I’m writing this the end of August, 2016. The election is coming up and I’m going to vote for Donald Trump. The main reason is because so many people whom I trust are supporting him — including Senator Jeff Sessions and Dr. Ben Carson.
Carson has said that Trump’s public image is vastly different from the one you’ll see in private. He is described as thoughtful, always willing to listen to advice, and (the basis of his reality TV series) he’s actually very good at hiring the best people to do what needs to be done. Further, his opponents have been digging for dirt on him for over a year now, and they really haven’t been able to find much. If you do your job, he rewards you. That’s Trump.
You can disagree with me; that’s your right. We’ll still be friends. But I wanted to address one thing in particular here.
OK, suppose I’m wrong and Trump really is the wild-eyed crazy that his detractors say that is. Imagine, if you will …
OTAY! The United States of America has elected a President who is just plain bug-house nuts. He decides that the best way to show the Chinese that he’s serious is to send wave after wave of bombers loaded with nuclear weapons right up to their border, then turn them around at the last minute.
Over and over. This goes on for days. The bombers are flying non-stop, 24/7. Loaded with nukes.
(I did mention the nukes, didn’t I?)
But wait, there’s more!
The president is tired of Iran basically giving him the bird finger and chanting “Death To America,” so he decides to nuke them.
He picks up the Big Red Phone. “Blow ’em up!,” he yells, then goes to bed.
The only thing that prevents a nuclear holocaust is a couple of cabinet members, the Secretary of Defense and the National Security Advisor. The SecDec refuses to authenticate the order.
The nukes don’t fly … by the vote of a single man: the SecDef.
Finally, Congress decides that the President should be impeached. The President, convinced that only he truly understands the World As It Is(tm) and determined to “save” America, considers a banana-republic-style military coup (complete with tri-corn hat, one supposes).
He actually ponders having the military keep him in power.
The SecDef tells the military that from that point forward, they are to obey no order from the President unless and until it has been cleared through him.
Can you say, “Constitutional crisis?”
The President is finally convinced to resign for the good of the country, and he leaves office.
And we survived it.
As older, formerly-classified* records are released and the folks who were involved are able to talk more freely, we’ve learned some things. The fact is, we have come very close to nuclear Armageddon several times — especially during the Cold War.
Simply put, if you really want to scare yourself, a little history lesson will do the trick. And don’t miss the key point, which is that we’re still here. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have to be careful; more on that later, too. But I’m willing to bet that most of my younger readers will have no idea about some of this.
Again: with one important qualification (more in a moment), most of what I described above actually happened. Simply substitute “Soviet Union” for “China,” and “Cambodia/North Vietnam” for “Iran.”
And the President in question?
In October of 1969, bombers filled with nukes did in fact threaten the Soviet border, over and over. Richard Nixon called this his “Madman Strategy.” He wanted to put a good scare into those Russkies, haw, haw!
Nixon’s predecessor, Lyndon Johnson, wasn’t exactly well-balanced himself. For example, he loved to wave his junk (which he fondly called, “Jumbo”) anytime the opportunity presented itself.
(A reporter once asked him privately why we were in Vietnam. Lynnie stared at him for a moment, whipped out Jumbo and said, “that’s why,” then walked away.)
Nixon could keep his pants zipped; his problem was, he loved his drink. While he (generally) tried to stay sober during daylight hours, he crawled into the bottle just about every evening. He also took prescriptions for serious depression, which meant that it didn’t take much alcohol to load him up.
One night, The Dickster was three sheets to the wind (a fourth was climbing the mizzenmast) when he decided that Cambodia and North Vietnam didn’t properly respect and fear him. (Long story; no need to rehash it here.)
What stopped it? The account is a little muddled; both Melvin Laird (then Secretary of Defense) and Henry Kissinger (at that time, National Security Advisor) take credit. Laird refused to authenticate the order and Kissinger told the staff not to do anything else without running it past him first.
(Yes, in related news, the Gravel-Voiced Vunder appointed himself acting President while Nixon was making himself numb … probably because the Vice President was a veritable action figure named, “Spiro Agnew” … but that’s for a later article.)
As the dumpster fire called “Watergate” slowly ground to a close and Congress was ready for impeachment, Nixon supposedly pulled one more Bug-Eyed Crazy Thing out of his hat: he actually considered using the military to keep himself in office.
I included this in the above fantasy scenario because, at the time, it was widely reported in the Washington Post and other media.
But in fact, this story is probably untrue. The rumor was likely started by James Schlesinger, Secretary of Defense, based on some things that Nixon had said in passing. Schlesinger beat his chest and bragged that he had told the military not to obey any orders from the President without first clearing them through him.
Now, there’s no doubt that Nixon saw conspiracies against him everywhere. Of course he wanted to stay in power, and he really did believe that he was the only one who really understood all of the threats to the United States.
But instead, Nixon finally agreed to resign for the good of the country, rather than put the nation through a nasty impeachment process. He should get credit for that.
More importantly, the system worked. We have a constitution, folks, and it prescribes remedies for a “crazy president.”
This little ditty was born because of the sheer panic amongst liberals and progressives about the possibility that Trump might actually win the upcoming election. Having won it, he would be in charge of the nukes!
Trump hasn’t said that he would use nukes as anything other than a last resort (an attitude held by every president, by the way, since nukes were invented). But he recently asked, during a briefing, “why don’t we use them?” Hilarity ensured (even though he’s not the first candidate to ask that specific question, either, also by the way.)
As for why their hair is on fire, remember the progressive mentality. A True Progressive(tm) akademician’s faith is in an all-powerful central government. Under their world view, if Trump says, “nuke ’em,” the government must nuke them.
After all, from their point of view, the military is just a bunch of mindless Neanderthals who scream “oo-rah” and “hoo-ah” and kill people and stuff. Why, they’d be happy to end the world!
This Vox article (which links to and quotes from Politico), for example, acknowledges that the Secretary of Defense has to authenticate the use of nuclear weapons. But they think that’s not much of a barrier. After all, the President could simply fire the Sec Def and replace him or her with someone more compliant. Right?
In theory, yes. As a practical matter, it’s not that cut and dried; the examples of Nixon, and a bunch of others, prove my point.
Sure, after firing the Sec Def, his/her acting successor could theoretically approve the release, but you’re making a lot of assumptions here. Among a million other things, if the Sec Def refused to confirm a nuke order and was fired, that would probably be used as proof that the President was “mentally incapacitated.”
You might have a Constitutional crisis, but it’s not likely that the nukes would fly.
Finally, I have to say this. I have many friends in the military. I come from a military area (Fayetteville/Ft. Bragg). The men and women in our armed forces are not mindless, robotic killing machines. They keep up with the news, too. If an order to start chucking nukes should come in out of the clear blue, they’re going to question it.
It’s not just our military, either. Rational people on all sides tend to pause and ponder before even considering nukes. Look at Soviet Lt. Colonel Stanislov Petrov. He was watching the monitors one day when five missile launches from the United States appeared. He correctly assumed that his equipment was wonky and refused to order a retaliatory strike.
This doesn’t mean that the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP, now called “CONPLAN”) doesn’t need to be overhauled, regardless of who is elected in November. The original plans date back to the Cold War, and allowed immediate retaliation in response to a “decapitation” strike that had taken out our leadership.
Fine; let’s update the SIOP/CONPLAN/whatever-they’re-calling-it-this-week for the 21st century. Put in more sanity checks. I certainly have no objection to that.
Again, vote for whomever you wish. We’ll still be friends. But for Pete’s sake, if you believe the bullcrap about Trump “nuking the world,” you need to Calm. Down.
* A pedantic point: people tend to use the terms “classified” to refer to all secret documents in general. That’s not strictly correct. But no need to belabor the point.
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