Chain of Command

The ear-piercing siren seemed to make the very ground shake. Just hearing this shrill alarm would have been enough to make a person’s heart leap, but the monitoring team at the North American Aerospace Defense Command were doubly shaken because they knew what this sound meant. It was early November in 1979 and the large underground military complex had settled into another day’s routine, monitoring screens, doing office work, overseeing the nuclear wing of the US defenses. But now all the screens were showing a nuclear attack underway and the whole unit was abuzz with shock and anxiety. Was the Soviet Union sending nuclear warheads their way? Was the whole world about to erupt in a nuclear holocaust? Was this the beginning of the end of the world as they knew it? The team instantly swung into action. The chain of command was quickly notified. Since the Commander-in-Chief was President Jimmy Carter, they were about to phone him immediately to ask if they should engage with their own nuclear arsenal.

               But after a quick investigation, they realized that all the other radars in the facility weren’t showing an attack. After double checking all their information, they finally decided it was a false alarm. And a while later, they discovered what had happened. For training exercises, they had a library of training tapes that they used to simulate emergencies. Earlier that day, someone had accidentally put one of these tapes, which happened to simulate an all-out nuclear attack, into the computer and the computer had presented it as a real scenario. On November 9, 1979, nuclear shots were almost fired because of a misplaced training tape (“Nuclear ‘Command and Control’). Mistakes happen all the time, but a mistake in dealing with crucial information can have serious consequences.

               We as humans aren’t perfect, but we do have responsibilities that to one extent or another affect other people. The ripple effects may be big or little depending on the situation. That’s why Scripture urges us to have a wise sense of planning and reckoning when it comes to counting our ability and resources in the face of any mission. But in the midst of all these chains of events, we can also take comfort in the knowledge that God is still supervising events. We have a mighty Heavenly Commander whose hand is still on the wheel of history for “He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.” (Daniel 2:21) Our lives can factor into a purposeful plan, if we allow Christ to shape His character in us. Listen to how Paul puts it: I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:3-6)


NPR. “Nuclear ‘Command and Control’: A History of False Alarms and Near Catastrophes.” Fresh Air, August 11, 2014,