What is it about nuclear Admirals?

By day, Vice-Admiral Timothy Giardina was one of the US Navy’s most senior figures – as deputy head of US Strategic Command, he was number two in command of America’s nuclear arsenal.

But by night, at the Horseshoe casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa, he was known as Navy Tim, a heavy gambler who was accused of making his own $500 poker chips and eventually banned.

Hmm, not so good. But there does seem to be a thing about Admirals from the nuclear side. I know of one who, err, moved on, after decking a naval Captain in the middle of Dulles Airport. Fella deserved it n’all but it’s rather one of things that isn’t supposed to be done. Not when in full uniform at least…..

20 thoughts on “What is it about nuclear Admirals?”

  1. Weird – this sort of thing is sort of widespread among those guarding our nuclear arsenal (as distinct from those in the Navy running our vessel’s nuclear reactors).

    I sort of expected it from the Air Force officers – with SAC stood down and the LBM’s an afterthought you have a lot of bright guy’s with potential sidelined.

  2. Though I think its mainly that the requirements for these jobs have remained the same – on paper – the number of people who want these positions has declined with the declining prestige and importance of our nuclear arsenal.

    Having an SD is important, but we’re not in MAD territory anymore – no-one can claim that the nukes are all that stand between us and Russian domination.

  3. Could be the psych profile. Gifted STEM mind and the ability to live in close quarters with 120 men for up to 6 months at at a time. Not your “normal” run-of-the-mill executive psycho.

  4. A mate of mine in the Royal Marines who is rocketting his way to the top by virtue of him shooting enemies as opposed to arse-licking once filled in a padre on an RN destroyer when in harbour in Dubai. He didn’t mean to, but having come home blind drunk fell asleep in the wrong bunk, then pissed in the wastepaper bin, and when the bed’s owner objected he got himself filled in for his troubles. My friend was awfully apologetic the next day.

    Another funny story I heard from some lads during their passout at Lympstone. Several years before there was a chap in the batch with a bit of a reputation. During the passout party he was there with his missus and she made some derogatory remark at a fellow marine officer. Her husband took mock offence and demanded she apologised, which she did. And her husband said that this was not good enough, and perhaps she should take this chap and apologise “properly” in his quarters. After much puzzlement from the other marine, off the two of them went to the husband’s room (the wife was in on the act). The story goes that the husband stayed at the bar drinking for half an hour or so before bursting into the room wearing only a pair of elbow-length rubber gloves shouting “Somebody’s been a naughty girl!” at which point the first marine exited sharp left. According to legend, this chap became a household name in the papers as a senior officer in Iraq or Afghanistan.

  5. It’s the incessant tension. In theory you don’t need to worry until DEFCON tells you to. But in practice any sensible enemy will game that, meaning you could get a launch order any second. After a decade of that you go quietly nuts.
    And, Agammamon, the risk of a nuclear exchange is rising. It’s not high, but when the Ukraine hots up, as it will, things will get tense.

  6. Well I managed to live with 5 other guys in a bin the size of a 1/4 (approx) tube carriage without having any urge to start WW3. Of course, it helped that a) I was making a shed load of money and b) I knew it was for a max of 30 days.

    One of the reasons, perhaps, that we escaped MAD, was the lingering doubt in the Kremlin and White House as to whether, given the order to launch, all the folk would follow the orders. I’m fairly sure that I wouldn’t have.

    Perhaps, then, the Navy deliberately selected submarine commanders with sociopathic tendencies. Once a psycho, always a psycho, hence these incidents.

  7. Bloke in Germany in Hong Kong

    The risk of a nuclear exchange remains at nil, Ukraine notwithstanding. It won’t happen, thus risk is nil. This is one of those rare weird things for which risk really can only take the values 0 or 1.

    The more likely thing is that a missile is accidentally set off from the ageing, decrepit, and badly-maintained, poorly-managed arsenal of the , er, USA. And triggers WW3 by accident.

  8. I heard a Radio 4 programme where, if I remember rightly, 3 ex nuke submarine captains played out a scenario where they had lost contact with UK command and had to decide whether to fire their missiles at the enemy.

    Again if I remember rightly, 2 out of the 3 said they wouldn’t fire even if the UK might have been totally flattened.

    So much for deterrence!

  9. “So much for deterrence!” The third one is the deterrent.

    But don’t we only ever have 1 Trident sub at sea at any one time, so that this exercise would imply that 2/3rds of the time we would not fire our missiles even if the UK might have been totally nuked?

  10. bf, dm

    It’s the uncertainty. From Cuba to that loony who landed his plane on Red Square there have been many alerts, fortunately none over the limit of retaliation.

    If I was a warehouseman on a sub and asked to arm a rocket, I’d make an excuse and leave. (Easier done on the News of the World than in a sub, of course.) But I’d be conflicted in the same way as my opponent:

    A. I’ve taken the Queen’s shilling, I do my duty.
    B. They are attacking my country, family, fiends, culture. They deserve it.
    C. I’m a grunt, following orders.

    Trouble is
    D. Following orders is not an excuse in law or eternity.
    E. If my country is already a crisp, what’s the point?
    F. Winner doesn’t take all. This is not a battlefield decision, this is a decision to kill enormous numbers of women and children.

    Von Neumann and others invented game theory to model these scenarios, but like all models they are simplifications, in the real world there are a bunch of prisoners in each cell of the prisoners’ dilemma-

  11. So Much for Subtlety

    bloke in france – “One of the reasons, perhaps, that we escaped MAD, was the lingering doubt in the Kremlin and White House as to whether, given the order to launch, all the folk would follow the orders. I’m fairly sure that I wouldn’t have.”

    There was at least one Soviet malfunction which showed that America had launched. But the Soviet duty officer, with no evidence to go on but a gut feeling, refused to believe it and ordered all the missiles to stand down. For which he was sacked I believe. There is a website where you can contribute to his tiny pension in thanks that he did not fry the world.

    “Perhaps, then, the Navy deliberately selected submarine commanders with sociopathic tendencies. Once a psycho, always a psycho, hence these incidents.”

    I suspect a lot of great commanders have sociopathic tendencies. Montgomery set one of his fellow cadets on fire. Paton was clearly a lunatic. But in the case of the nuclear weapons, it is more that the process is diffuse and well rehearsed. You do it over and over again in training so that it becomes automatic. You don’t have to be a sociopath. Just well trained.

    BraveFart – “I heard a Radio 4 programme where, if I remember rightly, 3 ex nuke submarine captains played out a scenario where they had lost contact with UK command and had to decide whether to fire their missiles at the enemy.”

    But that is not a realistic situation. They are on Radio 4. They are not in the submarine. They are not serving. They know their wives and neighbours are listening. It has nothing to do with what they would do if they were at sea and their officers and men were their only audience.

    Mind you, when Reagan made it to the White House, he looked at the studies and the SIOPs and he is supposed to have said he did not think he could order a launch under any conditions. His staff told him that for God’s sake he was not to tell anyone ever.

    bloke in france – “F. Winner doesn’t take all. This is not a battlefield decision, this is a decision to kill enormous numbers of women and children.”

    The problem is that a counter-value strategy of hitting their armed forces rather than their cities is best done first and with surprise. And followed up by a ground invasion. So the alternative really is worse.

  12. “when Reagan made it to the White House”: that’s why he was so keen to end the Cold War. As far as I know, he didn’t particularly expect to win it; his intention was to end it.

  13. @ b(n)is
    No it is totally different.
    Well trained means being able to do your job in all sorts of circumstances. For an amateur boxer it means taking *not* to hurt the novice who has been put in the ring to spar with you – the opposite of what a sociopath would do. So as a not-very-good amateur boxer I could spar with, to learn from, guys one or two or three or five stone heavier.

  14. refused to believe it and ordered all the missiles to stand down. For which he was sacked I believe. There is a website where you can contribute to his tiny pension in thanks that he did not fry the world.

    citation, website? please SMFS-
    I’d contribute my widower’s mite if so.

    For psychos you can’t beat Alexander’s generals. Inheriting huge taxes (Egypt, Lebanon, Mesopotomia) they were still fighting each other at the age of seventy. It’s what nutters do. And what modern armies try to avoid.

  15. bloke (not) in spain

    No john77. SMfS’s presumably referring to the adult world of military service, not kid’s games. Although killing someone, because a bigger boy told you to do so, doesn’t make it that adult.

  16. So Much for Subtlety

    bloke (not) in spain – “isn’t that the same thing?”

    Well obviously not. Do I really need to explain that?

    bloke in france – “citation, website? please SMFS-
    I’d contribute my widower’s mite if so.”

    Ian Morris, War! What is it good for? Conflict and progress of civilization from primates to robots, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014, pp. 3-5

    ….I had no idea that two thousand miles away, Stanislav Petrov was deciding whether to kill me.
    Petrov was the deputry chrif for combat algorithms at Serpukhov-15, the nerve center of the Soviet Union’s early-warning system. …. A red bulb blinked into life on the giant map of the Northern Hemisphere that filled one wall of the control room. It signaled that a missile had been launched from Montana.
    Above the map, red letters came to life, spelling out the worst word Petrov knew: “LAUNCH”
    Computers checked and double-checked their data. Again the red lights flashed, this time with more certainty: “LAUNCH – HIGH RELIABILITY.”

    Petrov’s job was to follow the rules, to run all the mandated tests for malfunctions, but there was no time for any of that. He had to decide whether the world was about to end.
    He picked up the phone. “I am reporting to you,” he said to the duty officer at the other end. He tried to sound matter-of-fact. “This is a false alarm.”

    Worth reading the whole account.

    The website is http://www.brightstar.com

    bloke (not) in spain – “Although killing someone, because a bigger boy told you to do so, doesn’t make it that adult.”

    But that is the point about the process being diffuse. You are not killing anyone. You are turning that key, pressing those buttons, flicking this switch. You step back from it.

  17. bloke (not) in spain

    @SMfS
    “Well obviously not. Do I really need to explain that?”

    Well yes, you do rather.

    “But that is the point about the process being diffuse. You are not killing anyone. You are turning that key, pressing those buttons, flicking this switch. You step back from it.”

    Bit like operating the gas chamber in a concentration camp, then?

    Isn’t it about time we admitted the whole point of the military is to turn perfectly sane people into sociopaths? If they aren’t already. Always has been.

    Who else would “step back” from mega-deaths?

  18. So Much for Subtlety

    bloke (not) in spain – “Well yes, you do rather.”

    No I don’t think I do. Actually.

    “Bit like operating the gas chamber in a concentration camp, then?”

    Well no. That involved dropping the crystals directly into the chamber. The people doing it could see and hear. It is like the gas chamber as it is used in the US to execute people. The electric chair too.

    “Isn’t it about time we admitted the whole point of the military is to turn perfectly sane people into sociopaths? If they aren’t already. Always has been.”

    No I don’t think it is. Because it isn’t.

    “Who else would “step back” from mega-deaths?”

    People who are not sociopaths? A real sociopath would not need the distance. It may be that the planners are a tad sociopathic, but all the evidence is that the soldiers are perfectly fine.

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