Bruce Blair: Challenging the accidental nuclear war machine at every turn
(Bulletin of Atomic Scientists) The 36-hour shifts in the launch control center gave (Bruce) Blair ample time to wonder about the possible circumstances under which he might be ordered to launch missiles that could kill millions of Russians and Chinese and whether that order might be issued by the president without a good reason or as a result of a false warning of a Soviet attack. This became real for Blair during the October 1973 Yom Kippur War between Israel, Egypt, and Syria. There was a period of special anxiety when Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, and other senior officials ordered the missiles to be put in a higher state of alert while President Richard Nixon slept. Their intention was to signal to the Soviet Union that its military intervention on Egypt’s side would result in a confrontation with the United States that could quickly escalate to nuclear war.
Blair recollected his experience of this moment in 1973, in an interview for the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site: “I was on alert in an underground launch control center in Montana when I received an order to increase the alert level of my unit… that order came through … just before midnight. I received it. I decoded it. I realized it was a valid order… It was a very exciting evening. It involved … opening the safe that was locked up. My crewmate and I pulled out the launch codes that would be used to authenticate an actual launch order.
We pulled out the launch keys that have to be turned in order to fire our missiles. And, as part of the preparation, we strapped into our chair, with like seatbelts, to brace for a possible incoming nuclear explosion that would rock and roll our capsule. And so, we were kind of worried that we may be at the early stages of a nuclear exchange.”