Thursday, October 18, 2007

Potemkin would be proud

Tough Punishment Expected for Warhead Errors - "The Air Force has decided to relieve at least five of its officers of command and is considering filing criminal charges in connection with the Aug. 29 'Bent Spear' incident in which nuclear-armed cruise missiles were mistakenly flown from North Dakota to Louisiana, two senior Air Force officials said yesterday."

The legend of Potemkin villages is that one of Catherine the Great's ministers, Grigory Potemkin had mock villages constructed along the Dnieper river in order to impress his boss. The story is very probably false but it gives us a great label for sham enterprises.

It's been over sixty years since the United States actually used a nuclear weapon in war. I'm not complaining mind you, but this has allowed the nuclear arm of the Department of Defense to evolve into its own reality. The nuclear DoD is a veritable Disney Land of hypothetical questions and their accompanying hypothetical solutions.

In the kill-people-break-things branch of the DoD you periodically have to saddle up and go shoot somebody. Combat is a harsh teacher and units learn hard, invaluable lessons. The nuclear DoD has no such crucible. Officers who give great hypothetical answers to hypothetical questions get promoted. Some of these officers are good officers who have never been tested under pressure and some are officers who lack the character to persevere. To all but the most discerning observer, one who has actually seen a good man crack under pressure, both categories of officer look exactly the same.

And that, gentle reader, is how we got into our current situation. Supervisors at all levels found false comfort in their loose-leaf binders full of unread regulations and meaningless inspection results. This is not just a Minot AFB problem or even a USAF problem. The nuclear DoD is the single greatest collection of rear-echelon Formica-blind never-beens to ever wield a coffee mug.

In defense of Grigory Potemkin, at least he knew the villages weren't real.

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