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Pentagon Denies Possibility of “Accidental War”

Oct. 20, 1962 - Administration officials said today that the Government was spending vast sums of money to improve existing precautions against accidental general war. At the same time, these officials asserted that the kind of accident dramatized in a new novel was virtually impossible. They said the novel distorted the airborne bomber alert system now in use. The novel, “Fail-Safe,” is by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler. It has attracted considerable notice at the Pentagon because it describes in a thrilling manner a fictional accidental bombing mission against Moscow. This occurs during an airborne alert that is part of the so-called “fail-safe” system of the Strategic Air Command. The trouble with the book’s plot, according to Pentagon spokesmen, is that it twists the “fail-safe” procedure, according to which bombers on alert have instructions to return automatically unless specifically ordered to go ahead. Thus, it is said, any accident or failure in the apparatus would prevent a bombing, not cause one. Moreover, the purpose of the aerial alert is not so much to place the bombers in striking position but to get them off the ground as a protection against being caught by enemy attack. In addition, the orders to proceed are given verbally by radio on specific instructions from the President and are not dependent upon automatic electronic signals, as they are in the book.

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