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Setting Positive Mutual Examples

By Craig K. Comstock

Section introduction in Securing Our Planet: How to Succeed When Threats Are Too Risky and There’s Really No Defense (edited by Don Carlson and Craig K. Comstock, published by Tarcher/St. Martin’s Press)



One summer evening a pilot friend and I were flying back after dark to Concord, California. The small airport there had already turned off its beacon lights. Looking for landmarks, I noticed a brightly lit perimeter fence surrounding some bunkers and realized it was the local nuclear weapons storage facility used by the Navy. It was comforting to see that any terrorists attempting to sneak across the fence would be well illuminated, but it was less comforting to be reminded that a city near my own is home to enough nuclear warheads to kill millions of people. As we flew past the storage facility and made our approach to the nearby airport, I thought about how many other nuclear bunkers must exist throughout the U.S. and the Soviet Union and on the soil of their various allies.


I knew the weapons were in Concord to protect me, to allow me and my fellow citizens to continue to enjoy a magnificent “life-style.” I knew that scintillating brilliance had gone into developing nuclear warheads, partly at the Livermore Laboratory not far south of Concord, and also into developing “doctrine” that would govern their possible use. I had been told that our nuclear weapons were fitted with “permissive action links” that would block any unauthorized use. Like others, I trusted that our national leaders were not so maladroit or ideologically rabid as deliberately to start a nuclear war, or casually allow a peripheral conflict to escalate into one. Specialists have written that the Soviets, though bullies, are cautious.

So why worry? I worry because of Murphy, the one with a law named after him, or her. In one of many variants, Murphy’s Law states that if something can go wrong, it eventually will. Like many Irish sayings, this is well framed for cautionary, if not scientific, purposes. You can’t really disprove it. If you point to a system that appears to be working well, Murphy would surely say, “Just wait”….

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