By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – Let’s face it, we just love to be scared, no matter what the actual extent of the threat in question really is.

Overreaction to potential risk is a popular national pastime.

And unfortunately, we in the media too often respond to this cultural instinct by feeding you horror stories that just don’t live up to their billing – think the hidden danger in your toilet bowl, or the invisible horror lurking on that hotel-room bedspread.

The 48 hours of frenzy that have followed President Trump’s foolish nuclear sabre-rattling don’t quite fall into that category – after all, with nuclear war there’s zero margin for error.

But quite a few folks do seem freaked out by the nuke talk.

So let me take a stab at reassuring those who actually want to be reassured.

The military power of the commander-in-chief, while formidable, is not absolute, and never has been.

Should a president wander too close to the precipice of disaster, there is ample reason to think that saner adults around him would step in.

During the last days of the Nixon administration, with the president in emotional meltdown, the secretary of defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff took steps to make sure, as the Washington Post reported, “no orders were given to military units outside the normal chain of command.”

And just a few days ago the AP reported that Generals Mattis and Kelly “agreed in the earliest weeks of Trump’s presidency that one of them should remain in the United States at all times to keep tabs on…orders…from the White House.”

So, don’t freak out too much.

Saner heads are on hand, and can be counted on to prevail.

We hope.

Listen to Jon’s commentary:

Comments (2)
  1. Ah, Jon…You are beginning to sound like Alexander Haig.

  2. Joseph Wrinn says:

    There is a lot to freak out about here, Jon. Sorry to disagree. The destructive power of nuclear weapons is unimaginable. The explosive power of one pound of uranium is equivalent to about 10 million pounds of chemical based high explosives (TNT or C4), or in other terms 500 MOABs. Our typical nuclear bombs have much more than 1 pound of uranium in them… And from the latest reports it sounds like North Korea has about 60 of these horrible weapons.

    I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. What got us through that was cool heads on both sides. Both Kennedy and Khrushchev were veterans of WW 2. Both witnessed and understood the fog of war and the mistakes and accidents that can lead to unintended escalation. Both mistrusted the optimistic forecasts of their generals. And neither wanted to be remembered for causing hundreds of millions of deaths. Communication flowed through multiple channels, and a politically acceptable solution for both sides was eventually found.

    What concerns me here the most is that the two people at the top on both sides do not have these experiences. Neither leader is a student of history. Neither leader has served in the military in combat.

    I hope you’re right that both leaders are surrounded by calmer minds. I hope they do not see this as a zero sum game. Everyone loses in a nuclear exchange.

    I believe that Potus, by the way, has the sole discretionary power to use nuclear weapons. His order to do so has to be verified by another person, but that person is only a verification that the order came from the President. He or she does not have to say they agree with the order.

    Anyway, I think there is a whole lot to freak out about.

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