Ever notice things go wrong a) all at once and b) at the worst possible time? The week beginning October 22, 1962 was the single most dangerous time in human history (and almost the end of it). JFK had dispatched warships to block Soviet missiles sneaking into Cuba and ordered US forces to DEFCON 3. The world was on the edge of Armageddon. Not a good time for stuff-ups. But over the next seven days:
- an H-bomb was detonated without White House knowledge
- two US airbases test-fired missiles to check they still worked
- Strategic Air Command went to DEFCON 2 on its own initiative
- a bear broke into a military base, scrambling nuclear-armed fighter planes
- one base mistook a war-games practice tape for an attack
- an armed missile (with launch codes) was left unguarded
- a US spy plane got lost over Russia
- a Soviet satellite mysteriously exploded and
- US warships unwittingly depth-charged a crippled Soviet nuclear submarine.
And that’s just a partial list; there were more nuclear blunders that week than in the previous three years, and any one of them could have triggered WWIII. Why did so many dumb things happen at once? And why did they have to happen then? Fear makes us jumpy, paranoid and well, stupid. It makes us do stupid things. And that makes everything worse, especially us. But that doesn’t explain the satellite… or the bear. It’s the bear that gets me. The bear reminds us why we must not let ourselves get crazy. Because dumb luck can be dangerous enough, all on its own.