An example of a near-miss unauthorized U.S. nuclear missile launch goes back to the October 1962 Cuban missile crisis. An article by Aaron Tovish in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on 25 October 2015 reported the testimony of a retired missile officer, John Bordne, about his missile crew in Okinawa receiving an order to launch nuclear-armed cruise missiles on 28 October 1962. John Bordne had first revealed this incident to Japanese journalist Masakatsu Ota who published the story in Kyodo News on 27 March 2015.
In Okinawa, three other missile sites nearby also received an order to launch nuclear-armed missiles at the same time. The man in command of the missile sites was late Captain William Bassett. He became suspicious about the launch order and twice requested confirmation. He was finally told that it had been sent by mistake.
Bassett then ordered that the procedure to arm and launch the cruise missiles be stopped at all eight launch control centers under his command. It seems that the “mistaken” launch order had been issued by a “commanding major” whose name has not been revealed.
If Bassett had not doubted the validity of the launch order, 32 cruise missiles each carrying a one-megaton hydrogen bomb would have been launched towards targets in both the Soviet Union and China. The commanding major was later court-martialed and forced into early retirement, but everyone involved was ordered to keep silent about it for 50 years.
The 50 years ran out three years ago. Aaron Tovish, the director of the 2020 Vision project of the 6,800 Mayors for Peace worldwide, calls for the Air Force and other government agencies to publish records of the October 1962 incident on Okinawa.
Commenting on the story in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Bruce Blair found it plausible and reported that he had knowledge of a mistaken launch order having been sent during the 1967 Middle East war to a nuclear-aircraft crew on an aircraft carrier.
Michel Duguay, Québec
Bravo! for Peace Oct-Dec 2017. It’s difficult to conceive of it being better. Your platform for peace: formidable!
Ed Napier, Montreal
The October 2017 issue of Peace is very good and inspiring. But I would add to your manifesto one more point: struggle for genuine democracy and against its multifarious perversions.
Sasha Kalinin, Moscow
Onward and upwards with your project and warmest to you and Doug Roche.
Bruce Kent, London UK
From the moment I heard you talk about this project, this “movement of movements,” I thought it was not only a great idea but a necessary one. So I am inclined to learn more about it and to see how Ploughshares might help.
Cesar Jaramillo, Waterloo
Watching The Vietnam War documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick was difficult. Witnessing the horrors of the fighting and the bombing, hearing again the lies and propaganda that sustained the insanity, reliving the agonizing choices our generation faced in confronting an unjust war. It’s painful.
Burns and Novick fell prey to the core deceptions of the war, which they claim was fought with good intentions. They accept the logic of militarism and anti-communism that led to the war. They cloak those who served in the war in a mantle of honor and patriotism, implying that those of us who were part of the war machine at the time were helping our country,
Despite its flaws, however, I see two valuable insights in the film. It shows that the presidents, policy advisers, and military leaders who initiated the war misread history and deceived themselves and the American people. Kennedy, Johnson, and McNamara knew the war was unwinnable but kept it going out of political self-interest and moral cowardice. Nixon and Kissinger ended the ground war, propelled by the antiwar opposition and the collapse of the military, but they unleashed an air war that killed hundreds of thousands. Responsibility for the debacle rests on the shoulders of America’s political and military leaders.
Peace movement voices are few in the 18 hours of footage but they speak with clarity and conviction. We were right to oppose the war.
David Cortright, Kroc Peace Centre, Notre Dame