by a bird of prey who will shit at a different time or not at all on your great-grandmother's post box, meaning in any "alternate timeline" starting before you were conceived or born (or even after that) i

    • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @03:20PM (#50805325) Journal

      I wonder if multi-verses are not at play: only "forked" realities in which we got "lucky" have us in it to ponder our luck. 99% of the forks got fried.

      That's an interesting application of the Anthropic Principle.

      One of the near-misses I read about was the commissioning of the DEW Line over-the-horizon early-warning radar.

      There was some concern that the Russians might stage a pre-emptive strike just before it went into service. So the US put it into service a few days ahead of the announced date, disguised as a late-stage test of the equipment. The military and administration were prepared to react to the expected possible strike.

      Some hours after the system went live it started showing volleys of missiles rising. Oops! Was it the feared attack? Was it time to retaliate, before the soviet missiles could wipe out that capability, leaving Russia in charge of a half-charred planet?

      There was only one fly in the ointment: The system did not identify expected impact locations for the missiles. Failure of the computation, or a sign that this might be an illusion? (Remember this was 1957. Cray's first mainframe computer for CDC, with substantially less than 1 megaflop, was still three years in the future.)

      The commander in charge smelled a rat, and recommended that the US NOT stage a "before their missiles wipe out most of our stuff" retaliatory strike, at least until we had other confirmation. The Russians actually WEREN'T attacking, so war-by-mistake was averted.
      It turns out that the radars had seen Moonrise. The moon was big enough to be visible by the sensitive over-the-horizon radars. But the round trip was long enough that several pulses had gone out meanwhile. The radar paired the returns with later pulses - and between that, the size of the moon, and other details came up with a fleet of targets. The imaginary targets were not on a ballistic trajectory (it looked like a "forced orbit" - orbiting with acceleration still occuring, rather than a ballistic trajectory - and even if you assume the "engine" would cut off right now and it went ballistic, the illusion wouldn't hit the planet). So the failure to identify expected impact locations was correct. Somehow, previous tests hadn't happened to occur at the right time of day for this effect to be noticed.

      The system was modified to reject moonrise, went into service, and the Cold War stayed cold until it ended.

  • by aslagle ( 441969 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @01:07PM (#50804381)

    So, we have: a single-sourced story from a news source that has in the past been an advocate of the removal of the U.S. base from Okinawa, an anonymous verification source (and thus unable to be contacted for independent verification), and a reprinting of the story by the BoAS, which has long changed its tune to keep itself as being seen as relevant.

    I'm surprised that this story was even allowed to be printed, as single-sourced stories are usually laughed out of the editors' offices. Even in this case, if you allow 2 sources, usually you'd need hard evidence, not just hearsay.

    How does the expression go? "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence"? I don't see anything extraordinary here.

    • Such is the state of journalism today, especially on the internet where nobody knows or cares about your ethics or editorial standards and revenue is determined by how many clicks you generate and not if you are telling the truth or not. If you lack credibility for you story, who cares, just put of a snappy good looking website, a couple of good pictures and pay for Google placement for as long as it generates clicks...

      Don't get me started on Social Media.... Where everybody becomes the reporter with a self

  • Is slashdot going to have a monthly column entitled one man vs the apocalypse? I mean do we need a near nuclear holocaust story every month?

  • Now sure the military has a great track record of screw ups and what could go wrong doing so.

    But this one sounds like it has grown over time, like the stereotypical fish that got away story.

  • There weren't any nuclear missile silos in Okinawa

    • Re:I call BS (Score:5, Informative)

      by Registered Coward v2 ( 447531 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @01:38PM (#50804665)

      There weren't any nuclear missile silos in Okinawa

      Without commenting on the veracity of the story, the missiles in questions were Mace missiles, which, like the Regulus, Bomarc, et. al. were what we today call cruise missiles. So a "silo" is likely to be more like a building than an ICBM silo. They even had Regulus silos on submarines.

    • these were Mace B cruise missiles, no silos needed, there were container and portable versions.

  • Slashdot should stop pretending that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists is, you know, a group of scientists. They're not, they're an anti-nuclear special interest group whose key symbol was appropriated by the graphic novel Watchmen. (That's their only link to either "News for Nerds" or "Stuff that Matters.")

    The summary should probably mention the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists since that's where the link goes and that's who is making the claim.

"Experience has proved that some people indeed know everything." -- Russell Baker