Big Red: Three Months On Board a Trident Nuclear Submarine

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9780060194840: Big Red: Three Months On Board a Trident Nuclear Submarine

The Trident nuclear submarine is the most complex war machine the United States Navy has ever produced, a $1.8 billion marvel crammed with more modern military technology than any other vessel in the world. It is an 18,750-ton steel monster, taller in length than the Washington Monument and wider than a three-lane highway at its center. Deep beneath the ocean, it can sail silently for months, prectically impossible to detect by the enemy. And the twenty-four ballistic missiles on board just one of these subs have enough strategic nuclear warheads to unleash twice the explosive energy detonated by all the conventional weapons in World War II.

Now, for the first time, veteran Time magazine correspondent Douglas C. Waller takes you on a tension-packed, three-month patrol deep in the Atlantic Ocean and inside one of these Tridents, the U.S.S. Nebraska. Granted more access to these awesome submarines than any journalist before, Waller penetrates one of the most secretive worlds in the U.S. Military.

The Cold War may be over, but the U.S. Navy still has Tridents lurking the oceans, always ready at a moment's notice to unleash a nuclear holocaust. In chilling detail, Big Red reveals the top-secret procedures for starting World War II -- the secret codes, the elaborate fail-safe mechanisms, the highly classified battle tactics for nuclear combat.

This book takes you into this closed society as a witness to secret rituals and life experience where submarines, underwater for months, hope never to unleash the destructive power they command.

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Review:

Big Red might have been subtitled The Anthropology of a Submarine. On these pages, Time magazine correspondent Douglas C. Waller--granted surprising levels of access by the Pentagon--describes life onboard the USS Nebraska, a Trident nuclear submarine, in compelling detail. Big Red lacks the thrills of Blind Man's Bluff, but it is nonetheless an engrossing book on the routines of the silent service.

The Nebraska is an awesome triumph of military engineering: standing on end, it would be taller than the Washington Monument. And its might is impressive, including missiles that could wipe out Moscow and torpedoes "with three times the explosive power of the 1995 blast that leveled the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City." Readers will gain an intimate understanding of how the Trident works without ever having to set foot on one themselves. Waller has an uncanny sense of what questions to probe, such as why Trident submariners aren't likely to drown in claustrophobic compartments--a staple scene in submarine movies. (Answer: Flooding would cause the sub to sink, and then crushing water pressure would end the ordeal before the air ran out.) And yet movies are more than diversions, writes Waller: "Practically every Trident submariner had seen Crimson Tide and been jarred by it.... Officers still discuss Crimson Tide during private seminars on commanding a ship."

Waller also displays a powerful sense of irony. He describes a Sunday service onboard the Nebraska, and then deadpans, "Their worship over, [the submariners] would now practice how to destroy much of what God created." He also isn't afraid to ask difficult questions, such as whether women and gays should be allowed onboard (currently, neither are), or to note that marital fidelity is a problem for both husbands at port call and the wives they leave back home. It would be wrong to say Big Red reads like a potboiler--there are no Crimson Tide-like moments of near launches or mutiny--but it is exciting in its own way. This is at once an impressive journalistic achievement and an incredibly informative book. --John J. Miller

About the Author:

Douglas C. Waller is a correspondent for the Time magazine. Previously, he was a defense and foreign policy correspondent for the Newsweek. He has also served on the legislative staffs of Senator William Proxmire and Congressman Edward J. Markey. He is the author of five previous books on foreign policy and defense, including The Commandos: The Inside Story of America's Secret Soldiers and Air Warriors: The Inside Story of the Making of a Navy Pilot. He lives in Annandale, Virginia, with his wife and three children.

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