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In the film Command and Control, directed by Robert Kenner, it explores and exposes a horrific accident at a Titan II missile complex in Damascus, Arkansas in 1980. This documentary not only explores this crisis, but also exposes the truth about the management of America’s nuclear arsenal. This documentary shows just what could happen when these weapons of mass destruction, that are built to protect us, can threaten our very power and destroy us. This documentary can relate greatly to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, because of the same premise. The Cuban Missile Crisis not only effected the way Americans viewed the United States, it put greatly the United States at risk for a nuclear war, with the atomic bomb being a creation that firstly was only in the hands of the Unites States to begin with. This documentary and the Cuban Missile Crisis showcase the impact weapons of mass destruction had on American, and still has on America till this day. Not only can these weapons be used to protect the United States, it can also ruin it as well.
In the documentary, on September 19, 1980, a missile, which was being kept around for possible trade negotiations with Russia, became the source of a ticking nuclear explosion, when Propellant Transfer Team member, Dave Powell, decided to service the missile’s oxygen tank with a ratchet, which caused a socket to drop down directly into the side of the Titan II, creating a hole that began to flood with fuel. According to a missile combat crew and the Propellant Transfer Team, much security protocols went into ensuring that this missile did not detonate. Allan Childers, part of the Missile Combat Crew, stated “You had to be prepared to destroy an entire civilization, and we were trained on that” (Command and Control). Unfortunately, because of the accident by Dave Powell, the scene quickly came to one of panic not only because a detonated missile would be extremely massive and extremely deadly, but also because this proved that the United States sometimes puts themselves in dangerous predicaments due to the pride of destructive weapons they hold close to home, literally.
In relation to this, the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred when the United States found out that the Soviets had nuclear weapons around Cuba. In response, President Kennedy issued that the United States create a naval blockade to resolve the crisis. What followed was an international crisis that put the United States in jeopardy of a nuclear war. Thomas G Paterson concludes that this moment “should not be championed as a supreme display of crisis management, calculated control, and statesmanship, but rather explored as a case of near misses…” (Paterson, 252). When Kennedy made the OK for the naval blockage in Cuba, B-52 bombers, packed with nuclear weapons, stood ready for a possible invasion of Cuba, while Soviet ships began towards the U.S. armada (253). This near nuclear war proved that sometimes the United States uses nuclear weapons too quickly and too proudly.
Before the crisis began at the Titan II missile complex in Arkansas, many believed they had enough nuclear weapons to destroy the Soviets. Author of Command and Control
Eric Schlosser stated, “At one point we only thought we needed 50 to 200 nuclear weapons to completely annihilate the Soviet Union, and by the mid 1960s we had 32,000 nuclear weapons” (Command and Control). When the crisis began, there was rightfully so, a panic that began throughout those who knew. Not only were they scared, these men being only in their late teens early, twenties, but they were led to believe that these nuclear weapons were safe. Secretary of Defense, Harold Brown, explained that the Titan II missiles by 1980 were “both old and much more prone to accidents” (Command and Control). The only reason this missile existed in the first place, was because it was to be used as a “bargaining chip” to the Soviets (Command and Control). This bargaining chip, which makes it sound like no big deal, is essentially what almost caused a major disaster in the U.S.
It was revealed that all the decisions were to be made by General Lloyd Leavitt, who “had no missile background at all that I’m aware of” (Command and Control). Three hours had already gun by as the fuel tank readings began to go negative and still nothing had been done. It was not until 1:40 AM, however, that there was a plan. The plan was to get to the control room, obtain the missile, open a valve, and vent the tank to avoid it collapsing and detonating. General Leavitt, pushed the idea, and this idea ended in an explosion. After the explosion, Sid King said the Air Force would not admit there was even a nuclear warhead. Colonel John Moser, Commander of the 308th Strategic Missile Wing stated they were not allowed to inform the local populace they had a warhead on the missile, and had to keep the whole thing as a secret, instead lying that hey couldn’t find it and where it had come from in order to save themselves the embarrassment and ridicule of having such a weapon in a dangerous predicament in the first place (Command and Control).
The Cuban Missile Crisis first began when the Soviets had placed missiles in Cuba, missiles that “could carry nuclear warheads and destroy American cities” (Paterson, 253). President John F. Kennedy had to think fast and convened a council of the ExComm to decide to surround Cuba with a naval blockade. However, the events that transpired previously to the Cuban Missile Crisis is likely what helped escalate to this dangerous confrontation that could have ended in nuclear war. Prior to this event, the U.S was trying to cripple the Castro government, and it was stated that the U.S. would “‘respond promptly with military force’” (Paterson, 254) if needed to help Cuba. The United States, when Kennedy was in power had a “‘can-do’ style of the Kennedy team and its exaggerated sense of U.S. power” (Paterson, 255). This sense of entitled power is what created the crisis. The Cuban Missile Crisis was a study in “near misses, imperfect instructions, confusions, miscalculations, and exhaustion” (Paterson, 255).
When the crisis persisted ExComm participants tried to aid Kennedy into negotiating with the Soviets, however, Kennedy “showed little interest in negotiations and even asked, “How long would it take to get air strikes organized?” (Paterson, 255). As tense days followed, former Ambassador of the Soviet Union advised that if the U.S. killed their technicians, they would have to retaliate. Kennedy’s brother, Robert, stated that “‘President Kennedy had initiated the course of events, but he no longer had control over them’” (Paterson, 256). While the U.S. had a naval blockage on Cuba, they had failed to inform the Soviets for days where the quarantine line was, which would’ve proven catastrophic if the Soviet captains accidentally entered the zone (Paterson, 256). As tension’s raised between the two powers, a U-2 was shot down in Cuba by a missile, and another U-2 plane overflew to Soviet Union territory, which was quickly brought back into U.S. territory before the Soviets could intercept it (Paterson, 257). Everyone involved was terrified. The Secretary of State frequently would have breakdowns over the growing tension and his “eyes would swell with tears” in meetings (Paterson, 257).
As the crisis persisted, Kennedy was lead by his team to negotiate with the Soviets to prevent a nuclear war. The negotiation stated that the United States would remove it’s U.S. Jupiter missiles in Turkey, if the Soviets removed their missiles in Cuba. It was in the end Soviet leader, Khrushschev who announced, via Radio Moscow, of the removal of the missiles, in fear of what wild happen if he didn’t. The entire crisis lasted thirteen intense days that had the world wondering if this would be the end for the United States. Secretary McNamara stated that “‘from beginning to end, fear ruled’” (Paterson, 258). Similarly in the Titan II missile crisis in Arkansas, Director of Weapon Development, Bob Peurifoy explained, “‘We were driven by the fear of the Soviet Union’” (Command and Control). In both instances, the United States was driven by fear by making rash decisions that in one circumstance led to an explosion, while the other, although avoided, became very close to an explosion even bigger. These events show through American history, the lengths the United States will take to not only ensure a victory, but also to show the rest of the world that they are always in control.
The United States is often too proud to acknowledge mistakes made, which is exactly what happened with these two crisis’. When asked if people should evacuate in Arkansas, those apart of the missile department were told to assure everyone they had everything under-control, which evidence shows, they did not. General Leavitt, who had no prior knowledge of missiles, led the missile crew into a dangerous situation that killed a member on their team. The missile, which was hidden to the public eye, was only still in the U.S.’s position, only in case they needed it if they ran into trouble with the Soviets. In the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy was led by the attitudes of those around him initially to promptly put a blockade in Cuba, which only caused more tensions, and what would later be acknowledged as the closest the U.S. ever became to an extreme nuclear war. These acts showcase that the United States sometimes gets in over their head when it comes to being seen as the most powerful, but being the most powerful can sometimes have deadly consequences.
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