I don't think we should unfairly criticize Infinity
's school teacher if some of the details of his scenario aren't realistic. Tom Clancy
's The Sum of All Fears
(which must be read to be believed -- don't bother with the movie, its a waste of time) gives scenarios such as this all the realism they need. In the book, the Soviet Union
hasn't fallen and is in the throes
of reform. Old school Communists
are still a force to be reckoned with in Soviet politics. Meanwhile, a Middle Eastern terrorist explodes a nuclear bomb at the Superbowl
. Our NEST
teams, the NORAD
satellite imagery experts, etc. mis-read the infrared signature
of the explosion (due to snow
cover and the heat radiation properties of the asphalt parking lot
where it exploded -- like I said, the book has incredible detail for the sci/eng geek
in all of us!) and conclude (incorrectly as it turns out) it must have been a megaton rather than a kiloton bomb and therefore too sophisticated to be the work of terrorists.
Mean-meanwhile, a US aircraft carrier is patrolling in the Med. Because the US and the USSR are both de-commissioning a significant portion of its nuclear weapons, but still don't entirely trust each other, The Big Plan For The Unthinkable is being updated on a weekly basis, creating some confusion. For example, as nukes that are designated part of the strategic deterrent force are destroyed, other nukes that would normally be designated as theater weapons (i.e. to be used tactically in a specific area) are temporarily designated as strategic. So when an unidentified fighter aircraft blunders near the carrier, the carrier commander has to treat it not just as a threat to the carrier, but as a possible gambit to preemptively destroy a component of the US strategic nuclear force. In the fog of war, and given the nuke had just exploded in the US, he can't afford the delay needed to identify the plane, so he destroys it with an over-the-horizon air to air missile. He then reports to the National Command Authority who now believe they have confirmation that the nuclear explosion wasn't an isolated incident...go ahead, read the book for the rest.
My point to this is, it doesn't matter that the teacher simplified the story for the kiddies...something like that could happen with only a modest amount of bad luck.
I was born in 1966, and came of age in the 80's. The fear of The Unthinkable was real, and when Reagan and Gorbachev agreed to start dismantling those damn things instead of building more, we all felt much, much better.
Now if only we had spent the 90's building Reagan's missile shield, and if it worked, AND we had some way of detecting the emissions of a bomb in a shipping container, we might be able to get rid of even more of them. Something to think about...
If you're still not convinced, talk to someone who was a parent or a high school student during the Cuban Missle Crisis. You can be sure most of them went through drills as described above, and many expected to hear long claxon and "this is not a drill" at any time...