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Vote a. Number for Air Force Service

Part of Orders of the Day — Air Estimates, 1962–63 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th March 1962.

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Photo of Mr Konni Zilliacus Mr Konni Zilliacus , Manchester, Gorton 12:00 am, 12th March 1962

I will come to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. The Secretary of State had the grace, however, to admit that the danger of war by what he called "miscalculation" increased as the arms race proceeds. Miscalculation applies to both sides, and not just to one. And apart from miscalculation, there may be the risk of accident, a technical or administrative accident, for an error can occur in either field. There was a technical error when the moon rose somewhere over Ultima Thule, off Greenland, and set off atomic air raid alarms. Then a communication line broke down, so that they could not send the call-back signal. There was quite a flap at S.A.C. headquarters before the matter could be straightened out. That was a technical error. An administrative error is when a subordinate misinterprets or disobeys an order because he thinks he knows better than his superior, like when French officers dropped bombs in Tunis unknown to their superiors.

A further example is when the American Secretary of State for Defence, Mr. James Forrestal, went off his head while on holiday in Florida and rushed into the night shouting "The Reds are coming" when a fire alarm went off. He had resigned the week before through nervous strain and the press button system had not been developed as it has been today. But I should hate to think of the possibilities there are today in that direction.

When the Under-Secretary tells us, in the midst of the greatest arms race in history, When we are piling up deadly weapons that could destroy humanity thirty times over, and getting ready to use them at the drop of a hat, that this ensures our safety and enables us to sleep in our beds, I must say that I find it difficult to find any language to express my feelings fit to be used in the precincts of this House.