army

Topics: Safe deposit box, World War II, Nuclear weapon Pages: 7 (829 words) Published: November 18, 2013
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THESPECTATOR SCRUTINIZINGCULTURE.

JAN.920095:12PM
The Letter of Last
Resort

The decision about nuclear
apocalypse lying in a safe at the
bottom of the sea.

By Ron Rosenbaum

Royal Navy nuclear submarine

The secret in the safe deposit box. That
recurring image: I've found it fascinating
and somewhat mysterious that, again and
again, the mythic, apocryphal keys to some
of the great mysteries of our time are said
to be locked away in long-lost, deeply
buried, or well-hidden safe deposit boxes.
Or in locked safes with combinations or
locations unknown.

Ron Rosenbaum is the author of The Shakespeare
Wars and Explaining Hitler. His latest book is How
the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World
War III.

When I was researching Explaining Hitler, I
would often find that some crucial
document—the 1931 Munich prosecutor's
investigation of the death of Hitler's half-niece (and rumored sexual obsession) Geli Raubal, for instance, or the memoir of
Hitler's hypnotherapist at a World War I
military sanitarium; both documents said
to offer hidden truths about Hitler's psyche
had purportedly been secreted away, and
subsequently lost, in Swiss safe deposit
boxes.

Then, more recently, the manuscript of The
Original of Laura, Vladimir Nabokov's final,
unfinished novel, the one he wanted
burned, was, we were told by his son
Dmitri, locked away in ... a Swiss safe
deposit box.

And now, in the course of researching a
book on the new face of nuclear warfare, I
came upon an astonishing reference to a
"Last Resort Letter," a literally apocalyptic
missive secreted in a safe within a safe,
deep beneath the surface of the ocean, a
Letter of Last Resort containing the orders
for—or against—Armageddon.

Why the recurrence of the image of some
valuable truth hidden in an inaccessible
safe? My theory is that it allows us to
believe that certain truths do exist: They're
just forever locked away from our grasp. A
thought both comforting and disturbing.

In the case of the Letter of Last Resort, the
reference turns out to be factual: At this
very moment, miles beneath the surface of
the ocean, there is a British nuclear
submarine carrying powerful ICBMs
(nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic
missiles). In the control room of the sub,
the Daily Mailreports, "there is a safe
attached to a control room floor. Inside
that, there is an inner safe. And inside that
sits a letter. It is addressed to the
submarine commander and it is from the
Prime Minister. In that letter, Gordon
Brown conveys the most awesome
decision of his political career ... and none
of us is ever likely to know what he
decided."

The decision? Whether or not to fire the
sub's missiles, capable of causing
genocidal devastation in retaliation for an
attack that would—should the safe and the
letter need to be opened—have already
visited nuclear destruction on Great Britain.
The letter containing the prime minister's
posthumous decision (assuming he would
have been vaporized by the initial attack on
the homeland) is known as the Last Resort
Letter.

Its existence was highlighted a little more
than a month ago by two reporters for the
United Kingdom's respected BBC Radio 4
in a report called "The Human Button," an
investigation of the nuclear-launch
decision-making process. * Their report
first appeared in print in the Nov. 30 issue
of the Daily Mail; the documentary was
broadcast two days later.

You didn't know about the Letter of Last
Resort? Neither did I. I've never
encountered anything like it...
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