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Some of you may have seen this already; the Dallas Morning News published this four days ago, but if you’ve got a Sunday morning free to read, this is gripping. It’s a really well-researched account of George H. W. Bush’s role in the days after Reagan was shot.
Whenever I see a good, in-depth article like this called a “longread” by the paper it’s in, I sigh–this was once the length of any good piece of investigative reporting. Its very hard to say anything new or useful about something like this in fewer words.
Anyway, that was your daily middle-aged kvetch about kids these days and their short attention spans. Lots in this piece I’d never known before, and lots of details struck me as evidence of how much has changed since then. This is an event I remember vividly, but to many Americans alive now, I guess it’s just history, something that happened before they were born:.
In the middle of Haig’s Briefing Room operetta, a disturbing piece of intelligence was passed to Weinberger. The two Soviet subs that normally patrolled an area off the East Coast called “the box” had multiplied and become four submarines.
It was the end of the month. The two new subs were merely taking over the patrol area. The first two would soon depart.
But Weinberger took no chances. He requested the “fly times.” Distance of an adversary’s subs was measured in the amount of time it would take a missile to fly to Washington.
The answer came back that one sub had significantly shortened its fly time. The Soviet captain could obliterate Washington in 10 minutes and 57 seconds. “At that range, it wasn’t a ballistic trajectory,” said Allen, “it was a lob shot.”
Weinberger ordered 249 bomber crews in the Strategic Air Command to get to their alert rooms. Should they need to get airborne, the move would save three minutes. About 4:25 p.m., Haig returned, having just told the press “there were absolutely no alert measures that are necessary at this time or contemplated.”
Hearing the new reality, he lit into Weinberger. “Cap, I’m not a liar,” he said.
“I said there had been no [alert].”
“Well, I didn’t know you were going up there,” Weinberger replied. “Once you get the additional information, which I got about the one sub being closer than is normal, then it seemed prudent to me to save three or four minutes.”
I find it hard to imagine anyone in that position now having such a commitment to keeping the public truthfully informed as to light into the Secretary of Defense for having allowed him to tell the public something untrue–even when that was entirely inadvertent And I also remain amazed that Haig didn’t know the constitutional order of succession:
A retired four-star general, Haig had once been the second-highest-ranking person in the Army. But in the Situation Room, he seemed completely unaware that Weinberger outranked him. The secretary of defense also carries the title of deputy commander in chief. In the National Command Authority, he is superseded only by the president.
“The moment until the vice president actually arrives here, the command authority is what I have,” Weinberger explained, “and I have to make sure that it is essential that we do everything that seems proper.”
Haig chuckled smugly and mumbled something about the Constitution. “Hmmm?” Weinberger asked.
“Well, you better read the Constitution,” Haig repeated.
Anyway, enjoy. Anyone else out there who remembers it? What do you remember?