Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

The Air Force nearly eradicated eastern North Carolina with an H bomb in 1961 — and thoughts about that sort of thing now

So says a new book. Here is an article that links to a document that apparently was previously undisclosed. (Disclosure: The book is published by the Penguin Press, the same outfit that publishes my books. They’re good.) My worry is this: The Goldsboro incident occurred back when the nuclear-armed Air Force was the crown jewel ...

Wikimedia
Wikimedia
Wikimedia

So says a new book. Here is an article that links to a document that apparently was previously undisclosed. (Disclosure: The book is published by the Penguin Press, the same outfit that publishes my books. They're good.)

My worry is this: The Goldsboro incident occurred back when the nuclear-armed Air Force was the crown jewel of the U.S. military, with resources and top-level attention lavished on it. If I recall correctly, the Air Force's budget in the late 1950s was for a time about twice that of the Army's.

The situation is different now. Nuclear warfare is no longer a focus of intense top-level attention at the White House and the Pentagon. I don't know who they are recruiting to fly the B-52s and run the missile silos, but we've seen some weird problems in the nuclear Air Force lately. I've previously quoted nuclear expert Bruce Blair's warning that the American nuclear force is demoralized and marginalized. Sounds like a bad recipe. I sure hope there are no Aaron Alexises drumming their fingers down in those silos.

So says a new book. Here is an article that links to a document that apparently was previously undisclosed. (Disclosure: The book is published by the Penguin Press, the same outfit that publishes my books. They’re good.)

My worry is this: The Goldsboro incident occurred back when the nuclear-armed Air Force was the crown jewel of the U.S. military, with resources and top-level attention lavished on it. If I recall correctly, the Air Force’s budget in the late 1950s was for a time about twice that of the Army’s.

The situation is different now. Nuclear warfare is no longer a focus of intense top-level attention at the White House and the Pentagon. I don’t know who they are recruiting to fly the B-52s and run the missile silos, but we’ve seen some weird problems in the nuclear Air Force lately. I’ve previously quoted nuclear expert Bruce Blair’s warning that the American nuclear force is demoralized and marginalized. Sounds like a bad recipe. I sure hope there are no Aaron Alexises drumming their fingers down in those silos.

So: Given the problems in the nuclear Air Force, are the chances of a recurrence of a Goldsboro-like incident actually increasing? It would not be good if, after years of worrying about terrorism, we nuked ourselves.

Bonus fact: The last U.S. nuclear test was Sept. 23, 1992. I didn’t realize it was that recent. How did they get that past the EPA? Overall, the U.S. government detonated a total of 1,056 nuclear devices.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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