Nukes

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President Richard Nixon once boasted that at any moment he could pick up a telephone and - in 20 minutes - kill 60 million people. Such is the power of the US President over the nation’s nuclear arsenal. But what if you were the military officer on the receiving end of that phone call? Could you refuse the order?

This episode, we profile one Air Force Major who asked that question back in the 1970s and learn how the very act of asking it was so dangerous it derailed his career. We also pick up the question ourselves and pose it to veterans both high and low on the nuclear chain of command. Their responses reveal once and for all whether there are any legal checks and balances between us and a phone call for Armageddon.

Reported by Latif Nasser. Produced by Annie McEwen and Simon Adler with production help from Arianne Wack.

Special thanks to: Elaine Scarry, Sam Kean, Ron Rosenbaum, Lisa Perry, Ryan Furtkamp, Robin Perry, Thom Woodroofe, Doreen de Brum, Jackie Conley, Sean Malloy, Ray Peter, Jack D’Annibale, Ryan Pettigrew at the Nixon Presidential Library and Samuel Rushay at the Truman Presidential Library.

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