I was buttonholed by some friends yesterday. They asked me who’s got the nuclear button and instead of telling them to button their lips I decided to be forthright. In a word, nobody:
The image of a leader with a finger on a button — a trigger capable of launching a world-ending strike — has for decades symbolized the speed with which a nuclear weapon could be launched, and the unchecked power of the person doing the pushing.
There is only one problem: There is no button.
William Safire, the former New York Times columnist and presidential speechwriter, tracked the origin of the phrase “finger on the button” to panic buttons found in World War II-era bombers. A pilot could ring a bell to signal that other crew members should jump from the plane because it had been damaged extensively. But the buttons were often triggered prematurely or unnecessarily by jittery pilots.
The expression is commonly used to mean “ready to launch an atomic war,” but the writer added in “Safire’s Political Dictionary” that it is also a “scare phrase used in attacking candidates” during presidential elections.
Donald Trump has reason to be jittery. The Mueller Probe is closing in, his first year in office has been characterized by record unpopularity, which is why he decided to whip out his tiny member and engage in a bit of dick waving with the North Korean kid with the bad haircut. Bad hair is something these two bozos have in common.
Once upon a time in America, loose talk about nukes was enough to cost one a presidential election. Ask Barry Goldwater; of course, you’d have to dig him up. Never mind.
George Wallace made the mistake of putting retired Air Force chief of staff Curtis LeMay on the ticket in 1968. LeMay was so prone to loose nuke talk that the character of General Buck Turgidson in Dr. Strangelove was based on him. Here’s one of LeMay’s greatest hits:
I think there are many times when it would be most efficient to use nuclear weapons. However, the public opinion in this country and throughout the world throw up their hands in horror when you mention nuclear weapons, just because of the propaganda that’s been fed to them.
LeMay actually believed his own rhetoric. Trump just does it to distract attention from the Kremlingate scandal.
Speaking of bad hair, there’s a hair-raising hair joke told by George C. Scott in Dr. Strangelove:
I’d like to close with some unsolicited advice for Trumpy: button your lip about the nuclear button.