I was back at the shack, beside myself with angst, reading to Swamp Rabbit about a catastrophe that almost happened a half-century ago:
A secret document, published in declassified form for the first time by the Guardian today, reveals that the US Air Force came dramatically close to detonating an atom bomb over North Carolina that would have been 260 times more powerful than the device that devastated Hiroshima.
The document, obtained by the investigative journalist Eric Schlosser under the Freedom of Information Act, gives the first conclusive evidence that the US was narrowly spared a disaster of monumental proportions when two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs were accidentally dropped over Goldsboro, North Carolina on 23 January 1961. The bombs fell to earth after a B-52 bomber broke up in mid-air, and one of the devices behaved precisely as a nuclear weapon was designed to behave in warfare: its parachute opened, its trigger mechanisms engaged, and only one low-voltage switch prevented untold carnage.
I reminded the rabbit that we live a hop and a skip from Philadelphia. The bomb might have wiped out Philly and the rest of the mid-Atlantic region faster than you could say “Duck and cover.”
“‘Almost’ don’t count,” the rabbit said. He was drinking Wild Turkey and Coke, a rustic concoction that brings out the philosopher in him. “The Germans almost took Stalingrad. Dylan almost died in a motorcycle accident. What’s your point, Odd Man?”
I threw an empty bottle of Guinness at him and said, “The point is that real life is stranger than fiction. Even Stanley Kubrick, in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, couldn’t have made up a story this strange. If not for one measly switch, that bomb would have gone off.”
The rabbit gulped his drink, spilling some on his greasy coat, and said, “So what, Odd Man? If the bomb had gone off, then you wouldn’t be sitting here worrying out loud like some old lady with rheumatism. That was Kubrick’s point, don’t you know? In an absurd world, why worry?”
I watched the Guinness bottle bobbing in the swamp and said, “You stupid rodent. Dr. Strangelove was a cautionary tale. Kubrick was trying to wise people up to the danger of nuclear war.”
“Dr. Strangelove was a comedy,” he said. “Ain’t no way nobody like you could have done nothin’ about no nuclear war, not when the Cold War was on. You might just as well laugh. If you want to worry, then worry about where you’re gonna sell them stories you write. Worry about where you gonna git money for food now that there ain’t no jobs.”
I almost tossed him in the swamp by his ears but resisted the urge. What good is angst if you don’t have an audience for it?