Wake the President? (Vol. 47, Issue 8)
It is 7:00 A.M. on June 14, 1982, a bright summer day. A flock of seagulls wings its way north towards the United States. The flock of birds is picked up by the ultrasensitive radar equipment of our North American Air Defense Command. The highly advanced computers identify the seagulls immediately — as twenty-three small, but extremely powerful Soviet SS-20 nuclear missiles. Before the diagnosis can be rechecked by technicians, a retaliatory strike is automatically initiated. Every available American ICBM is targeted for and launched toward Moscow.
Word of the mishap reaches General David Jones — Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — in minutes. Jones immediately telephones Secretary of State Haig, who is at home in bed.
HAIG: (slightly groggy) “General Haig here . . . er, I mean, Haig here, go ahead.”
JONES: “Alexander, it’s General Jones. We’ve got a serious problem.”
HAIG: “Aw, don’t tell me, El Salvador again, right? What happened, some government troops massacred a few hundred more civilians? I told those guys to lay off until after the elections.”
JONES: Mr. Seeretary, I'm afraid it’s much more important than El Salvador . . .”
HAIG: “Bigger than Salvador? Hey, they didn’t find out that those aerial pictures we took of Nicaraguan military installations were really from our files of the Korean War, did they?”
JONES: “No, no, Mr. Secretary. There’s ... there’s been a computer malfunction up at NORAD headquarters. All our missiles have been launched without provocation. They’re heading for Russia.”
HAIG: “They are! You're kidding? Ahem, I mean, they are, there’s no doubt?”
JONES: “No sir. There’s no possibility of error, and there’s no way to destruct the missiles once they're in flight.”
HAIG: “All right, I know exactly what to do. Have you got a pen?”
JONES: “Excuse me, but, shouldn’t the President be informed?”
HAIG: “Oh... yeah, I guess so I’ll get back to you. Remember, we're still on for racquetball Thursday. Give my regards to Pam. Right, bye.”
Secretary Haig makes the four minute drive to the White House after alerting all defense-related Cabinet members. He enters the President’s sitting room at 7:12 and is intercepted by Nancy Reagan.
NANCY: “And just where do you think you're going at this hour?”
HAIG: “I have to see the President on a matter of national urgency.”
NANCY: “You don’t seem to understand. Rennie was up until close to 11:00 last night because of some silly briefing on the economy. If he doesn’t get his eight hours he's just a bear to be
HAIG: “I'm sorry, Mrs. Reagan, but I really must wake the President.”
Haig brushes past the First Lady and opens the bedroom door. As he approaches the bed, he can hear that the President is muttering in his sleep.
REAGAN: “Sheer demagoguery... demagoguery . . . bipartisan compromising weaklings . . . cut the deficit ... help the poor … bah, humbug, . . .”
At this time, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and National Security Advisor William Clark enter the bedroom.
HAIG: “Mr. President, Mr. President, wake up sir. There's an emergency.”
REAGAN: “Huh, what, Alexander? What do you mean an emergency?”
HAIG: “Sir, there's been a computer malfunction, and all our nuclear missiles have been fired toward Moscow. They'll impact in five minutes.”
REAGAN: “You're telling me all our missiles are gone? Good Lord, I just spent all that money to reinforce our silos. What will the voters say?”
HAIG: “I hate to press the point sir, but you only have four and a half minutes to call Moscow and warn them of the accident.”
WEINBERGER: “Listen, why call Moscow? I’ll bet we could get all our problems to disappear if we just sold some more arms to the Arab nations. I've got some mobile missiles for Jordan that would knock your socks off.”
REAGAN: “Cap, we'll sell them, I promise. But decency demands that I make this call.”
HAIG: “I think that’s a wise decision, Mr. President. Clark, get Brezhnev on the red phone.”
CLARK: “Get who? Give me a break, Alexander, you know I'm new to foreign affairs. Of course, I’ll be glad to represent us if Russia takes us to the World Court over this.”
HAIG: “All right, all right, I'll do it, Here you are, Mr. President.”
REAGAN: “Hello, Leonid. This is Ron... Ronald Reagan… President Ronald Reagan of the United States. Yes, I know you usually speak to Alexander, but this is really big, Listen, how's the weather out there? I mean, how does the sky look? Is it darkening about now? It isn’t? Um, I'll call you back later. (hangs up) Okay, what's going on here, it’s twenty seconds past, impact and Moscow is still there, If this is your idea of a cute way to start the day. ..”
General David Jones runs into the bedroom, out of breath.
JONES: I ... just... got word. Our missiles malfunctioned when they were in the air. They landed near the South Pole instead of Moscow. So everything’s all right.”
REAGAN: “What do you mean everything’s all right? This is the most disgraceful thing I've ever seen. Cap, be in my office at twelve-thirty so we can increase your defense budget. The next time we accidentally fire missiles at Moscow, we'd better be damn sure that they hit. Now clear out, all of you. Nancy, wake me at 9.”