❝ It was a risk. Dedicating a book to someone I’d had had a five-minute phone conversation with three decades ago. Someone who, last I’d heard, had become a long-haul trucker and whom I’d given up trying to track down.
❝ But I went ahead and dedicated my new book, How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III, to Maj. Harold Hering because Maj. Hering sacrificed his military career to ask a Forbidden Question about launching nuclear missiles. A question that exposed the comforting illusions of the so called fail-safe system designed to prevent “unauthorized” nuclear missile launches…
❝ Get ready to twist your launch keys in their slots and send anywhere from one to 50 missiles rocketing toward Russia. World War III is under way.
Or is it? Your launch order codes are “authenticated,” everything seems in order, the seconds tick away. But in what may be the last seconds of your life — for all you know Soviet missiles are about to rain down on the plains — a thought crosses your mind. About “authentication.” It’s supposed to ensure that the launch order comes from the president himself, or (if the president has been killed) from the surviving head of the nuclear chain of command.
❝ But what about that person at the top of the chain of command, the person who gives the order? Has he been “authenticated”? Who authenticates the authenticator? Can the president start a nuclear war on his own authority — his own whim or will — alone?…
Maj. Hering decided to ask his question anyway, regardless of consequences: How could he know that an order to launch his missiles was “lawful”? That it came from a sane president, one who wasn’t “imbalance[d]” or “berserk,” as Maj. Hering’s lawyer eventually, colorfully put it?
RTFA. It’s long, complex, a couple different narratives bound together by Hering’s question. Stick with it and read it all.