The item below is a letter posted to us few days ago. As readers know, we don’t normally publish material related to current news, but we can’t resist offering this one. Editor
I am a fan of your publication and am writing in the hope that you will find space in a forthcoming issue to present an idea that has occurred to me. In my opinion it provides an unusual view of a recent incident. I refer to the alleged straying of a missile fired by one of our UK submarines, and to the failure of official sources to give a prompt and clear explanation about what happened. Most people seem to be troubled by this affair, but my assessment is different. It is outlined below:
The Earth has an area of about 197 million square miles, of which a little over 57 million (about 29%) is land. The UK occupies 94,000 square miles of terra firma, which is roughly a sixth of one per cent of the land, and obviously only about a quarter of that proportion in terms of the planet’s total surface.
As I see it, the important point is that if the trajectories of our missiles were entirely unpredictable, the chance of one of them landing on UK soil would be almost vanishingly small. The big countries would be less well placed, particularly Russia, which has far more territory than any other state and therefore a much greater risk of being struck.
The upside here is that should it become widely known that some of our most powerful weapons were likely to behave in a totally erratic way, both our potential enemies and our allies would be very circumspect in their dealings with us, as neither friend nor possible foe would know what places might be obliterated by our projectiles – assuming we could get the warheads to detonate.
We could take this notion further by ensuring that in the case of any attack on us, or even our suspicion of one, we would intentionally dispatch all of our nukes on random courses. I am reminded of the amusing Tom Lehrer song about the man who was prominent in American spacecraft propulsion, following his wartime work in a similar field in Germany. To my mind, the most striking bit of Lehrer’s ditty goes as follows:
“When rockets go up, who cares where they come down?
That’s not my department,” says Wernher von Braun.*
I suggest that if we were to broadcast the plan described above, one result would be the formation of a hitherto improbable coalition of nuclear powers (excluding the UK), which would establish a policy of leaving us well alone, for fear that our response to any aggression might be a totally indiscriminate one that could destroy anybody or anything. There might even be a case for the other nuclear-armed countries to follow our example. The high level of apprehension thus engendered could lead to some statesperson repeating the words of the late Neville Chamberlain: “I believe it is peace for our time.”
Note. Our science correspondent Axel Griess, fresh from rehab (again), opines: “I don’t know what effect the implementation of Mr Spindle’s idea concerning haphazard blast-offs would have on the world’s movers and shakers, but it’s put the wind up me. Still, advanced technology is sometimes a trial and error affair, so maybe we could give the scheme a go and see what happens. If you want me from now on, I’ll be on a very small island in the Outer Hebrides.”
* * *