But it’s safe to say that none of these guys has anything on Mike Kirby. I don’t even know if you can call him a protester or a conscientious objector; he’s something else altogether. Starting in 1958, Kirby worked at an atomic weapons depot attached to the Nevada Test Site. He writes an account of his tenure in the July London Review of Books, a bleak, funny and frightening story of a nuclear weapons mechanic who develops a conscience — but doesn’t quite know what to do with it.
Kohler, who liked to have his fun with people, sneaked a couple of dummy detonators into a case of live ones, and one day in the middle of the arming sequence, took what he knew was a dummy and tossed it to poor Horpstead, who bobbled it, dropped it and dived for cover, thinking this was it. Kohler just laughed, hah hah. Big joke.
Some time in the spring, a new warhead for the Polaris arrived, the first of many that were to be shipped to the submarine fleet. I went through the warhead manual and found a number of things that disturbed me. This particular warhead was designed for use against cities. It was very compact, a weapon with a small bang and a small cross-section, but its ablative shield was an alloy of uranium, and it produced very heavy alpha fallout downwind. I thought about the world laid waste by these warheads. I wondered if you could be a good soldier and have an imagination.
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