Hawaiians woke up for breakfast this morning to a spine-tingling message. The U.S. military’s Pacific Command had sent out an emergency public warning of an incoming missile from North Korea. And, it said, “This is not a drill.”
There was an interval of some minutes when Hawaiians and visitors asked each other what to do. They did not at all dismiss the message. It was no phony — it had come from the Pacific Command. They also had no idea how to take shelter or what else to do. Someone advised, “close the windows.” Travelers went to grab identification documents.
Then an all-clear went out from several sources. One of the first evidently came from U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. As one wag cracked, “the trip to the breakfast room turned into a trip to the bar,” notwithstanding the early hour. Slowly – with many deep sighs of relief and thoughts about what war would be like – the panic subsided.
The instant reactions concerned, naturally enough, individual feelings and reactions, and some talk that the emergency authorities should get some advice ready for such an instance.
But, for those of us who were familiar with Cold War scenarios, as depicted both in the press and in such non-classified works as Fail-Safe (the actual machinery being highly classified), the incident sheds light on the perils of President Trump’s current bellicose exchanges with North Korea.
For one thing, the U.S. military may be so on edge that it can generate false warnings of a ballistic missile attack. By traditional practice, such a warning should go through levels of authentication and approval before going out. Apparently, that control system broke down. Very possibly, the U.S. military is on a hair-trigger alert basis about North Korea, at least in some respects.
This may very well apply not just to warnings to civilians, but to instructions to Air Force and Navy operations, both offensive and defensive. In fact, defensive operations, namely anti-missile commands, function best when they take out a North Korean missile before it gets up above the atmosphere. This means anti-missile batteries must get ready to fire within a couple of minutes – just a handful, not very many. That means that anything North Korean that cannot be ruled out as a ballistic missile might cause an attempt to instantly take it out, before time for second thoughts.