FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Nuclear War Careers Don’t Get Any Respect

Some of the Air Force’s self-styled nuclear “missileers” — sitting at launch controls in Minot, North Dakota — recently earned a “D” on their intercontinental ballistic missile firing (ICBM) skills. More than 10 percent of the Minot Air Force Base’s 91st “Missile Wing” was declared incompetent and was stripped of launch-duty clearances.

The Air Force removed 17 of Minot’s 150 missile launch officers in April, over what commander Lt. Col. Jay Folds called “such rot” that, according to The AP on May 8, “even the willful violation of safety rules — including a possible compromise of launch codes — was tolerated.”

Air Force commanders told The AP they were concerned about an “attitude problem” among the ultimate bomb scare command. The Air Forces’ two-person crews work three-day shifts in underground Launch Control Centers and are supposed to be constantly at-the-ready to fire the 10 Minuteman IIIs under their control. Minot AFB is in charge of 150 ICBMs, 15 “flights” of 10 missiles each, with one launch control center for each flight.

Another 150 are on alert in Wyoming and 150 more out in Montana. All 450 of the relics are armed with a 300 kiloton “W-87” warhead. Three-hundred kilotons is a magnitude equal to 18 times the destruction that incinerated Hiroshima in 1945 killing 140,000 people.

The Air Force put on its dress uniform in the face of the scandal. In May it announced it would retrain the incompetent nuclear triggermen and the commanders asserted to Congress that its H-bombs were secure.

Gen. Mark Welsh, the service’s top general, told the Washington Post — with deliberate irony one hopes — that Air Force officers sense that the land-based missile system “is a dying field.” And it’s a fact that everyone from President Obama to the War Resisters League has called for the Bomb’s abolition.

Gen. Welsh admitted to the press that there are “a limited command positions to which missile launch officers can aspire.” Being stuck in dead-ended Air Force careers and posted in the wilderness of central North Dakota, Minot’s Cold War throw-backs — who call themselves “Roughriders” and “Vulgar Vultures” on their website — are trained to fire Minuteman III ballistic missiles at the sea (they can be re-programmed but are targeted on the oceans for “safety”) and, day after wind-swept prairie day, have absolutely no military function or purpose whatsoever.

It’s hardly surprising that their minds drift. Since they’re prepared to commit the bloodiest, most nightmarish crime in human history or imagination, the missileer’s principle pre-occupation must be to think about something else, anything else. Many work on graduate degrees. One launch control center I visited in December 1987 was decorated with Christmas lights.

The inevitable if not impending elimination of their useless rockets has to depress what’s left of the launch teams’ esprit de corps. Even their civilian commander, Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel, has signed onto a call by the group Global Zero to eliminate all the ICBMs and to eventually discard all nuclear weapons.

Of course Minot AFB has been demoralized by more than the nuclear war flunky scandal. In August 2007, three of its Colonels, a Lt. Colonel and dozens of low-level personnel were demoted or sacked after they allowed the fantastically dangerous loading and cross-country air transport of six nuclear-armed Cruise missiles from Minot to Barksdale AFB in Louisiana. Even if that astonishing action was covertly orchestrated by Vice President Dick Cheney for an attack on Iran that never materialized, the highly implausible but official cover story of mismanagement, rule breaking and recklessness was an international humiliation for Minot.

That same year, Cold War super-hawks Sam Nunn, Geo. Shultz, Wm. Perry and H. Kissinger publicly declared their support of a “world free of nuclear weapons.” These life-long nuclear arsenal defenders had finally joined Reagan Administration advisor Paul Nitze and Strategic Air Command leader Gen. Geo. Lee Butler in calling the arsenal worse than useless.

Even Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. — who last week defended the Pentagon’s usurpation of authority to attack anywhere on Earth for the next 20 years — said about the nuclear arsenal last June, “The more weapons that exist out there, the less secure we are rather than the more secure we are.” (“Senator Urges Bigger Cuts to Nuclear Arsenal,” New York Times, June 15, 2012)

No wonder the Air Force missileers are lackadaisical about the apocalypse. There’s just no future in it.

John LaForge works for Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin.

More articles by:

John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

August 06, 2020
H. Bruce Franklin
How the Fascists Won World War II
Robert Jacobs – Ran Zwigenberg
The American Narrative of Hiroshima is a Statue that Must be Toppled
Howie Hawkins - Madelyn Hoffman
Reverse the New Nuclear Arms Race
Brian Kelly
Ireland and Slavery: Debating the ‘Irish Slaves Myth’
George Wuerthner
Trouble in Paradise Valley
Talli Nauman
Native Americans Win Historic Victories in U.S. High Court Rulings
David Mattson
“Man Attacks Grizzly” and Other Leading Bleeding Stories
John Kendall Hawkins
Suffrage: The Myth of Sisterphus
George Ochenski
An Unbelievably Disastrous State of Affairs
Binoy Kampmark
State of Pandemic Disaster: Melbourne Moves to Stage Four
Howard Lisnoff
The ACLU Has Never Done a Damn Thing for Me
Priyanka Singh – Sujeet Singh
Time to Empower the Invisibles: India Awaits a Mental Health Revolution
August 05, 2020
Roy Eidelson
Black Lives Matter: Resisting the Propaganda of Status Quo Defenders
Melvin Goodman
The Department of Homeland Security: the Ideal Authoritarian Tool
Paul Street
Misleaders at a Funeral: Bill Clinton and Barack Obama Eulogizing Racial Justice in the Name of John Lewis
Seiji Yamada
Hiroshima, Technique, and Bioweapons
Vijay Prashad
How Trump Managed to Lead the World with the Worst Response to the COVID Pandemic
Richard C. Gross
Trump’s Alternative
Jonas Ecke
The Worst Hunger Season Yet to Come: Global Moral Failure in the Time of Covid-19
Rafiq Kathwari
The Battle for Kashmir
Kenneth Surin
Malaysia’s Arch-Kleptocrat is Found Guilty
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
U.S. Cold War China Policy Will Isolate the U.S, Not China
Lee Camp
Why Housing Is a Human Right
Sam Pizzigati
For Egalitarians, a Sudden Sense of Possibility
Jonathan Cook
Can Israelis Broaden Their Protests Beyond Netanyahu?
Thomas Knapp
Ten Years After Lieberman’s “Internet Kill Switch,” the War on Freedom Rages On
Binoy Kampmark
Staying on Message: Australia, the US and the AUSMIN Talks
Elliot Sperber
The View From Saturn 
August 04, 2020
John Pilger
Another Hiroshima is Coming…Unless We Stop It Now
Dave Lindorff
Unsung Heroes of Los Alamos: Rethinking Manhattan Project Spies and the Cold War
Kenneth Good
Escalating State Repression and Covid-19: Their Impact on the Poor in Kenya
Dean Baker
We Need an Economic Survival Package Not Another Stimulus
David Rosen
Globalization and the End of the American Dream
John Feffer
The Pandemic Reveals a Europe More United Than the United States
Patrick Cockburn
The Government’s Failed Track-and-Trace System is a Disaster for England
Ramzy Baroud
‘Optimism of the Will’: Palestinian Freedom is Possible Now
CounterPunch News Service
Statement From Yale Faculty on Hydroxychloroquine and Its Use in COVID-19
Manuel García, Jr.
Ocean Heat: From the Tropics to the Poles
Sonali Kolhatkar
Why the Idea of Jobless Benefits Scares the Conservative Mind
Greta Anderson
Framing Wolves in New Mexico?
Binoy Kampmark
Pulling Out of Germany: Trump Adjusts the Military Furniture
Shawn Fremstad – Nicole Rodgers
COVID Stimulus Checks Shouldn’t Penalize One-Parent Households
Adam Shah
The 1 Percent’s Attack on Unemployment Benefits is a Sign of Our Broken Democracy
Evaggelos Vallianatos
On the Beauty of Life
B. R. Gowani
Mohammed Rafi: Singer and Human Par Excellence
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail