Watching the Watchers

During the tense decades of the Cold War, the fact that both the United States and the Soviet Union had very large and powerful arsenals of nuclear weapons with the potential to cause unfathomable destruction was a frequent topic of conversation and worry.

One frequently bandied-about term was MAD — Mutual Assured Destruction. This doctrine called for each side in a conflict to have enough arms to obliterate its enemy and assumed that either side, if attacked, would retaliate with equal or greater force, culminating in the mutual destruction of both sides.

The fall of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of the Soviet Union brought most of these discussions to an end, and the underlying concerns all but faded from the hearts and minds of most Americans.

For many in the younger generation, nuclear weapons are associated with rogue countries such as Iran and North Korea, or terrorist groups. The fact that the United States still has a very significant arsenal of nuclear weapons has been, for the most part, relegated to dusty history books.

In recent days, however, this arsenal has grabbed headlines — for all the wrong reasons — and reminded Americans that it does still exist. According to an exposé by the Associated Press, there have been a series of security lapses among the officers in charge of the most devastating weapons known to mankind.

At least 34 nuclear missile launch officers were implicated in a cheating scandal and were stripped of their certification in what the Air Force believes is the largest such breach of integrity in the nuclear force. The cheating involved nothing less than the monthly test of their knowledge of how to operate the missiles.

Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, commander of the 20th Air Force, which is responsible for the entire Minuteman 3 missile force, was fired for embarrassing, drunken behavior at meetings in Russia. Only days earlier, a Navy admiral, who was second-in-command at the military’s main nuclear war-fighting command, was relieved of duty amid a gambling-related investigation.

Part of America’s arsenal of nuclear missiles is located aboard Navy submarines and nuclear-armed Air Force bombers. The rest are intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) divided into three groups of 150 missiles each. One group is in Montana, another is in North Dakota and a third is based near Cheyenne, Wyo., with its 150 missiles spread around parts of Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska.

The 341st Missile Wing, based at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana,  failed a safety and security inspection. Nine days later, the officer in charge of security forces there was relieved of duty.

The 91st Missile Wing, based at Minot, North Dakota, hardly did any better. Seventeen missile crew members were deemed temporarily unfit for duty and given weeks of remedial training. The wing’s deputy commander of operations complained of “rot” in the force and relieved of duty the officer in charge of crew training and proficiency.

Twice the Air Force punished officers involved in separate incidents of opening the blast door of their launch control center while one of the two launch officers was asleep, in violation of Air Force rules.

Even more disturbing are reports that key members of the Air Force’s nuclear missile force are feeling “burnout” from what they see as exhausting, unrewarding and stressful work.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who has summoned top military leaders and ordered a review of the problems, insists the weapons are secure. However, he did acknowledge that public confidence is at risk, saying that the recent missteps “threaten to jeopardize the trust the American people have placed in us to keep our nuclear weapons safe and secure.”

Some have argued that in an age when the primary threat to American security is posed by terrorist groups, it is time to reconsider the usefulness of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Terror groups such as al-Qaida have no states of their own to defend and therefore no reason to be deterred by America’s nukes.

The United States government is unlikely to scrap this arsenal any time soon, and therefore every effort must be made to ensure that they are properly protected.

*   *   *

The current brouhaha over the nuclear weapons arsenal is actually only one example of when insufficient thought is sometimes given to watching over what is most crucial.

We need to apply this concept on a more practical level in our daily lives. The elderly in our community are our crowns of glory; our children are our most precious jewels. These two population groups are often also the most vulnerable. Most home attendants who care for seniors are dedicated and committed, and the same applies for those who babysit youngsters while their parents work.

But they are mortals and in order to ensure that they are keeping to the highest standards of care and professionalism, they themselves need a certain level of supervision.

It is imperative that neighbors and relatives stop by for unscheduled and unexpected visits to check up on the caregivers and their charges. In addition to being able to see firsthand what is truly transpiring, the very idea that they are being watched will help keep them on their toes.

Ultimately, our fate lies solely in the Hands of the Shomer Yisrael, but we must bear in mind that it is our responsibility to fulfill the requisite hishtadlus.