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34 officers responsible for managing U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles are suspected of having cheated on a test of their knowledge of how to handle an "emergency war order" that would result in the launch of a nuclear weapon.  

Are we seeing the dangerous development of anomie in the operation of our doomsday machine?

In addition to the current cheating scandal, recall last year's story reporting how the commander of the ballistic missile units, Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, was fired for drunken and inappropriate behavior while on a security delegation in Russia.  

Now as of last week, two officers overseeing nuclear missiles at a Montana air-base are reportedly under investigation for "involvement in illegal drugs, " according to the LATimes.  

The AP quotes internal email from Lt. Col. Jay Folds saying that "we are, in fact, in a crisis right now."  Folds was commenting on a March inspection of the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., which earned the equivalent of a "D" grade when tested on its mastery of Minuteman III missile launch operations, according to the CBS story.

The group's deputy commander said it is suffering "rot" within its ranks.

Earlier this month, Defense Sec. Chuck Hegel diagnosed the "rot" in an interview with the LATimes:

They [air force personnel assigned to operating nuclear missile silos and other nuclear facilities] do feel unappreciated many times. They are stuck out in areas where not a lot of attention is paid. And I know they wonder more than occasionally if anybody's paying attention.
French sociologist Emile Durkheim identifies the social disorder of "anomie", wherein rapid changes in the standards and values of societies lead members to feel alienated from the purposes that had been rationalized by an earlier, antiquated ideology.  The conditions for anomie are apparently ripe among US missilers.  Following WWII, these missile sites were rationalized under the ideology of total war, and mutually assured destruction of contending superpowers.  Today, the US faces no such imminent threat from nuclear adversaries.  Yet the instruments of that ideology remain in place, along with a community of alienated operators.

Are the military units operating these sites plagued by anomie?

Cheating behavior is indeed linked to anomie.

But another study has found links between such cheating and other attitudes and dispositions that appear to be prevalent on the missile bases: disposition to use drugs and alcohol, a low regard for ideals of conduct.  And then there's this: this same study suggests that cheating propensity is most conspicuous among those least committed to the ethical principal of doing no harm to others.  Perhaps that particular ethical principal might be downplayed in a community tasked with terminating civilizations upon command.

Is the problem best understood as Durkheim's anomie, or the ethical vacuum surrounding sites prepared to decimate human societies, or as a combination of these? Regardless, following Hegel's remark, perhaps we should be paying closer attention to the demoralized operators. And sending flowers or mittens is probably not the attention needed.  It's US policy that needs attention: we should be taking the lead in highlighting the antiquated and unethical logic of maintaining an international regime of doomsday machines.

Originally posted to Sacred Cod on Thu Jan 16, 2014 at 03:28 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  "deterrance" against WHO? (8+ / 0-)

    The US faces no realistic existential military threat anywhere from anyone, let alone any real threat of nuclear attack.

    Nuclear weapons have outlived their usefulness. They have no military utility--they are weapons of mass terror.  Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. They should all be banned, along with the technology to make them.

    In the end, reality always wins.

    by Lenny Flank on Thu Jan 16, 2014 at 06:02:11 PM PST

    •  Amen to that. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      salmo

      "Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana." --Townes Van Zandt

      by Bisbonian on Thu Jan 16, 2014 at 06:10:29 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  mmmm (3+ / 0-)
      The US faces no realistic existential military threat anywhere from anyone …
      Are you one of those "the Cold War is over" people? It isn't, and never was.
      … let alone any real threat of nuclear attack.
      Just to pick nits, i'd say that there's a very real danger that the US will be nuked. Those missiles can't be called back, and there have been some frighteningly close calls. I'm not optimistic that a mistaken, or rogue, attack will never happen. The really disturbing thing is that this would almost likely trigger "spasm" response, eg. total, full-on nuclear nightmare.

      There's also the smuggled weapon scenario. Don't think it could never happen.

      But, nits picked, i admit that a nuclear stockpile doesn't do much to prevent either of those.

      They have no military utility …
      It would be more accurate to charge that nuclear weapons are largely political devices. Nonetheless, although they have (thankfully) not been used in warfare for almost 60 years, they remain a most useful arrow in anyone's quiver. I mean, physically, blow shit up useful. That there would be serious consequences for anyone crazy enough to use of them does not negate the fact that any military which does use them is going to fuck a lot of shit up. I don't like them either but still.
      They should all be banned, along with the technology to make them.
      Call me a pessimist but i don't think that'll ever happen. How would that be enforced? The banned technology part, i mean.

      All things in the sky are pure to those who have no telescopes. – Charles Fort

      by subtropolis on Thu Jan 16, 2014 at 07:02:57 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  the Cold War is not only over, but our opponent (0+ / 0-)

        in the Cold War doesn't even exist anymore, and hasn't for almost a quarter century.

        Do try and keep up.

        In the end, reality always wins.

        by Lenny Flank on Thu Jan 16, 2014 at 07:09:28 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Sort of (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          walkshills, BusyinCA, lartwielder

          The Soviet Union isn't around any more but Russia certainly is and we're not always on the best of terms.
          They still maintain a fairly large nuclear arsenal.

          China also maintains a fairly small nuclear force. Just enough to keep us from using ours.

          Getting rid of them would require a worldwide treaty and some sort of enforcement regime.

          Even then I think everybody would squirrel a handful of them away "just in case".

          If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

          by Major Kong on Thu Jan 16, 2014 at 08:23:00 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  For sure (0+ / 0-)
            Even then I think everybody would squirrel a handful of them away "just in case."
            Strewth, sir! Realistically, there's no putting this toothpaste back into the tube . . . And, from a purely risk management perspective, any party who had access to them would be terribly remiss not to do so. It would be nice to be able to sit around the campfire and sing Koombaya all night, but eventually, someone will come along and pee in it . . .

            "The water won't clear up 'til we get the hogs out of the creek." -- Jim Hightower

            by lartwielder on Fri Jan 17, 2014 at 04:13:43 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  I'm sure they use those very words at West Point: (0+ / 0-)

        "Blow shit up" and "Fuck a lot of shit up."

        GROW up.

        •  Nah, we couched it in friendly sounding terms (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          rmabelis, kurt

          like "Engage the primary target complex".

          The end result would be the same. A large smoking crater and mass casualties.

          If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

          by Major Kong on Fri Jan 17, 2014 at 05:41:28 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I like it! (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            rmabelis

            Read someone's opinion year ago that if cadets didn't realize that they'd be doing things like that, "I suggest they're too innocent and naive for their chosen profession." Makes ya wonder, doesn't it? I've spoken to a number of cadets and cadettes in my travels, and bless their STRAC hearts, they struck me as wholesome kids who didn't sign up so they could kill people. I'm sure plenty did just that 13 years ago, but you know what I mean.

            So you went to Woo Poo, eh? What class?

    •  Good luck with that. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kurt

      Ban the technology to make them?

      Let's take your basic, uranium-gun style nuke (the type dropped on Hiroshima). It consists of two sub-critical masses of enriched uranium shot into each other (with a conventional explosive charge) to produce a critical mass. What, exactly, do you propose banning that would prevent someone from making one? Conventional explosives? Metallurgy? Chemistry?

      You'd think that the making the enriched uranium is the weak point, but gas centrifuges, the most common method of enriching uranium, are 1930s technology and describing how one works is trivial information, so good luck trying to stop people from making one if they want to.  Let's say you want to ban that. Then someone could just use the gaseous diffusion method, which was the way most of the early enriched uranium was made. It's less energy efficient, but it works. Or they could use thermal diffusion (less efficient again, but it works if someone want to make the effort).  Or they could use laser methods. Or basic chemistry. Or aerodynamics.

      The point is that if you know what you have to do, you can figure out how to do it.

      That's why if a country really, really wants to make a basic atomic bomb, there's not a whole lot you can do to prevent it by trying to ban technology. The fact that most countries don't have them, especially first and second world countries, isn't because they can't make them but because there's no net benefit and so they chose not to make them.

    •  Russia's ICBMs are still there, ready to (0+ / 0-)

      launch on short notice, and targeted at the US.

  •  As to Your Question (6+ / 0-)
    Are we seeing the dangerous development of anomie in the operation of our doomsday machine?
    The answer is, "yes."  And that's a problem that rises almost to the level of global warming.  And hardly anybody -- certainly not the Village -- seems even to notice.

    It has been quite some time that I've felt like I'm living in the prequel to Cormac McCarthy's "The Road."

    This aggression will not stand, man.

    by kaleidescope on Thu Jan 16, 2014 at 06:11:38 PM PST

    •  ^^^^THIS^^^! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kurt

      I was just scrolling down to see if anyone else said it first:
      Command and Control

      I've been a no-nukeser since I was a teen in the '70s, and I really try to not even go near stuff like this but I could.not.put.this.book.down.

      YIKES!!!

      If you want to read an OMG-they're-all-gonna-die cliffhanger, this is your book.

      If you want to read the history of America's interaction with nuclear war from its invention forward through the mid-late 1990s, this is your book.

      It is two-two-two books in one and totally twisted. Except that I trust Schlosser, so it must all be true...Gaah!

      We are all pupils in the eyes of God.

      by nuclear winter solstice on Fri Jan 17, 2014 at 04:06:21 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I worked as a nuke technician in the 50-60's (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        nuclear winter solstice, kurt

        and can vouch for at least part of what's in Schlosser's book:

        The accident over North Carolina in which the only device that kept a MK39 from going off full yield was what we referred to as an 'arm-safe switch'.  Had this been in the 'arm' position (a single-point failure that should never have been possible under 'normal' circumstances), the entire east coast would still be radioactive.

        Anyone who has not read Schlosser's book owes it to themselves to do so.

        Subtlety: The art of saying what you think and getting out of the way before it is understood.

        by ccallure on Fri Jan 17, 2014 at 12:09:15 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for posting a thought-provoking diary (0+ / 0-)

    on a topic I'm sure most people would rather not have to consider;at least you got some responses here. I hope conditions do not ever worsen enough for a reprise to be appropriate, or to offer you the opportunity to say "I told you so."

    Welcome from the DK Partners & Mentors Team. If you have any questions about how to participate here, you can learn more at the Knowledge Base or from the New Diarists Resources Diaries. Diaries labeled "Open Thread" are also great places to ask. We look forward to your contributions.

    Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

    by peregrine kate on Thu Jan 16, 2014 at 07:45:03 PM PST

  •  it's the effect of 20 years of neglect (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rmabelis

    the cold war ended, and the whole smash became obsolete.
    then the terror war started and the nukes became a bill
    payer to the tactical air force, so there is no
    future in sitting in a missile silo,
    the birds are getting ancient, and the entire smash
    is falling apart.

    it was happening in the 90's, now it's really apparent.

  •  The Nuclear Age Is Wearing Thin (2+ / 0-)

    Humans have limited attention, and maintaining highly-dangerous weapons requires high levels of attention.

    At the same time, we've turned our attention to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the prestige, promotions and money.

    So, it's no surprise that nuclear programs are suffering a decline.

    We better take care of that, though, because it only takes one mistake to cascade into a holocaust.

  •  These tests weren't all that difficult (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kurt

    The tests in question were something we took once a month when I was in bombers and tankers.

    You work through them very methodically in a cook-book fashion.

    The test involved listening to coded messages that were just a string of numbers and letters.

    When you decoded each message, it would direct you to the correct page of the correct book and you'd follow the instructions on that page.

    I can't imagine it's that complicated for the missile guys because your options are pretty much "launch" or "sit tight".

    If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

    by Major Kong on Fri Jan 17, 2014 at 05:38:31 AM PST

    •  Comments above point to Schlosser's... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      native

      brilliant book Command and Control, and I can't recommend it too highly.

      In the closing chapters, Schlosser notes the frightening deterioration from professionalism and sense of purpose of the LeMay era (say what you will about LeMay, he was ruthlessly competent and had no tolerance for carelessness or incompetence in others) to a terrifying level of casual negligence in the management of America's nuclear weapons nowadays.

      My understanding is that circa early 1960s SAC used to attract the cream of the crop among Air Force officers. Today the decaying strategic forces appear to be a career dead-end, and consequently collect the dregs instead, with potentially catastrophic results.

      •  In the 1960s, there was some job appeal... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        native, rmabelis, kurt

        to being a SAC missileer. The downsides were big: Isolated duty in bad weather states, big brother SAC breathing down your neck. And no skills translating directly to a civilian job. However, it was a great opportunity for a young officer to get a Master's degree on location via USAF's  linkups with universities, U of Maryland, notably. Being "on alert" did offer some isolated time to study. So, a few years in the hole, and hopefully that M.A. was your ticket out into the "real Air Force." Or, back to civilian life, when nuclear duty at least meant you were dependable, and did I mention you had an extra college degree?
        I don't know the promotion potential now, but I'd guess it is stiffer: The above ground captains in flying or management or tech jobs may have combat experience on their record, and a few extra medals, as well as experience in managing troops. The missileer, not so much. And the civilian job market isn't yet robust.
        It is extremely unlikely that the career field will go away anytime soon, IMO.

        •  This suggests... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ozsea1

          ...that the smart thing (assuming you want to keep a strategic nuclear force) is doing the same thing the UK and France do: stand down the silos and base the primary nuclear deterrent force in the subs.

          One would imagine that the problems would be less of an issue on the boomers. You don't have two guys sitting on their own in the middle of nowhere with time on their hands and no future prospects. This kind of institutional rot would be less of a concern with a larger crew that is always there and who would be watching an evaluating each other. Also, there isn't as much of problem for a dead-end career since most of the skills required to work on an SSBN are transferable to the attack boats (or other submarines), for both officers and crew.

          Of course, this means taking away the primary strategic deterrent role from the Air Force and giving it all to the Navy. I can see the political war that would immediately develop.

  •  Well, part of the anomie... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    native, rmabelis

    ...probably comes from feeling like a leftover or relic.

    Think about it - being a missileman used to be the "on the front lines" of the Cold War, but missiles have been pushed out of the public mind by stealth technology, cruise missiles, and (of late) drones.

    I would imagine that the image of missilemen within the Air Force has become something less than it once was.

    The word "parent" is supposed to be a VERB, people...

    by wesmorgan1 on Fri Jan 17, 2014 at 06:12:47 AM PST

  •  It would never happen. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rmabelis

    It's not like we would elect a president that would start a war for any old reason.

    The USA and the rest of the world face a dangerous enemy that not only threatens our freedom but our very existence. This enemy is deeply embedded within society and is actively working towards our annihilation. That enemy is ignorance.

    by Ex Con on Fri Jan 17, 2014 at 09:27:29 AM PST

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