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Nuclear False Alarms

“Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.” It was the height of the “fire and fury” nuclear confrontation between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump when Hawaii resident Cynthia Lazaroff got that text message one morning in 2018. Hear her terrifying story as she tries to figure out if the threat is real, and when she concludes that it is, scrambles to find a safe haven. Of course, it was a false alarm; although no major damage occurred, thousands of Hawaiians experienced 40 minutes of terror. But there have been several far more dangerous nuclear false alarms.

Host Lisa Perry’s grandfather, former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry, describes how he was awakened at 2 in the morning by an Air Force officer telling him that his computers were showing 200 Soviet missiles on the way to the US. In that incident, the national security advisor was within minutes of waking the President to advise him on whether to launch a US nuclear response that would have initiated World War III….by mistake!

Probably the most dangerous nuclear false alarm occurred in 1983, at the height of Cold War tensions, when President Reagan was calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” and a Korean airliner had just been shot down by a Soviet MiG fighter. When the new Soviet early warning system began reporting US missiles heading towards Moscow, a Soviet colonel had to decide whether to follow protocol and report the warning up the chain of command to start the Soviet response. We hear his story as told by British historian Taylor Downing, and Peter Anthony, a Danish filmmaker who met Colonel Petrov and made a documentary about his heroism. Finally, we explore the flaws in our nuclear system that make it almost certain that more such false alarms will occur, and the terrifying reality that we are still at real risk of an accidental nuclear war.

Guests:

Peter Anthony

Danish writer, producer, filmmaker; he wrote and directed The Man Who Saved the World  (about Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov)

Taylor Downing

British historian, television producer, and writer; author 1983: The World at the Brink and The Cold War taylordowning.com/writer

Cynthia Lazaroff  @CynthiaLazaroff

Founder and Executive Director, NuclearWakeUpCall.Earth; producer and filmmaker    cynthialazaroff.com

William Perry   @SecDef19

19th U.S. Secretary of Defense; Co-author with Tom Collina, THE BUTTON:  The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power from Truman to Trump


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