It was a dark and stormy night in Okinawa, 1962; the seas were beaten into foam by the wind that howled across the island.
No, that’s not right. But it seemed like a better setting for “almost the end of the world.” And there was a storm, but it was a storm of toxic, invisible, lies. Lies were the fuel of the cold war; their target was the population of the whole planet, who were not trusted with anything close to the truth.
Learning about this event changed me in many ways. It was when I realized that the lies were there, and real, and it made me decide that my attitude toward “my” government needed to be “don’t trust, but verify.” And, also, that democracy is a great big fake thrown by the powerful, who were always going to do whatever they wanted but just made it look as though they were listening to the people. Those are not relevant points, here, other than that I hope this collection of facts has a similar effect on you, if you’re one of those nice people who does not see governments as the malicious gangs of lying bastards that they are.
The first part of the story is that the US secretly stationed nuclear weapons on Okinawa, in spite of telling everyone it did not, including the Japanese government and people who were (for some reason) strongly against being turned into a nuclear strike target by US policy. In the 1960s it was deemed necessary to have a close base to China, from which a first strike could be launched in a surprise attack. As I mentioned before, this was not a “deterrent” – you don’t need secret bases with cruise missiles in a target’s backyard if you’re trying to “deter” them. In fact, if you think about it, secret missiles cannot “deter” anyone. To maintain the fear of mutual assured destruction you want your opponents to be looking down the gun barrel all the time.
If you’re like me, you probably didn’t even know that the US had cruise missiles in the 60s. Surely, the Soviets and others, did, but at that time the US realized that thoughtful people would realize they were first-strike weapons and might have a problem with that. It took the full militarization and ideological indoctrination of the whole US population, before it became acceptable to just ignore weapons control treaties and hide what was going on from the public. The public wanted to remain ignorant, fed on an uncomplicated diet of sportsball, Frank Sinatra, and the “New Camelot” of the oligarchic Kennedy clan.
The US played some egregious games with the Japanese Government (which was participating in what can only be called “kabuki theater”) [japan times]
In a statement on the Department of Defense’s Open Government website, the Pentagon revealed Friday “that U.S. nuclear weapons were deployed on Okinawa prior to Okinawa’s reversion to Japan on May 15, 1972.”
The Defense Department statement also acknowledged “that the U.S. government conducted internal discussion and discussions with Japanese government officials regarding the possible re-introduction of nuclear weapons onto Okinawa in the event of an emergency or crisis situation.”
Although widely known — various accounts and documents of a secret deal had previously shed light on the storage of atomic weapons on the islands both before and after Okinawa’s reversion — the issue had been controversial because Japanese leaders and U.S. officials had consistently denied the presence of such weapons within Japanese territory.
All of the democracy-oriented peace advocates in Japan (and the US) were fooled; they thought that their governments were listening to the will of the people. This is not “conspiracy theory” stuff but in the 1960s it would have been. In the broader geopolitical context, this was happening during the run-up to the Cuban Missile Crisis – a Soviet attempt to contain the US’ deployment of first-strike medium-range missiles to Italy and Turkey. The Soviets responded to what they saw as US provocation by putting missiles in Cuba, and the US’ righteous freak-out nearly ended in a full nuclear exchange. Nowadays, we know that there were 2 ‘minor’ incidents during the Cuban crisis, which nearly triggered a war: a U2 plane went off course and accidentally headed right toward Moscow, and the US Navy started dropping depth charges on a Soviet sub that got too close to the blockading ships; the Soviet sub had nuclear torpedoes and its captain nearly used one against the US surface ships. Either of those minor incidents could have ended in massive disaster, although realistically what would have happened would have been the US executing SIOP Plan 1A, which called for a massive first strike against the USSR including Poland, Albania, etc., and China for good measure.
In a 1967 address to the Diet, Prime Minister Eisuke Sato introduced the nation’s Three Non-Nuclear Principles, which, reflecting public sentiment, have guided the country’s nuclear policy since.
The three principles, which helped Sato win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974, stated that Japan shall neither possess nor manufacture nuclear weapons, nor shall it permit their introduction into Japanese territory.
Sato was, of course, lying. Apparently the US played a sort of shell-game a few times, in which the warheads were offloaded onto a boat which moved around offshore so the US could say “there are no nuclear weapons on Okinawa!” (“at this moment.”) [apjjf]
Off our beam, moored or anchored, was an LST [“Landing Ship, Tank” or tank landing ship]. It was by far the worst rust bucket I saw in my three years of active duty. Any C.O. [commanding officer] would have been mightily embarrassed to command it. Its condition convinced me that it had not been to sea with a Navy crew for a while.
During our entire stay at Iwakuni I never saw a sailor on the ship. I did always see two Marines, one forward and one aft. Sometimes Marines are used as decorative base gate guards in their pressed uniforms with perhaps a sidearm. These were not. They were dressed for combat and heavily armed accordingly.
The peculiar arrangement caused me to inquire about the LST’s purpose and I was told it was to repair electronics. That made no sense. Anybody with equipment to repair would have carried it to a dock and scheduled a boat to go out to the LST. In addition, I saw no accommodation ladder on the side of the LST.
Clearly there was some hanky-panky going on. At the time I speculated on what it might be. My first choice was that it was actually a brig for really, really bad military personnel. A distant second choice was that it was being used to house victims of extraordinary rendition, a floating precursor to Gitmo. Both choices meant that the guards were there to keep people from escaping from the LST. Regardless of the LST’s actual function, the foolishness of the cover story seemed to ensure that Iwakuni would draw more than its fair share of attention from Soviet or Chinese spies. I learned later that the hold was full of amtracs [armored tracked vehicles] packed with nuclear bombs.
The LST, the USS San Joaquin County, had a cover mission as an electronics repair ship. It was permanently stationed not just inside the three-mile limit of Japanese territorial waters but anchored a couple of hundred yards from the beach, in the tidal waters. By any standards it was stationed within the territory of Japan. So were its nuclear weapons.
In a nuclear emergency. The San Joaquin County would operate as it was designed to do in an amphibious landing. It would haul anchor and come straight ashore. The front of the ship would open up like a clam-shell, and amphibious tractors loaded with nuclear weapons would come down a ramp into the water or directly onto the beach, then head on land straight to the airstrip where the weapons would be loaded onto the Marine planes.
[In 1966] Edwin Reischauer, our ambassador to Japan, learned of [the San Joaquin County’s] presence—through a leak to his office—and demanded that it be removed. He threatened to resign if it wasn’t. In 1967 it finally moved back to Okinawa.
The San Joaquin County was LST 1122, and it appeared in a bunch of interesting places including South Korea. It has not yet become public knowledge but I’d bet that the US pulled the same trick in Korea: “we don’t have nukes in Korea!” (“at this exact moment”) But the presence of a large number of air-droppable warheads might have had something to do with Douglas MacArthur’s insistence on nuclear strikes against the North. But that’s another story. Nowadays, South Korea appears to be well on its way to officially nuclearizing (thanks to secret US proliferation). But that’s another story, too.
The US Army, at that time, had a substantial complement of battlefield/theater nuclear weapons such as the “Honest John” short range missile and even the horrific “Davy Crockett” suicide bomb, which had a range that was less than the effect radius of the warhead it carried.
In 2015, a group of former missile launch officers came out and told a story about a nuclear “accident” that happened on Okinawa in October, 1962. That was near the climax of the Cuban Missile Crisis. You know how concerned people talk about “at times of stress someone might get too quick on the trigger and use nuclear weapons”? Yeah, that.
The story is considered to be controversial but there are other factors (which I’ll get to at the end) that make me absolutely believe it’s true. [apjjf]
According to John Bordne, 73, former member of the 873rd Tactical Missile Squadron of the U.S. Air Force, several hours after his crew took over a midnight shift from 12 a.m. on Oct. 28 in 1962 at the Missile Launch Control Center at Yomitan Village in Okinawa, a coded order to launch missiles was conveyed in a radio communication message from the Missile Operations Center at the Kadena Air Base.
Another former U.S. veteran who served in Okinawa also recently confirmed on condition of anonymity what Bordne told Kyodo News in an interview last summer and in following e-mail exchanges. Bordne has mentioned the incident in an unpublished memoir based on his diary.
Eight “Martin Marietta Mace B” nuclear cruise missiles were deployed at that time at the Yomitan missile site, called “Site One Bolo Point” by U.S. military personnel. Bordne, who currently lives in Blakeslee, Pennsylvania, was one of seven crew members there.
Got that? A coded launch order was received. That’s supposed to not be able to happen unless someone up the chain of command actually wanted to launch.
“Oh, my God!” Bordne recalled his colleagues as saying as they turned white with shock and surprise when they received a launch order before dawn on Oct. 28. The order was issued from Kadena to all four Mace B sites in Okinawa including Bolo Point, he said.
According to him, the three-level confirmation process was taken step-by-step in accordance with a manual by comparing codes in the launch order and codes given to his crew team in advance. All of the codes matched.
“So, we read the targets out loud. Out of the four missiles, we had only one headed toward Russia. The other three were not going to Russia. That, right away, gave us a start to wonder. Because the launch directive said you launch all the missiles,” Bordne said. His crew team was in charge of four out of eight missiles deployed at the site.
“And we figured, ‘Why hit these other countries?’ They’ve got nothing to do with this. That doesn’t make any sense,” Bordne said. “So, our captain, the launch officer, said to us ‘We’ve got to think this through in a logical, rational manner’.”
“And it wasn’t very long, maybe 2 or 3 seconds later, that a very nervous major came over the intercom issuing the stand-down order and then we just kind of looked at each other, like, ‘We could have exterminated the whole planet,’” he said.
There are plenty – too many – of incidents in which a flaw in the command/control system nearly caused a nuclear war, but this story is unique in that it appears that a valid launch order was transmitted, and the men who were supposed to ignite the train refused. That’s a decent human response, but it’s a pretty thin thread that everyone was hanging on.
Obviously, given the shortish range of the Mace-B cruise missile, and the location of the missile base, the only target would have been: China. The missile crews didn’t launch because they thought that a launch against China was clearly an error. By now, given what I told you in my last posting about SIOP, you’ve figured out why I believe the missleeers’ story.
While the captain consulted by phone with some of the other launch officers, the crew wondered whether the DEFCON1 order had been jammed by the enemy, while the weather report and coded launch order had somehow managed to get through. And, Bordne recalls, the captain conveyed another concern coming from one of the other launch officers: A pre-emptive attack was already under way, and in the rush to respond, commanders had dispensed with the step to DEFCON1. After some hasty calculations, crew members realized that if Okinawa were the target of a preemptive strike, they ought to have felt the impact already. Every moment that went by without the sounds or tremors of an explosion made this possible explanation seem less likely.
Still, to hedge against this possibility, Capt. Bassett ordered his crew to run a final check on each of the missiles’ launch readiness. When the captain read out the target list, to the crew’s surprise, three of the four targets were not in Russia. At this point, Bordne recalls, the inter-site phone rang. It was another launch officer, reporting that his list had two non-Russian targets.Why target non-belligerent countries? It didn’t seem right.
The captain ordered that the bay doors for the non-Russian-targeted missiles remain shut. He then cracked open the door for the Russia-designated missile.
Of course everyone kept their mouths shut until most of the bodies were buried.
At the beginning of the crisis, Bordne says, Capt. Bassett had warned his men, “If this is a screw up and we do not launch, we get no recognition, and this never happened.” Now, at the end of it all, he said, “None of us will discuss anything that happened here tonight, and I mean anything. No discussions at the barracks, in a bar, or even here at the launch site. You do not even write home about this. Am I making myself perfectly clear on this subject?”
Naturally, there are people who want to claim that the incident never happened. In Stars and Stripes there are people interviewed, who were not there, who say something like that could not happen. [stars] And everyone else who would have been involved is conveniently dead. Therefore, Bordne is making the whole thing up for some reason, QED. You know how it is, a man sits on an explosive secret for 50 years during which he could have cashed in on it, then suddenly decides near the end of his life, to try to make a bunch of money writing a book about it. Well, that’s the scenario that we’re expected to believe about Bordne.
By now you’ve probably figured out where the razor blade is hidden in the apple. The fact that the Mace-Bs were targeted at China does not refute the story: SIOP Plan 1-A included China in a full-up first strike. The launch officers on Okinawa didn’t know about SIOP, and saw the China targeting as a mistake and dug in their heels. It appears that, under the US’ command/control system at the time, they were supposed to have nuked China.
When I first put all the pieces together in my mind, I felt odd suddenly, and ran to the bathroom where I threw up violently. I’ve had a few experiences in my life where cognitive shock has become a physical shock, and this was one of them.
The remaining pieces of the puzzle have not dropped, yet. How did a launch order with the correct codes get generated and transmitted? I have a simple theory about that: the command/control system does not have complex interlocks on transmitting orders – the interlocks are on the launch systems themselves. It is possible that the White House ordered a high launch alert and someone prepared to send a launch order then accidentally sent it. At the time of the incident, the US’ nuclear forces were at “DEFCON 2” – which is (DEFense CONdition) one step short of launch. The normal protocol would have been to send a flash message putting everyone at DEFCON 1, followed by individual coded launch orders. If someone was preparing launch orders and accidentally transmitted one of them to a little base down in Okinawa, it’s plausible. Back at that time launch orders were created through a complicated kabuki theater involving envelopes with cards containing code groups to attach to messages to authenticate them.
Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant Doctor Strangelove looks more and more like a documentary, to me. The CRM-114 Discriminator that Capt Kong’s crew struggle to use to authenticate their launch orders did not exist – the actual system was not that good. [By the way, I know a nerd who made a hyper realistic CRM-114 prop, that is displayed in his office. People think it’s real.]
In the end, one of the people Stars and Stripes put forward to refute the whole story says:
The most glaring [error] is targeting info,” he said. “There is no way John Bordne would have known that targeting information.
That’s true. SIOP was classified above Bordne’s clearance. But it did, at that time, call for China to be wiped out. The guy in Stars and Stripes apparently didn’t know about SIOP.
If this stuff interests you, I recommend Schlosser’s Command and Control which is [wc] appropriately enough subtitled “the illusion of safety”. It discusses some of the other screw-ups with nuclear weapons that have been documented and it’s terrifying. Basically, the folks who built the US arsenal are a bunch of fuck-ups you wouldn’t trust to change the oil in a moped.
You want to know another incredible thing about Kubrick’s Doctor Strangelove? The Soviets were fairly convinced the US intended a first strike against them (makes sense; we did and still do) and built the “doomsday device” described in the movie. Except that the bombs were not enhanced radiation weapons – but the whole Soviet arsenal was rigged to launch if there was an attack and command/control broke down. [the dead hand] The system was called PERIMETR and also known as “the dead hand” – how’s that for a visual?