Fail-Safe, then and now

The suspenseful novel Fail-Safe, about an accidental nuclear mini-war, was published in 1962. We remember reading it in one sitting. The authors were quoted in TIME’s article on the book:

“There is,” they say, “substantial agreement among experts that an accidental war is possible and that its probability increases with the increasing complexity of the man-machine components which make up our defense system…This is, unfortunately, a ‘true’ story. The accident may not occur in the way we describe, but the laws of probability assure us that ultimately it will occur.”

Fortunately, Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler have been wrong, at least to date. Over at Belmont Club, Wretchard and his commenters have a very interesting discussion of how the US planned for nuclear war 50 years ago, complete with red telephones. In retrospect MAD seems saner than SANE.

It certainly seems like the world is less safe from war involving nuclear weapons than it was 50 years ago. For one thing, the list of countries that have them seems likely to grow. For another, the logic of nuclear terrorism is that retaliation becomes the crime. Imagine that: duck and cover were the good old days.

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