7 Nuclear Weapon Screw-Ups You Won't Believe We Survived

#3. Operation Plumbbob


Between May and December 1957, the U.S. military began a series of war games meant to simulate a Soviet invasion of California. For added authenticity, they decided to conduct these games in the vicinity of an actual nuclear explosion, presumably because the local fireworks depot was all out of dry ice and smoke bombs. As many as 16,000 soldiers maneuvered dangerously close to the blast sites of various atomic bombs for tests with names like Troop Test Smokey, which was presumably launched by its adorable bear mascot. All in, a total of 250,000 people were involved in the entire operation.

"Fix bayonets!"

Alright guys, now charge at that nuclear explosion and ... see what happens?

The jaunty music makes this nuclear dust cloud much less horrifying.

As seen in this footage used in the documentary The Atomic Cafe, the government managed to get the troops to run at the blast by supplying them with completely inaccurate information about nuclear weapon radiation. So even though this 1951 film indicates that it was well known that alpha particle radiation could enter the body through openings in the skin like the nose and mouth, an interview with soldiers immediately after the test has one soldier smiling while explaining "I got a mouth full of dirt!"

"They should stick that shit on chips, it's really salty."

The toll of all this Red Dawning was later estimated at 38,000 thyroid tumors developing and 1,900 people dying, but, once again, that was determined only after fighting the government in court and gathering overwhelming evidence. It wasn't until the 1970s that the government began offering compensation to anyone.

Oh, also 1,200 pigs were subjected to extreme, immediately life-threatening radiation as well. We would have mentioned that earlier in the article, but we didn't want any of you animal-lover types to read that first and let it be your whole impression of the entry.

It's like watching a beautiful sunset. On the surface of Venus.

#2. Fan the Flames


In October of 1962, America and Russia were in the thick of the Cuban Missile Crisis. As Russian ships closed in on the American blockade of Cuba, the world was essentially a giant powder keg with President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev each holding a lighter. The White House put a number of restrictions on its military in hopes of preventing any sparks that could ignite a full-blown war. One of the restrictions was an order that all pilots stay at least 100 miles away from Soviet airspace.

However, on October 26, 1962 (the same day Vasili Arkhipov saved the world in a sub off Cuba), one American U-2 was flying an intelligence mission over the Arctic. Due to magnetic anomalies, flying over the top of the world is tricky business. The instruments don't work, so pilots at the time were forced to rely on an old navigational tool, the sextant.

Yep, a pilot flying so high that he can see the curvature of the earth was using the same instrument as an 18th century pirate.

While the primitive system had worked in the past, with the fate of the world hanging in in the balance, the shit took this opportunity to hit the fan. The pilot lost his way and ended up over Siberia, deep in Soviet territory. As Soviet Migs raced to intercept the plane, the U.S. sent out F-102A fighters to escort the lost U-2 home. For good measure, the Air Force armed the American fighter jets with nuclear missiles and gave the pilots clearance to launch them as they saw fit.

The U-2 made it out of Soviet airspace safely, but for a good 15 minutes, while everyone was watching the world almost end in Cuba, the fate of humanity was being controlled by a handful of fighter pilots, who are notoriously cocky, erratic loose cannons who have trouble following orders.

Admittedly, we learned everything we know about fighter pilots from Top Gun.

#1. Misplacing the Keys to the End of the World

The good ol' USA is one of the few countries who have enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world a couple times over. America controls this "Hammer of God" power via an electronic device, known as the football, carried by the president all the time. To activate the football, you need to first type in codes, which are kept on a card nicknamed the "biscuit," which is also kept with the president at all times. Without the biscuit, the president is essentially carrying around a bag of useless wires.

And without biscuits he's gonna be grizzlin' all night.

While Bill Clinton is notoriously bright, he's also notoriously absent-minded, and is an admitted ADD sufferer. We've covered before how he actually lost the football for a few minutes, but that's only because we hadn't heard about the time Clinton actually lost the biscuit for months. If that sounds like sort of a big deal to you, you're not alone. Clinton and his staff realized what a huge deal this was, and lied about having lost them to the military. An aid told the general in charge of checking on the biscuit that Clinton had it, but was in a very important meeting. The general said he'd wait, at which point he was eventually let in to see the president, who told him he'd left it upstairs. Eventually, like a student caught without his homework, Clinton came clean that he had misplaced the biscuit and that America was defenseless against nuclear attack.

"Hey, at least I told the truth this time. I totally almost fucked our country."

In Clinton's defense, the Cold War was over, so really who cares if you can launch a bunch of missiles at Russia. The same can't be said for Jimmy Carter, who allegedly left the biscuit in his suit when it was sent out for dry-cleaning. Even the hawkish Republicans have been known to lose track. In 1975, while presiding over a Peace Conference in Paris, the White House was too busy puzzling over that wacky long French bread and misplaced the Nuclear Doomsday Football. Ford's press secretary recalls, "It was one of those things: 'Didn't you bring the football? No, I thought you had the football.'"

When briefing the newly elected President Carter on the use of the football, a military attache opened the case to show the president the suitcase that can destroy the world. Much to his horror, inside the case full of sensitive electronic gadgetry somebody in the Ford administration had placed an empty beer can and a "large condom used by horse breeders."

There's nothing like a little drunken bestiality to go along with your apocalypse.

After WWII, it didn't take long for the Brits to build their own nuclear arsenal, but the English were always serious about their WMD and always kept them under the most intense security. In fact, the Brits never even had codes for their nuclear weapons. They had something much more secure: an English gentleman's honor. Their military never included fail-safes on their nuclear weapons, and kept them secured behind a bike lock. Asked why they were so trusting, officials gave the most British answer ever: "It would be invidious to suggest ... that senior Service officers may, in difficult circumstances, act in defiance of their clear orders."

"Oh my ... that's very poor form."

Read more of Yosomono at his headquarters at the GaijinAss Web page or follow him on Twitter @GaijinAss.

For more ways planet earth was (and is) endangered, check out Nuke the Moon: 5 Certifiably Insane Cold War Projects and 5 Ways The World Could End (You'd Never See Coming).

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