1981 was the height of the Cold War.
It’s difficult to imagine now, but there wouldn’t be any negotiations, there wasn’t time.
All over the world men were sitting in silos waiting to press buttons.
The instant they got the call they would each press their button.
Once it was pressed, the missiles couldn’t be recalled.
That was it, thousands of missiles, each many times more destructive than Hiroshima.
And it all it took to start it was for the President to use his launch codes.
No one knew if there would be any survivors.
No one knew if there would be anything left of the world.
That’s when Roger D. Fisher made his proposal.
He was founder and director of the Harvard Negotiation Project.
He knew that the President was accompanied at all times by a young naval officer who carried a briefcase with the nuclear codes in it.
Fisher proposed that, instead of the briefcase, the nuclear codes be inserted into a capsule that was implanted into the naval officer’s chest.
And, to fire the missiles, the President would have to kill the officer and cut him open to get the codes.
Fisher described his reasoning this way:
“My suggestion was quite simple: Put that needed code number in a little capsule, and then implant that capsule right next to the heart of a volunteer.
The volunteer would carry with him a big, heavy butcher knife as he accompanied the President.
If ever the President wanted to fire the nuclear weapons, the only way he could do so was for him first, with his own hands, to kill one human being.
The President says, “George, I’m sorry but tens of millions must die.”
He has to look at someone and realise what death is – what an innocent death is.
Blood on the White House carpet. It’s reality brought home.”
So what was the Pentagon’s reaction to Fisher’s proposal?
“When I suggested this to friends in the Pentagon they said “My God, that’s terrible. Having to kill someone would distort the President’s judgement.
He might never push the button.”
The reaction of the people in the Pentagon is interesting.
They’re prepared for the President to push the button that kills tens of millions of people, but they’re horrified at the thought of him having to personally kill a single person.
When it’s personal, they see the single killing as a more horrifying act than the impersonal killing of tens, maybe hundreds, of millions.
Because in one case, death is a reality, in the other case it’s theoretical.
This is how human beings are. It’s exactly how we behave in our world.
We are very confident in our pronouncements about what will or won’t work out in the world, because we don’t venture out into the real world.
If we need to know we have researchers do that for us.
To observe people from behind a two-way mirror.
As if our world is reality and they are merely fish in a tank, to be studied occasionally.
So we do ads that are totally detached from their world and only make sense in ours.
We don’t want the grubby reality of their world polluting our award-winning art.
After all, no-one we know will ever see our work in that dull, boring world – our work gets seen in Cannes.
We don’t need crude, grubby reality distorting our fine sensibilities.