Saturday, October 26, 2013

Eric Schlosser

Eric Schlosser is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Fast Food Nation and Reefer Madness. His new book is Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety.

From his Q & A with Ed Pilkington for the Guardian, beginning with the interviewer's introduction:

For his latest book, Command and Control, the American author Eric Schlosser spent six years immersed in the world of nuclear weapons. He discovered example after example of mistakes and near misses and became deeply concerned about the state of America's nuclear arsenal.

Those concerns were brought into focus again this week, when US air force officials said officers entrusted with the launch keys to long-range nuclear missiles had twice this year been caught leaving open a blast door that is intended to help prevent a terrorist or other intruder from entering their underground command post.

Earlier this month, the two-star general in charge of US intercontinental nuclear missiles was fired, for "personal misbehaviour".

Ed Pilkington: It’s been a lively few days in the realm of nuclear weapons mishaps. As well as the incidents mentioned above, there have been a spate of inspection failures of various nuclear units. What on earth is going on?

Eric Schlosser: It looks like there's poor morale and poor leadership in the air force units responsible for nuclear weapons. People are getting sloppy – and that's not a good thing.

EP: Having spent most of the past seven years investigating the history of US nuclear mishaps and close shaves for your new book, does this feel to you like a case of deja vu?

ES: I'm actually surprised that these problems keep happening. In 2007, after half a dozen thermonuclear weapons went missing for a day and a half, without anyone at the air force even realizing it, secretary of defense Robert Gates took some strong action. He fired two top air force officials and made clear that mistakes in the oversight of nuclear weapons are unacceptable. That was six years ago, and the air force clearly hasn't gotten the message.

EP: What do you think we can learn from the fact that mishaps like this are still occurring? And how does it tie into the theme of your book?

ES: The command and control of nuclear weapons requires constant vigilance. These are the most dangerous machines ever invented – and any complacency about them greatly increases the danger. In the book, I wrote about "the Titanic effect", an attitude that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue