The Titan

Built in a different time, designed from another age, and still sleeping under the ground, the Titan II is a technological achievement. In 1980, it was the “largest intercontinental ballistic missile ever built by the United States” and stands at roughly nine stories. It carries a nine megaton warhead, which has the explosive force of all bombs dropped in WWII including both atomic bombs, and can launch into the sky in less than a minute.

Apollo 13 remains one of my favorite movies and it is a marvel that we went to the moon in a ship using less power than most coffee machines today. Looking back to the time when Howard Hughes started TWA and built machines that pushed the sound barrier, what America accomplished and built still amazes. The United States pushed and the world watched. I road Disney’s Soarin’ Over California back on New Years Day. What a great ride. While in line, you can see famous first pilots and the machines they flew. What would it have been like to fly a machine that has never been tested before? What would it have felt like to be strapped to a missile that eventually broke the sound barrier? It was an amazing age, a courageous time.

And during this same age of innovation, we began building an arsenal that could destroy the world. The book Command and Control does not focus on America policy regarding the arms race. There is no debate on if we should dismantle these weapons or not. This is the harrowing story of the people who support the program to ensure a tragedy does not happen. These are the teams who watch over our sleeping destructive giants and ensure we do not have an accidental launch.

The book is a breathtaking read. It starts with an accident. A maintenance crew member new to the job, torques a socket wrench just a bit too much, and the nine pound socket drops between the grating, falls about seventy feet, and ricochets off the rocket. This begins a chain reaction of events where one of our technological achievements almost destroys a good portion of Arkansas. The plot is out of a Tom Clancy movie but the truth is more real and harrowing. Hollywood could not tell a better story than what is found in this book.

At times, I was amazed to see that kids fresh out of high school or recent radio DJs worked on the warheads, especially with so much on the line. Then again, how do you train someone to work on machines built for a single purpose? Hopefully, they will never be used again, intentionally or not. On the job training means something here. The learned skills are not exactly transferable. You do not see these jobs in the paper or on LinkedIn and Monster. Before reading this book, I never even gave the job a thought.

Although long and technical at times, this book is a testament to the crews that maintain and protect our nuclear arsenal. Corporations make mistakes all the time in product launches, safety recalls, and engineering errors. In this book, America’s finest run into fiery bunkers, not thinking of themselves, only to serve and protect. Read this book and you will get an appreciation of their place in the world. It is amazing that the United States has not had a nuclear disaster since the program began. Special thanks to the author for drawing attention to this story. These brave people are heroes.

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Command and Control
Eric Schlosser