Watch the documentary
What: "Command and Control"
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Rocky Mountain PBS
More info: rmpbs.org
How often do you drop what you are trying to hold on to? It happens to everyone. And one day in 1980, it happened to a guy who was part of a maintenance team at an underground missile silo in Arkansas, 46 miles from Little Rock.
The missile crew member used a ratchet instead of a torque wrench while he was servicing the missile's oxygen tank and caused a 9-pound socket to fall down, down inside the deep vertical missile chamber until it bounced directly into the side of the Titan II, creating a hole through which fuel began uncontrollably spewing.
This true scene is part of Eric Schlosser's film "Command and Control," a documentary that is "equal parts history lesson, cautionary tale and nerve-rattling thriller, using all manner of nonfiction devices to elicit both horror and outrage over the precariousness of our deadliest arsenals."
The two young (23 and 19) missile repairmen in elaborate hazmat suits and masks involved in the Arkansas nuclear crisis had spent countless hours underground at complexes like this one. But no matter how many times they entered the silo, according to a report in "Mother Jones," the Titan II always looked impressive. It was the largest intercontinental ballistic missile ever built by the United States: 10 feet in diameter and 103 feet tall, roughly the height of a nine-story building. It had an aluminum skin with a matte finish and U.S. AIR FORCE painted in big letters down the side. The nose cone on top of the Titan II was deep black, and inside it sat a W-53 thermonuclear warhead, the most powerful weapon ever carried by an American missile. The warhead had a yield of 9 megatons — about three times the explosive force of all the bombs dropped during World War II, including both atomic bombs.
Colorado has 49 armed Minute Man missiles each on "hair trigger alert." The nearest to Boulder are about 100 miles away as the crow flies, according to "Nuclear Heartland."
"The folly of man and the inevitability of disaster are the twin engines powering 'Command and Control,'" according to Nick Shager, film critic for "Variety," who calls the film a "microcosmic study of man's inability to control just about anything, including the deadly weapons he concocts."
See the film at 8 p.m. Tuesday on Rocky Mountain PBS.
The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center's "Peace Train" runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.