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Overlooked Story of the Week: 'Rot' and 'Crisis' for Nuclear Missile Launch Crews | The Nation

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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

Media, politics and culture.

Overlooked Story of the Week: 'Rot' and 'Crisis' for Nuclear Missile Launch Crews


A Titan II ICBM in an underground silo. (Steve Jurvetson/Flickr, CC 2.0.)

It’s been a wild news week, what with Israel’s attack on Syria, the gruesome kidnap/rape tragedy emerging from Cleveland and then the circus surroundiing the Benghazi hearings. We won’t even mention Jodi Arias, whoever that is. Sadly overlooked, however, was an exclusive from the Associated Press. Oh, no big deal. Just “rot” and “crisis” and a wave of firings in one program you especially don’t want to witness this in: our nuclear missle launch program.

At Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota the commander confirmed, as the story put it, “the willful violation of safety rules—including a possible compromise of launch codes—was tolerated.” Seventeen members of launch crews have been fired, an unprecedented action in its scope.

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Lt. Col. Jay Folds, deputy commander of the 91st Operations Group, responsible for Minuteman 3 missile launch crews at Minot, cited disturbingly poor reviews that they received in a March inspection. “We are, in fact, in a crisis right now,” Folds wrote in the e-mail to his subordinates. Yet beyond routine publishing for the AP scoop, little media attention followed.

Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel demanded an explanation. Senator Dick Durbin said the issue “could not be more troubling.” The Air Force, perhaps trying to calm fears but only stoking them, revealed that the missiles were still on war footing.

As I’ve done for, oh, the past thirty years, in numeous articles and three books, this is where I remind readers that the US still has a first-strike nuclear policy, and thousands of nuclear weapons, more than two decades after the end of the Cold War—and that we have used nuclear weapons before, setting (and for most Americans, defending) a precedent.

Greg Mitchell’s new book is Hollywood Bomb. His previous books on this subject were Atomic Cover-up and, with Robert Jay Lifton, Hiroshima in America.

The New York Times is again pushing for war in the Middle East, while McClatchy news outlets are again advising caution, Greg Mitchell writes.

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