Trump and the Nukes

We’re so focused on Donald Trump’s race-baiting rhetoric that we’ve almost forgotten that if elected this man will have the nuclear codes at the tips of his stubby little fingers.

This is a serious concern for 50 Republican security officials who signed a letter saying Trump does not have the temperament to be president and commander in chief.

The former heads of the CIA, NSA, Homeland Security and countless other agencies say Trump can’t tell the difference between truth and falsehood, doesn’t encourage conflicting views, lacks self-control, is impetuous and can’t tolerate personal criticism.  They say “all of these are dangerous qualities in an individual who aspires to be president and commander in chief, with command of the US nuclear arsenal.”

No kidding!


Donald Trump’s stubby little finger

And yet some military advisors downplay the concern.   They’re confident that the “institutions” surrounding the presidency will prevent a lunatic president from lobbing 925 nuclear warheads at a real or perceived enemy.


Thomas Karako, a senior fellow with the International Security Program and Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says Americans (indeed the world) should have faith in the institutions that are “larger than any man or women” who occupies the Oval Office.

What institutions?

The President does not need the approval of Congress to order a nuclear strike.  The only “institutions” standing between him and the metaphorical Big Red Button are the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Both of these individuals are appointed by the President.

The chain of command goes from the President to the Secretary of Defense to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  The Secretary of Defense can authentic a nuclear strike order but he can’t veto it.

No need to worry says Thomas Karako.  The military (ie. the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) is not obligated to carry out an order unless it is lawfully given.

Lawful orders

One of the many principals established at the Nuremberg trials was that military personnel have a duty to refuse to carry out illegal orders.

This, like many lofty principles, turned to dust 22 years later at My Lai, Vietnam.

On Mar 16, 1968, Second Lieutenant William Calley led the men of Charlie Company on a sweep through several hamlets searching for enemy soldiers.  They came upon elderly men, women and children preparing for market day and slaughtered them—before and after a lunch break.  An estimated 350 to 500 civilians were murdered.

Many of Calley’s men said they were just following orders.

However Huey helicopter pilot Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson and his crew refused.

Thompson landed his helicopter three times to stop the carnage.  The first time he confronted Lieutenant Calley who refused to back down.  The second time he landed his helicopter between the soldiers and Vietnamese civilians to block the soldiers’ line of fire and pick up the wounded.  The third time he plucked a small child out of a ditch.

Thompson reported what he’d seen up the chain of command and received a medal. He also received death threats and dead animals on his lawn from soldiers who said he was disloyal.

The massacre was only fully investigated after another soldier, Specialist Ronald Ridenhour, wrote to 30 members of Congress—all but three ignored his letter.

The duty to disobey an unlawful order was overridden in the field by the duty to follow orders and not rat on your fellow soldiers.

Catch 22

Do “institutions” have more integrity then men in battle?

Under Thomas Karako’s scenario if a lunatic president gives a nuclear strike order, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will assess its lawfulness.

If the Secretary of Defense decides the order is illegal he can resign and the decision will fall to his second-in-command and so on down the line.

If someone lower down in the food chain cracks and relays the order to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the Chairman will have a few minutes to mull it over.  If he decides the order is “unlawful” he can raise his concern up the chain of command, not to the Secretary of State who just quit but the lunatic president himself.

It’s the perfect Catch 22.

But all this is moot.  If the president believes he’s protecting the US against an actual or imminent attack and orders a nuclear strike, he’s made a constitutional order.  The military must obey or stage a military coup.

A piece of advice  

John Noonan is a Republican, a former Air Force missile launch officer and national security adviser to two Republican presidential campaigns.  He says instead of worrying about whether an attack on the US is real or Trump is grandstanding Americans should ensure he doesn’t assume power.

Excellent advice. Because when Trump says the military is “not gonna refuse me” he’s probably right.

Sources: Military Ethics Course offered by FutureLearn

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17 Responses to Trump and the Nukes

  1. ronmac says:

    Yeah well john Pilger, a film maker, journalist and long-time peace activist actually thinks Hilary Clinton is a greater danger to world peace than Donald Trump

    [audio src="" /]

    • Carlos Beca says:

      I have not heard this audio and I do not know the reasons but I for one agree with Pilger’s comment just from my own views on Hillary Clinton and what she has done so far. She is the perfect corporate representative and she will move forward their agenda which is not in our interest at all. As far as her being against the TPP, that is just strategy because she knows it is now a very unpopular issue. She will sign it when she gets in there. They all do.

      • ronmac says:

        The TPP? Hilary and the Democrats are making a big deal how much they’re against it on their platform. Yet Obama, the sitting Democratic president, is pimping it every chance he gets

      • Carlos and ronmac: Many Congressmen have said they will not support ratification of the TPP notwithstanding the fact Obama is urging them (and Trudeau) to do so. That would give Parliament an opportunity to reconsider Canada’s position. Canadians were quite upset about the TPP when the issue first surfaced but we haven’t said much about it for a while. All that we’ve heard from the Trudeau government about it recently is Chrystia Freeland’s assurance that Brexit would not impair the ratification process. Given that some European countries are balking and the US might not ratify we have a golden opportunity to reconsider our position without losing face. (Why is it that so much in politics seems to be about saving or losing face.)

    • Ronmac I can’t get the link to work but I googled John Pilger and found a speech he made in March 2016 at the University of Sydney. He makes a number of very valid points about Obama increasing the USA’s nuclear arsenal . His concern is echoed by Kennette Benedict in the interview which appears at the link under Thomas Karako’s name. Benedict is a senior advisor to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. They set the Doomsday Clock. She says there are no checks and balances when it comes to deploying nuclear weapons, none, and points out that it’s extremely dangerous to let one person, the president (who “consults” the secretary of defence) have so much power to do so much harm. She really doesn’t care who the president is, which I think is your point as well..

    • Randy Newman did a great job of illustrating the insanity of a nuclear strategy…the list of reasons why some countries should be bombed (Canada is too cold) and others should not (Australia has kangaroos) was perfect. Thanks Anonymous, you nailed it again!

  2. Carlos Beca says:

    Susan we can say all we want but the fact of the matter is that Trump is now the representative of the Republican party. I do not think that he is fit to be president for all the reasons you pointed out but my question is why is it any different when the idiot is top of the class?
    All American presidents have affected the lives of millions of people around the world so why is it so different now. Is it because now the nut is vocal? George Bush destroyed two nations with hundreds of thousands of casualties and millions of refugees. He destroyed Iraq for generations to come and we are now concerned with Trump? I think that we have to rethink seriously how we in the West think about what is reality. All of South America was affected with US and Russian backed coups and killings and only now we seem to be worried about it. Obama ha used and abused drones to kill anything they deem useless. To me the only difference is that Trump says it openly, the others are more diplomatic but in the end they all have their hands full of blood.
    It is very easy to look at politics when we sit in a stable and in many ways a powerful nation. The problem is when one lives in the countries where the bombs fall.

    • Excellent point Carlos. So many US presidents have wreaked havoc on the world that one wonders why we’re fussing about this one. My concern with this story was the lack of checks and balances in place to prevent Trump from destroying the planet. In the course of my research I came across a story describing the efforts Nixon’s people went through to stop him from launching a nuclear attack (he was drinking a lot in his final days and they were afraid he’d fly into a drunken rage and do something awful). The best they could come up with was a process to stall. In this circumstance stalling was akin to treason but his people were prepared to do it. Luckily Nixon left office without putting their resolve to the test.
      Your larger point about powerful countries attacking weaker countries for their own economic and/or ideological purposes is bang on. Look at the destruction caused by the British Empire etc.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        I should have finalized my post by clarifying that I do not think for a minute that Donald Trump is more dangerous than even Hilary Clinton. He is a showman and he needs attention and he needs to be bombastic to be believed. He is the prostitute with the fur coat. He should not have been allowed to run in the primaries of the Republican Party in the first place. The reason he did is because al of them are liars and all of them are as dangerous as he is but they could not beat him on the stage. Most of the supporters like fireworks, lights and racist slogans rather than real concepts. I do not blame them. We have all been showered for decades with clichés, falsehoods, lies and deceit from the political class. we are now the political Mac World.

      • Carlos, I’m sure the GOP is kicking itself for not taking Trump out of the race when it had the chance.
        Interestingly, I think the PC party has learned something from the mess the GOP got itself into when it allowed Trump to face off with the other 16 presidential hopefuls instead of removing him from the race. The PCs recently announced that anyone running for party leader must avoid “causing harm or disrepute” to the PC party and its brand. This isn’t a new prohibition. The PC by-laws have said this for years. But conservatives pushing Jason Kenney as the saviour of the conservative movement think it’s unfair. Seems to me any leadership candidate with the stated goal of killing the PC party should not be allowed to run for leadership. The big question is what are the PCs going to do about it. It’s one thing to say an anti-PC brand candidate shouldn’t run, it’s quite another thing to scratch his name off the ballot if he does run.

  3. david says:

    I agree Susan!
    Nukes are the most serious (and frightening) of this man’s MANY psychological instabilities…
    Surely Americans recognize this dangerous demagogue and the threat he poses to world!

  4. jerrymacgp says:

    There is a scene in the Tom Clancy novel, The Sum of All Fears, in which the President, ensconced at Camp David after a nuclear IED explodes in Denver at the Super Bowl, orders a nuclear strike on Tehran, where the funder and organizer of the terrorist splinter group behind the bombing was located. Under the two-man rule, the President’s Deputy National Security Advisor, Clancy’s hero Jack Ryan, actually refuses to authorize the strike and ends up getting the President to back down.

    Now I’m sure somebody here’s going to point out how politically unacceptable Clancy’s work is for leftists like me or anybody on this blog, especially his later works… but I’m a bit of a literary Philistine & I read mass market books with entertaining stories, not “Literature”. So sue me. The point remains that this scenario has been used in a popular novel.

  5. Jerrymacgp: I too am a bit of a literary Philistine…actually I’m an action/adventure movie nut so while I haven’t read this book I’ve seen all the Jack Ryan movies and agree with you that the “sane #2 blocking a president from incinerating the world” is a good plot device. Unfortunately a lot of Americans think the same holds true in real life. I’m not saying a sane #2 wouldn’t disobey a lunatic president’s orders, but it would take a Jack Ryan to do so. I don’t know whether Trump has the brains to appoint a courageous man to be his Secretary of Defense. From everything I’ve read about the guy he likes to surround himself with yes men. Not terribly reassuring.

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