Simplifying Armageddon

Michael Dobbs, writing Nuclear Option for Smithsonian magazine, describes the iconic "Football" valise carried by the President of the United States. The full contents of the bag are mysterious, but we do know that the secret codes and instructions for launching a nuclear attack are among them.

These instructions might be the most important technical documents in the entire world. In addition to being the one manual that you hope is never used, it seems that for many years the instructions were overwhelming if not situationally unusable. Dobbs writes:

A recurring complaint of presidents and military aides alike has been that the Football, which currently weighs around 45 pounds, contains too much documentation. President Jimmy Carter, who had qualified as a nuclear submarine commander, was aware that he would have only a few minutes to decide how to respond to a nuclear strike against the United States. Carter ordered that the war plans be drastically simplified. A former military aide to President Bill Clinton, Col. Buzz Patterson, would later describe the resulting pared-down set of choices as akin to a “Denny’s breakfast menu.” “It’s like picking one out of Column A and two out of Column B,” he told the History Channel.

Kudos to the unknown tech writers and designers who improved the documentation. Can you imagine what it must be like to have this assignment?!

Posted: October 19, 2014 link to this item, Tweet this item, respond to this item