Paul Nitze and General Maxwell Taylor leave a meeting of the ExComm on October 29, 1962.
I often refer to this as the Strangelove clip because it sounds like it could have been lifted from the pages of Stanley Kubrick’s script for Dr. Strangelove.
It’s comforting to think that the people making the decisions about war and peace have all the latest information and a perfect understanding of the situation. But it only works that way in the movies and on TV. In this real-life example, secretaries of state don’t necessarily know what missiles are on alert where, defense leaders are more worried about sparking bureaucratic resentment than clarifying standing orders, and even presidents are confused about the acronyms that denote plans for global thermonuclear war.
Just hours before his October 22, 1962, speech to the nation, Kennedy convenes a meeting of his Berlin advisers. He wants to make sure that American commanders in Europe won’t fire off their missiles without a direct order from the president himself. Absurdly, he runs into resistance from Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Paul Nitze to issue a clarification. And in the course of the discussion, the limits of their control and communication become all-too apparent.