In the aftermath of World War II, the US and the USSR armed themselves to the teeth with nuclear weapons and ICBMs to deliver them. Baby Boomers grew up expecting World War III to begin any minute, and of course it would be nuclear. And the more weapons at the ready, the more the possibility is that something unexpected could go wrong. What if some other country had a revolution and the new government took over the American missiles staged there? What if some power-hungry general wanted to launch his own war? What if there were a false report of a strike against the US? In 1962, President Kennedy signed an order that would put a numeric code on every nuclear missile to ensure that only authorized launches could be carried out.
However, though the devices were supposed to be fitted on every nuclear missile after JFK issued his memorandum, the military continually dragged its heels on the matter. In fact, it was noted that a full 20 years after JFK had order PALs be fitted to every nuclear device, half of the missiles in Europe were still protected by simple mechanical locks. Most that did have the new system in place weren’t even activated until 1977.
Those in the U.S. that had been fitted with the devices, such as ones in the Minuteman Silos, were installed under the close scrutiny of Robert McNamara, JFK’s Secretary of Defence. However, The Strategic Air Command greatly resented McNamara’s presence and almost as soon as he left, the code to launch the missile’s, all 50 of them, was set to 00000000.
The military's reasoning was that a code just made waging war more difficult. Read the whole story behind the shenanigans at Today I Found Out. -Thanks, Daniel Kim!
(Image credit: Jeff Keyzer)