Heroic Captain Stopped America Starting World War Three

World war three

Numerous stories of how the world came close to World War Three during the cold war have come to light over the last decades.

Here is another one of those nightmare stories on how the people with their fingers on the nuke button came close to pressing it.

It appears that a U.S. Captain working with nuclear missiles, during the cold war, saved humanity by not destroying it. He did not follow orders to shoot off his four nukes and awaited clarification, after realizing that his orders to start world war three just didn’t seem right. So the Captain sought verbal authorization from his commanders and put the order to fire his nukes on hold, which later proved to have been the right move. The order had been a mistake and the conscience of the Captain and his crew saved the day and all that followed.

It looks like the policy of mutually assured destruction (MAD) could always be overlooked by the other party either by design or by accident. Therefore another policy is needed for the modern age to prevent a scenario of a possible post-apocalyptic earth.

Gizmodo reports:

Former Air Force airman John Bordne is now an elderly man. But in the early morning hours of October 28, 1962 he and his fellow airmen nearly launched their nuclear weapons during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Air Force has only now given Bordne permission to tell his story of how America nearly started World War III.

From the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:

By Bordne’s account, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Air Force crews on Okinawa were ordered to launch 32 missiles, each carrying a large nuclear warhead. Only caution and the common sense and decisive action of the line personnel receiving those orders prevented the launches—and averted the nuclear war that most likely would have ensued.

Captain William Bassett received the orders to launch his four nukes. They even went through three layers of security codes, getting confirmation each time that they were correct.

When the captain read out the target list, to the crew’s surprise, three of the four targets were not in Russia. At this point, Bordne recalls, the inter-site phone rang. It was another launch officer, reporting that his list had two non-Russian targets. Why target non-belligerent countries? It didn’t seem right.

Aside from targeting yet unnamed non-enemy countries, the other part that didn’t seem right was that they were only at DEFCON 2. If this was for real, they probably should’ve been at DEFCON 1. So the Captain stalled and called the Missile Operations Center, lying about not hearing clearly the instructions to fire.

The men with their fingers on the trigger were ready to launch the nukes, but by Bordne’s recollection, the Captain stalled again and ordered two armed airmen to “shoot the [lieutenant] if he tries to launch without [either] verbal authorisation from the ‘senior officer in the field’ or the upgrade to DEFCON 1 by Missile Operations Center.”

“If this is a screw up and we do not launch, we get no recognition, and this never happened,” Bordne recalled Captain Bassett saying in the harrowing moments before they nearly started World War III.

By Bordne’s account, the Captain told Missile Operations Center over the phone that he either needed to hear that the threat level had been raised to DEFCON 1 and that he should fire the nukes, or that he should stand down. We don’t know exactly what the Missile Operations Center told Captain Bassett, but they finally received confirmation that they should not launch their nukes.

Edmondo Burr

BA Economics/Statistics
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