Written by Stanley Kubrick
(Received by Fax, 1-17-94)
I feel these points must be made coherently, and I am sending this to you solely on your assurance that the TIMES will not change or cut anything—that they will run the piece as it is, as part of your story, or not use it.
"Red Alert," which formed the plot of "Dr. Strangelove," was written by Peter George shortly after leaving the RAF where he served as a navigator in nuclear strike aircraft.
From this experience and his close contact with USAF nuclear crews, he was certain the scenario portrayed in "Dr. Strangelove" of how, in a time of peace, a mad base-commander could launch a nuclear attack, was entirely feasible and only one of a number of other ways he could think of.
This was confirmed, a few years after the release of the film, by Daniel Ellsberg (Pentagon Papers) talking about "Dr. Strangelove" in a television interview--Ellsberg had been a consultant to the Strategic Nuclear War Planning Division in the Department of Defence, from 1959 to 1964.
Nuclear war by accident, miscalculation or madness is a greater risk than a deliberate use of nuclear weapons. It has been suggested that the President and a small group of successors have sole control of the "black-box", a device which puts an electronic lock on all strategic nuclear weapons.
But what if a potential enemy detonated a suitcase-nuclear-bomb in Washington, D.C. on Inauguration day killing every one who had authority to unlock the weapons? There would be no early detection from the suitcase-bomb, which would precede an all out nuclear attack without fear of retaliation.
Black-box or not, is it credible that under those circumstances a nuclear submarine commander, who learned of what had happened, would be physically unable to launch his missiles?
If he could not, then you would have a very safe system to prevent the "mad commander" scenarios, but one which would be inviting to sneak attack.
On the other hand, if the sub-commander could launch his missiles, then this would suggest that even in a time of peace the "mad commander" could still work out his own version of the Strangelove scenario to overcome the safeguards.
In a nuclear crisis, tens of millions of lives would depend on communications. We've been given some information about the "hot-line" but the nuclear powers should be much more open about the details. Like so many other things that are secret and never used, sloppiness, complacency and lack of imagination tend to take over.
Since all sides obviously know what is in place, there could be nothing but advantage in opening this up for informed discussion and criticism. Certainly the present situation in Russian and the republics make it very unlikely that they have safe and reliable systems in place.
According to Herman Kahn, in his book, "On Thermonuclear War", it is relatively cheap and easy to build a Doomsday Machine, and it is certainly possible that a small country that feels its survival is sufficiently threatened might decide to build one.
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