USA 2020 Elections: Thread

grarpamp grarpamp at
Sat Aug 28 01:45:47 PDT 2021

Harold L. Hering (born 1936)[1] is a former officer of the United
States Air Force, who was discharged in 1975 for requesting basic
information about checks and balances to prevent an unauthorized order
to launch nuclear missiles.[2] Major Hering was subsequently presented
the 2017 Courage of Conscience Award at the Peace Abbey, Boston,


Hering served six tours of duty in Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast
Asia. Hering received the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star
Medal, and Air Medal with eight Oak leaf clusters for his work in
Vietnam flying helicopters.[3]

Hering served in the Vietnam War as part of the Air Rescue Service.[2]
Twenty-one years into his Air Force career, while serving as a
Minuteman missile crewman and expecting a promotion to lieutenant
colonel,[2] he posed the following question during training at
Vandenberg Air Force Base in late 1973, at a time when Richard Nixon
was president:[4]

    How can I know that an order I receive to launch my missiles came
from a sane president?

The Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) specifies that, when the
National Command Authority (NCA) issues an order to use nuclear
weapons, the order will filter down the chain of command. Per the
SIOP, decision-making is the responsibility of the NCA, not of
officers lower in the chain of command, who are responsible for
executing NCA decisions. To ensure no opportunity for execution by a
rogue operator, the two-man rule requires that at each stage, two
operators independently verify and agree that the order is valid. In
the case of the Minuteman missile, this is done by comparing the
authorization code in the launch order against the code in the Sealed
Authenticator, a special sealed envelope which holds the code; if both
operators agree that the code matches, the launch must be executed.

In 1978, journalist Ron Rosenbaum wrote a 15,000-word article in
Harper's Magazine about the nuclear command and control system in
which he publicized the case of Hering.[5] Rosenbaum later wrote that
Hering's question exposed a flaw in the very foundation of this
doctrine, and asked "What if [the president's] mind is deranged,
disordered, even damagingly intoxicated? ... Can he launch despite
displaying symptoms of imbalance? Is there anything to stop him?"[4]
Rosenbaum says[4] that the answer is that launch would indeed be
possible: to this day, the nuclear fail-safe protocols for executing
commands are entirely concerned with the president's identity, not his
sanity. The president alone authorizes a nuclear launch and the
two-man rule does not apply to him.[6]

Hering was pulled from training and, unable to receive a reply to his
satisfaction, requested reassignment to different duties. Instead, the
Air Force issued an administrative discharge for "failure to
demonstrate acceptable qualities of leadership".[3] Hering appealed
the discharge, and at the Air Force Board of Inquiry, the Air Force
stated that knowing whether or not a launch order is lawful is beyond
the executing officer's need to know. Hering replied:

    I have to say, I feel I do have a need to know, because I am a
human being. It is inherent in an officer's commission that he has to
do what is right in terms of the needs of the nation despite any
orders to the contrary. You really don't know at the time of key
turning, whether you are complying with your oath of office.

The Board of Inquiry ruled that Hering be discharged from the Air
Force.[7] After his discharge, Hering became at first a long-haul
trucker, and then a counselor.[2][8]

Hering was profiled in the Radiolab episode "Nukes". In the episode he
refuted the characterization by General Russell E. Dougherty of his
statements. According to Dougherty, Hering's assertions that he would
readily turn keys (to launch the nuclear missiles) if so ordered had
always been qualified by subjective conditions expressing his own
judgment of the validity of the order. Hering insisted, on the
contrary, that he had always expressed a commitment to follow orders,
but that if he was not informed about the checks and balances of
presidential decision making that he assumed had to exist, he would do
so with a conflicted conscience. He said, "I think it's an affront to
play the game of you don't have the 'need to know' for someone who's
doing one of the most serious, grave jobs that there is in the armed

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